Six Novels in Woodcuts by Lynd Ward

2013-11-15 00.53.05It took a while to gain the confidence to approach these books without words, a gift from Alex, and when I finally took the plunge I was mesmerized — both with the content and also with the process.  The six novels can be read and studied and reflected upon by oneself, but they are a fine pick for discussion, many discussions. There is no one interpretation to the string of illustrations.  Love, greed, despair, hope, tyranny, fellowship, passion, hypocrisy, regret — it’s all exploding in the woodcuts.

Historc Trust of NYC Lighthouse

Historic House Trust of New York City

Lynd Ward also illustrated children’s books.  The Little Red Lighthouse and the Great Gray Bridge was in the library salvaged from my parents’ home when they sold it.  I have no memory of reading it, yet it seems profoundly familiar.   How did this book find its way to my parents’ bookshelf.  Who bought it and why?  Did I like the book?  Did my parents visit the little red lighthouse by the side of the George Washington Bridge?  Did they take me?  Did they buy it because they were familiar with Ward?

My father’s brother told me that my dad was somewhat of a socialist, not one with a card in his pocket, but one with a heart.  What stories we could have told each other if only . . .

Fourteen joys and a will to be merry

IMG_0067Tuesday morning the flag that flies in the park outside my kitchen window was flying at half-mast. It was important to know why.

Two of my friends had died quietly the day before: one was more like family. Although they lived next door to each other, near the park, neither of them had any clout in town. The flag wasn’t lowered for them. It was eerie.

My friends were in many ways similar.

Both spent a lot of time by themselves. It seemed by choice. They did enjoy socializing, and each of them could be great company.

Both loved the Hudson. One kayaked on it, the other swam in it.

IMG_0062They both spent a lot of time gazing at it from their back porches, and they knew that it was forever changing, and that it would always be revealing more but not all of its secrets.

DucksThey loved the birds – the birds in the air and on the water. They watched each other watch a duck family that crossed through our contingent yards several days in a row on their way to the water. We never did find out where the ducks were coming from. Perhaps they nested at the pond down the road. It seemed a long walk for little ducklings, but one theory is as good as another for the story.

foxBefore&AfterTuckThey both observed the animals that darted out from the lilacs and sumac that bordered the tracks – mostly bunnies, but there were others. One took a picture of the sickly fox that roamed the shore, the other took the fox out of its misery.

They both were survivors. She fought breast cancer and was determined to beat it. She reminded me of my husband Clark who fought until he didn’t have the strength to sit on the tractor and mow the orchard anymore.

My other friend’s body was full of buckshot. We knew it was in his ear, but not until the xrays the day he died did we know that his body was riddled with shot, especially in one leg. He started gagging and gasping for breath on Thursday, and by the weekend Lee and I knew that he deserved a better life than the one he would have if he started the regimen to cure himself.

IMG_0055They both were creative. She maintained beautiful gardens, mostly in large planters. I like to look down on them from my top deck. We talked plants a lot, and also animals, and neighbors, and always the river. Her husband gave me one of her pottery pieces for our “tower toasting” just a few days before she died. It is next to me on my desk. Lee and I knew when she went into the hospital the last time she might not make it to our celebration.

Tuck 2 062013 LeeMy other friend, whom if you haven’t guessed was my dog Tuck, was creative too. He could find a way to get out of anything – almost. She called him Houdini. I think she would have loved to find a way out of her body and run with him.

What does one do when two friends die on the same day? I got into the car and drove to see my mother. She has had to depend upon someone for help in her daily life for the past ten years. She acknowledged me and smiled and I told her the news of the family, and in five – ten minutes she dozed off again. I held her hand drawing in whatever motherly comfort I could.

When in transit, I’m nowhere, a good place to be when you don’t want to be anywhere else. I sing with favorite music or listen to books. This four-hour round trip the book was A Wolf at the Table: A Memoir of my Father by Augusten Burroughs. I hurt for the little boy who longed for his father’s love and had created a reality where he and his father shared a special relationship complete with little rituals. Finally Augusten discovered how wrong he was.

The tape kept running. I was no longer listening, but had had my own breakthrough. Life, death, love, loss, yesterday, tomorrow had all come together and I was happy to be alive. The memories of these two friends, whose times were up, were now part of me, along with the memories of others who had touched me in one way or another.

At home I read the blurb on the audiobook cover: “. . .Though harrowing and brutal, [the book] will ultimately leave you buoyed with the profound joy of simply being alive.” Come on, I thought, this is ridiculous.

It’s now Thursday and I’m somehow picking away at this feeling of joy by wondering if I should feel guilty for loving life while others are struggling just to live another day. Every now and then this pesky theme of mine surfaces and Lee, bless his heart, tells me it is good to enjoy life. I always come up with qualifications.

