Remembrance of things past

| No Comments

The morning light when it's in your face really shows your age.We've moved. Downsized. Empty-nested. All at once. Of necessity and by design, since we moved into a narrow rowhouse from the turn of that other century, many things that had followed us relentlessly, like puppies or perhaps more like bedbugs, had to be left behind. This included furniture we never loved nor wanted, supposed "heirlooms" that had simply once belonged to some aunt that were cheap furniture even when purchased and were mostly useless even in our old house, which had some room for nonsense. The new house can brook no nonsense.

But not all sentimentality can be surrendered, and so there's this thing. This window. It came from the house I grew up in, in Scotia. Actually a perfectly ordinary window for its time, in a pretty ordinary house that was built somewhere around 1910, if I recall correctly. It was at the landing where the stairs curved. When I was growing up, ours was a two-family house; our apartment was downstairs, and "the lady upstairs," as we always referred to her, lived, well, upstairs. And this window let colored light into the stairwell, and made the old gray house look a little bit more colorful from outside.

Later on, when I was around 10 or 11, my parents bought the house and set out on a very long project of converting it back to a one-family. Once that happened, and we finally moved our bedrooms upstairs, I would pass this window every time I went up or down the stairs. When the house was empty, that little curve in the (extremely steep) stairs was one of my favorite places to just sit, with this window open, looking out at the day and letting the breeze in, or letting its colored light fall on the pages of whatever I was reading. (It's my belief that the center pane was originally a color, too, possibly blue. But at this remove, I've seen so many other of these windows, with colored, clear and frosted center panes, that I honestly can't tell you what it really was.)

At some point, in one of her endless renovations to the house, my mother decided this window had to be replaced, but she had the foresight to ask me if I was interested in it. My wife had a mirror put in the middle and gave it to me as a gift, and it hung in our house in East Greenbush for most of the 23 years that we lived there. And when I saw the perfect little half-bath in our new house, with a brick wall and a heavy dose of morning light, I knew the old window from Scotia simply had to find a new home here in Phoenixville.

So even in this current mood of blowing up everything and letting go of the past, some of the more important parts still have to stay with us.

My super-urban life

| No Comments

Yes, I'm gonna have to update the banner to reflect the reality of life in our little city (excuse me, Pennsylvanians, my little boro), but there's no point in changing my URL after all these years, so this one will stand for now.

But the reality is a complete change from our previous car-centric life, where absolutely NO tasks could be comfortably accomplished without getting in the car (even the Stewart's wasn't a comfortable walk). This morning, we walked a bag of donation clothes down the street to the church donation box, then went around the block to the coffee shop (whose proceeds support a community for the developmentally disabled), where we sat on a bench and enjoyed watching all the runners and cyclists and walkers and dogs going by. Then we went down to the Phoenixville Farmer's Market (unfortunately seasonal, not year-round like Troy's), picked up everything under the sun, enjoyed some great music, and wandered back with our goods.

Kinda great.

A Fine How Do You Do

| No Comments

Main Street PhoenixvilleOn our first night back together in our new town, exhausted from moving, we strolled down to the ice cream shop. An incredibly perfect summer evening, and it's a stroll of almost two blocks. We sat out on the bench on Main Street, with a steady stream of happy people going in and out of the shop, families gathered around enjoying ice cream, little kids experiencing their first cones.

A beautiful little girl walks by with her father. She can walk and talk, but only has a few words. She stops in front of us to show Lee her pretty dress. Then she points to her sparkly pink shoes. Then she shows us her several pigtails, done in pretty pink rubber bands. Her father is patiently asking her to come along, but she's enjoying showing off. Finally she is ready to go, but before she can go, she insists on giving each of us a goodbye hug.

And so that's how we were welcomed to our new town.

