Category Archives: Home Making

Adventures of Lenny the Squirrel Menorah: Everyday Magic, Day 749


Lenny deciding which part of the cake he wants (he prefers to eat the part with the candles)

We have a new friend in Lenny the squirrel menorah. Born out of need and obsession, he was to symbolize the mash-up holiday of Thanksgivukkah, but as time went on, I’ve found him to be so much: an ambassador of goodwill and whimsy, a calm tender of the fire, a birthday week companion who doesn’t get headaches from drinking too much eggnog, a confidant of the highest order, and a dear friend who I feel like I’ve always known. It’s as if a very unobtrusive but highly desirable guest dropped by and, to the delight of all, moved in for life.

The cat finds him captivating too

The cat finds him captivating too

We found Lenny more than made him. Having first seen a spectacular white squirrel menorah on the internet, I immediately thought, “It shall be mine!” only find out that: 1) It wasn’t an actual menorah, but a collection of white squirrel candle holders, and 2) Said candle holders together would cost more than the value of one of our cars. So it was off to toy stores, antique stores, and many hours on the internet looking for squirrel menorahs (none out there – outrageous!) or nine small squirrel figurines to make a menorah from (I found every other kind of rodent but squirrels).

Lenny between big and little fire

Lenny between big and little fire

Then I saw Lenny sitting on a shelf in the antique mall. I brought him home for a mere $6 and put him on the kitchen table for a month while wondering how to menorah-ize him. Lucky for Lenny, a cleaning spree helped me discover little glass cubes that composed a menorah of themselves but could be rearranged around a cheerful ceramic squirrel. Ken cut a wooden base and found some strong glue, and voila! We had our squirrel menorah.

At first Lenny hung out with the cats and basically just bided his time, resting up for the show, which began on Thanksgiving eve. From there, each night, it was another adventure, with the loudest and biggest one coming, appropriately, on the last night of Hanukkah,

Thanksgiving and no one thought to give Lenny any turkey

Thanksgiving and no one thought to give Lenny any turkey

which happened to coincide with my birthday. Lenny was a champ about it all, traveling with ease, holding whatever candles we gave him, and releasing wax remnants with ease the next morning.

Now that Hanukkah and Thanksgiving are over, and there’s only a small

Lenny hangs out with my birthday loot. He especially likes the maple syrup.

Lenny hangs out with my birthday loot. He especially likes the maple syrup.

baggie of stuffing left in the refrigerator and a few errand Hanukkah candles left, I could assign Lenny a room in the basement with the other menorahs, which seem much more like the inanimate object they are. But Lenny tells me otherwise, maybe with his eyes that truly follow me wherever I go while pretending to look straight ahead (Lenny has superb peripheral vision) and surely with his heart. Besides, I’m curious as to what Lenny’s next adventure might be, and like the troll in the film Amelie, I wouldn’t be surprised if he turns up at the Pyramids, Roman ruins or in the refrigerator, all the time reminding me how, with the right squirrel, all things are possible.

The Party’s Over, The Dog Is Back & The Nest Is Emptying: Everyday Magic, Day 748

DSCN2222By 11:52 last night, Daniel was on the long, sonorous train heading southwest, less than six hours before the prodigal dog, once again vanished for a walkabout, returned home. Within a day, Natalie flies north, Forest starts classes again, work encapsulates a lot of our daylight, and the leftovers from so many gatherings ebb to crumbs. It’s the end of one wildly-vast holiday helping and the beginning of the regrouping, just in time for another bout of holidays later this month.

There’s something very satisfying about having done it all, then waking to a quiet, mostly still-clean house with a lovely bowl of local persimmons on the counter left by one guest and some handmade potholders left by another. There’s a sense of plenitude and saturation, all in the aura of fellowship that filled our house, first for Thanksgivukkah, then for the Hanukkah party with parties and festivities elsewhere in between. Mostly, there’s the lovely ease of having nothing to do but drink coffee, eat some oatmeal, and later, take a walk or take in a movie.

P1030903The weather helped with so many days bright and shining, temperatures making it easy to wander in the fields or through town. So did the company: a mash-up of friends from 30 years ago traveling through along with more recent friends, family threading together, new and old pals from different worlds overlapping over heapings of latkes, and finding Mama Stamberg’s cranberry relish everywhere we went.

DSCN2236Now is the time to remember conversations about true sabbaticals into the wild, how being a turkey mama is a free pass to being accepted by the animal world, forging forgiveness with people who haven’t a clue, watercolor tattoos, the impending arrival of bluebirds, the wonders of Brussels sprouts, and animal adventures. Speaking of which, the post-adventuring dog snores loudly by my side while the chickadees begin to make the cottonwood branches tremble a bit with their weightless weight. So much to be grateful for, not the least of which is the time to be.

