Tuesday, October 11, 2011

I do my best thinking when I'm taking a walk

As I was taking the dogs for a walk this morning, I was thinking about how amazing it is that Lucie has turned into such a good little walker. For so many years she would pull so hard against the leash that she was walking upright on her two hind legs for most of the walk. We had to buy her a harness as she would just choke herself and retch repeatedly. We could not curb that behavior. She was such a terrible walker that not only did we stop walking her but Bobo as well, and that was wrong, because that boy sure did love his walks.

We used to walk Rufus by himself when we lived in Kent, and I told myself that Lucie didn't care as we left her standing by the door every day. When we made the big move out here, Julie and Andrew took the dogs in for several days to facilitate that move. Julie took Rufus and Lucie out multiple times a day and walked them around the apartment building. Lucie likes to walk now, she reported to me, and she is good at it. Better than Rufus, really. So I have taken to walking them both, and it's true, in her dotage, Lucie trots right along, stopping to sniff and mark many places, which Rufus eschews for the all-out pulling me along as I tell him repeatedly to stop. I am sure we entertain the neighbors as we make our rounds.

Lucie snores loudly behind my chair as I type this, and I know I will have to pick her up and carry her to another room when I am on to my next task. She doesn't see or hear well, but she still "swims" at Ben every day when he gets home from work, and she will endlessly flip Hezbollah (her little stuffed duck) off the chair in Ben's room as he tries to change his clothes. When we are out and about, Lucie is routinely mistaken for a puppy, and I guess that is what she will always be to us, as well. A little, brown, curly-haired puppy. I hope she stays that way for a long, long time. And I'll keep walking her just as long as she wants to do it.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

strikes and gutters

The success of our plantings this first year in Maryland has been pretty hit or miss. For some reason - maybe it's human nature - I tend to focus on the failures. Our big (read expensive) cherry tree died - twice. The nursery replaced it once free of charge, but now it's just a loss to us. We have subsequently decided that exact spot probably isn't a good place for a tree. The butterfly bush barely survived the torrents of rain that fell, and we don't know if it will make it through the fall and winter in its weakened condition.The tomatoes and peppers were fabulous while they lasted, but the excessive rains of late August and all of September, really, killed the plants dead. So our vegetable season was early, but short. Alas that I won't pick another cherry tomato and eat it fresh from the vine until next July!

Our potted plants did not fare well, either. The geraniums I planted and placed on the front steps were in poor soil, and I knew it. They didn't even struggle, really, and the leaves turned yellow right away and they stopped flowering. Ben saved them by re-potting them and putting them somewhere else, but we had no flowers in the front of the house all summer. The flowers I planted in the big concrete container looked great the day I planted them, and never after. One of them is blooming now - in October. When the violas were played out, I bought mums to replace them. It seemed like they were dying from the day Ben planted them. I don't know why.

That being said, our passion flower bloomed this year like never before, and the mandevilla looks positively tropical, with its glossy, dark green leaves and huge, bright pink flowers. My mail order roses are climbing the fence in record time, and haven't stopped growing since we planted them, I think. The willow we planted has loved the wet weather, needless to say, and yesterday I noticed that I have flowers blooming outside both of my bedroom windows. How nice is that?

So I will try to swallow my disappointment over this year's growing season, but it's a process, you know? First I have to be disappointed and pissed off, then, after a while, I will be able to say, okay, what worked and what didn't? What should we do differently next year? Because, after all, it is our first year here.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

pointless weather rant

It's a good thing we didn't move to Maryland solely for the weather. As we are now officially a week into fall and I have experienced all four seasons here, I have to say, they have all sucked! "This weather isn't normal," the natives keep telling us, and I can only hope it returns to normal tout de suite.

This winter we experienced the worst snow storm I have ever seen, and that's saying something since I came from Northeast Ohio. I have never seen wetter, heavier snow, and I honestly feared my heart would give out as I shovelled it. The spring came early, it's true, but it rained all the time, and, unfortunately, the hot summer days came early, too. Summer was unusually hot and very humid, but, at the same time, it didn't rain for weeks on end. Ben and I had to carry water every evening to our struggling plants all through July and into August.

At the end of August, hurricane season arrived, and it has pretty much been raining ever since. The plants that struggled through the dry early summer succumbed to the ceaseless rains of late summer and early fall. We can bring water to dry plants, but we can't dry out wet plants - as far as I know, anyway. Our beautiful cherry tree was the first to go, and it was incredibly depressing to see it standing there with all its leaves dead and brown in the pouring rain. The huge hole it left behind is pretty depressing, too.

I will admit, it is still early fall and I am holding out hope that somehow it will stop raining, the leaves on the trees will start to change color, and everything will be lovely. But I have to tell you, I am not optimistic.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

almost a perfect day

As you may remember, last fall I was still living in Ohio trying to sell our house while Ben lived and worked out here in Maryland, trying to find a new house for us in his "spare" time. I wanted Ben to come home every weekend, but, needless to say, that was not feasible or even possible. Some weekends he managed to enjoy a day trip with Julie and Andrew, and one of their favorite trips turned out to be a day spent in Harper's Ferry, West Virginia. They have been telling me about it ever since, and we have been waiting for the "perfect" day to make that trip together. We decided on last Saturday, which, as my previous post details, was not the perfect day. But it was the day we spent there, and I enjoyed it very much. Moreover, I can't wait to go back again.

Harper's Ferry is really the perfect melange, if you will, of things I enjoy doing on an outing (as we prefer to call it.) It is close, first of all. It took us about an hour to drive from our house to the parking lot where one boards the shuttle bus for town. It is best to go early in the day before it gets too crowded. We love to get an early start. It is really beautiful and scenic. Harper's Ferry is situated at the confluence of the Shenandoah and Potomac Rivers, which cut through steep, tree-covered hills as they converge and flow south. There is a train tunnel through solid rock that is still in active use by the railroads. We saw easily a half dozen trains while we were there. We love to see trains.

The town itself climbs up the side of a hill, with the oldest part of town along the river bank. Interpretive signs explain that this quiet little town was once a bustling center of industry, with many businesses harnessing the power of the rivers to run their great machinery. Arms were manufactured and stored there, to be shipped up and down the Eastern Seaboard. Now, maybe you knew all this already, but I didn't, and suddenly I understood what brought John Brown to Harper's Ferry instead of somewhere else. So. Something else I love to have on a good outing - an interesting educational experience. And that was just the first of many as we gradually climbed the flights of stairs up the steep hillside.

We found a nice mix of shops and historical buildings, many of which were outfitted as they had been during the prosperous times before the Civil War. We did some shopping, as I mentioned in my earlier post, and had a nice lunch. But we also climbed further and further up the hill in the drizzling rain, coming to a beautiful native stone church overlooking the town, and above that, Jefferson Rock, where Thomas Jefferson once stood and commented on the spectacular view of the rivers. Thomas Jefferson. I know it is no longer politically correct to admire Thomas Jefferson, but I do, and I was awed to be walking in his footsteps, as it were.

I know there are things I am leaving out, but the point is we had a great time, learned a lot, and will definitely make return trips to Harper's Ferry. It is one of those places that I look forward to seeing all different times of year, and I know I will learn more each time I am there. How nice that it is only an hour away.

Monday, September 19, 2011

the thing about hats

I don't like to wear hats. Even before I gained as much weight as I have in the past year, I never thought I looked good in them. And now I really don't. You see, the thing is, I have a big head and a big face. I need some hair to "frame" my face, in that old phrase that mothers (at least mine) used to use. I believe some hair around my face softens it and also hides part of it. I was definitely one of those girls who used to hide behind curtains of long, straight hair back in the day.

That being said, there are times when I think it is necessary to wear a hat. Other than in the winter, I feel those occasions are fairly infrequent, but they do pop up from time to time. To that end, I knitted myself a couple of wide-brimmed sun hats which I really like and which allow some of my hair to still frame my face. I also bought an adorable straw hat at Hats in the Belfry, a cute little shop in Fells Point.