Blobfest

| No Comments

rebekah_blobfest_BsWu3HbIEAASHLs.jpgSo, here's the thing about our pending new hometown of Phoenixville, PA: the movie "The Blob" was largely filmed there and in the surrounding areas. Doc Hallen's house is still there. So is the Colonial Theater, from which the teens run screaming from a monster feature when the blob consumes the projectionist and oozes through the louvers and into the theater. Let's face it, "The Blob" would probably be forgotten had it not starred a youngish (27, playing 17) Steve McQueen. It is not one of the finest movies of all time. And the fact that it featured Phoenixville could have remained nothing more than an interesting bit of local trivia, just as with the filming of scenes around Albany and Schenectady in recent years.

But instead, there is Blobfest, an enthusiastic celebration of this and other B movies. It commences with "The Run Out" -- costumed participants pay for the privilege of running screaming from the theater in advance of the blob. There is a Tin Foil Hat parade, a costume contest (which Mothra and his companions, shown above, won this year), and a Fire Extinguisher Drill Team Parade. There are vendors, antique cars, and double features of "The Blob" and other movies like "Mothra" or "King Kong Vs. Godzilla." There is a lot of fun.

So we spent the weekend at Blobfest, and visiting the farmer's market, checking out where to put in our canoes, finding the best coffee places, and chatting with local residents. There were dozens of cyclists out on the roads and paths, there were flotillas of kayaks, there were all kinds of people just out enjoying almost perfect days.

Titular Quandary

| No Comments

newhouse.pngSo here's the thing. When I started this occasional series of rants back in 2002 (!), the title was a play on "My So-Called Life" and a statement of life in a near-the-city suburb, not quite urban, not quite suburban. Other than a pleasant neighborhood close to a little lake, it was life in an unwalkable world, a land without sidewalks. We were just blocks from the school, but our kids had to get on buses. Milk, groceries, the post office, they all required getting into a car. Most of our social life took place across the river, or up it, in Albany or Troy.

But that's changing, and soon. We're moving to a town that is essentially Bedford Falls, moving from a corner lot colonial with a two-car garage to a downtown rowhouse a block from the main street. We'll be a short walk from the library, the park, the post office. We'll be three minutes' walk from the little historic movie house and a slew of sidewalk caf├ęs. Minutes from the bike path. And not so far from a major city that can't seem to get enough of its pretzels.

Decidedly, utterly urban. Perhaps even super-urban. My Super-Urban Life?

O the things you will do!

| No Comments

212 Hall StreetIn terms of things that need doing, life has reached a maximum. With all the events that come with the end of a school year anyway, add all the things that come with senior year. With all the family events that normally come around this time of year, add in a couple more special events. Work has been insanely busy, and then there's the small matter of buying a house, picking up stakes and moving.

If you've never experienced a "hot" real estate market (and if you've only lived in the Capital District, you have not), let me explain what it's like. A house that you might like comes on the market. Five minutes later, you get a note from your realtor asking if you want to see it that day; if you see it and like it and decide to invest hundreds of thousands of dollars based on a 10-minute review and some shaky iPhone pictures, then you'd better be prepared to make an offer that night, because the sellers are reviewing the offers first thing in the morning. If you need some extra time, well, you can just look elsewhere. If you want to make the sale contingent on selling your own house, well, perhaps something along the lines of a garden shed would suit you better. And those 27 perfectly acceptable houses taunting you on Zillow? They're all under contract. You need to wait for something else to be listed, and don't get far from your phone.

So that's what it is, just a whirlwind. Found a place that I desperately loved (and could afford) on Monday, scrambled to put in an offer (while also paying attention to an important meeting, mind you) on Tuesday, got beat out by a cash offer on Wednesday. (By the way, anyone with cash is suspect, in my mind, and should be thoroughly investigated.) Had all day Wednesday to experience the mixture of let-down and relief, got the same call on Thursday, checked out a place that didn't quite work but that we loved anyway, and had to put in a bid Friday night for a Saturday decision.

And while we're doing all that, we have to fit in the final (final!) dance recital, prom, a string of honors events, the graduation itself, and I'm sure I'm forgetting something. Oh, yeah: work. Lots and lots of work.

Nevertheless, despite the fact that we'll be giving up a lot, in terms of both space and personal history (not to mention the fact we largely rebuilt this house ourselves), we're both very excited about the chance to move on. If we're going to be empty nesters, why not be empty nesters in a gorgeous little community that people seem to love living in, within steps of a nicely vibrant downtown?

