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.

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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

So let me tell you about my tower #11: Window Shopping

During our one week of beautiful spring I painted sashes of windows that didn’t get painted in the fall.   A lot of time has passed since shopping for those windows, and time has given me the opportunity to grade my choices.  Most were right on, unfortunately even those decisions that were made quickly with a foreboding sense of “oh well, most likely this will cause me distress later.”

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Time also has given me the opportunity to wonder once again why I am continuing to write the Tower saga.  Sometimes it is torture.  What I write seems so dry.  My mind is bubbling with other stories to write:  falling down the steps and dislocating my finger; my cousin’s wedding at the Hotel Pierre; life in the sixties compared to life when you are in your sixties; thoughts on my America.

Then, last night as I struggled with Tower #11, I realized that building this addition with Lee has been anything but dull.  The year has been an incredibly rich, creative and romantic adventure.  We’ve been frustrated together, aggravated with each other, physically and mentally exhausted though not necessarily together, ready to run away from each other.

But we’ve also had an almost sinful amount of fun and have celebrated our happiness over and over.  We’ve made it through a large, long project, one that often severs relationships, and we’ve come out stronger, more committed, more convinced.

The Tower saga has been an exercise that seems to plod along.  Hopefully when completed it will be an interesting read for those who were involved, and perhaps for some who weren’t.  My enthusiasm ebbs and wanes.  I am pleasantly surprised by the evolution of the individual chapters, how often they change course and turn into essays on something else.  That said, at this very moment I just want to get it done – and that applies as much to finishing the house as to writing about it.   Lee has told me that he will suffer the depths of my lows about the house and everything else, as long as he can share the peaks of my highs, which is really quite dear.  My moods are something like New England weather.

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LittleHouseMy nose always wrinkled whenever I spoke about the look of the cottage.  Its charm was within and the view beyond, but from the outside the house appeared about to explode.  The contrasting color of the simple window frames, even without trim, was too major a statement for such a small house.  It could have been a 3D rendering of houses I drew when little – in fact there is one of my houses next to a giant apple tree painted on the wall under the sanitas in the kitchen of the house where I grew up.

The color of the cottage was wishy washy.  The back of the house reminded me of one of the hastily constructed, non-descript and neglected office buildings I used to see on the train from Boston to New York back when. Try not to miss the car graveyards and the skinny fox slouching through tall weeds and sumac as you imagine the scene.

The addition gave me my chance to make it better.

My plan from the start was to buy Pella windows to match those in the cottage, and to paint both the cottage and the tower to match the color of the windows.    I received lots of “advice.”  Pella is difficult to work with, they are expensive, look at Marvins, look at Andersons, you can paint the trim even though it is vinyl clad, change the color, use a contrasting trim, one color is boring.

I spent too much time trying to discover why everyone wanted me to do something different and got quotes from various companies and suppliers, played with different color schemes, then did what I wanted in the first place. I  like the monochrome look and on its own Pella Tan has character and fits the landscape.

Most of the window choices were straightforward.  The holdups were those around the spiral staircase and on the bridge.

Spiral Window, 2nd Floor, Facing South

Spiral Window, 2nd Floor, Facing South

In the end I decided upon one awning and three fixed squarish windows in the spiral corner.  It is okay, although the original design of two full walls of glass – which I nixed  — was so much more striking.  Perhaps I should have researched commercial storefront windows for a cleaner look in this space, but . . .

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We made several stops at the Door Jamb in Shokan, just a few miles past the Pella showroom, looking for the two front doors, which would face each other under the bridge.  The cottage came with a full windowed front door and I felt very exposed when someone came to call. That door was going to go up on the third floor of the tower as an exit to the deck.

My task was to pick the door and then consider the price.  Two mahogany doors with full stained glass windows were spectacular. They didn’t fit my “master” plan, which was simple and stark.  At this time the addition was my fantasy lookout tower at the top of a mountain.   But they – the doors — were really spectacular, and Lee offered to pay the overage.  Every now and then shimmering prism patterns on the wall delight us.

IMG_0528 cropped moreWhile there we also looked at windows.  We found seven tall, narrow white vinyl clad Anderson double hungs for the bridge.  These would be troublesome, but any decision would put an end to my stressing over what to buy.  The windows lacked certain features, but were “a very good price.”   Really wish they dropped down for cleaning.   Really wish we didn’t have to use small sliding screens until Lee has the time to build full sized ones.  They look great both inside and out and we’re looking forward to filling our greenhouse bridge with plants.

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We also bought quarter rounds at the Door Jamb, again fighting the feeling that I was making a mistake.  They are fixed and the second floor landing where they are needs ventilation.  They were a bear for Lee to tape and mud, and I still am not sure how to paint them, but they provide the spiritual aura to the space that I’ve written about before.

Lee and I “discussed” window trim for months.  I wanted the no-trim look of the windows on the second floor of the cottage, but Lee could only see problems when he looked at them. Wish I had found this post before today.

I’ll have to wait until my next house for trimless windows.  It’s not wise to push your finish man too hard when he is working for free out of the goodness of his heart.

IMG_0773IMG_0775We picked up four ten-pane interior fir doors on craigslist. Two of these became closet doors.

