Unbridal trousseau

I'm aware as I write this how fortunate I've been. Nearly three years ago, I faced complete and utter disaster: personal, fiscal, emotional, social. The low points were too many to count, but I remember having to consider, seriously, options as drastic as executing a divorce against a comatose man in order to protect our home.

As I am beginning the process of packing up to leave, the irony of that previous statement is not lost on me.

Jacob can attest that I have been utterly and completely frantic over the past few months; as soon as I knew that I was leaving, a few moments' thought told me that my only ethical choice was to leave Jeff the contents of our home, and for me to start rebuilding my possessions from scratch. The getaway plan, a Google spreadsheet titled "Lux et Libertas," was born then, and I've spent every scrap of disposable income we've had on clearing as many items from this list as possible. I treated the "Lux list," as I called it for short, as the most frighteningly important inverted pyramid that I've seen in years.

Want to go out for dinner and a movie? That's great, but ask myself first if, in a year's time, I would rather have knocked a $40 item off the list or have chosen a Netflix movie plus a cup of tea at home instead.

Two criteria: largest price, largest utility. Use the remaining months of double-income-no-mortgage to invest in the kind of high-quality items that, barring fire, flood, earthquakes, or another calamities, would last me the rest of my life without needing repurchasing. I bought duplicates of my beloved kitchen knives first, followed by an enameled cast-iron pot; if everything else failed me, those two items guaranteed me the basic ability to generate quantities of food.

Next came the Dance of the Sugarplum Electronics, the items that weren't life necessities but would guarantee that I could work and communicate: wireless router, cable modem, printer, blu-ray player, remote control.

It was somewhere around this area that I understood what I was doing. I was building my un-bridal trousseau, the modern-day equivalent to a cedar chest filed with lovingly-embroidered linens. Thanks to a coworker/friend having an empty spare room, I could start shipping these items to Portland, knowing that even though I couldn't reassure myself through seeing them or touching them, I was laying aside treasures for the next stage of my life.

I'm trying to make sure that I remember that many of the women and men in my position leave marriages with nothing more than the clothes on their backs and a gratitude for freedom. I'm trying to remember to focus on the gratitude I will feel in a few more months when I have built myself a small nest of creature comforts that suit my life, of food and movies and reading in bed. I am trying to be honest about the life I am likely to lead once I am transplanted, and focus on making choices that respect that life instead of what others might expect that life to be.

Pasta attachment.
Pots and pans.

I'm crossing major items off the list more quickly than I'm adding them these days, which is a huge relief in comparison to the terror of a few months ago. In the fall, my terror level grew as I kept finding more and more things I needed to prepare for, and ticking off only a few every paycheck before having to wait for the next two weeks to roll around. Without a firm divorce date in mind, it felt like everything had to be planned for now now now now now, because who knew when the access to the double income would stop?

I've been pretty careful, though, in my choices. Most expensive -- read, most difficult to buy on a single income -- items first, as well as the ones critical to food and warmth. Once those began to calm down, I focused on entertainment. A few items I realized needed to wait until the end of November to purchase, partly for Black Friday sales and partly because I knew I had a house-hunting trip to Portland coming up in early December. It made the most sense to test the large electronics as a unit, and have them be newly purchased so that if there were problems, they'd still be under warranty. (See also my plan to order the television, probably tomorrow, in order to have it at Char's in time for my house-hunting arrival in Portland in a week's time.)

I'm leaving Jeff virtually everything of importance in the house: all the electronics, and most of the furniture. The kitchen is hit-and-miss. I'm taking the larger tabletop electrical pieces, like my beloved stand mixer and food processor; I will use and adore them, and if I left them here, they would gather dust. My rationale has been to take as little as possible of the things Jeff uses, on the theory that a brain injury survivor should not be forced to re-outfit his home just because I chose to leave.

(Amusingly, there was one item I was unwilling to compromise on. More on that in a moment.)

Part of my focus on permanence and sustainability has been looking for ways to use my skills to create permanent, reusable items. This wouldn't have been post-worthy except for my pondering this week of finally making a set of cloth napkins that I'd like, and use constantly. I'd been daydreaming over using good-quality cotton, and then my musings over the idea of a trousseau got the better of me. I focused on the word "linens," and wondered if it was worth purchasing some actual linen, instead of cotton, to make some everyday napkins for myself.

A moment later, I was sprinting toward my sewing room (thankfully still not packed up) -- did I have it? was it still there? somehow?

It was.