The type of hat I think looks particularly bad on me is the ubiquitous baseball cap. Most of them are not big enough for me, and they all smash my hair and make my face look extra big. Hate that. Unfortunately, that was the only type of hat available to me on Saturday when we went to Harper's Ferry and it began to rain. Rain had not occurred to me so I was without an umbrella or a raincoat. An unfortunate oversight on my part, as I particularly hate to get my hair wet. The only thing worse than hat hair is wet hair, in my opinion. So I wore the baseball cap to keep my hair and glasses dry, but I was not happy about it.

One of the many things I learned about Harper's Ferry was that Lewis and Clark stopped there to outfit their great expedition. I found there were still lots of little shops where I could outfit my own somewhat smaller expedition, as well, and we began to wander in and out of them, searching for a hat that would keep me dry but wouldn't be a baseball cap. And, you know, I found it. I won't try to describe the hat, but it is big enough to fit me, it is made of waterproof fabric, it has a nice, rolled brim, and it is definitely feminine. And, most importantly, it is not a baseball cap. As I explained to Jules, when I have to wear a hat, I want to wear a hat. I wore it the rest of the day, and it kept me dry and happy. I only hope I will find occasion to wear it again some time. That is the other thing about hats.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

how cool is this? my knitting pattern in Polish

As some of you know, in addition to being an avid knitter, I have designed a few knitting patterns of my own. I offer them at no cost through Ravelry.com and also on my other blog, amancine hand-knits . Yesterday I was contacted by a woman in Poland who was seeking my permission to translate one of my patterns into Polish and post it on her knitting blog. Of course I said yes, and here it is. The world wide web. It's an amazing thing.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

ready or not

This past winter I scoffed at the weather reports when a winter storm warning was forecast. I'm from Northeast Ohio. Seriously. They don't know from winter storms out here, I thought. I have to admit, however, we did have a couple of doozies. Over a foot of wet, heavy snow fell one night, crippling much of the East Coast, and keeping us busy digging out the driveway all day long. By and large, however, the "storms" that dismissed schools early and sent people to the store for emergency supplies were nothing more than a few inches of dry snow. I scoff at that.

I am not scoffing today, however, as I watch Hurricane Irene head up the coast straight for me. I had not anticipated facing the most dire hurricane warnings for this area in the past five years by myself. Well, the dogs are here, of course. But Ben flew out yesterday to attend his father's birthday party, and Julie and Andrew have very kindly taken in friends who had to evacuate a truly dangerous area along the coast. So it's just me. And I haven't even the slightest idea how to prepare for something like this.

Before Ben left, he rounded up all the flashlights and candles in the house and made sure that I had a transistor radio with working batteries in it. I went to the grocery store yesterday and bought some big bottles of water. Got home and realized I should have gotten some toilet paper too. (Isn't that one of the things people always scoop up in situations like this?) To further prepare, I have done probably pointless things like do the laundry and run the dishwasher. I can, of course, just turn on my television or check the newspaper for lists of supplies I should be laying in. It is probably too late to buy a generator, however, and what the heck would I do with it when I got it home anyway? It would be nice to have some large, battery-operated lanterns, but I am sure those are all gone, as well.

Living where I do, west of Baltimore, I am not so much worried about the hurricane as the aftermath. I know it will rain here for a long time and the wind will blow, but unlike our house in Kent, we have no big trees at all near us so there is no danger of a tree falling on the house or on my unprotected car. The drain outside the basement door is clear, so water will probably not seep in there as it did during the last big storm we had. The backyard will fill up with water, I know, and I fear that our second cherry tree will not survive having its roots soaked again, but I realize these are minor things.

The thing I really fear - and fear is not too strong a word - is a prolonged power outage. I'm not good at power outages. I can hear my family laughing now as they read this. I am terrible at power outages. I just don't know what to do with myself when the power goes off. I can't get on the computer. I can't watch tv. If it is dark out, of course I can't see. My cell phone will only hold its charge for so long without electricity. The A.C. will not work, and the air will become hot and stuffy. The sump pump won't work, and then the basement really will take on water. (Ben's instructions on what to save first were not encouraging.) And, really, the most horrible thing about it is not knowing when power will be restored. I can't tell you how much I am dreading this.

And yet there is this underlying hope that I don't even want to acknowledge that maybe it won't be so bad. Maybe the weather forecasters are over reacting just like they did about impending snow storms. See, I just don't know. And that is what I hate the most.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

nothing is nice

The stated purpose of this blog is to actively seek out and celebrate the nice little things in life that one might otherwise overlook. Gloomy thoughts are not well received. In case you wondered why I haven't been posting.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

fool me once

I've known for many years that the weather forecasters always lie about the weekend forecast. They don't want to tell their readers/viewers that their plans for the weekend are doomed to crappy weather. So they lie. Always. I know this. Which makes me wonder why I chose to believe that yesterday would be another beautiful, sunny, summer day, just like the three days before it. Here's the thing, the forecasters warned, Sunday will not be as nice so if you have outdoor plans, better do them on Saturday. And I wanted to believe that. So I told Ben over dinner Friday night, let's get up early and go to the beach tomorrow.

You see, although we live in Maryland, that doesn't mean getting to the beach is easy for us. It is a three-hour drive to the closest beach. So that is six hours in the car for probably three hours max spent on the beach. Not a good ratio, but when you love the beach as much as we do, it seems worth it to spend a beautiful summer day at the beach. We hadn't been swimming in the ocean yet this year - something we both love to do - and summer is on the wane, let's face it.

Accordingly, Friday night I rummaged around in the basement to find our beach blanket, beach towels, and big beach bag, that had all been tucked away who-know-where when we moved. I found everything we needed (except for my wide-toothed comb. Jules, did I give that to you?) Ben set his alarm for 5:30 a.m., we got up, fed the dogs, and were out of the house a little after 6:00. We were excited and happy as we headed the car east towards the Bay Bridge, but we both noticed that, really, the sun was not shining, and in fact, there was cloud cover as far as we could see. We'll drive out of it, I thought, but instead we drove into - along with the hundreds of other folks who saw the same weather forecasts - a total downpour.

We did drive out of that, but the weather on the other side wasn't very promising, plus we knew we had the rain following behind us. Still, we were on the Eastern Shore by that time, and decided to press on. To add to our discomfort, there was an awful stench of something burning that seemed to travel along with us. Was it our car? Was it the car in front of us? We even smelled it at McDo's in Cambridge, where we made a quick pit stop and bought some breakfast sandwiches. It didn't used to smell like this out here, we thought. Even once we got to the beach, there was a strong burning smell, which we chalked up to damp campfires.

But, hey, we were at the beach! The Atlantic Ocean stretched out in front of us all the way to Africa! I love that! We travel light compared to, really, everyone else we saw on the beach, and the two of us easily carried our blanket and two bags to what looked like a propitious spot on the sparsely-populated beach. It was 9:00 by this time, but the sun was still not shining, although we could see crepuscular rays peeking through the clouds above the water. We knew what the weather looked like at our backs, so it was a quick trip into the water for us - no suntan lotion needed. Wow. Either you love the ocean or you don't, and either way I don't have to describe it for you. We easily got out past where the waves were breaking, and the ocean was like a big bathtub out there. I ducked under some of the big waves and floated over others. I floated on my back, straightened my legs, and wiggled my toes. When it was time to come in, I misjudged a wave and was bowled over by it. Even that was fun.

Pretty soon, we were just watching the sky to see how soon we would have to make a run for the car, so we just packed up and went to the car, as raindrops began to fall. Luckily, we had thrown the newspaper (with its lying forecast!) in the car when we left the house, so we read that. We watched other people straggle in from the beach. We watched the rain on the windshield. We watched other cars pull into the parking lot, and their occupants sat and watched, too. At last we could see blue sky between the clouds and fewer and fewer raindrops fell. So we all headed back out to the beach. The sun came out. I put some suntan lotion on and went in the water. The sun went in, of course, making me feel like I had wasted my time and lotion. (It was not a waste, though. I did find myself slightly burned last night, which would have been really burned without that.)

