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Day by Day: Some people just know how to vacation

I don't.

It started out small and innocent enough. It just wasn't in the cards for the Heatons to take much of a vacation this year, but I needed a break. I decided last week would be the right time -- I could get the whole week off but use up only four vacation days, about the only bargain I could afford right now.

The best part of it was I didn't ask anyone else about it. Think about it, ladies. Mothers don't often do that. But for once I didn't care where or what the kids were doing. And as Kevin's quest for a job is ongoing, I knew exactly where he would be -- plopped in front of the computer classifieds.

With no particular plans, I didn't care what the weather forecast was and I didn't make any plans with friends.

Nope, I had an agenda and I would not be swayed -- unless I wanted to be. The truth was that I had a lot of small, annoying junk that I wanted to deal with. Some of it had only been there a few weeks or months, but there were other things that have been there years.

It wasn't all my stuff to do. Some of it Kevin had been promising to do for years - like fix the broken step on the deck. I have found over the years that simply bugging him about it gets me nowhere except ready to pack my bags and leave the bum.

But what does seem to get him moving is if I start doing things. It is that age-old married game of "I'll be damned if you do more than me" -- petty, I know, but whatever works.

Now the truth is Kevin works very hard and long and tedious hours at his job hunt. He has it down to a science and he is handling it better than I would for sure. But for months now I have been encouraging a break. Give that mind and those eyes a rest and try a little physical labor. It would be good for him. It wasn't working.

My working vacation started with a project I hate as much as any of the ones I had been bugging him to do -- refinishing the coffee table. I hate the thing. We've had it 20 years and I have been shopping for a new one for the past several years but in this economy, a can of stripper seemed more in line. At least the surface was mostly glass and the weather cooperated. I used this less toxic stuff my friend Diane recommended. I was still staring at the window cranks I ruined using the hard stuff during the kitchen makeover. We spent thousands on that kitchen but those cruddy, acid etched cranks are still there. I should have put those on the list.

The new stuff worked, it just took more coats. And it might have worked fine the first time except for the fact that I have no patience for this kind of work. I hate waiting around for paint to dry or finish to bubble up. I always move too soon. But I got the finish off and it didn't really look so good and I'm thinking about paint.

Luckily Katie's boyfriend Josh happened in and took up the sandpaper for me. That shamed Katie into helping. I watched the two of them as I saw the old "here let me show you how to do it right" routine set in. Some things just never change. Not that I'm complaining. Sanding sucks.

While I was waiting in between stuff with the table, I tackled another little annoying thing -- the rust on all four corners of the patio table. The table came with some touch-up paint but I couldn't find it. However, during the hunt, I managed to clean out under the sink, another thing off the list, and I found the WD40 under there. Kevin has been saying since spring that he was going to clean and oil the sliding door track. I have rarely felt such satisfaction as I did after applying the world's most wonderful product to the screen door that now virtually floats open. I never did find the patch paint but rather ended up using some spray paint from downstairs that I ran across looking for sandpaper. It didn't match exactly but it looks better than the rust, and since it is in all four corners, it is at least consistent. We won't discuss the overspray on the glass table top that happened because I was too impatient to tape and mask.

With the table almost complete, I moved on. Home improvement projects are a very sore subject in our house, but since it has been five years since the kitchen remodel and 20 years since the bathroom wallpaper went up, I figured it was time to make a move. The wallpaper was coming down.

The pattern had worn through to the wallboard around the sink and it was more and more reminding me of what I felt like during morning sickness. I announced I was doing it, telling Kevin we could afford a couple gallons of paint and it was morally the right thing to do.

It started out OK. My friend Irene had helped me put the stuff up and she had insisted that we "size" the walls. The paper on the painted walls came off easily but it got ugly when it came to the other walls where there had only been wallpaper, no paint. You can imagine what it was like as large pieces of the Sheetrock layers came away with my ugly paper. I tried more water, more scoring, more swearing, but nothing worked. It was a mess and no amount of paint was going to fix this.

Now I know I complain a lot about Kevin, and he looked like he wanted to send me somewhere when I showed him what had happened, but he stepped up. He dug out his old sander, spackle knife and paint shorts. He checked out his supply of face masks and started his lecture about the toxic nature of Sheetrock dust and the need to minimize the contamination zone. We decided we know what we're getting him for Christmas -- a hazmat suit, something in blue with a vertical stripe.

It was a miserable, three-day job and we're still not sure if the walls are paintable. I can't wait to talk about putting up the next best thing -- paintable wallpaper. I think I need to call Irene again. I have found that it is best to stay out of Kevin's way during a home crisis like this, but it is important to be equally busy myself. So I now have a weeded perennial bed, some spray-painted old planters and a freshly cut lawn, not nearly as difficult as his job, but at least I wasn't on the deck with a drink. And they all ate good right down to dessert.

All in all, it was a good vacation, more of a break really. Well more of a week at hard labor, but it was good for the soul in these trying times.

Meg Heaton

Meg Heaton has been a reporter with the Hudson Star Observer since 1990. She has a bachelor’s degree in anthropology and Native American Studies from the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire.

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