I began this summer with lots of home improvement high hopes.  I tend to be “domestically challenged,” and I use that term in a broad sense.  I’m not the best cook, I’m not the best cleaner or organizer (for myself), and I’m not even close to the best at home improvement projects.  Alas, I wanted to feel like I accomplished something this summer.   I had this vague plan that I would systematically attack each room in the house, cleaning, painting, decorating.  Somehow “systematic” and I just do not bond well.  I have yet to paint inside the house, though I have high hopes that this is still to come.  Sujal, having started his new job, does not have much time to help me with the summer home improvement activities.  

Some of my smaller accomplishments — I bought curtains for our dining room and hung them on existing curtain rods (although even as I write this, I have ideas about how I can improve their “look,” as the curtain rods are a bit tacky).  My mother-in-law gave us curtains for our bedroom for our shower, over a year ago.  I decided to put them up.  In the midst of trying, I recalled that I had tried this once before, but the rods we had in our bedroom were too big for the opening of the curtains, so I needed to buy curtain rods.  

This led to a stressful trip to Ikea, where I fretted over the right rods and the right curtains for other windows in the house.  I only bought the rods.When I came home to install them, Sujal told me I’d need to use the drill, and that scared me a little, so Sujal said he’d do it.  Knowing he’d have little time, I tackled the project myself, only to find partway through that I really needed Sujal to show me how to use the drill.  He ended up doing the drilling, because I was having a hard time.  I ironed the curtains and scarves to go over the curtains — about 2 hours of ironing (and anyone who knows me knows I do not iron).  When I put them up, they looked pretty good — though I didn’t feel 100% accomplishment because Sujal helped me with the drilling.

Backtracking a bit, At the beginning of the summer I decided to refinish the back deck.  It seemed like a do-able job, like something I could do while Sujal was at work, and I’d feel like I really accomplished something.   I honestly though I could knock it off in about two or three afternoons.  I looked up online how to go about refinishing it, and I got myself set up to scrub the deck.  I did not take “before” pictures, but there was a lot of green on the deck to say the least.  As I begain handscrubbing the railings and all the individual slats under the railings, I realized I could not finish scrubbing in one day.

It became a daily ritual for me to get up early, go out and scrub for about 2-3 hours (it’s exhausting grinding a brush into a deck), maybe scrub for abother 2-3 hours in the evening, and repeat the process the next day.  Two weeks into it, I was only about halfway done.  That’s when a friend of Sujal’s lent us his pressure washer.  Sujal helped me with some of the pressure washing — about six to seven hours in itself.  Then I sanded the deck, and finally, I’ve been waiting for a few dry days to stain it.  Frankly, I was getting ready to throw in the towel — “To heck with the deck!” I muttered in my sleep. Then my friend Lara came to hang out with me for an afternoon, and she offered to help me.  When I began this project, I really thought the deck would untimately look amazing — brand new even.  I thought I’d stain it with with a rich transparent cedar tone, and it would be beautiful.  Alas, the previous owners put a grey deck stain on it before.  Even though everyone assured me that it could not be grey deck stain, that it was mere weathering of the wood, after completely scrubbing and pressure washing it, it was obviously grey deck stain.  So as Lara and I got ready to stain with my fancy stain, we did a test spot, and of course you could still see some of the grey spots.  Ugh.

Luckily, Lara rolls well prepared.  She just happened to have 1/2 a can of opaque brown deck stain in her car, so we used that.  Again, it was great to have help — in fact, I am eternally ecsatic and grateful for her help, but again, I was not accomplishing this on my own.  Once again, I thought I could knock off staining the deck in an afternoon.  We finished the 1/2 can yesterday, and I had to go get more today.  I am presently taking a break from the hot sun, and I’d say I’m almost 1/2 done with the staining.

As I was staining, I began thinking about my feeling like I haven’t accomplished much with this deck.  I began thinking about how in my regular life (teaching), it does not feel like accomplishing much on the day to day basis.  Of course getting through a class is an accomplishment, but not much of one.  Because I do not see accomplishment readily in my day to day work, I was looking for this satisfactuon of being able to see it in refinishing the deck.  It seemed tangible.  Then I started to think about how teaching a kid to write and to write better is actually a pretty amazing accomplishment, even if it does not feel like it on the day to day basis.

I thought of this student I tutored this year, and I didn’t feel like I was accomplishing much with this student.  And then the parents told the advisor the the kid’s grades were improving.  The English teacher told me the writing was improving, particularly the kid’s organization.

I remembered teaching in Ware, when a science colleague told me she could always tell the kids I taught because their writing was so tight and organized.  She said she’d been really impressed.

And then on rare occasions, I’ll get a letter or an email from a student telling me that they really learned to write better because of my class.  It may sound like I am trying to toot my own horn, but I’m not.  I’m just trying to work through this idea of accomplishment.  I started to think that if I’d taken a summer job refinishing decks that I probably would not feel like I accomplished something after each of the decks I’d have finished, because it’s a job.  Teaching is not a “job,” per se, but it isn’t as tangible.  So this summer I felt like I needed to see some tangible accomplishments. I started thinking more about how there are times people remember a teacher who really taught them something — or even more specifically, teachers who taught me something.  I’ve only written one letter (perhaps two) to a teacher who was very inspiring.  I wish I’d have written more, especially while they were still teaching and therefore relatively easy to find.  A letter is tangible evidence of accomplishment.  So reader, let me suggest that you write a letter to a teacher (or two) who inspired you, someone who really taught you something, especially something you value.  Not that teachers are in it for the constant praise (if they are, they are in the wrong profession — just listen to Mitt Romney for two minutes), but they are human.  We all seek some affirmations from time to time.

I’ve also received nice notes or comments from parents.  They are also wonderful to receive, although it is different than words coming from the student him or herself.  Anyway, this was just my thought process as I was staining the deck today.  I’m about to go out and stain some more — and frankly, yes, I am feeling a sense of accomplishment.  I can’t wait until we christen the deck with a BBQ!

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