Wednesday, December 23, 2009
We put the tree up on Saturday, thanks to Lily, who unwrapped every ornament and hung almost all of them. Stockings are hung. The presents are all wrapped and under the tree, including the Yankee Swaps I picked up. Laundry is washed, piles of it. We have enough chairs, although I don't think we have enough table space. Eating the big meals will be interesting.
Last night, in the bitter cold, Dave and Lily hung some icicle lights in front of our house, bless him. Not his idea of a good time, but ever since we moved here, and maybe even before, Lily has been begging for decorations. No matter the holiday she wants 'em, although Halloween and Christmas are the two biggies. Our neighbors do lovely lights this time of year. I can't be bothered--last year we didn't even have a tree--but I know it's important to Lily.
So last week she and I picked up two 10-foot strings (we're talking very modest lights) at the local Goodwill for $2.5o each and Dave got some electric cords and hooks. It actually looks kinda nice. Oh, and they were on all night because we didn't remember to turn them off until 10pm last night, when we were in bed and going to sleep. No, we didn't get up to turn them off. So this morning he set it on a timer so it goes on at 4pm and goes off at 11pm.
About the tree. I asked my extraordinary gardening neighbors where to get a tree, and they sent me to Northeast Trees in North Hatfield. We could have a pre-cut one or cut one ourselves, or they would cut it for us. They like the Fraser firs they get every year. So we walked out onto this snowy field with lots of stumps around, found our fir, and called over the guy on his tracker, who pulled out his chainsaw. Apparently we are still city folk, because none of us was interested into borrowing their saw and hacking away at it--and carrying it in too. Not even Sasha Ingalls Wilder here.
We waited for our tree back at the gate, inside a greenhouse with a woodstove that kept the heat at least above freezing. I bought a homemade bouquet thing of boughs and bows and pinecones. When the tree arrived, it was shaken vigorously in this funny machine to get off the loose needles, bundled in string ($2 extra), and handed off to us. We bungied it to the roof and drove home, carefully. Worked pretty well. And I know it's fresh, right? Now we just have to remember to water it.
And now we wait. Right now the three of us are in Dave's office, our backs to each other, on our computers. Frank Sinatra is on the iPod: For once in my life, I have someone who needs me. We'll have some dinner, maybe watch one of the movies I borrowed at the library for the week, go to bed early.
Tomorrow morning we'll load up the woodstove and sip tea and hot chocolate while we open our presents as a family, the three of us. We'll eat something yummy for breakfast, and later, get whatever groceries I forgot to buy today. I'll make some corn bread to go with my niece's turkey chili, and wash lettuce for the salad, and fret about where everyone is going to sit. I might go for a swim at the Y, or at least a walk. Dave might make pie.
Lily will undoubtedly play with her presents, especially the new Wii games she's getting. I will try on my the New York sweatshirt I bought myself at Union Square the weekend before Thanksgiving and wrapped on Sunday. Dave will hang his bird-call clock, after rolling his eyes at me for getting it, but I will remind him that everyone who lives here has to have one and it's probably the law. My sister and kids and dog, and my mother and father, and stepmother and stepfather, will arrive in the afternoon, and at dinner we'll toast another year gone by.
I suspect I have crossed the line where I have now lived more years than I have remaining, but I intend to enjoy the passing of time, watching the snow fall, bringing in wood for the fire, feeling the bitter cold in my bones and then soaking in the Japanese tub to revive them. With a luck I'll get to watch the days grow longer, knowing this too shall pass.
Friday, December 18, 2009
#2. The next day I was going north on I-91 and a red car — I don’t know my cars and I don’t want to learn them, but it looked like the same kind and the same woman and it was certainly the same color -- pulled right up behind me in the left-hand lane. I have learned that I don’t need to hang out in that lane, that I should always move over. When I get into these situations I remind myself that driving is never about my ego, that it’s always about safety, mine and everyone else’s. So I moved into the right and the driver zoomed past.
