She had a big breakfast, lay down and . . .

Mom, 2009?

Mom, 2009?

My mother died November first. She was 98 years old, though she looked younger. Yesterday her death became one of the stories Lee tells to people — at dinner, parties, breakfast, or whenever they seem appropriate. This telling was at Crafts People in Spillway, according to Lee, or Hurley, according to their business card.

When we walked into the first building — Jewelry, Lamps and Toys — the man sitting at the door, the owner, recognized Lee. We wandered a bit about until we were in different places. I was kneeling at a counter with barrettes and hair ribbons, sticks and such, hoping to find just the thing for my niece for Chanukah, when from the other side of the aisle came the words: “She had a big breakfast, and lay down for a nap, and . . . .”

He may have already told the story to Derrick or Eric or others of his men buddies separate from our life together, but this was the first I heard him tell it and it shook me a bit.

Only those few words. I quickly moved into the little room at the back which held the toys, in order to avoid hearing more. If it becomes part of his repertoire, it may acquire embellishments, and I’m looking forward to them.

But this telling was, like her death, quiet, peaceful, simple. I wasn’t at her death and will never know if she died as peacefully as the woman who sat with her told me. She said it was beautiful and the way she said it and looked at me and cried, there is no reason not to believe her.

I would have liked to have been with her.

She was in her own world these past few years or so. For the most part they seemed comfortable, content, healthy years, although I have no idea at all of what was going on in her mind. Did she know that she was and yet was not the woman she used to be? that she was unable to communicate? that she no longer could walk? that her sister had died? that her grandson got married? that people still loved her? Did she really just exist in the moment and did that moment ever seem much too long or meaningless? What did she do in-between those moments?

Did she recognize me as her daughter, did she recognize me as someone who came to visit every now and then, did she miss me when I wasn’t there?  Did I disappoint her by not doing whatever she might have wanted me to do, or not saying whatever she wanted me to say? Did she want?

redheaded woman illustrationMy presence during these later years may have had no impact on her happiness. My presence at her death may have been the same. Her last thoughts may have been of those who died before her — her mother, father, husband, or maybe no thoughts, only a longing to be finally free of the confines of her wheelchair and her own mind, or maybe no longing but just a blissful nothingness.

Is it a gift to be present at death? My husband Clark told me of how he held his father’s hand and felt his spirit pass on to him as he died. I wanted so much to give Clark the chance to be on the giving end when he died but I made a mistake and I’ve never forgiven myself. The night of his death was a nightmare that still continues to haunt me, all the layers of which I have yet to explore.

Perhaps being at the side of my mom when she died would have helped me.

It’s been written that

            “when Mister Death come, the living couldn’t see him, and wept and wailed,
            but the folks that was dyin’ rose up to greet him, and smiled at him on their way,
            like they knew him for a friend.”

I like to think that is true, but its simplicity makes me cringe when I think of those who lose loved ones, especially young loved ones, to accidents, gun shots, cancer. Who gives a shit about this Mister Death coming and taking our innocents away?

           “Well son,” said granny, “here’s another question she asks of you. Why did you take             away her baby sister from the cradle?”

           Then Death twisted and turned in his sleep again. “She was sick,” he said, “She                  was full of pain. I took her so she need never cry again.”

Life, death — it’s all a burden and a blessing.

*

redheaded woman cover

Mr. Death and the Redheaded Woman, by Helen Eustis, with illustrations by Reinhard Michl. A Star & Elephant Book published by Green Tiger Press, 1983, originally published in The Saturday Evening Post, February 11, 1950 under the title “The Rider on the Pale Horse.”

I hope I’ll get another chance

We just recently moved into the eleven by eight foot loft of our new addition where we can lie in bed and look out over the Hudson and the Catskills.  There’s not much we can do there but sleep, read, and you know what.  It’s very romantic.

Our kids were up for Thanksgiving – three thirty-ish men with their lovely women.  It was a fabulous weekend for us, the first Thanksgiving with the two families merged.

