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Taking on life's tasks one piece at a time

I wasn't cut out to be a stripper. I just don't have the body for it. Within minutes of starting a routine, my shoulders and arms start to ache and I realize that it's not all glitz and glamour. The past two years I have tried some novice stripping, but I've come to the conclusion that I'm just not meant for it.

It all started two winters ago, when I decided our 25-year-old home needed a face-lift. It was cold outside, so what better time for a quick indoor project? I'd start with the dining room, since it was showing the most wear. Armed with a scoring tool, sponges and vinegar water, I eagerly started ... well ... stripping. I'd have the wallpaper stripped in no time, splash on a fresh coat of paint and sport an updated look.

Within minutes, however, I realized that my quick project might not be so quick.

No matter how I struggled, I couldn't remove more than one jagged gum-wrapper-sized-piece-of-frustration at a time. I consulted the Internet, sought advice from friends, purchased never-fail chemical products and tried hardware store tricks of the trade. I left no stone unturned, except I wouldn't rent a steamer -- which my husband suggested numerous times as he noticed my painfully slow progress and heard complaints about aching body parts I never knew I had.

Call me stupid, stubborn and cheap for not renting that steamer. (Many people sang its praises.) But, as I inched along and gritted my teeth, I realized there was something more to be said for all of this. I was determined that I was not going to let something as simple as some gluey paper get the best of me. I was made of stronger stuff than that!

I gave myself a pep talk. Then, armed with patience, perseverance and a positive attitude, I plodded along vowing to be the victor. I would be like the tortoise in that classic fable. "Slow and steady wins the race" became my mantra.

So, with a few more aches and pains, with a newfound, can-do attitude, and with nothing much larger than gum-wrapper-size pieces of peach-colored floral paper, I ran the race and won. My largest haul was a mere 5-by-7-inch remnant, which I treasure like a blue ribbon.

Despite those nights of dining room workouts, despite the no pain, no gain mentality, and despite working my fingers to the bone (and ruining a good manicure), I'm still not cut out for stripping, no matter the context. However, I realize that much can be said for occasionally taking the more difficult path rather than the easy way out. How else do we learn patience?

We encounter those jagged little pieces of gluey paper every day. It's called life. They are handed to us frequently -- at home, at work, in our relationships with others and sometimes we even hand them to ourselves in the form of internal struggles.

But it is how we approach those situations that matters more than anything. Do we let them get the best of us or wear us down? Do we choose the easy way, give up or try to avoid them altogether? Or do we meet life head-on -- dealing with all of the little gum wrappers as they come along in our path?

This past winter, I stripped again -- two bathrooms. One was as difficult as the dining room; the other left me doing a victory dance as I pulled off whole sheets of paper at a time. I would like to think it was due to the honing of my stripping skills, but I know that it had more to do with the paper, the glue and the talents of the paperhanger.

I say I've sworn off wallpaper forever, but one glance at a wallpaper book would have me hooked once again. Just like life, it would be full of so many colors and patterns, so much fun and beauty, that I probably wouldn't be able to resist.

Besides, I know that I have many of the tools I need to tackle the job again in another few years. Well -- the tools and the phone number to rent the steamer!