We stayed in the water as long as we wanted, and decided it was time to go. The beach was filling up at an alarming rate, and I was absolutely amazed by all the stuff that people bring with them to the beach. It was even worse than when we used to bring the kids to the beach twenty years ago. Way worse. Seriously, these people are bringing their entire households with them. No wonder they have to drive those giant gas guzzlers. But, you know, mothers still held their toddlers' hands tightly as they took their first tentative steps into the deep, wide ocean, and little kids still squealed with delight as they ran from (or to!) each approaching wave. I love that.

The trip home was a nightmare, as many others abandoned their plans for a sunny day at the beach and headed home when we did. At 25 miles from the Bay Bridge, the sign said it was a 44-minute drive, but I am sure it took us longer than that. The prevailing stench was still everywhere we drove, and I was fascinated to find out later that the Great Dismal Swamp was burning, and we were smelling it across the entire state of Maryland. That's some smolder.

So this weekend I learned why everyone who lives here says to stay away from the Eastern Shore on the weekend, and I learned that the weather forecasters here - even the avuncular, folksy ones - lie, just like they do in Ohio. I'm looking at you, Marty Bass.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

just as soon as I finish this post...

It has been ten days since I sent my dad a letter. I guess it is time for me to sit down and write him another one. I know it has been that long because I save copies of all the letters I have sent him since we moved here. So I know that I have sent him twenty letters over the eight months we have lived here, and I know how frequently I sent them and what I wrote to him in each of them. I have not received anything in return from him, nor do I expect to. And yet, I still say, it is time for me to write my dad a letter.

When I first started writing to him, I tried to only write about things I thought he would care about or be interested in. Gradually I realized that he doesn't really care about the things I do out here and the only thing he is interested in is when I might be coming back. So. I stopped caring whether he was interested or not, and now I pretend that he is a normal person who is interested in normal things. I write him cheery, descriptive letters about our lives here. I tell him about the house and the dogs and the garden - pretty much what I write about here, actually.

To be honest, I am not entirely sure why I continue this practice. I think my letters might actually irritate my dad in some ways. I mean, we like it out here, we're doing fine, we're not planning on ever going back to Ohio (at least I'm not!) so, obviously, he doesn't want to hear about it. On the other hand, if I stopped writing to him, I think he would be pissed off about that, as well. So, yeah, damned if I do and damned if I don't. I guess the main reason I continue to write to my dad is because I think it is the right thing to do. Is there a better reason than that?

Monday, August 8, 2011

our nest is finally empty

Julie doesn't maintain two residences anymore, and that is just a sad fact. I noticed it first last summer when Ben started living out here while I stayed in Ohio to sell the house. I had thought (hoped) that Julie would be living in Kent with me more so that I wouldn't be all alone, but that was not the case. Admittedly, she started having more serious car trouble about that time, and on the one trip she made, the drive back to Maryland was tense and scary for her. So the bedroom that Ben built corner shelves for and that Julie and I painted bright yellow her freshman year of college was mostly unoccupied until the day we moved.

We do have an "extra bedroom" here, and it basically holds most of the furniture that was in Julie's room at the old house, which is kind of surprising because it is a very small room. We do have a smaller bed in there and I think that makes the difference. Unfortunately, although Julie prefers the compact size of this bedroom, she hates the bed and finds herself unable to sleep in it, to the point that she has recommended that we replace it. I am surprised by this, as I have slept in that bed myself on many occasions. It is the bed that used to be tucked up under the roof in our attic bedroom at the old house. I actually loved sleeping in it when we had a houseful of people downstairs.

I think about all this now in particular as Julie and Andrew are in Ohio right now - but we are not. I remember how excited I used to be when I received the phone call from Julie telling me they had just crossed into Ohio on the turnpike. When I received a text to that effect yesterday, it just meant they were further away. I remember how excited Ben and the dogs and I were when Julie's car pulled up the driveway and she unloaded all her suitcases and bags (and sometimes plants) for a good long stay. I loved the late nights watching tv and knitting, and I loved the lazy breakfasts where we planned our days' outings. I loved having Julie's help in the kitchen as we prepared dinner, and I loved how she and Ben cleaned up afterwards so I didn't have to. I just loved having her in the house, I guess.

To be fair, I think we had a good long run of chicks in the nest, if you will, and I am glad my adult children have "flown away" to productive lives of their own. But that doesn't change the fact that I miss Julie and Tom every day and wonder what they are doing and hope they are safe and happy. It's very like the "words of wisdom" my father-in-law shared with me when Tom was a newborn still in the hospital. "Now you'll worry about him for the rest of your life," he told me in his ponderous, I-am-imparting-great-wisdom-to-you way. That seemed more like a curse than a blessing to me, but I wouldn't have had it any other way. Fly away, my little chickadees. Spread your wings and soar to heights we never dreamed of. Baby birds were never meant to stay in the nest.

Friday, August 5, 2011

settling in

Living in a new neighborhood is always different. There are different little unspoken "rules" that everyone follows - unless one lives in a neighborhood with an HOA where the rules are not only spoken but are part of a written contract - and it takes some time (and close observation) to learn the rules. I feel vaguely uneasy about being forced by peer pressure to follow those rules once they are learned, but that is a topic for another day.

Since Ben and I moved here in early December, everyone was pretty much indoors most of the time - as were we, of course. But as winter faded into spring and we spent every minute we could outside, we noticed that we were, well, the only ones outside. No one else was trimming their shrubs or raking the dead grass from their front yards. That could have been because they had been taking care of their yards right along while ours had received minimal care for we didn't even know how many months.

As the weather warmed up and the grass greened and grew, we finally saw some activity. A lot of activity. Especially from our neighbor across the street with the beautifully-manicured lawn. We saw him outside on a weekly basis, wearing scrubs and a surgical mask as he mowed and edged and watered his lawn. I tell you, he has scrubs in every color of the rainbow. We saw other neighbors outside, as well, although many of them employ lawn care services to keep their yards beautiful. Ben and I just don't want to go that route, and not just because of the cost. I am increasingly uncomfortable with the heedless way our society uses harmful chemicals, and I just don't want to be a part of that. So, once again, we have one of the crappier front lawns instead of one of the nicer ones. Such is our fate, it seems.

The fact is, though, we spend very little time in the front yard. It is much smaller than the back yard, for one thing, and we have a very small front porch. When we are outside, we are, for the most part, "out back". Our large (to us) fenced-in backyard is where we have planted our garden, as well as the trees and shrubs we bought and had planted at great expense by a local nursery. It's where we take the dogs out to chase around and eat things. It's where we enjoy puttering around, planting and picking and pruning. We are out there alot. So here's another strange thing we have noticed: generally we are the only ones out there. We can see, like, six backyards from our back porch, and no on is ever outside doing anything. Seriously.

We worked hard to arrange our patio furniture just the way we wanted it on our little back porch, and when weather permits, we love to eat outside at the glass-topped table we brought from our house in Kent. What we really like to do on the back porch, however, is watch it rain. As I am sure I have mentioned, it really doesn't rain much here, but when the clouds have thickened and thunder has rumbled and rain finally seems imminent, Ben and the dogs and I hurry out the back door (well, we carry the dogs) and we all sit on the glider and wait for the first raindrops to hit the porch roof.

