Archive for May, 2015


I haven’t posted many pictures of my house (this house, at least) in a while. It’s been hard to catch a moment during the day, for one thing; and photographs at night all look a little spooky, no matter how well-lit. And then there’s my perfectionism: everything has been moving around the house for the past 18 months we’ve lived here. The rooms keep changing function, and the furniture moves in a circuit between the garage, the two living rooms, the dining room (in which we never dine) and the bedrooms, which range in size from extravagant to miniature. This room, the front living room, is huge (in sort of a bowling-alley fashion) and bright, thanks to the large bay window (let’s just not talk about how that window fares when faced with massive amounts of melting snow). I have discovered, at least, that fiddle leaf figs thrive in this light; for a while, the room was primarily furnished with three large fig trees and a white couch (I am my mother).

If I could, I would tweak a few things in this picture. I would have made sure that you could see the other pine shelf, which intersects with the one you can see at a right angle (it’s shorter, and where I keep my laptop and useless old books). I would have made that monitor go away (to say nothing of its tangled cords). Darwin, I think, could stay. But then this picture, and this post, never would have happened.

So here it is. We recreated the shelving situation that we had in Colorado, which I love (Ikea Billy shelves with glass doors). I especially like the corner here; we didn’t have one last time. The walls are cut up here by baseboard heat that we can’t block, so the bookcases had to form an L. We were left with the mirror-image L (on the left side of the photo), which has baseboard heat at the bottom. Ricky, inspired by the internet and by our Hartford friends K and J, wanted to make a standing desk. I will admit to skepticism and an impractical preference for antiques; I didn’t want things to get too “Ikea.” (I am fond enough of Ikea, but only when counterbalanced with some creaky, old, impractical things with delicate finishes that pose barriers to ordinary use.) So we installed two boards above the heaters; one at counter height (my preference), which you can’t see here (huge fig tree in the way) and one at standing height, for Ricky.

And then I scrounged a bunch of art from around the house—including several paintings that were my grandmother’s, a photo of the chapel where we were married (which belonged also to my grandmother, who was also married there), and a painting of a chicken that my mother gave me, which I especially love right now because CMW loves to talk about “shickens.” She has even been known to count in units of poultry: “1….5…..shicken.” If one of us is tired or upset, she murmurs, “‘s’ok, shicken.” (The ginger jar and brass giraffe have also found their places here.)

I was also excited to learn that the $49 Ektorp slipover fits my nearly deceased Pottery Barn couch; it’s hardly worth paying $600 or some such madness for a new “real” cover for it (thanks, cats), but this Ikea one will help us limp along a little longer, til the next unfortunate yogurt, pizza, or cat-related encounter. When I went to Ikea yesterday, I also found a replacement that allowed me to move this low white cabinet behind the sofa; in its place, an Ikea As-Is find that I was strangely drawn to at $400, flat-packed, and obsessed with at $99, fully assembled:


It seems almost like something out of Alice and Wonderland. I can’t help my irrational attraction to its pill-like feet and random drawers. Mine is missing one drawer pull (a small price to pay for saving $300 and, more importantly, not having to put it together), but I have a ceramic turtle knob around here somewhere that would be just the thing. I’ve also managed to create here a standing desk for CMW, who happily smashes along on the Underwood. I figure that it’s lived through many decades already, and is unlikely to be done in by one solitary toddler (famous last words).


Moving the white cabinet behind the couch also allowed me to open this old dictionary to my favorite page, which I remember studying as a child—long before (but perhaps why) I read The Moonstone or saw the gem collections at the Victoria and Albert and the Smithsonian. The dictionary lived, open to random pages, on a book stand in the houses I grew up in; my dad has similar memories of its presence in his childhood homes. He brought it to me last year, wrapped tightly in over-sized plastic wrap from Costco and nestled inside his allotment of checked baggage.


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I spent a while today looking for a brass giraffe. Longer than you’d think. I removed a pink porcelain ginger jar from the top shelf of our hall closet, where it had become buried in several layers of small, pastel shoes.

I wrote some other things, and then deleted them. So it goes.

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You know when, a year ago, you broke a large glass canister, completely full of white granulated sugar— it slipped from your hands and shattered on the linoleum

(because you thought that while, for a moment, she was content to play alone and you would bake something—

though you can’t remember now what, in your sleep-deprived and over-worked haze, you thought would be so nice to bake after work, while watching her all alone, while loving her and yet willing her to break her intense hold on you for just a few moments, but then missing her so desperately in those moments—as everyone said you would, as your mother and your aunt told you, you’d want nothing more than for her to sleep, and when she did, you would want nothing more than for her to wake up again—

because you used to like to bake)

and now you find, in the silent middle of the night, white noise radiating from every room in the house because we all sleep, now, as we did in the womb, half-deafened by blowing fans and small devices designed to imitate the sound of blowing fans, that you are washing the grayish crust of that half-dissolved sugar from beneath the refrigerator,

because you fell asleep when she did, which was perhaps too early for you but certainly felt late enough, and then found yourself awake, at once too early and too late, drowning in thoughts that can only be drowned out by doing; even if, in that doing, you know that if your husband wakes up and finds that you have rolled the refrigerator into the middle of the kitchen and removed the vent cover (which, because you are a good feminist after all, you unscrewed even though it told you that only licensed repair personnel should do so) and vacuumed the vent coils (unnoticed in this sea of whirring, fan-like devices), he will be both surprised and not surprised at all;

and there are two shards of glass from that canister that, along with a single Cheerio and a tumbleweed of dust and indeterminate fuzz, form the sediment which, in living, we build around ourselves so rapidly as to make it seem that a year spent living in a house is, in fact, a sort of geological era, to be measured by accumulated layers of debris;

and you remember how, when that canister exploded on the faux-parquet tiles of the kitchen floor, you swept and vacuumed furiously to gather every speck of glass, terrified that she would touch one jagged sliver, that she would lick it from her fingers or gather it on her knees while crawling (but was she even crawling yet?)

and while you vacuumed, she sobbed in a corner of the safely-carpeted and safely-gated room, uncomforted by the particular frequency of that fan-like noise,

and it was clear to you how hard this is, the trying and the doing and the exchanges that we make.