#3. Coming up North King Street toward my neighborhood, just past the Damon Road intersection, the road goes from two lanes to one as it goes under I-91 and the left-hand lane turns into a turning lane for the Big Y shopping mall. It’s a dicey spot, because some cars in the right take the entrance to go north on the highway. So as you come through, you’re wondering if the car in the right is going to speed up for the highway or to try to race past you for some reason. And it’s not clear who has the right of way, the car in the left or the car in the right. If I’m ahead, I think I do, and if I’m behind I slow down, or even if I’m even. This time I could see the yes, red car in my rear-view mirror in the right lane trying to pull ahead of me. I stepped on the gas and pulled ahead. It just seemed safer than slowing way, way down to let them pass, but it’s always a judgment call.
#4. Yesterday, as Lily and I drove downtown to go Christmas shopping, we came to the Dunkin’ Donuts on King Street, where the road turns from two lanes to a left-hand turn-only lane. The car on the right speeds by while the car in the turn lane hangs out until it’s clear. A car — do you need to ask what color it was? — in the turn lane by mistake or on purpose was trying to go straight and was stuck in between the car turning left and me, driving legally on the right. I gave a short honk on my way by so the stuck car didn’t try to pull out in front of me. They gave a furious honk back but I was already ahead of them.
And more. Yes, more. But I’ll spare you. So I explained all this to Lily, sitting next to me, and now it’s a gag between us. Every time some car did something dumb last night, I’d say, look, it’s a red car! She picked up on it quickly so that when we went to A2Z, the fantastic science and toy store, she was the one who noticed that the badly parked van we pulled in next to in the lot was red. Duh.
So now this morning I said, don’t go all red car on me, just get your boots on! This morning I actually drove her to school because it was THREE DEGREES outside, or something like that. Definitely longies weather, longies and Smartwool socks and boots, not sneakers or light shoes. And the knee-length down coat, not the ski jacket. Baby, it’s cold outside! Put another log on the woodstove insert and sit close.
An old therapist used to talk about ambiguity and how important it was to see the grays. To whit: It was wonderful to be back in Brooklyn, and I am so glad I don't live there any more. I loved seeing my friends -- Eve from grad school and family hosted us, and we also saw Laurie and family from grad school, and Emily, and Ismene, our friend and the mom of a friend of Lily's, and Nadine, ditto, and Mike and Steph, Lily's godparents, and I also saw Kim and Shante. Phew!
But it didn't feel rushed and jammed this time, although I was a bit hoarse by Saturday night. Had a great steak at a bar called Alchemy on 5th Avenue, Latino rice and beans and chicken from Los Pollitos II and La Tacqueria (I just clicked on this link and there was a photo of my friend Sylvia, beaming at the camera!), an omelet and a bowl of tea at Le Gamin, and a lovely walk in Prospect Park on Saturday morning. I do love that park!
(Sometimes you just want to go where everyone knows your name, right? and walking the Slope streets felt so familiar and friendly. But here's the thing: I feel that way in Northampton now. I have friends, I am known and even cared for, I laugh here, I bump into people I know in the street, I feel seen. I am a Northamptonite. I like the cold, even though it's really cold. I like the snow, which stays a bit cleaner and fresher with fewer people and less pollution.
I love coming home to a warm house when there's a cold, driving rain. I like seeing the gray-white smoke curl out of our chimney as I back out of the driveway. I love eating winter soups and stews. I so enjoy a hot soak in the tub before climbing into my flannel sheets under the down comforter with two pillows. I love waking up to the trees heavy with snow.
The cat often comes sleep with me around one a.m. , but only on my left side as Dave doesn't like having a cat in the bed. Last night I was turned the wrong way and she gave a little mew and I sleepily rolled over and held up the covers so she could crawl under. I rubbed her cold ears and patted her as she purred me back to sleep. I woke up again a bit later and just having her there helps me fall back asleep.
It reminds me of when Lily was little and she would do the same thing. Only she was so small she had to get a lift up the side of the bed, or else she'd climb up the iron bars at the foot. Now that she's about 5-2 and close to 100 pounds there really isn't enough room in our bed for three, and she hasn't come in with us in a long time. I miss that. I wish we had room for a king-sized bed.)
But I digress. What specifically made me realize I am glad we moved was sitting in Gorilla Coffee on Saturday afternoon chatting for a couple of hours. The line to get served curled around and almost out the door. I remember walking by the night before they opened a few years ago and watching the folks inside meticulously putting little letters on a huge menu; the drink options were numerous. Now there are about six items and the letters are much bigger. The logos have all been redesigned and there are tee-shirts and mugs and there probably always were, but it just looks so much more hip. Everyone at the tables seemed about 12 years old, and hip beyond words, and the music was so loud I spent the visit asking my friend to repeat herself.