But here’s to a great neighbor and my dog Tuck, and here’s to my neighbor’s husband who shall grieve as long as he needs, and here’s to Lee, my constant companion and our lost spouses, and here’s to my mother, my sons, my friends, my extended family, Tuck’s vet, and here’s to you.

Love,

Spoonbeam

So let me tell you about my tower #12: Ups and Downs

Lee and I will be young forever.  Lee may not actually believe this, but he certainly did not encourage me to look at the tenuousness of that assumption during design stage.  His method of operation is to take no responsibility and let me make my own mistakes.  Then when something goes wrong he’ll say, “I wouldn’t have done that.”  If he doesn’t say that it is what I imagine.  It’s okay.  He’s prepared.  He has a dumb waiter at his barn which he used to move pottery up and down from his workshop to the kiln which will fit into our spiral corner just in case.

plan showing stairs

We climb 27 steps to get into the tower’s top floor.  The easier climb, going up in the cottage and over the bridge has 29 steps.

Perhaps it was not the smartest design but it is fun to live in a tree house.   So far there has been only one evening that I couldn’t possibly climb those stairs and that was two days ago after spending time on my knees in the garden.

Tuck is not really this goofy looking --

Tuck is not really this goofy looking

Nobody has fallen down the stairs except my dog Tuck, on the spiral.  It is a good thing he got over that embarrassment quickly since he is a dog with little self-control.  He’s not allowed to cross the alley between the cottage and the tower because he will be overpowered by the desire to chase rabbits or take a swim.

Looking across the alley from the tower door

Looking across the alley from inside the tower door

We’ll be sitting in the kitchen and decide we should walk the dogs.  Lee crosses to the tower to get Jaxon’s leash.  Tuck is up the steps over the bridge and down the spiral to meet him at the door.  Lee comes back to the kitchen through the alley.  Tuck is up over and down and greets him at the door.  Lee remembers he forgot his phone.  He cuts across to the tower, and Tuck goes up over and down to meet him over there again.  It’s great.  Tuck has never been happier.

Jaxon on the other hand will not use the spiral.  I admire him for recognizing his limitations.

The culprit stairs

The stairs have fallen with me on them.  Lee claims the blame, but it’s partially my fault also.  He was working on the three steps that go from the bridge to the tower and left the project for lunch or whatever.  I dislocated my finger when the steps collapsed beneath me.  That was a down. I’ve resigned myself to the fact that I’ll probably have a stiff index finger and not be able to make a tight fist for the rest of my life.   Lee will probably be very disappointed I didn’t post the photo he took of my finger — the one that he has used to gleefully gross out most of our friends.

Sitting on the top deck and having morning coffee is an up and makes me so glad we threw out common sense and built our home with all those steps.  We are in the shade, we see three herons in their usual places, an eagle, fishermen, and an early sailboat.  There’s a delightful breeze.  There is a lot of bird activity in the trees at that level in the morning.

IMG_0839Our stairway to the second floor is a spiral from Stair-Pak in Pennsylvania.   It’s all oak, and arrived in pieces, each numbered so that there would be no mistakes putting it together.  It went together easily and looks great.  Make sure you check with them before you buy elsewhere.

Our stairway to the third floor was designed and built by our friend Scott Ziegler – a true craftsman.

Still needs finish work & painting --

Lee designed and built the bannisters out of a slab of cherry. He built our coffee nook and storage under the stairs from excess flooring.   The risers and sides of the staircase still need finish work and painting.

He's watching you --

Close up of the head of the monster in the railing

And Lee built new handrails on the second floor landing in the cottage.  He hated the ones that were there. The railings sit on metal rods which screw into the floor for easy removal — convenient for carrying furniture up and down and into the two rooms on the second floor.  Also for spanning a ladder over the stairwell when painting the ceiling and walls or placing a light fixture.

2013-08-17 03.48.23

Ah – and then there are the outdoor steps complete with Lee’s wife’s family goddess which traveled from China by plane on the lap of his father-in-law.  Now she protects our home and our families.  Later she will stand at the door of his son’s home and hopefully she will continue to bless my boys and their loved ones as her own.

Just a brief aside.  We received our Certificate of Occupancy yesterday.  Thank you to everyone who worked with us!

It wasn’t all roses

Today is Fathers Day and I had a show-stopping conversation with Morgan.  His dad, my husband, passed away in 2006, when Morgan was 22.  We were talking about choosing a partner for marriage.

Mom & Dad at JFK 1990

Morgan said a thoughtful, tender thing to me, at least that’s what I heard.   He said that he and his younger brother Alex have an idea of what a good marriage can be because of the way their parents, Clark and me, stayed together and remained committed to each other for over 25 years.  That’s the model they have in mind, and they are looking for partners with which to do the same.  But oh, my words are so clinical and cliché.  His words were so very much more human, more Morgan.

Clark and I were truly each other’s best friend, there for each other, no question.

Morgan and I spoke about other things too – work, the addition, his cats, air conditioning, July 4th weekend, the cicadas.  And then we hung up.