Drive, Hives & Still Alive: Everyday Magic, Day 689

Snow drifts on the drive were twice this high

Snow drifts on the drive were twice this high

That was yesterday, which included getting the van stuck in dog-high snow drifts, a doctor’s visit for stress-related hives, and narrowly escaping a speeding bullet of a car. It was also the Passover Express, the day to get everything set up for the big night of liberation at our annual no-holds-barred sedar.

In the beginning, there was snow. Despite only about 5-6 inches of the stuff in town, just five miles south, where we live, there was a foot, some of which melted and re-froze. Because I needed a big vehicle to pick up rental tables and chairs for Passover, which had been wisely (thanks to Ken telling me, “No, no, no, no, no!” about having people attempt to make it up our long and twisting snow-packed drive), I got in the van. Going forward and uphill didn’t work out so well, and going backwards led to inertia too. I pulled the snow shovel out of the van and went to work, freeing myself enough to go further down the drive, only to have it do it again. Within 40 minutes, I was exhausted and stuck in snow drifts. Rocking the car back and forth might work, but I was also on the edge of drifting off the driveway and down the hill. So I got out and walked to my mother-in-law’s home and borrowed the farm pick-up truck.

Rental place dog rug

Rental place dog rug

The snow sensation made me late for the doctor, and lateness translated into a very long wait. After round three of hives, I sensed it was time to go beyond deep breathing, antihestamine, and watching comedies about asteroids destroying the earth. It was time for steroids, which I now have and which make me feel capable of cleaning every closet in the house. I’m easily resisting though.

After the doctor, the rental place, where I once again climbed over the massive rug of sleeping dogs, rented my usual amount of tables and chairs for Passover, and then headed toward Rick and Amy’s to turn their living room-dining room into sedar central. Telling myself to relax — I was on Prednisone, Ken would DSCN1055come home early to dislodge the van from the snow, all would be right in the world — while crossing 6th street, a speeding white car soared toward me. Thanks to quicker reflexes than usual (thanks, steroids), I slammed the brakes and avoided that car impacting the driver’s side of the truck. The driver, a woman maybe a decade or two older, froze in the middle of the intersection when she realized she had run a red light.

“You’re still alive!” Rick told me as we unloaded the chairs. Still alive, a little itchy and sore, but I was also very awake. Which may relate in some way to the theme of Passover, or not.

Aafter Ken saved the van and bladed the drive so that now it’s just a big mush of mud and snow, we had a wonderful sedar. We sang loudly, banged the table with panache, marveled over the matzo balls and the very intense flourless chocolate cake, and laughed so hard it hurt. Everything shone in the light of the candles, many glasses of so-bad-it’s-good wine, our new and old friends, and the gleam of the mashed potatoes topping the shepherd’s pie. I felt gratitude and even some liberation, the daily kind all too evident yesterday.

I hope today isn’t nearly so exciting.

When the View Changes: Everyday Magic, Day 677

downsized_0212131645Pack animal on the move — that’s my today. Awake at the ghastly hour of 5:45 a.m. (apologies for morning birds — I admire you, but I will never be one of you), and off to the airport, I hauled myself and about 57 pounds of luggage (carry-on, backpack and purse, all stuffed with 10 days’ worth of everything) from Kansas to Vermont. Well, actually, Ken’s car, two planes, a little bus shuttle in between, and Daniel’s taxi did the majority of the hauling, but I did help with the pushing, pulling and carrying of my stuff.

Now, as if it’s an ordinary day, which it kind of is, I sit in Capitol Grinds, my coffee shop hangout in Montpelier, Vermont. Ahead is a yoga class, dinner with fellow faculty at Sarducci’s, where the volume is loud and the food is luscious, and then unpacking said stuff into drawers and the closet of my dorm room. Then sleep. Then more of my Vermont life.

And it is my Vermont life. On the way here, Ralph, who I’ve taught with for 17 years, talked about Goddard being one of his homes, and I feel the same way. Although my Vermont home isn’t nearly as luxurious as what starlets refer to when using the same phrase (no hot tubs or ski lifts), it is mine: a corner dorm room with a view of the woods, a trek to the cafeteria on campus, an occasional foray into nearby Montpelier to visit my favorite places, and mostly time with my Vermont friends, co-workers and students.