And as a special snub to the Capital District, I'll note that no matter what house we end up with in our new town, the Wegman's will be about four miles away.

bedroomceiling.jpgSo, this is what's happening now. In fact, it's what's been happening pretty much every weekend since the year began, and the year is slipping away quickly. First, I work like a dog at a new job that I love but have to put substantial effort into. It's a pleasure to do something that matters again, but it does up the game when you're giving advice that people are actually listening to. I do this far away from home. Then I look at the weather forecast for Thursday or, more often, Friday to see what natural disaster is going to prevent my return home, or, just as bad, interfere with my return to work the next week. Wishes for a mild winter went unanswered. The Philly area gets flummoxed by even a couple of inches of snow, and it got way more than that many, many times this winter. (Only the great humor of the Phoenixville Office of Emergency Management's wonderful, useful, human alerts -- and just try to imagine a humorous public safety agency in New York -- helped me get through it.). Then, I drive 250 miles home, which takes under five hours except when it takes six (and getting back down takes four -- there's a quantum effect going on, to be certain). I arrive in the nick of time for whatever event we have planned for that night, sleep, get up early the next morning and start beating up the house some more. Mix in mandatory social events (no less pleasant for being mandatory, mind you), fall into exhausted but not restful sleep, get up and drive back to Pennsylvania. Lather, rinse, repeat.

We started some significant upgrades to the house we've lived in for two decades a couple of years back, not really knowing at that time that we'd be selling it. Thank goodness, or there'd be no hope of getting everything done that really needs to be done to sell a house. Even as it is, we can't do it all ourselves, so we're relying on our secret weapon, my 74-year-old mother, a tireless Tasmanian devil of home repair. She routinely does more in a day than I could in two, and has managed not only to paint all the things I was never going to get around to painting, but replaced three windows, put up wallpaper, and of course helped me with the unbelievably disastrous task of replacing the ceramic tile in the kitchen. There have been times when we've contemplated fire as an option.

One of the last things to get done was yet another of the many, many tasks that I never got around to while we lived in the house because a) we would have to totally vacate a room in order to do it, and we didn't have the room to do that, and b) it would be a colossal pain in the ass. I have never been wrong in estimating that second part, and replacing the ceiling tiles in our bedroom was every bit of a colossal pain in the ass. Mostly so because it shouldn't have been necessary. The old tiles were in fine shape and a coat of paint would have made them look nice, but they were falling down at odd angles in odd places, and there didn't seem to be any way to tuck them back up. Sometimes a well-placed hidden tack can do miracles with ceiling tile, but this was not to be the case, as there seemed to be nothing to tack the sagging seams to. When the old tile came down, we found the reason -- whoever had done this job had not bothered to space the standards where the seams would be. So all the standards had to be pulled down and put where they belonged. Just one of those things that never ends with this house.

Some of the other things, we won't talk about. I'd like someone to buy this house.