And then I began to worry.  

In my efforts to make sure my sons are certain that Lee does not mean more to me than their father, have I led them to believe that Clark and I had a fairy-tale marriage?  Will they be endlessly looking for fairy-tale relationships?  As a young girl I believed in fairy-tale romances and marriages.  As an older woman I believe in fairy-tale romances and marriages.  But in-between I learned that it isn’t all lovey-dovey and happy til death do we part. 

There were days during my marriage, and sometimes there were weeks or months when I wondered why or how or when.  Do I really love him?  Would I be happier with someone else?  Am I trapped?

We never fought and I can’t remember ever raising our voices at each other.  I’m pretty sure that is true.  Two of the men I dated after his death, and the one that I am living with now get to that frenetic, shouting state so quickly. 

Arguing with men, with anyone actually except my mother and a few employees (I loathe being in a supervisory position) was new to me, and very uncomfortable, and so I talked about it, trying to understand this hurtful dynamic in a relationship.  One of my “dates” thought that Clark must have been hen-pecked.  How else could he not have gotten angry with me since I was such a controlling, demanding woman?  I don’t see that. 

Clark was level-headed, calm, comforting.  When I totally crashed the computer in our bookstore, leaving us without any inventory or purchase and sales records, he treated me gently and with concern as I walked around constantly crying, mute, and in a shadow for three weeks.  Even when he was hurting with cancer, he found the way to help me through my anxiety and craziness over my mother’s violent and ugly onset of Alzheimer’s and the difficulty of getting her, her friends, and her independent living facility to accept the fact that she needed help.

Another one of my “dates” thought that Clark must have been a saint.  I don’t see that either.

Lee doesn’t analyze.  He just knows that we are both a little bit (hah) high strung, and get frustrated easily.  Of course, I think he is the provocateur, but we won’t go there.  If we’re not laughing at ourselves in an hour, we kiss and make up in the morning.   We know we’ve got a good thing going and we aren’t going to let our big fat egos and our insecurities mess it up.

Clark and I may have talked and discussed, compromised, but I don’t even remember doing that.  We just thought the same way.   We successfully owned and operated two small businesses together.  We built one house and did major improvements on two others.  I guess we were a good match.  

He wasn’t very exciting though. 

When we were courting he had a dream of sailing around the world.  This sounded like heaven to me.  After several years I realized this was definitely just a dream.  He was much too cautious, too responsible, and he had a nightmare of an experience sailing the Marion Bermuda Race in 1979.

Only once did I see him lose it.

That was right after Morgan was born.  He had recently changed jobs, and had given up smoking.  Who knows exactly what brought on the anxiety attack that sent him to the hospital and then to bed for months.  If ever I would have left him, it would have been then.  But somehow both he and I got through it.   Yes, he did get stuck when he was diagnosed, but who wouldn’t, and he soon started looking for answers.

Later on, as he got sicker and weaker with his non-Hodgkins, our life got smaller and smaller, but it was actually a dream.  We were living in a 200 year old home that smiled on us.  We hardly ever left it.  Our children were off on their own. 

It felt to me as if I was getting to know a new Clark.  We spoke of what was happening to him and what would become of me.  We were delving into places that we never had entered before. We were falling in love again. 

Perhaps I have rewritten history for myself and for my boys.  It is hard when you are juggling jobs and children to take the time to love each other.  As I look back now, which I am so lucky to be able to do, I wish we had taken more time for ourselves and were more expressive of our feelings.  At the time I was proud of our stoicism.  It seemed to me that we just understood we were with each other and we didn’t have to prove it to each other over and over.  And I think he felt the same.  We never doubted. 

We were fortunate we had a quiet, close time at the end of Clark’s life.  He made it possible.  He is the one who wanted us to buy that big, rambling house – a bear to maintain – on nine acres which needed constant mowing and care.  I wanted to say “No.  We don’t need an apple orchard.  What are you crazy?   All that spraying, all that work?”

But because I knew I had another life on the way, I would have done anything with him.  

And we did good

Chinatown Update

No trip to NYC is complete without our last minute shopping spree.  My birthday celebration in the city was no different.  We ventured out from our Mott Street apartment into the daytime bustle of Chinatown.

Pig headsI worry about the endurance of this neighborhood.  Just today I read in the Times “that New York needs to be lofted back into global competitiveness. That the city isn’t modern enough.”  And that the Department of City Planning is “envisioning a taller, denser, shinier future for the neighborhood around Grand Central.”  How soon before the entire city is one tall, dense, shiny complex dotted with gentrified neighborhoods for the super-wealthy and not so-super wealthy?

At least not yet.

We scurry from one stall to another buying baby bok choy, Chinese broccoli, mangoes, cherries, pomelo and whatever else we see that looks good.  The cost is always considerably less than what one would find locally.   But the biggest incentive to shop is that it is so much fun to be part of the activity on the streets.  Lee is a pro and his interactions with the vendors are swift and smooth.  He can’t speak the language but he’s got the brusqueness down pat.

