Breaking Routine

They say (“they” in this case being medical professionals, scientific researchers, and other presumably reliable professionals) that the best way to insure healthful, restorative sleep, intestinal regularity, and general health is to maintain a consistent routine. I believe this. I don’t often have the “luxury” of sleeping in, but whenever I do, I can count on getting up stiff and achey and, worse still, becoming cranky a few hours later when I realize that the day has gotten away from me. I do usually go to bed about the same time every night and get up the same time every morning (even on weekends), and I have three (or two and a half) meals every day at approximately the beginning, middle, and end of the daylight hours. When we’re traveling, even without a time zone shift, the variation in timing (and quantity) of meals wreaks havoc with my system. Ideally, I need a little relaxed “warm-up” time in the morning, so I don’t really like early “formations,” but an early start often seems to be required when on “vacation.” That, too, affects me unfavorably.

My walking routine varies somewhat throughout the year. In the winter, I may delay my walk till midday, waiting for whatever warmth the day may have to offer. In the summer, though, I have to get out as early as possible, both to beat the heat and to avoid the sun, so I get up at 6 and usually hit the street between 6:30 and 7—after writing in my diary, bringing in the paper, unloading the dishwasher (every other day), pouring milk and orange juice, setting out vitamins, and getting dressed for walking. There are days when I could probably go almost straight from my bed to the street, but I’d probably kill myself trying to walk before my joints have had a little time to warm up, so these other routine activities occupy enough time to accomplish that.

This morning I was actually eager to get out. Because Tuesday and Thursday were ballet days and it rained Wednesday, I hadn’t walked since Monday. The weather prospects were promising: it was relatively cool (77° F.) and overcast. But when I went out about 6:30 I found that it had in fact actually started sprinkling. So I wrestled the garbage can from the curb back to its assigned spot and came back in to have breakfast, read the paper, answer email and newsgroups, and venture back out about 8:30. It was still pleasant: not only still cool and overcast but also blessed with a fresh breeze—a perfect day to be out, and being out at a little different time meant that I might see something a little different, too.

I didn’t encounter many other walkers (one grandmother with a stroller, concerned about rain), but I did see several people working in their yards. It was an ideal morning for it. I also noted a few other ephemera. A dead armadillo in the street reminded me how incredulous I had been the first time I saw one years ago (I had thought armadillos were strictly a Southwest phenomenon and hadn’t realized we had any around here). As I passed a yard full of overgrown grass badly in need of mowing, I noticed it was strewn with salmon-pink trumpet-shaped blossoms presumably blown down in a recent rainstorm—but from where? There was no likely shrub anywhere near. I was amused by the antics of two male cardinals establishing that they couldn’t both land on the top of a post at the same time.

But the biggest surprise was a house I had never seen before! I have been walking more or less the same route for nearly five years now. Sometimes I walk clockwise instead of counter-clockwise, thus varying the view somewhat, and the stretch of street this house is on is one I don’t always include, but still, I’ve passed this house probably at least five hundred times, and I’d never seen it before. Now, I’ll grant you I’m not always the most observant person in the world. The other day my husband asked if I had noticed the huge tree that had fallen down in the park. No, I had not. I had evidently been distracted by the fallen sign in front of it and entirely missed the huge horizontal trunk behind the sign. Still, an entire house?

I’ll grant you there are a number of reasons I wouldn’t have noticed the house before. The sidewalk where I walk is on the opposite side of a busy street. The previously invisible house is also across the street from another house on which considerable renovation work was being done for some time, and I was always interested in that, as well as in a house that was for sale (it recently sold, and I’ve been wondering if the buyers paid the absurdly exorbitant asking price). And it’s next door to some empty lots that are being advertised for sale from time to time. But still, an entire house?