The other two are double doors to the master bath, and provide us a view of the field and the Hudson from the second floor.  Wall space is tight, so we hung one as a slider and one on hinges.  Towel racks provide some privacy, but more is needed for me to feel comfortable.  Lee has fewer inhibitions.

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.

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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.

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.

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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?

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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.

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  • 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.”

So let me tell you about my tower #9: Breakthrough

frontDave is gently ripping apart the second floor landing of the house.  He’s poking around to see how to support the dormer and the bridge that will connect it to the tower.  I had been wondering about the integrity of the sagging roofline since buying the cottage.  Today’s  demolition reveals there is no ridge pole and the old front walls bow out.

I visited my mom today so was not home while Dave was working.  Lee and I had already moved the bookcases out of the hall so Dave had room to work.  I expected the landing would be in chaos upon my return, but. Lee had cleaned up so well that only some sheet rock dust and some stray insulation remained.  He’s wonderful.  But I didn’t expect the closets and laundry room to be emptied into my office/guest room.  It’s crowded.  I can live with it.IMG_0433

I also wasn’t expecting to find the dark somewhat rotting wood of the original 1870 roof.  It makes me so nostalgic for my 1780 barn in New Hampshire. But it’s just nostalgia, not regret, and now I have a new old home to keep alive. 

Drafted pre-May 22, 2012, and unfortunately revised & revised & . . .

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The thought of writing about the construction of the addition was with me from the very start of the project.  I knew it wouldn’t be Tracy Kidder’s House, but who wants to do what has been done.  It would be my addition.  It was a start.

Finally I had bonded to the project.  I felt a responsibility and a love towards the old beams and the buckling front wall.  My little cottage had stood through 150 years of pelting rains, heavy snows, and the winds that blow down the Hudson, whistling around the cottage walls year-round, occasionally even driving my “outside” dog Tuck inside.

Pulling this portion up now that it fits into the chronology and anticipating reliving that rush of emotion, I was so let down.  The revised draft began:

Work on the tower has been on hold for a week. It is totally discouraging since I don’t feel I can do anything to speed it up.  I’m at the mercy of the contractors and the weather.

My first rewrite was written when I was down, when the weathermen had been forecasting rain just about every day for three weeks. It hardly rained during that time, but who knew.  Dave wouldn’t break through the roof in case it poured, and it did, but only once or twice.

Lee couldn’t start work on the inside until Nick, our concrete man, came and poured the slab over the radiant heat pipes. Nick wouldn’t schedule the truck for the foundation because he worried the truck would sink into mud if the rain should come. Mud never happened.

20120522_190623Dave said he was going to pull out the sheet rock along the staircase to see if there were any supporting posts, but he wouldn’t do that until he was further along with the other work.  I lived with fears of the worst:  the first floor cabinets torn out, the floors destroyed, and all my careful planning of the addition to keep the integrity of cottage intact having been done in vain.

That high that I expected to find in the writing, the high from discovering the old house, is no longer evident in the writing.  Was it ever there?

A lesson learned.  Don’t discard the old when revising.

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We were on hold for quite a while, both the house and my writing.  Tower #1 was written on June 29th.  It took about five weeks for me to become inspired again.  I didn’t want to write about my tower while down.

Unfortunately other dates are mushy through this, but I believe the slab was poured and the roof was opened up by the first week of June.  It was gloriously sunny and windy weather.  The winds had come in and lasted for several weeks.  Dave and his crew loved working by the water, but hated working in the wind.  It is a miracle no one was blown away carrying plywood.

They opened the roof, and you can see the bedroom door off the second floor hallway. The third picture in this run, taken after the framing had begun on the dormer, shows how the closet, stairway, and laundry closet line up under the new LVL.  Hopefully you can approximate how low the ceiling was at the top of the stairs, low enough to bump one’s head repeatedly, and why we wanted to bump the ceiling up into a dormer.

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IMG_0714If you need help envisioning how low the ceiling was, imagine two bedroom closets built into the front sloping wall that are sized for children, or maybe men, but definitely not women who wear dresses that cover more than their bums. Definitely nothing longer than mid-thigh.  Now imagine bumping your head when stooping to get something from the closet.   We have the former owners who lived here and orchestrated the 2004 redo of the house to thank for this.  Lee bumps his head probably more than I do. My only consolation is that the former owners must have bumped their heads also.

IMG_0713The ceiling on the landing is now extraordinarily high for such a small room, and with the sun pouring in the round corner windows we installed, and the niche in the wall that Lee built with a leftover window from a house he renovated, I feel as if I am in my personal chapel.

Dave found a very non-intrusive way to add posts on either side of the staircase to support the new LVL that became the major support of the cottage and all the new weight it was to bear.  That only required redirecting a few water pipes in the basement.

My office was a disaster until two weeks ago when we  finally decided we wouldn’t be making that much dust for awhile.  We put stuff back into the closets, at least temporarily, and moved some of the furniture over to the second floor of the tower. Yes, I did survive the clutter, but very grumpily.

I should let you know too that Lee has moved into his man cave two weeks ago.  It looks like a squirrel house to me.