We bring home more produce than we think we could ever eat but always seem to consume it all in one stir-fry and soup after another.

Then we pop into the markets for all kinds of noodles, sesame oil, sauces, and black beans.  Lee has his favorites.

2013-04-22 13.01.39

We go to Kam Man on Canal Street when we need more tea blossoms, a teapot, or other kitchenware.  I’m more at home there.  The store has American structure with check out lines and cash registers, and now New Kam Man has a web presence, but we still pay in cash, which is the norm in Chinatown.  Hank C, the “Perpetually Hungry,” on Yelp says he see more tourists in Kam Man than locals, and that could be. The store is  doing something right, at least for me and the other tourists. Hank recommends the Hong Kong Supermarket and other shops on Elizabeth Street and perhaps we’ll give them a look-see when we are down again next week.

Yee Li

Our last stop was Yee Li for lunch and to stock up on meals to bring back home.  We were delighted to see that our favorite restaurant is freshly painted and has earned its “A.”  The ambiance is still the same however.  We were tickled to see two men carry a large glass canister to one of the tables.  They dumped out a big pile of cash and started to count the bills.  No pretense here.  No fear either.  The waiter smiled when we took our photo.

We learned from Lee’s Chinese family that this was the tip jar.  And of course since they grew up working hard in their family’s restaurant they added, for their enjoyment and ours, a few stories of their childhood in the business.

The future is what it is all about, but when life seems meaningless and we feel lost, these small vibrant connections to our past can help us remember the way home.

Musings on Mom and Shredded Wheat

This evening I bought three boxes of bite size Post Shredded Whole Wheat and two curtain rods in Walmart and I feel sullied.

*

It was on my way home from visiting my mom in her assisted living in New Jersey – a two-hour trip one-way.  She was at the table napping in front of a magazine when I arrived, but one of the caretakers who likes to make me feel that my trip hasn’t been in vain, badgered her (but in a gentle way) until she lifted her head from her chin, opened her eyes, and together they sang a few bars of My Bonnie Lies over the Ocean and Cielto Lindo in Spanish.  My mom never knew Cielto Lindo or any Spanish when she was who she was.  I find it interesting that she has learned something new.  She said hi to me and gave me a smile, and went back to sleep.  

Mom and Me at the BeachWhen my mom isn’t too deep into her own thoughts or too sleepy, she recognizes me and that makes me feel good, but I would have been okay going home without connecting with her.  She’s 96 and she is tired.  I have no idea what goes on in her mind.  She has started to mumble when she is half-asleep.  She might mention her oldest grandchild by name, or my father, but there is usually no context to her mumblings, and I miss most of the words if they are words.

Often when I visit the house is full of chatter. Her housemates talk to themselves, one speaks on an imaginary phone she holds to her ear, some talk to baby dolls.   They are important conversations but only one-sided.  They have their own languages and sometimes they talk to me, expecting an answer.  I comprehend nothing except their desire to communicate.  I try to respond but feel very inadequate.  There is one man with the most beautiful smile and brightest eyes who speaks bubbly words of nothingness.  What was he like when he was whole, and what makes him so happy now?

Why should my mom wake up to smile at me?   I lowered my expectations a long time ago.  My visits are opportunities for me to see how she is, which means is her color good, has she slipped further into her illness, is she in pain, is she miserable, does she look comfortable and peaceful, does she need anything, and we hold hands.  If we talk, it is for a few minutes and then she drifts off.

When I left, I was already in my “why?” state of mind. 

*

My plan was to stop at the bank and Lowe’s and to pick up cereal.  Lowe’s had the paint but not the curtain rods. I don’t usually shop at Walmart.  It’s too big, too much a bully, too destructive, but it was on my way out of the big box complex, and it would have everything I still needed.  Just one stop on the way home instead of two stops in the other direction was a good idea.

The parking lot was very crowded.  I cringed looking for a space and once again entering the store.  Memories of my husband who would come home from errands excited by the tattooed ladies in the Walmart in Plymouth, New Hampshire made me smile.  I stood on tiptoes and stretched to reach the three boxes of shredded wheat that were on the top shelf — so far back and high that I had to coax the last two forward by knocking them down with the first.  Obviously PSWW is not a big seller.  The price was nice, but it made me even more uncomfortable with my lack of resolve.  It is so easy to slip into abetting the enemy.

PSWW is the only “just cereal” that I have found, even on health food shelves.  It has nothing added – no sugar, no honey, no nuts, salt, dried fruit, cinnamon, additives. The back of the box proudly shouts out that Post shredded wheat has “an ingredient list that is so good, we have nothing to hide.”  Why does this statement madden me instead of making me happy? I’ve  researched it and it seems to be true.  It’s not organic, but I want a “NO GMO INGREDIENTS” label, and no BHT, and more choices.