Strangely enough, despite the view out the window being different — probably because of the snow, mountains, evergreens and politics — the experience of being here always feels like an extension of my Kansas life. What I care about, what the people I hang with care about, what work and art we do, and even, to some extent, how we dress crosses over. The hardest part of adjusting to this other view of my life is the transition between worlds, not just all the vehicles, winged and wheeled, that transport, but the switch from one home to another, one part of life to the other part (although these parts vastly overlap). I dream I’m in Kansas, I dream I’m in Vermont, the people I know and love in both places show up in the merged dreamscape of my biplacial life.

So despite missing the Mardi Gras parade in Lawrence again, I’m focusing on the view here: light snow, overcast skies, and the warm lights of shops and cafes, reminding me how much two opposing places can be part of the same home.

When the Given-Up-On Comes Strolling Home: Everyday Magic, Day 671

Cookbooks rejuggled reveal new recipes

Cookbooks rejuggled reveal new recipes

I felt a wee bit depressed today, and truth be told, for the last five days, thanks to a nasty virus dampening down cheer and hope in my heart. Some illnesses just feel sadder than others, and the timing of this one leaned toward grief: the 10th anniversary of my dad’s death, the third anniversary of a friend’s son’s death, and as of tomorrow, the anniversary of both Lou’s, and a year earlier, Maura’s deaths. I spent the morning moping around my computer, listening to music, trying to get things done with no desire for the doing of them.

The owls migrated to perch above the coats for a season or two

The owls migrated to perch above the coats for a season or two

So I did what any sensible person would do: lay on the couch in the sunlight and stare at the sun through the window, going in and out of mild hallucinatory slips of sleep until I couldn’t lie around any more. What to do next? Experience has taught me the value of moving and cleaning something, anything, at such a moment, and I promised myself a lovely tuna fish sandwich after I actually did something.

One thing turned into another, and while the progression is

My red camera taking a photo of Forest's long-long red camera

My red camera taking a photo of Forest’s long-long red camera

complex, I can say it involved moving piles of books, owls, small beads, and a bundle of teapots. What happened, though, shook loose my sadness, and also stunned out of hiding Forest’s camera, which I had only recently given up on finding after bouts of intense searching over the last three years. With the prodigal camera back, who knows what more would come?

I soon found out: an unexpected check from Natalie’s college for having overpaid her tuition in the final immense tuition check I mailed just weeks ago, plus a small owl I forgot I had, several cookbooks I wanted only to discover they were already mine, assorted small shiny stones, a $2 bill, and enough room for all the moved objects in their new places.

Now when I walk in the house, I see a shelf of owls, reminding me of how, just out of the corner of my eye, I may spy something in flight, maybe even, despite little viruses and old or new griefs, my own spirit.

Turns Out I Love an Old, Beaten-Down Car: Everyday Magic, Day 613

All four corners of the car have smashed in bumpers. One sliding door only works in the perfect conjunction of stars, WD-40 and gentle effort. The engine light has been on for seven years. No matter, I love this Toyota Sienna van, starting easily despite its 207,455 miles, a love I wasn’t so aware of until our financial guy told us to get rid of both our cars and buy a pair of cheap Hyundais. I was ready to follow his advice until I got back into the driver’s seat of the van. Then it hit me: this is the first and only car I’ve truly loved.

And why shouldn’t I love it? This car is not only comfortable with a vengeance, but it has hauled hundreds of things and thousands of stories, including:

  • A very large futon and chair that the shop owner was sure I couldn’t stuff into the van (but I did)
  • Our whole family, two tents, three coolers, a box of dry goods, seven suitcases, six backpacks, rain gear, two tarps, assorted tools, a small cooking stove and propane, a pile of graphic novels and Madlibs, plus who-knows-what-else for a week of camping in Colorado
  • Many vacuums over the years spied on curbs during half-the-town-move-out week in Lawrence (aka last week in July)
  • Six poets, including one 7-feet tall, all our luggage, piles of books to sell and lots of popcorn, chips and hummus, and rosemary shortcake to get us to the southwest corner of Kansas and back
  • The whole innards of Daniel’s dorm room, including stereo,

    Seriously, this chair is uglier than it looks in this picture

    computer, all clothes, a giant bowling pin and a particularly ugly (but comfortable) lime green chair

  • One canoe, two kayaks, six people, paddles, life jackets and lunches
  • The entire GSBTQQ (gay straight bi trans queer questioning) alliance of Lawrence High School
  • Kelley Hunt’s piano, red guitar, cowboy boots, CDs and t-shirts for sale, clothing for both of us for six days (including performance gear, aka black and glittery), my books for sale, 11 yoga mats, a mess of art supplies, and Kelley Hunt herself
  • A king-sized very heavy couch (strapped to the top of the van like a prize buck) that freaked out my daughter when I picked her up from school that day. Years later, a very large red couch and other furniture driven up to her in St. Paul (fitting miraculously in the van)
  • Over 2,000 bags of groceries, mostly from Checkers and the Merc
  • All five of my family plus my 80-something mother-in-law, eight suitcases, piles of Christmas gifts we were hauling back to Lawrence, and over 14 bags of groceries one snow-packed day, all of which needed to be ferried from where the van got embedded in the snow at the start of the drive to our houses
  • Two big dogs and a gaggle of teenagers