The last of our children left Sunday afternoon, and the house felt suddenly empty, but it also was once more ours alone.  We decided to pour ourselves each a glass of wine and watch a movie in bed ––

*

*

An hour or two later we awoke.  Lee told me he felt like were in our twenties again.

I told him I forgot to open my eyes.

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

Tuck loved to be free —

Tuck 4 062013 LeeWatching him bound across
the field by the creek made
my toes curl.

Even when he bolted
it was impossible to scold him.
He always came back – full of burrs
and sticks and leaves,
soaking wet,
satisfied and glad to be a dog.

We’d leave the gate open if he were
still out when
we went to bed.

Sometimes I secretly really wanted him
to break away,
squeeze through the fence,
escape the leash,
chase a bunny,
but I
wouldn’t admit it.

What if he
frightened a child?
dug up a garden?
snatched a chicken?

What if he were
hit by the train?
attacked by a coyote?
snagged on a wire?
shot by a neighbor?

He had no use for treats or bribes,
could take or leave his meals,
didn’t sleep on a pillow,
fetch sticks, bother with toys.

He had been wild once,
I was told, in his life before
I knew him

but it must not have been all good

because always he came back to us,
because he always tried his best
to be a loyal, beloved pet,
extending his paw to all, and
keeping an eye on Jaxon,

because he walked proudly at my side,
tail tall and curled,
fluffed like a drum major’s feathers,
on lookout for suspicious dogs on leashes,
and people who might hurt me.

At least that’s what people told me —
that he would protect me.

He was a proud descendant of wolves:
his body peppered with buckshot,
he preferred to sleep outside.

He had a fierce bark, which he didn’t use often,
and it surprised me each time I heard it.

His ballsiness was well noted:
his kennel name was Manly.

His last few days were Hell.

We said goodbye.

He closed his eyes
and went to sleep.

Friendship on Campus

Just read today’s NYTimes article on college sex by Kate Taylor.  Sex is nothing new.  Sex when drunk is nothing new.  Sex without love is nothing new.  It has been going on forever. The article is new and begging for comments.  I’ll fall into line and make mine. 

What’s missing from this article is that women and men on both high school and college campuses, unlike when I was a student in the sixties, can be friends — not just loving couples or hookups, drunk or sober.  Or at least the boys and girls/men and women of my son’s school years –the nineties and two thousand naughts — were friends.  To me that possibility is the most important change in male/female relationships in the past fifty or so years since the women’s sexual revolution.

The sixties opened the door wide for pre-marital lovemaking without guilt or shame.  This eventually became acceptable in the minds of all.  Well not all.  Not those who truly believe in and practice abstinence until marriage, and we should all respect their choice.

Free sex (again what the feminist movement brought about) was certainly not acceptable in the minds of those who had a problem with equality of the sexes.  They took it as a perk.   A dirty perk.  They still do.  Lately with the nonsense coming out of the mouths of our politicians, and the medieval stances being made by legislatures across our land, one might think they are the majority.  Can’t be.  They are just the loudmouth bullies who were loudmouth bullies when they were younger.

Good and bad came with women’s sexual liberation.  On the bad side were the abuses of all those young women and men who wanted to express their trust and love, but who were too immature and innocent to understand that not all the people with flowers in their hair were as pure in heart and mind as they were.  There were bouts of loss of self-esteem, “degrading encounters,” and the hurt and depression that come with miscommunication or lack of communication about expectations or outright lies, conflicts with family and perhaps future partners.  Same as now.  Were there increases in venereal disease or unwanted pregnancies or extra-marital affairs?  There could very well have been.

A lot of college men in the sixties were heavy, heavy drinkers.  What has caused this increase in the female student population?  Is there an increase?  I don’t recall any of my classmates ever saying “If I’m sober, I’m working,” as one college woman is quoted in the article.  Does that reverse into “If I’m not working, I’m drinking and having sex?”  Doubtful. An increase in drinking among today’s female students might stem from a sense of futility, financial pressures, lack of opportunity and lack of encouragement from the leadership and powerful that have emerged from their parents’ and grandparents’ generations.  Being young doesn’t mean you are stupid.  There are just not many places for them to go.