I don't think I can describe the pleasure it brings me to just watch it rain. Oh wait, I already have. One of the first posts I wrote on this blog four years ago detailed my love of a good, soaking summer rain. Lucky for me, Ben shares that enthusiasm. So the four of us sit out there and just watch it rain. If any of our neighbors see us, I'm sure by this time they just shake theirs heads and think, those new people are sitting out in the rain again. But, you know, that's just what we do, and they'll get used to us as we get used to them -- in their houses, somewhere, never coming outside.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

it's just another day

Ever since I haven't had to get up early and go to a job I hate, mornings have become my favorite part of the day. I have settled into a summer routine I really like, and I will enjoy it while I can, as I know it is only temporary.

I feed the dogs first thing, of course, and that is not as easy as it sounds, believe me. Oh, Rufus is easy enough. I pour a half cup of dry dog food into his bowl, and he's munching away before I even start to prepare Lucie's breakfast. Lucie requires a different type of dry dog food, but only a quarter cup. To that I add a quarter cup of canned Hill's Prescription Diet k/d©. I break this up into small pieces, add water to it, microwave it for 15 seconds, then stir. It is now ready to be given to Lucie, and she is ready to eat it. At least she seems to really like this concoction, and generally eats it all. Rufus has long since finished his breakfast and been given a treat by this time, and he watches and waits for Lucie to finish eating.

You might think at that point I would be finished with the dogs' petit dejeuner, but you would be wrong. Next Lucie receives a half squirt of salmon oil on a teaspoon. She has been refusing this lately, but when she does eat it, she pushes about half of the stinky, sticky oil off the spoon and onto my outstretched palm. Yum. On odd-numbered days (the 1st, the 3rd, etc.) Lucie gets a Glycoflex tablet and 1/4 of a baby aspirin. (Rufus gets a little treat, as well, so he doesn't feel left out.) The last week of every month, Lucie takes antibiotics twice a day, which I administer with a bit of peanut butter - Rufus gets to lick the spoon. And, finally, yesterday being the first of the month, was really a triple-word-score day as the dogs also had to have their flea and tick medication. I know you're probably thinking I am exhausted by that time and ready to go back to bed, but, actually, my coffee, which I somehow managed to start is ready, and it is finally my turn to eat breakfast.

Although my morning cup of coffee is crucial (I get blinding headaches without it) I am generally not much of a breakfast eater. This is not because I don't like breakfast, really, but because I am too lazy (and befuddled) to make anything elaborate first thing in the morning. I will usually have some type of granola bar, but lately I have re-discovered an old favorite - cheese and peanut butter crackers. I used to always have a pack of these for my "deskfast" in the mornings when I worked at the university, but I had left them behind with everything else. I had some at Julie's a month or so ago, and I am hooked on them, for the time being, anyway.

I read the Baltimore Sun as I eat my breakfast. Although it is not the Plain Dealer, which I have read all my life, I think it is important to read a local newspaper, and I like it fine for what it is. And the important thing is that after I finish reading the paper, I can work the daily Sudoku. It was a happy day when I first started getting the Sun and realized they carry a Sudoku every day but Sunday on the comics page. I try not to let the tone of my day be set by how well I do on this early morning mental exercise. You see, the thing is that early in the week - Monday, Tuesday, even Wednesday - the puzzles are easy and I can almost always solve them unless I am not paying attention and put an "8" in the same box with an "8", for example. By Friday, however, it is not so easy, and I have learned to walk away from the breakfast table without crumpling and throwing the offensive puzzle across the room. Not a good way to start the day - you see what I mean?

After a quick check of the interwebs, I don my gardening togs and head outside. Most mornings I have to water everything we have planted this year as we get almost no rain here. The worst part is watering the south (or Iris's side, as we like to call it) of the house, so I do that first. It has gotten sun all day long the day before, of course, and it is dry, dry, dry. I have to haul five, full, heavy watering cans of water from the spigot at the front of the house before I am satisfied that everything will survive for another day. Then it is on to the north side of the house, where I fill the bowl in our Japanese garden with water, and water the miniature shrubs when they need it. I water the two struggling containers (even though I am mad at them) and on to my favorites, the climbing roses. The plants were so tiny when we got them in the mail, and I am so surprised and pleased by their progress. Maybe next year they will even bloom... I hope they are like the roses we had climbing next to the back door of our house on Denison. Those roses were so beautiful and so fragrant that the little back porch just filled with that smell when they were blooming. Then, yes, I water all the things in the back yard, pausing frequently to ascertain where Rufus is, and sending him in the house when he inevitably starts munching on the mulch.

Today, though, I didn't have to water all the things because we had a wonderful, soaking thunderstorm last night that did it for me. So I was able to wander around the back yard with my yellow bucket and my gardening tools, picking and pruning, at will. I also have to stop and yell at the dogs to get out of the tomatoes, a recent development. They are looking for grape tomatoes that have fallen off the vines, and I know that they eat them. You don't want to know how I know that. Lucie doesn't hear me when I yell, of course, so I have to walk over to her and scoot her away, which always startles her and makes me feel bad. Pretty soon I get tired of yelling at them and send them in the house, which I think they appreciate.

The time always comes when I am drenched in sweat (sorry, but gardening is not pretty) and ready to go in, as well. I bring in whatever I have picked for the day and set it in the kitchen sink for a good wash. Then I go off for a good wash myself. I don't think I have gotten as dirty in many years as I get here on a regular basis. But, you know, I like it. It feels good and honest to me. And I know that although this hot, humid, growing season will last longer here than it does in Ohio, it will not last forever, and I intend to enjoy every morning of it.

Monday, August 1, 2011

it's that time of year

I filled two big bowls with fresh tomatoes this morning, and decided it was time to try another batch of marinara sauce. Two of our eight tomato plants are San Marzanos, and I bought those specifically because they are supposed to be the best for making sauces. About half the tomatoes I picked this morning were the San Marzanos, along with several other varieties that were ripe today, as well. What the hell. I put them all in the sauce, just like I did when Ben and I first tried making our own marinara sauce last week.

I had never made my own sauce before, so it was off to the interwebs to learn how other people do it. I read six or eight or a dozen recipes, and decided I knew what I wanted to do. So Ben and I set to chopping and chopping and chopping vegetables. We chopped onions and garlic and carrots and a banana pepper and basil, fresh from the garden, and lots and lots of tomatoes. Wow. Did we make a big mess. A seedy, juicy, pulpy mess. But what we ultimately made was some marinara sauce, and I have to say, for a first attempt, I was absolutely satisfied with it. I cooked some penne pasta in the water I had dropped the tomatoes in to remove their skins, and within an hour of when we began, we were eating penne with fresh marinara sauce. And I don't think I would have changed a thing.

So today I set about to replicate that marinara sauce. Things were less hectic this time - perhaps because it wasn't the first time I was doing it all - but it sure did go a lot slower as I worked by myself. I felt like I was more in control of the operation than it being in control of me like it was the last time, though. I cooked the sauce longer this time and plan to reheat it another day, using it to simmer some Italian sausage for a few hours. Upon tasting the sauce, I realized I had forgotten once again to liberally salt and pepper the sauce when I started cooking it. I am so used to using prepared tomato products that I forget how much seasoning fresh ingredients need.

My marinara sauce is cooling now, and I have to say, I am not sure it is worth all the effort. I used three big bowls, two big strainers, and two big pots for one recipe of sauce. I think I discarded as much of the tomatoes as I actually used, I made a huge mess, and as I was eating my lunch, I noticed a hunk of tomato skin stuck to my foot. I may just stick to my cold recipes in the future. But it made me think about my mother-in-law and the huge operation she went through every year when the tomatoes were ripe. From what Ben has told me, it was all hands on deck as they made tomato sauce and tomato juice, and canned jar after jar of bright red tomatoes for the coming year. The house wasn't air-conditioned, of course, and the humidity inside was at 100% as the tomatoes steamed and cooked and cooled. But that was just how it was. It isn't all singing That's Amore and playing bocce in the back yard when you're Italian, you know.

UPDATE: It was worth the effort!

Saturday, July 30, 2011

everybody talks about the weather...