My body was quickly moving to rant mode, and eventually my thoughts caught up and settled on frankenfish; over-processed flour; chemical-laden apples ripening in boxcars; aspartame in milk; misuse of antibiotics; chicken breasts with no bodies, heads or feet lined up on shelves in a dark warehouse, hooked up to feeding tubes.  I just don’t understand an agricultural-industrial complex that arrogantly tries to convince consumers they have no right to know what they are putting into their bodies.  Individuals run agribusiness.  Their families eat food, drink water, and breathe air.  How can they  greedily produce foods that negatively effect their children’s bodies and their children’s environment?  How do they and the politicians who support them twist the reality which is that they are destroying the agricultural diversity and sustainability of our planet and the integrity of our food supply into the fantasy that they are graciously feeding the world?

My son, the one who works with food and public health, and I talk a lot about the world’s food supply.  He has convinced me that a new round of make-millions-while-crippling-life-as-we-know-it will belong to the medical-industrial complex.  They will discover ways to alter our bodies so that we can adapt to our unnatural diets, and of course we will pay with our health and our money to fix their “mistakes.”  Maybe we already are on this path; there certainly are enough pills and medical procedures that help us cope with our debilitated digestive systems and allergies and ballooning numbers of ill. 

One neighbor always tells me that we have choices.  We can shop at natural food stores, grow our own vegetables, buy at local farms, prepare from scratch. These choices are still very limited and they take research and energy, commitment and time.  They are luxuries not available to those who are struggling.  They are not concerns of the hungry.

There is more to life than shopping for food.  

____________________________________________________________________

Something new to think about:

http://www.businessweek.com/articles/2013-05-30/genetically-modified-wheat-isnt-supposed-to-exist-dot-so-what-is-it-doing-in-oregon

You can’t have too many extra virgins

Lee moved into his new man cave in January.  His old cave, which was his studio/office/storage facility/private space while we planned and built the addition on my, now our home, was in our friends’ house around the corner. He moved there in October 2011 so that we didn’t have to go across the river and through the woods to be with each other anymore.

One of Lee's cabinets filled with spices and sauces

One of Lee’s cabinets filled with spices and sauces

When I met Lee three years ago he was in the middle of moving  from his home for over twenty years.  His wife Caroline had died and his son had established his own life.   He no longer wanted to be in a rambling empty house and he had recently  renovated a two-bedroom apartment in a Victorian on a quiet but main street, in walking distance to all one could need — almost.    One gathers lots of stuff in 60 plus years, and a lot of memories.  He had filled his apartment with pottery and art and cool hand made things that he and his wife and son had created or bartered for.  It was a very personal and comfortable space.  We became the old couple who walked their big dogs through town.

Soon he made his second move, to his man cave around the corner.  He minimized again, tossing some more, and moving large items into the barn he had built as the pottery studio at his old home.

*

Like Lee I’ve minimized several times. Even so, my home is still filled with furniture, dinnerware, blankets, and more that belonged to my parents and grandparents.  I lived on the same street as my mother’s family, with grandparents, aunts and uncles, and cousins my own age who were playmates always near. We all spent summers together in a big house at the shore. Last year I broke the flowered pitcher that used to sit on my grandmother’s coffee table and I cried.  I know the story behind every item that came from my family, or at least I once did.

Since my husband Clark was an only child, when his mother died, a moving van brought all of the contents of his parents’ house to our door.  I still have much of it, and value it as a tangible connection for my sons to their father.

My sons Morgan and Alex saw my family and Clark’s family most likely two or three times a year, and once Clark’s folks moved to Florida, and the boys got involved in school and their own friends, perhaps once a year.   We got together with grandparents for holidays and birthdays when they boys were young and the adults were healthy, and gatherings were always warm and fun.  It was a different kind of family experience than mine.

I wear a wedding band from Clark’s family.  I think it belonged to his grandmother – but which one?  Morgan and Alex  don’t know that my mom’s mother embroidered the raggy pillowcases in my linen closet when she was sick with cancer.  They don’t know which dinner set belonged to my mom and which to Clark’s, or that the little scissors in the cup on my desk was the one my father kept in the middle drawer of his dresser, the only scissors in our house we could always find.  They will recognize none of the people in the old photographs in the boxes of albums I have in the closet.   I know so few in the boxes from Clark’s family.  Sometimes my boys tell me stories that I passed on to them about people and things, and I look at them in wonderment.  Did I tell them that?   Is the story true?

*

Now that Lee has moved for a third time, into his new space on the first floor of the tower addition, he has picked through all he owns in the world after 66 years one more time.  I IMG_0721don’t think he is as sentimental as I.  Perhaps he is, but when thinking about it he is definitely more practical and efficient.  He gets through it.  I move on, but am never done.