I so wish Gorilla success and best wishes. Darlene, the owner, was very helpful when I was thinking about starting a toffee business (called Three Sisters Toffee, with "pace yourself" as the tagline). I love her red scooter, and I love Gorilla. But if its changes are indicative of what life is like on 5th Ave. in the Slope, I am clearly way too square.
I've said it before: I miss my friends. I miss diversity, diversity of thought, gender, economics, food, culture, music, as well as race and ethnicity. I miss certain food -- bagels, NY pizza, fresh mozzarella. I don't miss the mayor and the way he's allowed developers to run rampant. I don't miss the DOE, or the corrupt and nasty MTA management. I don't miss the crowds and the buses and the crazy drivers and the speed and the dirt and the noise. It's the pace I don't miss, and the competitiveness, although I did try to stay out of that one as much as I could.
One final note: I was sad to see that Yogasana, the studio on the corner of our block, was gone, but happy to see they've just relocated. Made us wonder if Lazlo finally sold the building, as there's now a hair salon in that space -- just what 5th Ave. needs (not!), which he would have loathed.
Ah, Brooklyn, Brooklyn, let me in! But only for a visit.
Wednesday, December 09, 2009
So I brought in firewood and turned up the pellet stove in the family room so Lily could play Wii when she got up. I am learning how to use a woodstove, to wit: The ashes weren't glowing and a half a log from the fire last night still sat there, so I figured it was cold. I did my usual, crumpled up newspaper and threw some twigs and small bits of wood on the ashes. The problem with not enough kindling is that the split logs don't catch unless the smaller stuff heats up and burns long enough for them to catch; I have made plenty of fires that flamed great until the paper and the twigs burned out and I was left with coldness. So with this in mind, I went out to the porch to get more kindling and when I came back the thing was in flames. I guess I had enough kindling to begin with, and those coals were just hot enough. I threw on some bigger pieces, and we had a fire going. Nice.
I meditated in the family room next to the pellet stove--it's very hard to find a quiet place in the morning here--and then everyone got up and hung around in their jammies for awhile. I shoveled a small path to the driveway and got the newspaper. Dave made an omelet and I had oat groats mixed with steel cut oats. Dave's office was actually open but he'd brought his computer so he could work from home, which he has done most of the day. Lily Wiied and I think finally had pasta for breakfast.
We'd heard the snow would turn to freezing rain, so around, oh, 10 a.m., when we saw the thermometer go from 30 to 34, Dave and I went out to shovel. He used the snowblower to clear the driveway while I shoved the front walk and the two decks. I was there in my sweatshirt and no gloves, for some reason, but it I quickly got warm and the lack of clothing was not a problem. It did help that I was wearing the fabulous hat my mother knitted for me, the I get complimented on every time I wear it. It wasn't a huge downfall, maybe four or five inches, but it was wet and sticky and very heavy.
After an hour or more of that, we came in and did what? Where does the time go? Does it all go to FaceBook? I'm not sure. At any rate, I sat too long in my wet clothes and got cold, so I drew a bath in the Japanese tub and had a blistering hot soak. Lovely! Dave took one too, but when Lily came home from her playdate around the corner, she declined.
And now I blog. I was in front of the fire and on the sofa reading yesterday's Times. Now Lily has a flute lesson and tomorrow the world grinds up again, a bit whiter, a bit wetter, a bit colder, that much closer to spring. Ugh! Who wants spring! I must have winter first! The nights are still getting longer and the air colder and the birds are back on the feeder outside our window and Chance is going nuts trying to get them. The first snowstorm -- and snow day -- of the year and all is right with the world.
Friday, December 04, 2009
I've lived in apartment buildings small, seven or eight to an entryway, and smaller, two or three. And while it's not exactly group living, sharing a building like that always means some compromise, some give and take in daily living, as simple turning down the music. When we lived in our condo on Warren Street our Chinese neighbors the floor above liked to make fried fish and the moment we smelled it we'd yell, "Incoming!" and race to the stove fan to get the odor going the other direction. Very nice family, just didn't like the fish smell.