Before we moved to Maryland, Ben and I had lived in Northeast Ohio our entire lives. (Well, there was that brief time when Ben lived in Libya, but that is a story for another day.) Anyway. Because we had always lived in Ohio, we pretty much knew what to expect from the weather, season by season. Sure, there were aberrations over the years. There were some summers that were so hot for so long that we forgot what it felt like to be cool in those pre air-conditioned (for us) days. There was The Great Blizzard of 1978 when our new little Toyota was buried under three feet of snow and nobody went anywhere. There was the freezing rain that fell in April of 2007 as we were leaving for Chicago to attend Tom and Kristy's wedding that wiped out all the wisteria blossoms, along with pretty much all the other blossoms, as well.

By and large, though, we could pretty much predict how the weather would behave in any given season. We knew it would snow too much in the winter and rain too much in the spring. We knew that on summer days when dark clouds rolled across the sky and thunder rumbled in the distance, a soaking summer rain would soon follow. We knew that Indian Summer would come each fall with colors so beautiful and air so crisp that we could forget for a few days that winter was almost upon us.

Those days are gone. Living in a different part of the country is, well, different - as we knew it would be. Since we live right outside of Baltimore, we expected the weather to be hotter and more humid in the summer, and it is. But day after day with temperatures in the upper 90s and even over 100° on several days is really worse than we thought it would be. Nor did we expect day after day (and week after week) to go by without even a hope of rain.

Everyone tells us, however, that this is not normal. "It's not usually this hot for this long." "We're breaking records every day." "We're in the middle of a drought." "The whole country is like this." And, you know, I believe that. I believe it all. But that doesn't help me understand what to expect tomorrow or next week or next year. Each day is a surprise to me. I just hope there are some pleasant surprises in the mix as well.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

about seizing the moment

Have I mentioned my garden recently? Because really I should. We have eight tomato plants, five pepper plants, some basil, rosemary, chives, and parsley. The tomatoes are San Marzanos, Early Girls, grape tomatoes, beefsteaks, Black Princes, and Pink Brandywines. The peppers are hot banana peppers, jalapenos, and red bell peppers. And all of it is rockin' and rollin' right now. Yesterday I made some marinara sauce. I filled a big basket with ripe tomatoes, banana peppers, and fresh basil, all from the garden. Ben helped me with the chopping - there was lots of chopping - and in a little over an hour, we were sitting down to eat incredibly fresh marinara sauce over penne pasta.

We have always had small gardens over the years, with varying degrees of success, but never anything even close to this one. I think it is because we have never lived in Maryland before, but Ben says it is because we have never had such an ideal location for a garden before. We have a long narrow bed along the side fence which faces south, and it gets sun all day long. I wish you could see it. Our garden is really a thing of beauty this time of year. But as I was chopping tomatoes for gazpacho this morning, I was thinking how really brief this season of plenty is and how really soon it will be over. So as hot as it is outside right now, I particularly want to get up from my computer and go out and have a few warm-from-the-sun grape tomatoes right away. Think I will. Hasta la vista.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011


I started this blog four years ago in July of 2007. I was suffering through the last painful weeks of working at the university and felt the need to have some place to chronicle my shifting emotions about my job. I tried to understand how the job I had once loved had morphed into the job I dreaded and couldn't wait to escape. My blog saw me through that difficult patch and I have kept up with it intermittently ever since. To date, I have written 210 posts, which you might think would average out to roughly 50 posts a year, but I didn't post at all in 2009. That was the year I was working at Miss Chickpea's, before Shelly lost interest and it all turned to crap. I was busy and happy with my job and my friends and my knitting.

In honor of this anniversary of sorts, I have been reading back over my old posts, and, all in all, I am pretty pleased with them. Some of them I remember very well, of course, but others I had totally forgotten about. The forgotten ones are the ones that interest me, and they make me glad that I took the time to sit down and write them. Thoughts and feelings I didn't remember have been preserved for me. I have tried in the past to keep a diary or journal but have never been successful at keeping up with it. This time I sort of have. And although I often feel discouraged about a lack of readers here, I made an important discovery. That my most important reader is -- me.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

standin' at the end of a real long road

When we moved to Kent eleven years ago, I didn't know anyone there. I didn't have a single friend. I tried the ways I knew to make some. I went to a book discussion group. I didn't like it. I went to the fitness center. I didn't like it. What I needed was a job. That's how I have always made friends. And, the fact is, I have always made friends. Wherever I have gone, doggone it, people like me.

My brief stint working at a local public library brought me some friends, but they didn't last beyond my job there. When I started working at the university, however, I finally found some true friends. Friends I laughed and cried with. Friends I got drunk with. Friends I took vacations with. Friends who moved away and left me bereft. Friends who remained my friends even after I left the university five years later, feeling depleted and defeated. Friends who were some of the last people I saw before Ben and I made the big move. Joany, Kristen, Vince, you know who you are, but I want to give you a shout-out here. I love you guys.

Those aren't the only friends I left behind, however. Not by a long shot. When I started working at Miss Chickpea's, my co-workers there became my teachers and my mentors, and to my surprise and delight, my friends. Janet and Kathy and Dianne made it a pleasure to go to work every day, and I was delighted when the orbit of my schedule allowed me to work with each of them over the course of a week. We had fantastic customers at that little shop, and it was a pleasure to see many of them walk through the door, but I would be remiss if I did not single out Amy, who became a true friend to me. Even after the shop suddenly closed, we all remained close, and the knitting groups we attended were full of laughter. I miss you all more than you can know.

When we moved here, I was delighted to realize that there is a yarn shop right here in the town where I live. It was one of the first places Julie and I stopped on one of our outings. I love knitting. I love knitters. Surely here I would find kindred spirits who might some day - with careful nurturing - become my friends. But, you know, I didn't like it there. I didn't like the yarns they carried (too pedestrian) and the staff was not friendly and welcoming in the ways to which I was accustomed. I go back there periodically, but, really, I have plenty of yarn. What I need is friends! And it seems to me that I don't have any friends here because I can't find a job, and I can't find a job here because I don't have any friends. It's a bit of a conundrum.

I try to keep in mind that after we moved to Kent it took me a year and a half to find a job at the university, but I hope it doesn't take me that long here. Because I really need the money, and you know, ya got to have friends.*


*Yep, they're song lyrics, kiddies. From Bette Midler's debut album, The Divine Miss M. I must have listened to that album a thousand times, and probably could still sing every song on it, but these are the lyrics that keep running through my mind:

But you got to have friends
The feeling's oh so strong
You got to have friends
To make that day last long

I had some friends but they're gone
Someone came and took them away
And from the dusk 'til the dawn
Here is where I'll stay

I'm standin' at the end of a real long road
And I'm waiting for my new friends to come
I don't care if I'm hungry or freezing (freezing) cold
I've got to get me some

Friday, July 15, 2011

a bathroom of one's own (with apologies to V. Woolf)

I have a bathroom of my own. No one ever uses it but me. I have offered to Ben, to Julie, to Liz, to go ahead and use it, really, but they have all declined. Not that it is dirty or unattractive. Quite the contrary. It is a very pretty little bathroom. And, in point of fact, although it is very small, it is not the smallest bathroom we have ever had. In our house on Longford Avenue, I could stand in the middle of the room and touch all four walls. In my bathroom, I can only touch two of them. Still, it is very small. But since it is only for me, I don't really need it to be any bigger. And I assure you, it is very clean, most of the time. In fact, sometimes when I come in from working in the garden, I feel like I'm too dirty to use my bathroom, and have to use one of the other ones instead.

Ben painted the walls and the ceiling a pale blue that is one of the colors in the shower curtain we brought from the old house. I am very attached to that shower curtain with its soft shades of blue and green and violet. There is a snowy white valance at the window, and a white throw rug on the floor, which is hard to keep clean (in spite of my never wearing shoes in there) and gets thrown in the wash with the towels frequently. I have new light fixtures and the most elegant little medicine cabinet you have ever seen. Ben installed hooks on the door and a lovely glass shelf which holds beach memorabilia from summers gone by. A photo I took of Ben and the kids at the beach more than twenty years ago hangs above it. I prefer my bathrooms to have a cool, clean look, and this one does, with its pale blue and white color scheme.