His new space is a bit crowded and disorganized, and there are lots of unopened boxes and stuff piled under the staircase, but it looks great, is comfortable and cozy, and he’s enjoying it a lot.  It will most likely stay that way until we’ve moved into the upper floors and all of our possessions mingle and spread evenly through the entire house.  Then we’ll put pictures on the walls and sculpture on the shelves.

We did however integrate most of our kitchens. We’ve gone through the pots and pans and the dishes and glasses and mugs and mostly decided what to keep in the kitchen, what to store, and what to toss, although I haven’t yet made the plunge and tossed it.

The other evening we went through the spices and sauces.  After combining jars and containers and throwing away items that had date stamps all the way back to 1998, we found we had:

IMG_0724Four

  • bottles of apple cider vinegar, as well as rice and balsamic
  • canisters of sea salt, but no kosher or iodized
  • jars of molasses

Three

  • extra virgin olive oils
  • black bean sauces
  • vanilla extracts
  • baking powders

Two

  • crushed red peppers
  • Lea and Perrins
  • IMG_0719oyster sauces
  • Hoisin sauces
  • oreganos
  • whole cloves
  • herbs de province
  • basils
  • sesame seeds
  • mustards
  • cumin
  • black pepper
  • black beans
  • sesame oils

We had singles of lots of common and uncommon treats, the most interesting of which are:

  • Big O’s $787,000,000,000 Stimulus Sauce (contains no pork)
  • Kotterin Mirin – did you know you only have to walk 11 minutes to burn off the 40 calories per serving of this sweet cooking seasoning?  It is for glazes and sukiyaki.  It has only 15 mg of sodium per tablespoon serving, but corn syrup is the first ingredient on the list.    Funny thing – I just tried opening it see what it smelled like.  It is still sealed.  I didn’t open it.  Maybe it’s a toss.

IMG_0716

  • Tiger Lily Buds – which he never has used, but how can one throw out something with such a sweet name.  It may have to go though because I’ve looked at them on line and they are a different color than ours.  Ours may be from Caroline’s mother’s kitchen which would make them at least twenty years old.  Would Lee’s son want shriveled up flower buds from his grandmother’s kitchen, when he can just walk into a shop in Chinatown and buy them fresh?
  • My favorite of all – Red Boat Fish Sauce.  It is 100% First Press Extra Virgin ca cam (black anchovy) and sea salt.

Not wanting to take any responsibility or show any interest in what he considered a no-brainer project, Lee left the decisions of what to keep and what to throw away to me.  We now have three cabinets full of sauces and spices as well as those in the refrigerator.

The only thing he did say as he flew out of the kitchen to hide in his man cave was “You can’t have two many extra virgins.”

Christmas 2012

One night mid-December dinner was meatballs and spaghetti a la Otto’s. My noodle man Lee had been looking for meatballs to satisfy my craving at our favorite grocers. I can’t remember where the craving came from.  We have been watching a lot of Fellini.  Does Marcello’s father eat spaghetti and meatballs in La Dolce Vita?  Lee’s noodles are so good that I often tell him he should open Lo Fan’s Noodle House and finally bring a great Chinese restaurant to the Hudson Valley.  But “meatballs and spaghetti” is not really his thing.  He was also a little turned off because he had just read an article on the unsanitary – disgusting is a better word — conditions surrounding our meatballs on their way to the grocer’s meat counter – any grocer’s meat counter, not Otto’s in particular.  We still ate the meatballs but he has given up his search for tasty ones.  Maybe the craving will come back and I’ll start trying to concoct that meatball of my dreams.

My office is so crammed with stuff we piled into it because of the construction going on at our house, that I moved gift wrapping downstairs to the living room.  After dinner I picked up where I had left off the evening before.

Lee was at the piano and he sounded good.  He was playing Maria – and I realized he had discovered how to separate his two hands and play a single note in the right and accompaniment in the left – something he has been trying to accomplish for a while.  Lee is a self-taught piano player – he needs to reinvent piano theory on his own in order to understand it.  It takes time, but he does it.  While at first it frustrated me, I now admire him for his persistence and success.

The boys and I were celebrating Christmas/Chanukah on the ninth night of Chanukah.  The date is never as important to us as is the occasion.

But it was Christmas that was on my mind as I wrapped presents.  Our Ch/Ch (pronounced chichi) gathering, was also the negative tenth day of Christmas.  Usually wrapping presents brings on conflict of a sort.  I enjoy wrapping presents, although, as my father used to say, not too much: it goes on too long, or there’s not enough scotch tape, or I worry if I’ve overdone, favored one son, or . . .

This year though something was different.  I was having fun wrapping; there was a little scenario unfolding.   I always use posters saved from our children’s bookstore for wrapping paper.  It is getting harder and hard to cut up these posters as I am getting further and further into the collection and pretty soon only my very, very favorites and the signed ones will be left.  I selected the posters so that each package had a full picture on the front – that was something new.