One or two things I know about her

| 2 Comments
  • It may be that Zillow lies. It tells me houses have just come on the market, and when I go to actually look at them they're already gone. This is discouraging, because I would totally have bought that house.
  • In Pennsylvania, the shirtless douchebags start driving shirtless much earlier in the season, pumping out a much worse type of music. This may be the downside to a warmer spring.
  • The worst part of moving is having to break up with my hairstylist. I've been with her for more than 20 years. I feel like I'm cheating. It's even worse, really, because every time I've gotten my hair cut it's been by someone different, so it's like I'm slutting around on her.
  • The move south means I get to experience something akin to those people who move to Australia and get summer twice in a row: I get to have spring allergies twice in rapid succession. The dogwoods and magnolias are already in bloom down here in greater Philly. (After all, why do you think they call it "greater"?) And so's a lot of other stuff with pollen. Then it'll all die down and I'll go back north and experience it anew in three weeks.
  • While I do get to experience the commercial genetic superiority of a Wegman's, which all of Albany is clamoring for, there is no such thing as a Stewart's down here, and no local equivalent. The best I can hope for is a Wawa, whose new stores are all clean and presentable and have decent bathrooms. But seriously, it's embarrassing just to say its name.
  • I can't say that I'll necessarily miss living in a place where I can kill a mosquito, hatched from the April warmth, in my bathroom on the same morning that I then had to go out and scrape a significant amount of ice off my car. I'm fairly sure that's a sign of something.
  • This whole thing about no self-serve gas in New Jersey: I don't care that it's 20-30 cents a gallon cheaper, AND someone pumps it for you. I think those of us who can remember full serve have a romantic memory of rolling over the gas station's bell hose and having Chip come running out to serve you, filling 'er up while cleaning the windshield and checking your oil (in a hot engine), and making change with a smile. The current reality is sitting in line and waiting while one overworked immigrant plods from car to car, putting your credit card into a very sketchy card reader, starting the pump and then walking off to tend to 10 other cars, leaving you to sit for seven minutes after your tank is full before he gets back to you to hand you your card. The whole process takes a minimum of three times as long as pumping it yourself does, and makes you feel like you're exploiting undocumented labor in the process.

Closing in on it

| No Comments

I know that other people pick up their roots and move all the time, but I'm damned if I can understand how. We've been in the same house for 23 years, and along with various renovations there have been various dumpsters filled with construction waste and whatever else we had lying around that we didn't think we needed anymore. I felt like we were pretty good at clearing things out over the years -- the girls' toys from when they were little are long since gone, old clothes go out the door, and our generally small space keeps us from filling it up too much.

And yet, over the past week, we crammed a dumpster with 15 yards of stuff that had accumulated. Some of it was just impossible to get rid of, like a steel enameled utility sink from the basement that I finally replaced a few years back but was unable to ever get up the stairs. It didn't weigh less than 80 pounds, and that was after I separated it from its base. (Anyone who guessed "cotter pin" as the connector, you have won the no-prize.) There was crappy particle board furniture and somewhat less crappy wood furniture that just had to go away, and lots of things that I'd have had to take a saw to to fit into the regular garbage, and so it sat until there was another dumpster opportunity. All gone now. (Including one last Barbie shoe that suddenly appeared from nowhere.)

Renovations are proceeding apace, thanks only to my mother, who can do more painting and patching in a single day than I can in two. Honestly, I wish I could work at that pace. Last week I was looking at a destroyed dining room, despairing that it could ever be finished; then all of a sudden, in a single day she got all the new wallpaper up and it looked almost like a real room. I spent a very frustrating day yesterday trying to cut the ceiling cove -- geometry is my greatest weakness when it comes to carpentry, and despite checking my angles over and over I still make frustrating mistakes, and so the trim, sorry to say, did not get done this weekend. But maybe next. Almost there.

Then, of course, we need to find something to live in. This has proven marginally difficult, but I have hope. The difficult part is that the houses we would want that have cropped up have sold in seconds, when we really aren't ready to make an offer yet. The ones that haven't sold quickly, we can see why, and having lived in a semi-finished fixer-upper for a couple of decades, I've decided I'd rather give my money to a bank than to the Home Depot, get some of my weekends back, and just live in a finished house. Other people do this, so I know it's possible.

It is the little parts of this project that make me insane. I need a ceiling medallion to cover an unfortunate bit of a gap above one of my ceiling lamps, so I tried to find one at the Lowe's. All I needed was a simple, small, 4" medallion, of the type that should be perfectly standard. So I was surprised to find myself flying into a Hulk-like rage when I discovered that little, open medallions don't really exist there, and that in fact most of the medallion display is given over to crafts projects you can do with medallions. I don't know when this happened, or why, but apparently there is some kind of craze for taking ceiling medallions and stuffing clocks, mirrors, and photos into their centers. What they're really NOT set up for anymore is hiding flaws in a ceiling, which is their complete and only true purpose. If whoever was responsible for this had been standing next to the display, beaming with pride at their innovation, there would have been an unscheduled, and entirely justified, strangling.