What I like about my bathroom best of all, though, is that it's just for me. Only my stuff is in there. All the stuff in the medicine cabinet is mine. All the stuff under the sink is mine. All the stuff on the shiny glass shelf is mine. When I want to hang my hand washables up to dry, I don't even hesitate to hang them in my bathroom because they won't bother me - and who else is there to see them?

There are many things I like about this little house that Ben found for us here in Maryland, but one of my favorite things is definitely the smallest room in the house - my bathroom. And for that I say, thank you, Ben.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

it's gazpacho time!

Thirty-one years ago when I was pregnant with Tom, I found a recipe in a brochure in my doctor's office. The recipe was for gazpacho that one could carry to work, refrigerate, and eat. So I did. And thus began my absolute love affair with this cold, fresh, vegetable soup. There are as many ways to make gazpacho as there are people who make it. Ben and I had dinner at a friend's house where the cook was a former priest. He served gazpacho which he said he had learned to make in Spain, and that it was the only "proper" way to prepare it. He had thrown everything (even the bread) into a blender, and the result was flavorful, but thick and textureless. I prefer my own recipe.

This year I am trying to chop the vegetables a bit smaller at Ben's request. And, you know, I like it that way. The perfect spoonful of gazpacho has a bit of each vegetable on it, along with a crouton. That is more difficult to do when the green pepper chunks are 1-inch squares, as the recipe suggests. Need I say that the best gazpacho is made with the freshest vegetables? To that end, I waited this year until I had enough fresh tomatoes hanging on the vines to make up a batch. It is exquisite. I would like to just eat a big bowl of it for dinner. And lunch. Seriously.

The croutons are more important to the recipe than you might think as they provide a much-needed crunchiness. Imagine my dismay yesterday when I made up a batch of gazpacho, then realized we didn't have any croutons. I decided to make my own. I put a few slices of sourdough bread out to firm up, then cut them into cubes. I knew I could toss them in olive oil and herbs and toast them in the oven, but I pretty much don't turn my oven on from June to August, so that was out. Instead I put them in a skillet with the olive oil, a little butter, Parmesan cheese and parsley from my garden. I browned them until they became golden, crunchy little cubes. Perfection. Fresh croutons for my fresh gazpacho.

Ben and I had some gazpacho with our dinner last night, and I just checked the rest this morning to see if it needed more V-8 added to it. Of course it did. I like lots of broth so I added a couple of big glugs from the bottle, then more olive oil and vinegar, salt and pepper. A quick taste - oh man, I was doing the happy dance just like that wild-haired chick on the Food Network. I hope you will try my recipe and do a little happy dancing, yourself. Be sure and adjust the ingredients until it tastes just the way you want it to. That's what I do.


1 clove garlic, minced
2 tomatoes, cut into chunks and seeded
1 cucumber, pared and coarsely chopped
1 medium green pepper, cut into 1-inch pieces
1 medium onion, chopped
2 cups tomato juice (I use V-8)
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
1/4 tsp. salt
2 to 3 drops hot pepper sauce (try Sriracha, if you have it)
dash of pepper
cheese and garlic croutons

Combine vegetables in a large bowl. Stir in tomato juice, oil vinegar, salt, pepper sauce and pepper. Cover; chill. To carry, spoon into a wide-mouthed vacuum bottle. When ready to eat, garnish with croutons.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

no good deed goes unpunished

So I got a call from Wesleyan Village this morning. "Dad is doing fine," the soothing voice on the other end of the line assured me right away, "but we've got a bit of a problem." You know, as soon as I saw that 440 area code in my caller I.D., I knew it wouldn't be good news. And it wasn't.

One of the requirements of living in an assisted care facility, it seems, is that once a year the resident's primary care physician must examine the resident and fill out a form pertaining to the resident's general health. You know, the results of an annual check-up. Doesn't seem like a big deal, does it? Well, that's because you're not my dad. Apparently, he insisted he doesn't go to doctors and so doesn't have a PCP. When told that he had visited the doctor a little over a year ago, he replied that he doesn't have transportation to get there now and so can't go. When assured that transportation could be provided for him, he declined, as he would have to pay for it.

"The last thing he said to me before he hung up on me, " the nice lady told me, "was to call his daughter. She got me into this mess." Yes, I got him into that mess. One only need look at my blog posts of early last year to see how I agonized over what to do with my dad as he had clearly deteriorated to the point where he could no longer live alone and care for himself. I shudder to think how things would be for him if he were still living in that decrepit house all by himself. The "mess" that I got him into was the best and most expensive facility in the area. Aren't I a bad daughter for doing that?

I explained to my caller that I live in Maryland now and that my dad is mad at me for moving so far away. (That is what I assume, anyway, as he has never said.) She did not have my updated info, and apologized for not knowing. "We will try something else then, " she assured me. That's what they will have to do because I can no longer drive to Elyria and take care of him. I most especially can't go out there now to deal with this. That would teach my dad that raising a fuss gets my attention. So I will treat him like an unruly child and be careful not to reward his bad behavior. Meanwhile, yeah, I feel like crap about it. And as ornery as my dad is, that's probably just what he wants.

Monday, March 14, 2011

it still tastes salty

Ben always takes me to the ocean. I think I mentioned before that I never saw the ocean until Ben and I drove to Virginia Beach and Chincoteague Island in, I believe, July of 1979. I fell in love, and the affair is still going strong all these years later. I am told there are people who don't love - or even like - the beach and the ocean, but I don't really get that.

I don't know if I can describe what I love so much about the ocean, but I will try. In no particular order, I love the smell of it. I love the sound of it. I love how windy it is. I love the feel of it, curling around my ankles or trying to knock me over in the surf. I love walking along the beach and stopping to dig my toes into a whole colony of thousands of tiny coquina clams. I love the idea of swimming in the ocean with all the creatures of the Seven Seas. I love standing at the edge of the continent with nothing but the ocean in front of me all the way to friggin' Africa.

On Saturday, Ben and I went to the beach. We drove to Ocean City, which I was delighted to find was less than three hours from our house. My absolute exhileration began, however, as we crossed the Bay Bridge from Annapolis to the Eastern Shore. I craned my neck to look for huge ocean-going ships in the bay below me, and was delighted to see what looked like a whole flotilla of them to the south of us. I was thrilled to drive by so many familiar landmarks of all our trips to Chincoteague. We drove right over the Kent Narrows, where we used to have to stop if a tall sailboat needed to get past the drawbridge. We stopped and ate in Easton, where it seemed like every restaurant we passed was some place we had eaten before. We crossed the mighty Choptank River. We passed Rockawalkin Road. But just past Salisbury, where we usually swing south on 13 to head for Chincoteague, we stayed on US 50 and headed for Ocean City.

I had never been to the ocean when it wasn't summer. I had never been to the ocean without my bathing suit and sun tan lotion. Needless to say, then, I had never been to the ocean in my leather jacket, hoodie, and jeans. But that's how I went because although it was sunny and bright, it was also windy, and I needed every layer I wore.

This was my first visit to Ocean City, and I loved walking along the boardwalk with all its cheesy old souvenir shops. I love that shit. I feel like an eight year-old again with two quarters in my pocket. Ben and I were not the only ones strolling the boardwalk on a brisk Saturday in March, but it was by no means crowded, either. There were other people there just like us, enjoying an early spring afternoon with the promise of summer ahead of us. And this summer, we'll be here to keep that promise. And we'll be here in the fall and the winter, too. You see if we're not.

