Category Archives: Home Making

A New Throne for the Queen: Everyday Magic, Day 818

photoSome people call plumbers. They don’t live in my house. When something goes wrong, we fix it ourselves, which means that if Ken doesn’t get to it quickly, I try, mess up, then Ken — who was raised with tools and big education on how to use them — steps in. My propensity for household adventure is matched only by my aversion to reading instructions.

So today I decided to fix our toilet — the one in “my” bathroom, a place I’m very fond of. Even Ken, who was out of town for the weekend, thought it was plausible I could remove the toilet, turn it upside down, and shake out whatever was stuck within (we suspected a tiny bottle of essential oil).

I actually read instructions, which I rarely do, and even watched a youtube video on how to successfully remove your toilet. Equipped with a sponge, bowl to catch water once I disconnected the toilet from the wall, cloth to stuff in the hole in the floor to avoid sewer fumes, and several wrenches and pliers, I headed confidently into the bathroom. I also brought my phone in case I got trapped in there. At first, it was a textbook removal. Surely, I thought, I would be done with this whole deal, and be reattaching the toilet within 20 minutes. Then I would drink a gin and tonic on the veranda, no matter that I have no veranda and don’t drink.

But as it goes with most household repairs, plans changed. Once I hauled the big, heavy canister of porcelain out to the back deck and turned it over, I discovered that even a modest amount of shaking didn’t make the toilet hiccup up the essential oil (rose, I believe). I was wondering what to do next when I noticed a big crack in the tank, one I put there by shaking it. Ken was on his way back to town when he got a call instructing him to meet me in aisle 8 of Home Depot, where the proud new toilets wait for adoption.

Ken took the new toilet in stride, selecting with me not the very cheapest, but the next-to-the-cheapest one, which was wicked heavy to lift into the back of the CRV, and even heavier to lift out and up the back deck to the bedroom door. Ken  installed the beautiful new toilet while I read the instructions aloud, occasionally losing the English pages and trying to figure out what the Spanish was saying about the washers. It was complicated, much more than it should have been, and involved counting a lot of screws and plastic do-dads.

As I drove the old toilet to town to gingerly place near a trash bin before scurrying away, I thought about my time with all that porcelain. We moved to this house when I was nine-month’s pregnant with triplets, or at least that’s what people said I looked like. I was actually six-month’s pregnant with Forest, and let’s just say the toilet and I became fast friends. This was my refuge of choice when I had trouble with chemo over a decade later, and over the years, I’ve parked myself here to read a great deal of powerful poetry and pore over photos of evening gowns in People magazine. The toilet reigns as the most private seat in the house, something very exciting when I had three little kids underfoot.

The new toilet is stunningly attractive with its gleaming curves. It’s also a little higher and bigger. “That’s a big-ass toilet,” I told Ken, who wisely just nodded. The new toilet, and I know it’s just the way it’s made, smiled warmly at me.

A Mouse in the House: Everyday Magic, Day 816

It was after 1 a.m., and I was struggling to fall asleep. “Go to sleep,” I told my sleepy body and rushing brain. I did my usual trick of inhaling for a count of 4 and exhaling for a count of 6, hoping to slow my thoughts down enough for them to fall off their tracks so I could rest. It was working. Almost. But then a meow, a very loud meow, the kind that says, “I have something I’m about to kill. Behold the might feline hunter!”

Usually, the meow is from tiny Miyako, and usually she has successfully maimed a hair tie, carrying forth its stretchy hot-pink corpse so we can share in her glory. This time, both she and Sidney Iowa Goldberg were doing that hunter-on-the-loose meow-yell, so I turned on the lights.

The kitties were in our bathroom, where they cornered a small mouse. The most adorable friggin’ mouse I ever saw: velvety gray with big ears and an agile (but not agile enough) body. It wasn’t a full-grown mouse, but it was bigger than a child mouse, so I’m guessing it was a tween. In any case, its days, or more accurately, minutes, were numbered.

“Ken, the cats have a mouse, and it’s so adorable. What do I do?” I called out.

“Get a shoe and kill it,” he answered.

Moi? Kill the most darling mouse in the world just because my cats were playing badminton with it? “I can’t kill it. It’s too adorable. What other options do we have?”

By this time, he was getting up, telling me there were no options unless I wanted this mouse to reproduce, and for its babies, grown one day into aging and ruthless hipsters, to chew up my favorite blouse and eat my best books. Someone had to kill it, and it had to be one of us.

Within minutes, Ken with a mop in hand (the kind with the sponge), both cats, and Shay the dog stood at the mouth of the bathroom. Ken turned to Shay first. “Shay, go get the mouse,” he said. Our 90-plus pound dog pressed his scared head into my thigh while stepping backwards. Miyako stretched out to watch the spectacle.

And so it went: Sidney doing his best to chase the mouse out of corners, then looked up at Ken and in cat ESP, communicated, “Get him, Dad! Kill him dead!” I tried to watch, but then I saw the mouse’s sweet velvet ears, and heard his terrified chirp-squeaks, so I went to sit on the bed with Shay, both of us trembling.

Ken, despite Sid just playing with (and not killing the mouse), got the cats out of the way and did the deed, and then he flung the results outside, telling me that I really needed to learn to kill mice too. It’s part of life in the country, keeping balance in the ecosystem of the house, and cuteness shouldn’t bias me so much.

It was after 3 a.m. when I finally got to sleep, irrationally sad that “too cute to die” doesn’t apply when it comes to a mouse in the house.

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

DSCN2240

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.