Crafters: just get a clock. Get a mirror. Get a picture frame. Stop ruining my America.

Oh, did we skip February?

| No Comments

Oh, did we skip February? (See One-armed paperhanger, busier than.) You didn't miss much. It was a blur of cold and snow, cancelled meetings and anxiety about getting home or getting back. There's a 225-mile commute involved, and pretty much anything can mess that up, but snow and ice are especially good at it. I'm not sure why the same snow that really has a minimal impact in upstate New York causes absolute CHAOS in southeastern Pennsylvania, but it does. Reinforcing my belief that when we move here permanently, there will be no commute short enough.

But with all that winter behind us (well, not in Albany. Enjoy your 6-to-12!), things are looking better. Been a while since I did one of these, but here's my current Top Five:

  1. College admissions! While our younger bit of brilliance was absolutely set on WPI, we did make her apply somewhere else just because, so we're pleased to say that another PI, this one starting with R, also invites her to bask in its truthiness. One more to hear from, but Worcester already has our money, so that entire process is done.
  2. Suddenly, Hooverphonic. I was listening to Mazzy Star on Pandora and it got me into a trip-hop groove. (Listen, no one was more surprised than I was.) One of the bands that kept coming up with songs I really liked was Hooverphonic, and then I found they had a recent album recorded live with an orchestra, so I checked that out and OMIGOD. I cannot stop listening to this album. And don't want to.
  3. March 10: First official ride of the season. Still snow on the trail, just enough to make some areas a real mess and icy underneath, but the rest was fine. And with the onset of daylight savings, now there's time at the end of the day to sneak a ride in.
  4. Spring Classics! More important to me than local signs of spring are the global signs of spring, pro cycling's spring classics. Daughter came down to our renovation project we call a kitchen the other day, pointed to the laptop on the counter, and asked, "Are you watching bike racing while you're painting the kitchen? Commented on in a language you don't speak? DORK!" Yes.
  5. Speaking of which, during the prologue of Paris-Nice, if you were taking a drink every time the French commentators said "Gianni Meersman," you were very, very drunk indeed. Seek medical assistance.
  6. House heartbreak! Well, we've already fallen in strong like with a house we could barely afford, and which will be sold out from under us before we are prepared to make a move. Timing a move is a bitch. But, as promised, suitable housing, much of it with electricity and plumbing, is now appearing on the market. The winter offerings were making us think we might be tenting in Valley Forge for a while (which, ironically, is not allowed).
  7. Stir-fry! Beets, carrots, a little green pepper, tofu, some leaf spinach on top, sesame oil and some asian spices. And peanut butter! Do it.
  8. Books? God, there is no time to read anything that doesn't involve electricity and money. But I snuck in a little last month, and have to report that John Green's "The Fault In Our Stars" is the first book to make me cry, ever. And I mean weeping.
  9. I want an app that identifies the horrible music that is bombarding me at nearly every retail venue I visit, then interacts with aural implants to ensure that I will NEVER hear it again. Let's call it "Horrify." I didn't think it would be possible to miss Muzak, but god it was so much better.
  10. Hooverphonic. The Last Thing I Need Is You:

Share this!

  • Subscribe to feed Subscribe to my RSS feed!

Recent Comments

  • Carl: Somewhat ironically, I don't even like Stewart's ice cream. Being read more
  • jericwrites: Oh, I know your pain in re losing Stewart's . read more
  • https://www.google.com/accounts/o8/id?id=AItOawnbc0CdHGMr3Y96DjbxMQ7P50ZIumxwiSw: Interesting info. My mother is 87 and I just came read more
  • jericwrites: I feel the same way about group riding, and that's read more
  • Carl: I agree, I used the bike path around Albany primarily read more
  • jericwrites: In New York, I was pretty openly disdainful of the read more
  • Carl: Thanks . . . I figured you'd know how it read more
  • jericwrites: I know EXACTLY how this all feels . . . read more
  • Carl: I didn't do super well with HALF an empty nest. read more
  • jericwrites: This is my first year in many of NOT having read more

Archives

Powered by Movable Type 5.2.6