Monday, February 28, 2011

mea culpa

Yesterday was my dad's 84th birthday. I did not call him. I did not send him a present. Yeah, I feel bad about it. I sent him a birthday card, a post card, and his regular letter. I briefly considered sending him a potted plant, but when I asked Ben what he thought about that idea, he quickly vetoed it. And he was right. Last spring I took my dad some branches of blooming forsythia in a vase of water. They sat for weeks on his radiator until I removed them. Needless to say, they were quite dried out and dead by that time. I don't know why he left them like that, but he did. Maybe he figured I put them there, I could move them.

Dad doesn't make it easy. There is nothing he needs, but more importantly, there is nothing he wants. Last year, every time I went to visit him, I took him something. A new sweater. A beautiful quilt for his bed, which even Dad thought looked quite pretty. Soft, colored t-shirts so that he would quit wearing his white undershirts to dinner. I never saw him wear the sweater or the t-shirts. He returned the quilt to me and told me it was too heavy to sleep under. So he wears old sweaters over his undershirts, just like he always has. His bed is covered by a cheap, unzipped sleeping bag from Walmart. I never took him flowers again, needless to say.

Ben tells me all the time I should call my dad, and he is probably right. But I don't want to call my dad. He has never been good at talking on the phone, and he is even worse now. He has no small talk, nor is he interested in mine. That is why, really, the letters I send him on a regular basis are the perfect way to communicate with him. He can react to them - or not - any way he wants, and I won't ever know it.

These are my rationalizations for not calling my dad or sending him a gift for his birthday. Pick whichever one(s) work for you. They don't quite do it for me. On the positive side, today is the last day of February. Hooray for that, anyway.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

changes in latitude... you know how the rest goes

A quick check back into the old archives of "If this isn't nice, I don't know what is" shows me that last year at this time I was bemoaning cold weather and ice dams and how much I hate February. I gotta say, I still don't like February, but out here in Maryland, it's not so bad. The temperature was in the 50s yesterday and it was bright and sunny. Today and tomorrow the forecast promises sunshine and temperatures in the mid 60s. Can't complain about that!

We did have a warm, sunny day on Monday, and it was wonderful! I opened all the windows, and even left the big sliding door to the back porch open. I mean, there are no bugs this time of year, so why not? Rufus was a bit confused by the open concept, however, and at one point he just walked inside and stood at the door looking out at me. I wiped down all the furniture on the porch, but I believe it is still too early to put the cushions out. I bought some flowered wellies a couple of weeks ago, so I put those on and strode about the wet, muddy backyard with impunity. I was, you know, on poo patrol, but I didn't hardly mind with all the sunshine and fresh air.

The down side of the unseasonably warm weather was that the regular weather had to come rushing back later in the day. The wind picked up as the day progressed, and by evening, the gusts had turned to steady, heavy blowing. The power went out briefly as we sat down to dinner, but we were fortunate, indeed, that it came right back on again. I heard the wind blowing throughout the night, and I was glad that we weren't back in our house on Grove Avenue, surrounded by big, old oak trees.

The wind had done its damage all the same, though. When Ben went out to leave for work in the morning, he noticed the gate to the backyard was wide open. When he went to investigate, he saw that the latch had been blown right off the gate by the buffeting winds. How lucky we were that Rufus had not noticed that when he went out for his early morning constitutional! He would have been gone, and we would have never even known it. The workmen came and repaired the gate yesterday, and I really doubt that we will have a problem with it again. The screws they installed were literally three times longer than the ones that did not hold. Yeah, the fence was expensive, but included in that cost was the maintenance we expected - and received.

So, yeah, it looks like it's going to be a beautiful day today. I believe I'll go out and enjoy it. Hope you have a good one, too.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

time on my hands, a new post on my blog

I don't know for sure, but I have to assume that everyone hates having workmen in their house as much as I do. I need to say straight away that I have not had a single unpleasant experience with any of the workers personally. They have all (so far) done an outstanding job for us, have been efficient and polite, and have cleaned up after themselves. Still, I hate it. I can't go anywhere for one thing. Now, I hadn't planned on going anywhere in particular today, but, still, I can't go if I suddenly want to. I could go to the bank, it now occurs to me, and deposit the check that I finally received from the Interstate 77 Auction House. (More than we had anticipated, thanks for asking.) I could go to the library and pick up the two books they have on hold for me - which I could then read, of course. I could return the curtains that I bought at Target yesterday that are totally wrong for the basement windows, but that helped me to determine what would be right. But, alas, I can't do any of those things.

Today the workmen are here laying ceramic tile in our foyer. I guess it is a good thing that the fence installers have failed to show up for a second day. Otherwise, I think there would be a serious lack of space in our short driveway and in front of our house. These things happen for a reason, eh? Although, I truly have to say that our back yard is a sea of mud where the workers shoveled the snow away on Monday, and I don't blame them for wanting to wait for that to dry out a bit. My shoes are seriously coated with mud from the time I had to go out and get Lucie yesterday. Little shit!

The first thing the floor guys had to do was remove the vinyl floor covering that was there when we bought the house. It wasn't bad as vinyl floor coverings go (other than the mysterious holes right in front of the kitchen door) but it was vinyl floor covering. So that is out of here. They spent a great deal of time trying to get rid of all the squeaks in the floor boards. I know they were doing this because I would hear squeak, squeak, squeaky-squeak, then a bunch of pounding. Squeak, pound, and repeat. Next, they must install the Wonderboard©. Do you wonder what that is? So did I, but that is not how it got its name. It was explained to me that the Wonderboard© will save the tiles from the dreaded "trampoline effect" during which the tiles could crack and break. After that, I assume, the tiles will go down.

I probably should mention that our adventure with the floor tiles actually began last night when Ben and I drove over to Home Depot to pick up all the materials necessary for this project. You know we don't have a truck of any kind, but the delivery of materials would cost an extra hundred dollars, and we thought to save that money for another day. It was a great idea, really, but that darn Wonderboard© was just too big to fit in either of our cars. So we had to pay for delivery, anyway, although it only cost fifty dollars instead of a hundred. So I will consider that we saved fifty bucks by loading our little cars down last night with 300 pounds worth of flooring materials, driving it home, and unloading it.

Needless to say, I am eager to see what our foyer will look like with new ceramic tiles instead of the old vinyl flooring. It will probably totally be worth a day spent in my bedroom with the dogs. We have already replaced the light fixture in the foyer, but have not yet re-painted the dark slate blue walls. This house is already much darker inside than our old house was, and we need to lighten and brighten in here. I know our living room will never be as bright as the old one - window walls on both ends of the room will do that for you - but it can be brighter than it is now. And this time of year, we need that. 'Cause it's winter here in Maryland, too, and I'm telling you, it feels and looks like it. In here, though, it looks fresh and lovely. You should see it. No, really, you should come and see it. Did I mention how lonely I am? A topic for another day, perhaps.

Friday, January 28, 2011

you can't always get what you want --- but sometimes, you can

I was clicking around last week when I found an old black and white movie on TCM. Nothing unusual about that, right? But I lingered on this one for a few minutes, sucked in more by the atmosphere than by the dialogue. A young woman was having tea with a much older woman in a large, old Victorian room. The older woman was chastising the younger one about, it seemed, transgressions in the past towards the young woman's sister, complete with flashbacks to a happier time. The tone was moody and nostalgic and somewhat foreboding. You know, I thought to myself, I am in the mood to read a book that strikes just that tone.

I went to the library and, almost unbelievably, found the perfect book. It is The Distant Hours by Kate Morton. I will tell you straight away this is not great literature. But it is a good, solid, entertaining read that kept me interested throughout its 600 pages. The book has the requisite pair of elderly twin sisters, but (amazingly) they got along, had always gotten along, and had never changed places with each other. There is a big, old moldering house in the British countryside, there is a fey, heartbroken sister, and there is a decades-old mystery to be solved. Our fresh-faced young narrator solves the mystery (of course) and in the process, learns a great deal about her own past - which, surprise! turns out to be entwined with the sad history of the great house.