We've lived in this house for two and a half years and so far we've had this work done: carpets, paint, windows, garage door fixed, second hot water heater, energy audit (and they are air sealing it now), tile repaired in the main floor bathroom, deck repaired and painted, various electrical work, new sliding glass doors, replaced rot on outside of my studio, storage room off the garage cleaned of mold and ventilated, new coat closet, laundry room and sinks installed, and lots of trees taken down and stumps ground up. I'm probably forgetting stuff. But it really adds up and the house is worth much less than what we paid for, given the lousy economy.
And I want to pay a touch more and put in a closet upstairs and build a wall around our bedroom, so we can finally have some privacy. I also want to replace the front door, and all the hollow-core doors that give us even less privacy in this crazy house. We need new carpet in the basement, and I want to install a ductless heater in my studio so I can use that space year-round (last spring and early summer was so cold and rainy I didn't really use it until July).
And next we need to turn our attention to the yard next, and that's a bigger thing. My sister Bondi suggested we put down some paths in the form of a certain stone she likes, and that will help make it manageable: We can dig up and work on a section at a time, as delineated by the path. So now saving money for stones. First we need topsoil to fill in the deep holes made by the stump grinder.
This is all in addition to the fix-it stuff that we--mostly Dave--have done around the house, like building the pantry, or making the linen closet. And of course the seasonal chores like raking leaves, shoveling snow, stacking firewood, and moving pellets to their storage room, and the daily stuff like vacuuming and laundry and taking out the compost and cleaning the kitty litter. A house demands a lot, and I can see the appeal of an apartment--smaller space, contained, don't have to pay for the hot water replacement, say.
Still, I love it. I like the tasks. I don't see them as distracting or a nuisance, I see them a routine, or even, a ritual. Stacking firewood is a way to stay in touch with the seasons. I don't even mind the cleaning, and I really enjoy laundry. I can't quite get my brain around the gardening yet, which feels foreign to me. I don't understand about light and soil and plants yet, I don't truly appreciate going in and changing them to fit my needs, and the idea of working on such an enormous palate--yes I think my front yard is enormous; I could never be a farmer!--feels overwhelming.
But that will come. So many of my hopes and dreams for myself and my family about this relocation have come true, and I trust that more will follow. It's been such a short time. I've never lived any place more than 14 years, and I want very much to stay here for many years, maybe even until we're as old as the Unnos, the previous owners, who were in their eighties, I think. Still, be careful what you wish for, right? It's working for me now.
Wednesday, December 02, 2009
by O. Henry
There was clearly nothing to do but flop down on the shabby little couch and howl. So Della did it. Which instigates the moral reflection that life is made up of sobs, sniffles, and smiles, with sniffles predominating.
While the mistress of the home is gradually subsiding from the first stage to the second, take a look at the home. A furnished flat at $8 per week. It did not exactly beggar description, but it certainly had that word on the lookout for the mendicancy squad.
In the vestibule below was a letter-box into which no letter would go, and an electric button from which no mortal finger could coax a ring. Also appertaining thereunto was a card bearing the name "Mr. James Dillingham Young."
The "Dillingham" had been flung to the breeze during a former period of prosperity when its possessor was being paid $30 per week. Now, when the income was shrunk to $20, though, they were thinking seriously of contracting to a modest and unassuming D. But whenever Mr. James Dillingham Young came home and reached his flat above he was called "Jim" and greatly hugged by Mrs. James Dillingham Young, already introduced to you as Della. Which is all very good.
Della finished her cry and attended to her cheeks with the powder rag. She stood by the window and looked out dully at a gray cat walking a gray fence in a gray backyard. Tomorrow would be Christmas Day, and she had only $1.87 with which to buy Jim a present. She had been saving every penny she could for months, with this result. Twenty dollars a week doesn't go far. Expenses had been greater than she had calculated. They always are. Only $1.87 to buy a present for Jim. Her Jim. Many a happy hour she had spent planning for something nice for him. Something fine and rare and sterling--something just a little bit near to being worthy of the honor of being owned by Jim.
There was a pier-glass between the windows of the room. Perhaps you have seen a pier-glass in an $8 flat. A very thin and very agile person may, by observing his reflection in a rapid sequence of longitudinal strips, obtain a fairly accurate conception of his looks. Della, being slender, had mastered the art.