Several years ago, when we visited Brad and Alice in Hilo, Hawaii, Alice and I were walking down a street in Hilo when we went into Sig Zane, a shop that made high-end aloha ("Hawaiian") shirts. I bought a shirt for Jeff, but while we were there, we noticed a bench with bags of fabric. They were giving away scraps -- for free -- of gorgeous linen. Alice and I took a bag, and split it. I'd taken my portion home and set it on the shelf, waiting for the right project.

Last night, I unfurled the long linen scraps, hoping beyond hope that the scraps were big enough for my use. They were. I could cut 11.5" squares out of them, and have enough for nearly 20 double-sided white napkins. (It was a big scrap bag!) I spent today cutting and sewing the squares to make the kind of napkins that pleased me. They weren't big enough to be formal napkins, but they'd do very nicely for everyday use. So, completely unexpectedly, my trip to Hawaii years ago yielded one last souvenir: DIY everyday napkins for myself. The first seven finished napkins went through the wash tonight, and the remaining twelve will go tomorrow.

What I'm building, box by box, and purchase by purchase, is hope. Hope that 2014 will be a year of quiet comfort, self-discovery, and healing. Prior to Jeff's accident, we had planned to move to Seattle, a dream that I gave up with a great deal of sadness as soon as I learned of the severity of his injuries. Life has led me to a company that will relocate me to Portland, which allows me to reclaim my dream of living in the Pacific Northwest, but I will go alone, which I never, ever envisioned.

Here's to the hope chest, sent one Amazon Prime order at a time. Come over for dinner sometime.


(Oh, and the small thing I wasn't willing to compromise on? Measuring cups and spoons. Years ago, I splashed out on a beautiful, heavy-duty set of metal straight-sided cups and spoons that included large sizes and odd sizes, and to my shock, there's no equivalent on the market today. They are my workhorses, and I realized I was unwilling to give them up. Couch, loveseat, TV, blu-ray player ... all ended up being things I was willing to leave here. But not my measuring spoons. Yes, I'm weird. I know. You're welcome.)

all tags: 


I'm curious, if I may - what do you anticipate the difference between the life you're likely to lead in Portland verus the life other people expect you'll lead to be?

I think I will be more of a homebody. I will be in a new city and there will eventually be an urge to explore, but I don't think it will happen as quickly as some of my PDX coworkers think it will. My realtor has been both confused and bemused at my insistence on a two-bedroom place; he can't fathom why in such a vibrant city, I want dedicated ... sewing space?

I'll get back out and about in time, but I think I need nesting time first. "Home" has been a place of sadness; I think I need to re-establish myself as someone who feels comfortable in her own home before venturing further out.

I guess that's what confused me about your comment, because I kind of envisioned you settling in and enjoying having a place of your own (and just reveling in being an introvert for a while) before getting all social . . .

There's a lot of disruption in this process. While it is true you are having an easier time than many people who get divorced, it is still an upheaval. That you struggle over quickly creating an instance of something you otherwise have constructed slowly -- a home -- isn't that surprising.

Then there's the folks who think you shouldn't need two (or more!) bedrooms. I always get a smile on my face at this, but perhaps that's because I understand the need for a real sewing room. While the Huntsville house had a formal dining room that could be converted into a sewing space, so many newer constructions opt to crush the eating space with the kitchen. As I noted to Amy in conversation, you have to look at some high-end homes before you start finding rooms dedicated for a home theatre, an office, a library, or a sewing room. This last is often just an alcove that could hold a sewing machine, and that's not sufficient.

You need a studio.

Anyone who has received one of Amy's quilts will understand. For anyone else, consider how much space is required for a queen- or king-sized quilt, not only for layout of the pieces, but also for pinning the layers of the quilt together. And that doesn't include the space requirements for fabric storage, in-progress project storage, the various tools involved, space for an ironing board, and so on. In fact, there's a sense where a standard 10'x10' bedroom wouldn't be large enough!

If you go looking for a place to live, you can easily find something that has a kitchen, living room, bathroom, and bedroom. If you are lucky, you get some kind of laundry facilities in your home. The kitchen frequently is extended a bit for an eating space, or the living room is in an open plan with the kitchen, so you could fit something in somewhere. Assuming you actually want a place to sit down and watch TV, talk with friends, or do your hand-sewing while listening to music or a podcast, you really don't have the space for a project.

A full-size, well-lit basement could certainly help. A second bedroom definitely helps. And if you want a place for a friend or two to crash overnight, you need a third bedroom, and ideally a second bathroom.

Amy just needs to face facts: She's an artist with a creative process that takes up a lot of space. She needs a studio for that art.