I know. I know. It sounds like you've read it before. So have I. But the author took some interesting new turns in this familiar tale, and her writing, while a bit florid in places, is deeply satisfying in others. For me, it was the right book at the right time, and the value of that cannot be under-estimated.

Monday, January 24, 2011

the waiting game

One thing you have to do a lot of when you are working with contractors and workmen is waiting. One thing I am really bad at is waiting. This morning, for example, I am supposed to receive a call between 7:00 a.m. and 9:00 a.m. that will inform me what two-hour time slot later today a workman will arrive to measure our foyer for the ceramic tiles we purchased over the weekend. Got that? I am waiting right now for a call that will tell me when I have to wait some more later. I hate this!

I desperately want to take a shower. I want to sort the laundry and throw the first load in the washer - something I can only do after I shower. I want to return my books to the library. I want to go to Target to look for a clock for my bedroom. I want to do all manner of things that I can't do while I am chained to the house, waiting for a phone call.

It seems to me that ever since we moved here I have been waiting for someone. The electrician, the plumber, the guys who delivered the new tv, the guy who came to fix our cable reception, the carpet installers, the guy who came to measure for the carpet installers (!), the guys who came to give me estimates for a new fence - each of them due to arrive at a not clearly defined time that I must, that's right, wait for.

My phone rings - hurray! Is it the measuring guy? No. It is Ben, telling me that for some inexplicable reason, the measuring guy has called him at work to tell him when he will arrive at our house. No matter, now I know that my next period of waiting will begin at 1:00 p.m. It's off to the shower for me!

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

musings on a winter morning

I'm finding out that in many ways, winter in Maryland is a lot like winter in Ohio. It is cold and gray outside and I am disinclined to leave the warm, bright comfort of my home. The sun is slow to come up, and it gets dark early - earlier here, actually, as we are now on the eastern edge of the time zone.

When I went out to retrieve my Baltimore Sun this morning, everything - and I mean everything - was coated in a not-so-thin layer of ice. I am very glad to be able to stay inside today. It will give me a chance to do some further work on my resume, which I pulled out yesterday and began updating. I didn't actually need a resume for my last two jobs at yarn shops, but it doesn't look like my next job - whatever it may be - will be quite as easy to find.

When Ben got home from work last night, I asked him to take a look at my updated resume. Since he is at the other end of the spectrum (that is to say, he hires people) I find his input very valuable. One interesting thing, I find, is that while I try to be what I think of as scrupulously honest on my resume, Ben says that is not necessarily how it is done anymore. Well, he tells me, you could say this instead of that. But that is not actually, technically what I did, I tell him. Close enough, he assures me, it's all in how you phrase it. I begin to realize that perhaps a resume is not the place for narrow definitions or excessive modesty.

In reading over this last paragraph, I am concerned lest you think that Ben is not totally honest, because he is. To a fault, really. And he is quite good at getting jobs, as well. When I asked him last May how soon we could move to Maryland, it took him less than six months to find a job here. So when he gives me job-hunting advice, I listen. Mostly. When I think he is right.

It puts me in mind of the vows Julie wrote for her wedding, actually. I will obey you, she told Andrew - to everyone's surprise - but then adding, when I think you are right. Some traits Julie gets from me, but it is not a one-way street, and some things I get from her. I like it that way.

And now, after a quick peek out the window ~shudder~ it's back to the resume.

Monday, January 10, 2011

but is it communication?

I try to write a letter to my dad every ten days or so. In fact, checking my folder of letters, I see that I wrote every eleven days in December, actually, so it's time for another update. I have been holding off, waiting for the photos that Ben was going to send to Walgreen's, but they are ready to pick up now.

I sit down at my computer, adjust my font size to 14, and try to write a cheery, informative letter. I try to make it sound like I am sitting in Dad's room at Wesleyan Village, chatting with him. Frankly, when I am there I frequently wonder if I am boring him or if he is thinking what an idiot I am, so basically I wonder the same thing as I type these letters. But I persevere. I usually end up with about a page and a half of news about what Ben and I are doing, changes we are making to the house, how the kids are, and what the dogs are up to. Then I hand sign the letter and send it off.

I don't ever expect a reply, you understand. My dad used to be quite the letter writer, firing off hand-printed, single-spaced, many-paged missives to anyone who rubbed him the wrong way - and that was a lot of people. I found copies of many of these letters when I was cleaning out Dad's file cabinet before the house sold. They made me sad, though, and I threw them all away. He has been so angry for such a long time.

Dad sent me a couple of "letters" last year when I was working on getting him situated at Wesleyan Village. They were printed in pencil on torn sheets of paper, and generally were one-sentence requests or questions. He has never liked to use the telephone, you see, and only calls me under situations of duress. He hasn't called me since we moved to Maryland, and I don't believe he will. I think he thinks the phone call will be too expensive, although I tried to explain he would be calling my cell phone with the Ohio area code.

In spite of all this, I will sit here later today and write another letter. I will try to make it light-hearted and informative. I will try once again to connect with my dad. I don't know if I'm doing it for him or doing it for myself. I only know I need to do it.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

project #17 in a continuing series...

Rufus and Lucie and I spent most of yesterday in the basement "rec room". We were waiting down there while two workmen installed carpeting in the hall and bedrooms. I was okay watching TCM until a Red Skelton movie came on. Who ever thought that man was talented or funny? But I digress.

The carpet looks fantastic. I am very pleased with it. Ben and I picked out a berber with as little pattern cut into it as we could find. The color is called "ecru" and I know that doesn't tell you much. It is a darker color than I wanted, but lighter than Ben was hoping for. Since yesterday was cloudy, we haven't really seen the carpet in sunlight yet, so that is something to look forward to.

We did cover up finished hardwood floors with the carpeting, and, like all loyal HGTV viewers, I know that is a no-no. But, hey, that hardwood is still down there, waiting to be uncovered and ooh-ed and ah-ed over by someone else. The fact is, Ben and I did not like the bedrooms with bare wood floors. The rooms felt cold and empty even with all our furniture in them. They did not feel "homey". They also strongly reminded me of the second floor of the big, old, drafty house where I grew up, and that is never a good thing.

Needless to say, the dogs love the carpeting. Rufus immediately began racing up and down the hall and into the bedrooms. He can turn on a dime and speed away again. When he tired himself out, he lay down in the middle of the newly-carpeted hallway. We are happy because both of the dogs can jump on and off the beds now without slipping and falling.

Perhaps early January is not the optimum time to have carpet installed as we really can't open the windows and air the rooms out. If you like that new carpet smell, we've got it. If you don't, we've still got it. On the other hand, right after the holidays is a slow time for most businesses like that, and I believe we got a better price than we would have at other times of the year. I'm really hoping that savings will carry over into our next project: a new fence for the backyard. Now that's a biggie.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

how I spent my birthday

Yesterday Ben and I bought seven new light fixtures. How many light fixtures do we have in this house? Well, about seven. They are all hideous. We bought a fixture for the foyer, the hall, the little dining room that we are using as a library, two for the kitchen and two to go outside the front and side doors. The fixture for the "library" will also have a ceiling fan - the only one in the house. We got quite used to having ceiling fans in our last house, and it didn't seem right not to have any.

When are we going to install all these fixtures? Well, we're not. We are hiring someone to do it. We need some electrical work done anyway, and when the electrician was here a couple of weeks ago, he said it would be any easy thing for him to do. Imagine that. Someone who thinks killing the power and switching the fixtures is easy. I can't begin to tell you what a hassle it is for the two of us to do something like that. If you have ever done it yourself, perhaps you know.

In addition to the light fixtures we bought new house numbers, window well covers, and a large recycle bin. We also took a little print - perhaps it is a lithograph - to the local framing shop to have it framed. So I spent my birthday shopping and buying things - a great many things - and that made it a great day. I just really don't want to know how much we spent. I mean it.