Suddenly she whirled from the window and stood before the glass. her eyes were shining brilliantly, but her face had lost its color within twenty seconds. Rapidly she pulled down her hair and let it fall to its full length.
Now, there were two possessions of the James Dillingham Youngs in which they both took a mighty pride. One was Jim's gold watch that had been his father's and his grandfather's. The other was Della's hair. Had the queen of Sheba lived in the flat across the airshaft, Della would have let her hair hang out the window some day to dry just to depreciate Her Majesty's jewels and gifts. Had King Solomon been the janitor, with all his treasures piled up in the basement, Jim would have pulled out his watch every time he passed, just to see him pluck at his beard from envy.
So now Della's beautiful hair fell about her rippling and shining like a cascade of brown waters. It reached below her knee and made itself almost a garment for her. And then she did it up again nervously and quickly. Once she faltered for a minute and stood still while a tear or two splashed on the worn red carpet.
On went her old brown jacket; on went her old brown hat. With a whirl of skirts and with the brilliant sparkle still in her eyes, she fluttered out the door and down the stairs to the street.
Where she stopped the sign read: "Mne. Sofronie. Hair Goods of All Kinds." One flight up Della ran, and collected herself, panting. Madame, large, too white, chilly, hardly looked the "Sofronie."
"Will you buy my hair?" asked Della.
"I buy hair," said Madame. "Take yer hat off and let's have a sight at the looks of it."
Down rippled the brown cascade.
"Twenty dollars," said Madame, lifting the mass with a practised hand.
"Give it to me quick," said Della.
Oh, and the next two hours tripped by on rosy wings. Forget the hashed metaphor. She was ransacking the stores for Jim's present.
She found it at last. It surely had been made for Jim and no one else. There was no other like it in any of the stores, and she had turned all of them inside out. It was a platinum fob chain simple and chaste in design, properly proclaiming its value by substance alone and not by meretricious ornamentation--as all good things should do. It was even worthy of The Watch. As soon as she saw it she knew that it must be Jim's. It was like him. Quietness and value--the description applied to both. Twenty-one dollars they took from her for it, and she hurried home with the 87 cents. With that chain on his watch Jim might be properly anxious about the time in any company. Grand as the watch was, he sometimes looked at it on the sly on account of the old leather strap that he used in place of a chain.
When Della reached home her intoxication gave way a little to prudence and reason. She got out her curling irons and lighted the gas and went to work repairing the ravages made by generosity added to love. Which is always a tremendous task, dear friends--a mammoth task.
Within forty minutes her head was covered with tiny, close-lying curls that made her look wonderfully like a truant schoolboy. She looked at her reflection in the mirror long, carefully, and critically.
"If Jim doesn't kill me," she said to herself, "before he takes a second look at me, he'll say I look like a Coney Island chorus girl. But what could I do--oh! what could I do with a dollar and eighty-seven cents?"
At 7 o'clock the coffee was made and the frying-pan was on the back of the stove hot and ready to cook the chops.
Jim was never late. Della doubled the fob chain in her hand and sat on the corner of the table near the door that he always entered. Then she heard his step on the stair away down on the first flight, and she turned white for just a moment. She had a habit for saying little silent prayer about the simplest everyday things, and now she whispered: "Please God, make him think I am still pretty."
The door opened and Jim stepped in and closed it. He looked thin and very serious. Poor fellow, he was only twenty-two--and to be burdened with a family! He needed a new overcoat and he was without gloves.
Jim stopped inside the door, as immovable as a setter at the scent of quail. His eyes were fixed upon Della, and there was an expression in them that she could not read, and it terrified her. It was not anger, nor surprise, nor disapproval, nor horror, nor any of the sentiments that she had been prepared for. He simply stared at her fixedly with that peculiar expression on his face.
Della wriggled off the table and went for him.
"Jim, darling," she cried, "don't look at me that way. I had my hair cut off and sold because I couldn't have lived through Christmas without giving you a present. It'll grow out again--you won't mind, will you? I just had to do it. My hair grows awfully fast. Say `Merry Christmas!' Jim, and let's be happy. You don't know what a nice--what a beautiful, nice gift I've got for you."