I asked myself whether perhaps it could have actually been moved there while I wasn’t paying attention. House moving is by no means unknown in this neighborhood, but usually it means moving a small house off a lot to permit new (larger) construction. I’d never seen a house being moved in. In any case, it was clear that this house had been there forever. With its attached aluminum carport and its accompanying privacy fence, unpainted and weathered to silver-gray by years of exposure, it looked very settled. It’s a very small, nondescript house (the sort that are being torn down all around) that I would have had no reason to notice. What caught my eye this morning, in fact, was a change in the house. It looked as if it had developed some dire skin disease. Huge quantities of irregularly shaped brown spots dotted its white clapboard surface. I wasn’t close enough to determine the nature of the spots, but my assumption was that perhaps they represented sanding in preparation for repainting. From the distribution of the spots, I thought maybe rusty nails had been cleaned. Or perhaps it’s being prepared for moving, or for demolition.

Time will tell, of course, but it will not erase the embarrassment of having totally overlooked this house before today. I was still pondering this as I exchanged remarks on the weather with a woman working in her yard. The yard of a new house that was built on an artificially created lot. A lot on which another small, nondescript house once stood. A house that I saw every day for several years—yes, saw, but paid so little attention to that when, one morning, it was suddenly missing, I could not remember what it had looked like. There is another such house next door. It is for sale. Almost certainly, it will be bought by someone planning to tear it down and replace it with something grander. Soon there will be no small, nondescript houses left on this street. But at least I have seen one more of them before it was gone forever.

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2 Responses to Breaking Routine

  1. Luc Sanders says:

    Hi Suzanne,
    Your remark on not noticing a house made me recall a period in my life which was not so pleasant.
    Some fiftheen years ago I had some bad back trouble. In fact I had to rest for more than 9 weeks. Hernia trouble. Anyway, after some weeks I was allowed some exercise and decided to take a walk in the close neighborhood of our house. That is when I discovered many of the houses I had been driving past for years without noticing them. There where many I saw for the first time although I had been driving past them for years. And I may add that there where some really worthwhile seeing.

    A second thing intruiged me, do they actually move the whole house as you seem to imply? That would be impossible here. Are these wooden constructions? Must be a spectacle when such an event happens.

    Greetings from Belgium

  2. You definitely can see more at walking pace than driving by. I even notice a lot of things that my husband, who runs, doesn’t see.

    And yes, they actually move an entire house, or parts of one. It depends on the size of the house. There’s a good summary of the considerations at http://www.mortgagenewsdaily.com/wiki/Move_House.asp, and there’s actually a picture of a good-sized two-story house being moved at http://www.bishophousemovers.com/page3.html. Even more impressive ones at http://www.wolfehousebuildingmovers.com/ and http://www.wolfehousebuildingmovers.com/recentjob.html and a cool video at http://www.thisoldhouse.com/toh/video/0,,20168254,00.html (but you can google for “house moving” as well as I can!).

    I’ve watched the preparations for this process in our neighborhood several times. First they remove steps, small porches, and any other parts that stick out. And of course all the wiring and plumbing and such have to be disconnected. Then they jack up the house. If it’s on piers, this is of course easier than if it’s on a concrete slab. They slide extensible steel beams under the house. Eventually these will have wheels affixed and be attached to a trailer that pulls the house. Naturally there’s a lot of coordination required with everyone along the way–carefully planning the route, arranging a time for the move that will disrupt traffic as little as possible, making sure that overhead wires are raised as needed, and so on. Having seen some of the small hedged lanes near my daughter’s house in England, I can well imagine that there are many places in Belgium as well where this would be entirely unfeasible, but here there are often broad streets and wide highways that make it possible.

    One of my friends told me he’d been in a house that had actually been cut in two and then put back together after the move, and he assured me you could not tell that it had been done, that the house gave every appearance of having been built on the site.

    But yes, it is definitely a spectacle, well worth watching, *I* think, though when I see a house on the move and call the local paper, thinking they might consider it a photo op, they are usually uninterested. I guess it’s just become too commonplace.

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