On the good side, the women’s sexual revolution of the sixties enabled students and young adults in their twenties and thirties to delay marriage and experience the freedom of being single and independent before marriage.  The youth of my day were free from internal and external pressures to do things the way our parents did.  A person learns a lot about him/herself and the partner he/she wants and needs by experiencing relationships with different people.  This goes both for personality and lovemaking.

We had time on our side.  We could grow into ourselves before our marriages, not after a divorce as so many of our parents. 

Perhaps the above thought is out of date. Today’s college students can’t do things the way their parents did.  There is little on their side.  Where are the jobs?  What do they do when they graduate?   What fields are open?   They can sell their souls and work for Monsanto or Exxon or Bank of America.  They can teach but only if they agree to deny science and teach lies.  They can go into the arts but only if they have a corporate sponsor which means they are censored.  They can try to change the system but only if they are strong (or crazy) enough to be publicly persecuted and harassed.

Opportunities for high school graduates are even bleaker.  They pay little, offer little chance of advancement, and provide no security or benefits.

Perhaps experiencing life so that you can be a better person and make a better partner choice no longer matters.

Girls and boys were not friends in my school days.  Girls wanted boyfriends, steadies, a class ring, an athletic letter, dates on Saturday night, a club jacket, husbands along with diplomas.  That’s what girls learned from their parents, the TV, the love songs on the radio. Boys wanted someone who would put out or they were too shy to want anything at all.

Somewhere between the sixties and the nineties something changed. 

Both my boys have had girl “friends.”   They’ve been to my house and have spent the night and I know they have not shared a bed, but often a bedroom.  It took me quite a while when they were in high school to believe that all was innocent.   

It was such a great change, a very needed change.  I wish I had had boy “friends” when young.  My first male “friend” was gay and I was in my late twenties!  Even now I’d feel a bit of a flirt and a bit deceitful meeting a man “friend” for coffee or for a walk along the river while my constant companion was at home.

Am I that different from my son’s girl friends?  I wonder. It has come to seem perfectly natural that my sons can have females as friends.  I wonder it if is perfectly natural that other women’s daughters can have males as friends.

Are today’s students so different from those of just ten years ago?  Please don’t tell me so.  Please young women and men of today.  Hang on.  There is no one way.  There are many ways.  Some just wander around a little more than others.

Classmates of the opposite sex are not just marriage partners or hook-ups.  They can be friends – friends for a year, friends for life.    You don’t have to swear to love each other until death do you part.  You don’t have to be committed.  There are chapters in your lives.  Live each one to its fullest.  Friends are fun in good times, they are there in the bad. They are very nice.  It may take a little more effort than getting drunk and doing it standing up in the bathroom.  You may still argue and go different ways, but after making the first friend, you will find it gets easier.  And you won’t have a hangover in the morning.

If you don’t have sex with each other, that’s wonderful.  If you do, that’s wonderful too.  

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.

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.

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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 #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.

So let me tell you about my tower #7: The Foundation & the Stories it Dug Up

Looking up the slope and over the shed.

It is fitting that my first tower post after Sandy is about its foundation. The house is perched 20? feet above the Hudson River.  I’ve always worried about the slope giving way.  Now I can also worry about the Hudson rising and sweeping the house down to the city.

Some say the world will end in fire
Others say in ice. . .

Water will also suffice.

Please, please, please:  may all those who admonish me for worrying about “worst-possibles” be the smart ones, and let me be the dummy.

*

Dave started to dig, but I didn’t watch.  Probably petrified.  Up until now the project could be put in a box and stored in the lower yard shed.

I had done that before – designed a new home and then put it in a box that now actually does sit in the lower yard shed.  It was a very happy time for me, one of those times when I was glowing.  Clark and I were starting a new chapter in our lives.

Building a new home was not even a fleeting thought until our neighbor told us he was selling his lot across the stream behind our house.  We lived in a small town with two dairy farms, on a quiet street near a pond with a stream that separated us from a beautiful large lot that belonged to the Davises.  We loved where we lived.