"You've cut off your hair?" asked Jim, laboriously, as if he had not arrived at that patent fact yet even after the hardest mental labor.
"Cut it off and sold it," said Della. "Don't you like me just as well, anyhow? I'm me without my hair, ain't I?"
Jim looked about the room curiously.
"You say your hair is gone?" he said, with an air almost of idiocy.
"You needn't look for it," said Della. "It's sold, I tell you--sold and gone, too. It's Christmas Eve, boy. Be good to me, for it went for you. Maybe the hairs of my head were numbered," she went on with sudden serious sweetness, "but nobody could ever count my love for you. Shall I put the chops on, Jim?"
Out of his trance Jim seemed quickly to wake. He enfolded his Della. For ten seconds let us regard with discreet scrutiny some inconsequential object in the other direction. Eight dollars a week or a million a year--what is the difference? A mathematician or a wit would give you the wrong answer. The magi brought valuable gifts, but that was not among them. This dark assertion will be illuminated later on.
Jim drew a package from his overcoat pocket and threw it upon the table.
"Don't make any mistake, Dell," he said, "about me. I don't think there's anything in the way of a haircut or a shave or a shampoo that could make me like my girl any less. But if you'll unwrap that package you may see why you had me going a while at first."
White fingers and nimble tore at the string and paper. And then an ecstatic scream of joy; and then, alas! a quick feminine change to hysterical tears and wails, necessitating the immediate employment of all the comforting powers of the lord of the flat.
For there lay The Combs--the set of combs, side and back, that Della had worshipped long in a Broadway window. Beautiful combs, pure tortoise shell, with jewelled rims--just the shade to wear in the beautiful vanished hair. They were expensive combs, she knew, and her heart had simply craved and yearned over them without the least hope of possession. And now, they were hers, but the tresses that should have adorned the coveted adornments were gone.
But she hugged them to her bosom, and at length she was able to look up with dim eyes and a smile and say: "My hair grows so fast, Jim!"
And them Della leaped up like a little singed cat and cried, "Oh, oh!"
Jim had not yet seen his beautiful present. She held it out to him eagerly upon her open palm. The dull precious metal seemed to flash with a reflection of her bright and ardent spirit.
"Isn't it a dandy, Jim? I hunted all over town to find it. You'll have to look at the time a hundred times a day now. Give me your watch. I want to see how it looks on it."
Instead of obeying, Jim tumbled down on the couch and put his hands under the back of his head and smiled.
"Dell," said he, "let's put our Christmas presents away and keep 'em a while. They're too nice to use just at present. I sold the watch to get the money to buy your combs. And now suppose you put the chops on."
The magi, as you know, were wise men--wonderfully wise men--who brought gifts to the Babe in the manger. They invented the art of giving Christmas presents. Being wise, their gifts were no doubt wise ones, possibly bearing the privilege of exchange in case of duplication. And here I have lamely related to you the uneventful chronicle of two foolish children in a flat who most unwisely sacrificed for each other the greatest treasures of their house. But in a last word to the wise of these days let it be said that of all who give gifts these two were the wisest. O all who give and receive gifts, such as they are wisest. Everywhere they are wisest. They are the magi.Courtesy of Project Gutenberg
Less than an hour later I was driving toward Lily's school and the moon was there in front of me for more than a mile until I finally turned west, hanging in the north sky right above the horizon. It was so huge and round and white and surreal. It reminded me of my single most favorite scene in Star Wars, the very first one. More than anything in that movie, the thing that took my breath away in, what, 1977? was an early scene in the movie, at the Skywalker farm at dusk, and you see Luke with two moons behind him in the sky. I laughed out loud. That's what made it otherwordly for me, in the true sense of the word. That's what made it seem extraterrestrial.
The light of our moon is incredible. Much colder, bluer than the sun, and more concentrated, of course. But that beam that does come through can light up a room. It's strong and a bit creepy and it blows my mind. I never noticed the moon in New York. I seem to say that a lot, but I really couldn't see much nature in the city, what with all the tall buildings, and what I did see didn't register.
We get a blue moon this month: December has two full moons, one this morning at 2:00 a.m. and one on New Year's Eve at 2:00 p.m. Cool! Great song too!