IMG_0704The leftover gift-wrap paper from the store which reads “the most important twenty minutes of your day” is always my choice for wrapping books.   We read together every morning from when my children were babies until they went to school, and then every evening before going to bed.  This year I actually stretched and chose books and other gifts for them on my own, not from their wish list.  This made me feel good about myself as I must be feeling more confident.  I think they liked them, although they are much too kind to their mother to ever say “What were you ever thinking, mom?”  They always choose books for me in return.

I used red rosin paper left over from laying the floors in the addition.  The paper folds so beautifully.  It was a delight to work with, so my pleasure was not only emotional and intellectual, it was also physical

IMG_0701All the gifts to girls had angel tags, and all those to the boys had stars. (Oh my goodness.  Did I really say girls and boys and not women and men?!)   The tags were also left over from the “Giving Tree” that we used to have in the store.  In the past I chose my tags according to color, or if the presents were from Santa, or Mrs. Claus (she always gave the clothes — a tradition carried on from Nanny), or from Mom and Dad, or just one of us, or by how many words I could fit on them, or – you really don’t want to hear any more.  But I’d love to tell you the story about the snowman bags.

I had already been wrapping presents for three nights.  No rushing, everything was well paced.

Being at ease in the living room was a new sensation.  The room had never worked for me.  At Thanksgiving Morgan and I repositioned some of the furniture and that helped. The fireplace always smelled, and above the fireplace is an empty cabinet built for a large flat-screen TV.  That’s another story, which I will spare you, at least for now.  It’s no matter because once television became hi-tech and the news became gossip, TV failed to interest me any more.  And TV is something I always watched in bed, not with guests in the living room.

The fireplace is gas and an ugly one at that.  It was necessary to turn the gas and the fans on full blast to avoid the stench, which meant that it was only on during power outages.  The man where we bought our little gas stove for the tower suggested I take the whole fireplace apart and clean it well.  That helped too.  He also wanted me to remove the firebox completely and get the dust out from behind, but enough is enough.

The living room is starting to be a good space.

IMG_0695Our Ch/Ch gathering was very warm and we didn’t leave until much too late.  Alex and Morgan’s new girlfriends were there and I hoped we did not overwhelm them, or even worse, frighten them away.  When Morgan wrote and told me that he thought “the Ch/Ch that Alex and Sam hosted was wonderful,” I decided we had all done good.

Lee and I went out to a romantic early dinner at Ship to Shore in Kingston two nights before Christmas.  When the food is good (it doesn’t have to even be great) and I can use my fingers to eat, the restaurant is quiet, it has a bit of elegance without pomp, the waiters are polished, personal and yet keep their distance, and we are happy, I consider the dinner romantic.  The waiter asked us if we were all done with our Christmas shopping.  (Perhaps we looked as relaxed as we were.)  There are gifts that the elves didn’t finish on time and there are two in the freezer that I forgot when loading up our sleigh to Brooklyn.  But we were not only done with our shopping, we were done with Christmas and all I had were happy memories.

Perhaps I had none of my usual Christmas angst because there are now so many people speaking out:  we are not a Christian country; there should be real separation between church and state; God does not belong in school, on the dollar bill, or in party platforms.  It was such a breath of fresh air to learn that the Democrats left God out, and such a disappointment to see God put in.  There is even a growing movement ridiculing the so-called War On Christmas.

Last night, Christmas Eve, I worried a little.  Were Morgan and Alex enjoying Christmas Eve and Christmas Day?  Did they and I over-react to my last year’s rant by hardly mentioning the word?  I hope they are enjoying themselves with friends and that we can look forward to many more Merry Christmases together in the future.

So let me tell you about my tower #8: It dropped from outer space

20120326_100810Framing came next, but writing about it was difficult.  Seven weeks have passed since My Tower #7

I had very little memory and no photos of the first and second floors going up.  Lee thankfully had pictures on his phone, including some additional shots of the foundation going in.

This image of the first floor with the post for the spiral staircase corner gave me a jolt.  I had walked past it each day as it was going up, but had forgotten what it looked like, even seeing it.  After about three weeks looking at the photo and focusing on the time, only bits and pieces of my thoughts re-emerged.  I remembered avoiding the tower, and feeling awkward even entering it.

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My first thought looking at the photo was that positioning the addition at an angle worked.  A few days later I remembered coming to that same that same conclusion back in the spring.

Second floor bath looking north

Second floor bath looking north

I remembered how some days it seemed extremely small, and others large.

This was late April 2012.  Why were the memories of that part of the construction so buried?  So much of my life is like that – no memories, jumbled memories, happy memories of things that didn’t happen.  Was there something going on that was troubling?

Checking my email from that time, everything seemed under control.  In March I had moved my mom to a new assisted living, this one in New Jersey, which was a four-hour  ride round trip.  Most likely I was nervous about how she would do, and trying my darnedest to remain calm about my new commute, but right away she did fine and the drive was okay as long as I did it in the daylight, so that probably wasn’t it.   In fact, even though she remembers less and less and less, she looks happier and younger and is eating better than she has in a few years.  She also swears professionally when she is getting a shower, but once she is dried and dressed and sitting with a snack she always says a very sincere “thank you.”