Every now and then the bridge over the stream would cave in and we were at the end of a dead end – that was best.  The boys in the neighborhood (and there were many) used to climb down to the stream and do good old fashioned outside play.

The lot intrigued us.  We were thinking of closing Book Nooks & Krannies.   Morgan and Alex were growing out of children’s books, Clark had actually gone back to high tech so that we could have health care, and without the family all involved, the store was not as much fun for me.  I would be able to devote my time and energy to the house.

The lot begged for a barn. We agreed on a price for the lot, and went up to spend a night at the Yankee Barn show home in Grantham, New Hampshire.  The boys were still sleeping and Clark and I were downstairs in the kitchen having our coffee and talking about how much we liked the casual, comfortable look and feel of the barn home.  All of a sudden a moose walked by.  It’s amazing what influences my decisions.

We spent several months designing our home, studying the sun and views and the slopes and the wetlands.

The timing was unbelievable.  We had already closed the store and were going to pass papers on the land in a day or two, right after the perc test.  But during all this, unbeknownst to me, Clark was dealing with another issue.  His father had just died, and he must have been thinking about his own mortality, because the week before the perc test he went to the doctor to have a swelling checked out.  He had non-Hodgkins lymphoma.  We decided not to do the house.

It was a very sad time for me and a terrifying one for Clark.  We had already closed the store, and I actually had taken a new job – librarian at Lowell National Historical Park. In fact, I started the job the day he received his diagnosis.  I cried a lot in private and in public.  It was Rosh Hashanah and the boys and I always met our neighbors at the temple.  Tears ran down my checks the entire service.

Life went on.

*

The front yard of my home slopes down from the street.  Dave thought if we went with the foundation as originally planned we would need to put in a retaining wall.  He asked if we wanted to raise the foundation slightly.  It would require a step at the door, but that rise would be offset elsewhere.  I can’t remember the details, but it seemed logical.

Nick came and built the forms and poured the foundation and then Sean laid sleeves between the cottage and the tower for the plumbing and heating, and Dave did the same for the electricity. When connecting the waste water pipes from the tower to those of the house we hit a snag.

Besides my obsession about the slope giving way, I also have a thing about septic systems.  This constant worry grew from having to build a new leach field when Clark and I were selling the house mentioned above because ours failed Title 5 in Massachusetts.

Considering all the hassle and money Clark and I spent to replace that leach field I never felt comfortable with the fact that no one could provide me with a plan of the septic system when I was buying my current house.  The county health department needed the date the work was done.   My realtor looked at me funny when I asked who did septic inspections. All I learned was that the septic tank was under the stone that pointed north in the walkway leading to the house.

If one worries long enough about something happening, it will happen.

Sean was connecting the waste water pipes from the tower to those that led to the septic tank and found a mess.  We had pumped the tank about a month before we started construction, so when we now found it full we knew there was a problem.  The 3-inch pipe that led out from the tank ran uphill.   Sean put in a bigger pipe, adjusted the pitch, and now I know all I want to know about the septic system.

A load of stone for the foundation arrived on May sixteenth.   Lee and Derrick spread that and laid insulation, and then Sean came in to lay the tubing for the radiant heat. We weren’t home when Sean was doing this work, but he told us later that our neighbor came down on his tractor to tell him that he was uncoiling the tubing on his land.  About a week later this neighbor installed a green plastic fence at the property line.

Then we had to decide if we wanted a polished concrete or painted concrete floor on the first floor, or did we not want a concrete floor at all.  Research on the subject proved inconsistent,  but it seemed like a cumbersome, expensive process, with lots of possibilities for disaster.

We unfortunately had lots of time to decide.  For the next month or more, rain was forecast at least every other day.  Nick, our excavator, was wary of having the cement mixer sink into a muddy front yard, so he held off until sunny skies were the norm.

We chose to forgo the smooth, slick look of concrete.  It wasn’t until we actually were going to buy flooring that we learned that outside of carpet or laminate there were very few “affordable” options.  We did, however, find a very good looking and well made laminate, and are happy.

By early June the slab was poured and we could move about on the first floor. In the meantime Dave had been building the tower and pondering the bridge.