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bean rows

I came to love my rows, my beans, though so many more than I wanted. They attached me to the earth…

(Thoreau, Walden)

Nine bean-rows will I have there, a hive for the honey-bee,
And live alone in the bee-loud glade.

(Yeats, “The Lake Isle of Innisfree”)

Kentucky Wonder, Scarlet Runner, Blue Lake– the names of the beans I’ve planted make their own kind of poetry (I think Thoreau and Yeats would approve).

The seeds of nasturtiums are hard and almost spiny, like a miniature mace or those odd, spherical seeds that fell (dangerously) from trees all over my high school campus–we called them “gum balls,” or they did, and then I joined in, though it never made any sense to me (not smooth, not sweet, nor brightly colored).

The seed packet advised me to sand them lightly with a nail file to aid in germination, to wait until the last frost had passed. Living daringly, I pushed them into the cool soil, whole and un-filed–then watched it snow–large, frantic late-season flakes that seemed to understand their own urgent out-of-placeness–worrying (as I do) that they would fail.

But here they are, ruffled lovely leaves–I tend them in the evening, with my daughter;

she ate a tiny strawberry, bright red and glossy but no bigger than her own small, smooth fingernail, then (watching, learning, careful caretaker) pushed the bare stem back into the soil, patted a soft mound of dirt and strode (pink socks, sodden in the grass) back towards the house.

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I’ve been wearing my great-grandmother’s engagement ring instead of mine lately–thinking, as I endeavor not to knock it too hard on any hard surfaces, of the name that had been handed down to her, which she handed down again, to her daughter, and which we gave to ours.

Last summer, in a feat of cooperation, my uncle, dad, and mom conspired together to transport a truck full of my grandmother’s furniture–including this mirror, table, and chair–to my house. The threads of the past are holding me tight, even though I sometimes feel unmoored in this new place. Last year, I would often wake up thinking that I was in our bedroom in Colorado (every corner illuminated with that incessant sunlight) and be startled to find myself here, across the county in a state that will never truly seem like my “home” state, though it’s the only one that CMW will remember. I am not a New Yorker. We are both Colorado natives, she and I, but I’m not that, either. A librarian at school told me that my boots looked Midwestern. I don’t think it was a compliment. My students here are shocked to learn that I lived in Missouri. They’ve never met anyone from Missouri. I’m almost mythological. But I don’t feel like I’m from Missouri.

One of my grandmother’s tables has a small drawer. My fingers touched a small roll of yellow, brittle newspaper that had come loose from some space within that drawer; I unrolled it just enough to see “New York” and a date.  After a generation’s worth of transcontinental migrations (no member of my family born in the same state or even living now in the same time zone as one another) I find that it is 19 miles from my house to the house in Yonkers where (society pages tell me) dances were held to celebrate my grandfather’s visits home from business school. Google maps can show me the outline of the roof, take me there in half an hour (traffic willing, which it never is). What a thing that is, to find your own life–so seemingly unpredictable, untethered–mapped on top of family history, tucked into drawers.

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Memories from a long, difficult day at the end of a long, sleepless week–spots of bright that I don’t want to lose:

CMW gently lifting the leaves of the strawberry plants to look for ripe berries–today, we found only the nibbled-off stem of one that another critter found first.

She can hardly breathe with excitement when we pick a small, misshapen, slightly-too-pink and definitely not-quite-red berry, popping it into her mouth (stem and all) before I can stop her. And I don’t really want to–what harm can that little bit of dirt do?

Sitting on the front step–up too late, as we have been every night for as long as I can remember–the hooting owls, pots of bluish purple pansies, and the smell of a just-watered garden (which makes me think, always, of my grandparents). Admiring, by moonlight, our massive, fragrant front-yard magnolia tree–stunning even as it turns ragged with dropping petals. I have never seen such a beautiful tree.

The paint is peeling next to the front door, white stained slightly orange from the minerals in our well water. I think they slapped on the wrong paint in a rush to beautify–or sanitize, at least– before we bought this house. I feel overwhelmed by the drips of water and the wobbly subfloor. I think I love this house, though, somewhere beneath the surface of endless to-dos. It gives me room to breathe.

And to grow: blueberries, pole beans, giant alliums, radishes, double pink roses, mammoth sunflowers, mandevilla vines on an arched trellis. Any thing I can think to plant, I try–carving out new beds and filling in between the haphazard, half-hearted shrubbery. We have a lot of land. The deer–foxes, toads, robins, ground hogs, turkeys, rabbits–really have most of it.

The cats murdered a mouse last week after it wandered into the basement at night (all five of them creeping, waiting); I can only hope its friends were made aware of the foolishness entering this particular house.

I made Ricky clean it up. I am a bad feminist, weak in the face of death (large or small).

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