Younger son Alex had just moved into one of Lee’s vacant apartments across the river.  He had no “real” job and no “real” money coming in, but at the same time he seemed unruffled and happy and it was fun having him so close.  He’d stop over to do his laundry and have dinner.  Older son Morgan had recently broken up with his girl and moved into a new large apartment in Brooklyn. He also was starting his job with The Mayor, and his new life was coming together so I don’t think that was it.

IMG_0414I had to look back to find out when my neighbor put the plastic wire fence along side my bedroom window.  But that wasn’t until June and I did work myself out of that “why me?” state fairly easily.

Perhaps I was just worrying about the possibility of things going wrong?  Annoying the builders?  Stepping on toes?  Money?  Lee and commitment?  Turning 65, which included having to make a decision about Medicare?  Could I have already started obsessing about the election?  Perhaps I was still a wreck after having been diagnosed with myopic degeneration and having already had three Avastin shots in the eye?  That could be.  Shots in the eye aren’t fun. They are not half as bad as having your ophthalmologist fire lasers at a retinal tear above a nerve, but still not fun.

I was worrying out the windows and the drainage.  I’m still worrying about the drainage, but we got through quite a few heavy rains with just a little dampness during Irene and NO water at all in the basement after the deluge earlier this week so I hope I stop worrying about that.   It was before Irene, so the Hudson flooding wasn’t yet on my mind.  I just don’t know.

Mom and the French PressPerhaps I was just tired.

We all forget things.  When my mother moved out of her house a lot of her possessions wound up at mine – including my letters and post cards to her and my father when I lived in Paris in the seventies.  Someone else could have written them.  I didn’t remember the museums, the picnics, the side trips, and the discoveries, just being lonely and in over my head.  It was good to read about having fun.  Either I walked through Paris in a fog, or I was a very creative liar.

But anyway, even though I much rather be writing about what’s going on now, this is my post on the beginning of framing.  It went up so fast, which could be why it is a blur.  In fact I do remember being Late as Usual and running out the door to drive to Jersey and not having the time to see what was going on.

We all soon realized that the second floor was higher than it needed to be and that we would now have three steps in the bridge and the bridge would be about 12 feet tall.  If I had been paying attention, perhaps I would have seen that before the two LVLs went in that would become the top of the bridge.  (I love throwing construction terms around:  laminated veneer lumber.) No way was I going to ask Dave to adjust the height.  We all thought it would look a little weird, but actually it has turned out to be okay.

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There.  It’s written.  Now the story can move on.

Sandy at Cheviot

Something woke me from my sleep at 2:30 last night and I went to my window. I could see the glimmer of water where it shouldn’t be, but where I expected it to be. Tuck and I went down to the porch to look.  The Hudson had risen to the tracks but did not go over them, and the puddle in my lower yard was even higher than during Irene.   The electricity was still out.

The basement was dry.  Water in the basement has been an obsession with me since the year waterfalls of the Las Vegas ilk poured through the bulkhead at the street and down the front yard, and again formed waterfalls through the stone foundation into the basement.  I lost so much of my life and family history in that four-foot flood.   But having my sons at the house to go through their damp possessions filled me with bittersweet pride and joy.

Relieved about the basement I dressed and walked down to the crossing to see if I could get a few photos.  I’d never seen the river this high and hope never to again.  Sorry.  I don’t use the settings that often on my camera, and in the dark getting a picture was impossible — even tho the flash kept going off.  I should go back to my rangefinder.

I went online for any other information I could find, but finally went back to sleep.

In the morning, the Hudson had receded, but the backyard duck pond was still at high tide.  When it went down I checked the shed.  It had flooded during Irene and so we had raised it by two cinder blocks, and the day before Sandy I put boards under the snowblower.  Still when I looked inside, water was sitting in the open ash catcher on my charcoal Weber grill.  The water was at least a foot deep in the shed.  I wonder if it will come back up during this afternoon’s high tide.  It’s like living on the Nile.

The electricity is back on and the generator has been tucked away. I heard from my boys that the streets they live in on Brooklyn didn’t flood, no trees hit the car, one spent yesterday making pickles and today has been commandeered by the city to help with the relief effort, the other is on tour with his band JP & the Gilberts and missed the storm completely.  My mom’s assisted living in Jersey has water and gas and is getting a temporary generator for power.  My sister in Jersey has a tree in her driveway but is happy that that is her only worry.  Lee received no calls from tenants.

The sun came out and my dentist called to make sure I went to my appointment this afternoon.

Sunset after the Storm

We in Cheviot did pretty well.  We missed the big winds and heavy rains.  My heart goes out to NYC and the Jersey Shore and to all who suffered losses.