Phone Rage or Reverie: Everyday Magic, Day 553

When I was a kid, my father used to give pure hell to any customer service person employed by a company that messed up. Pity the person at the other end of customer service line at Sears: if my dad got a defective dishwasher, someone was going to pay dearly. Being a white man in the 1960s and 70s, he could get away with screaming on the phone, demanding to speak to the person’s supervisor, and then telling said supervisor that this person was an imbecile. Supervisors usually tried to placate him — a new dishwasher, a more expensive model for no extra cost, for instance, and generally, he was happy to be placated once he got what he wanted.

My dad is dead, and the world has changed. Angry white men don’t frighten us in general as much as they once did, and big corporations don’t have as much interest in or reason to give away lots of stuff to calm someone yelling on the phone. Besides, just calling is a world of difference, usually involving punching in number after number (your account number, zipcode, password and name of favorite movie star) for 10 minutes before being put on hold and forced to listen to elevator-music-versions of Abba songs.

Today, I faced a situation that would have made my dad yell into the phone, “Take me to your leader, you moron!” My daughter’s college’s loan company — the one that allows us to pay our portion each semester in monthly payments — billed us twice for a big hunk of money for the second month in a row. Last month, after many phone calls, I thought it was our bank’s fault, but no, it was the loan servicing center’s fault due to what is surely a big batch of incompetence. I have a history of sending this company completed automatic payment forms that then are swallowed by a vortex of what people there call “the back office.” Seems that one form I sent floated up to the surface months later and was processed all of a sudden.

When I was in 20s, I’m ashamed to say that I tended to yell at people on the phone in such situations, having been taught well by the master of rage. But it never felt right, especially if the person on the other end acted nervous and scared. After a while, I realized that even if I needed to spend 40 minutes on a phone call I didn’t want to make, fixing a situation that wasn’t my fault, it didn’t ever warrant me being an asshole.

Reminding myself that the people on the other end of the phone are real, dealing with a lot of rage and confusion on the other line all day, and having to work a job that would drive me up one wall and down another, today I joked with George, the wonderful rep at the loan company, about the vortex as he sweetly asked if there was anything, ANYTHING, they could do to make up this mistake. I thought of asking him to come over and clean my basement, but the company is in Southern California, and it would make for a long drive for him.

At the end of the call, we were falling over each other with niceness. “No, thank YOU!” I said. “No, no, no, thank YOU!” he called back. When I hung up, I was glad, that on this count, I’m not so much my father’s daughter anymore.

The Warped Joy of Cleaning the Stove: Everyday Magic, Day 538

Every so often I do the dishes, which leads me to scour the sinks, and then — scrubbie in hand (crocheted by my colleague, the magnificent Grandma Jim) — I aim myself toward the counter near the stove. In no time at all, I’m cleaning the length of that counter and, if I’m ambitious, caffeinated or insomniac enough, the white microwave, and then the opposite counter. Which leads me to the mother of all appliances that need power cleaning: the stove.

I chose a white stove several years ago when the third of a series of used stoves we bought, hauled in, and used for a while joined that great appliance junkyard in the sky. I thought the color would inspire me to clean it more, which isn’t actually true. If I’m depressed, and transforming the muck of the counters into gleaming, blue landing pads for future dishes hasn’t snapped me out of it, I will turn my back and go check facebook. If I’m really out of it, I wouldn’t have begun the dishes in the first place. But if I’m in a reasonably hopeful mood (Obama hopeful), I will aim the scrubbie, some hot water, and bleach (I actually pour it from the jug into the stove) and all the power in my arms toward that stove.

Amazing things then happen.

Okay, the miracle of a stove that has gone through such a transformational journey is in exact proportion to how much gunk (dried rice, burnt beans, small carcasses of vegetables and nibbles of meat that didn’t make it from pan to plate) is embedded under those burners. So in this case, being slobs who tend not to clean the stove works to our advantage.

Yet when my stove cleaned, I feel that I’ve accomplished something noble that cleans the slate of my life and allows me to begin again. I’ve resurrected something dazzling to behold. I also know it won’t last, but in this case, I take a picture, and remind myself that what’s messed up beyond recognition can sometimes be beaten, scrubbed and bleached into beauty again.