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briefly

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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insomnia, geology

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.

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.

Mapping

image

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.

frag.

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).

dig site

You know, our yellow bathroom really could have been fine. Except for the fact that somewhere along the line–probably only 10 or 15 years after it was built, someone decided to spruce it up a bit. The resulting mismash of disparate yellows, precarious mirrors, contact paper and plastic wall panels have not aged well. Through the excavations, we’ve discovered some traces of what the original 1967 version would have looked like. I think it would have been a lot like this, which I really find quite charming.

As I’ve mentioned, the floor tiles that we inherited are actually wall tiles in a hideous striation of yellows that don’t go with the other yellows. They’re glossy, treacherous, and just weird.

converging yellows

converging yellows

Underneath the fried egg vanities—which have been banished—we found a corner of the original mosaic floor.

Image 7

There’s also a spot where a medicine cabinet used to be (in the middle of the wall) and signs that the original sink was a smaller single fixture—I suspect it was a wall mounted sink (and probably yellow). I probably would have liked it. I certainly would have liked it more than the decaying plywood vanities they chose as a replacement.

Image 9

I’m going to see if we can scrape up some of these little tiles. I don’t know what I’ll do with them yet, but I like the traces of what used to be.

Image 8

Here’s a slice of the original metallic wallpaper–the brown streaks are glue from the layers of stuff that were applied on top during that last unfortunate renovation.

We’re not going to be reapplying any metallic wallpaper, but finding the traces of the original sink and floor tile makes me think that I’m on the right track with the replacements that I’ve chosen–a pedestal sink and small-scale floor tile. We won’t be able to recreate the yellow floor mosaic (though people certainly have worked to source rooms full of vintage replacement tile), but it’s reassuring to see that the new pieces are in line with the originals in terms of scale and placement.

I will not miss the yellow toilet.

 

If it’s true that the kitchens and baths sell a house… then I’m not quite sure how we ended up with this house.

All glammed up in the listing photos.

All glammed up in the listing photo

Ok, I know exactly why we bought this house–it’s right around the corner from my job, the lot is lovely, the layout is spacious, and, furthermore, there just weren’t that many options.

I like this house. Despite its shocking lack of turrets (my ideal mid-century is really a century earlier), I might even be getting to love it, though the ice dams and roof leaks tempered my affections this winter. And really, I’m glad that nobody cherry-cabinet-ed and granite counter-ed the kitchen before we got to it.

But this living museum has started to break down a bit; after decades of limited use (the original owner was in her nineties when she sold it to us), things are creaking and cracking under the pressure of their new workload.

We can talk about the kitchen more another day–or another year, if I keep up with my current blogging pace. Things are in full swing around here; spurred on by some drywall damage during the aforementioned ice dam attack, walls are coming down in just about every room.

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10552428_894286201142_826812822440986557_n the mirrors came (all the way) down today after barely clinging for the last few months/decades

Our house has two bathrooms–the yellow is a full bathroom off the hallway in the bedroom wing of the house, and there’s a small and largely unremarkable 3/4 bath occupying a closet-like nook in the master bedroom (which you will recognize by virtue of its alarming wallpaper).

the mini-master bath: a tale for another day.

the mini-master bath: a tale for another day. (eek)

I do have some affection for the yellow bathtub. But I have none for the yellow egg-yolk sinks, none for the slippery yellow wall tile that’s been masquerading as floor tile, none the alarming yellow toilet, and none for the (wait for it) yellow wallpaper. Which is actually contact paper (ugh).*

Image 3

As for the tub and the tile surround–should I start a new chapter of this?–I don’t hate it. Ricky has fond memories of being bathed in a similar tub when he was a child, the tile is in good shape, and it certainly suits the era of the house. In Madison, I kept the old cast iron tub (it was white…) and replaced only the tile; I learned that these old tubs are mostly nicer than the replacement options. They are deep; they hold the heat well. And they are very, very heavy to move.

So our plan for the yellow bathroom is to gut everything except for the tub and tile surround. The double vanity is going to be replaced by a single pedestal sink; there’s a huge linen closet next to the tub, so we don’t need the storage. The extra sink only gathers dust because we never use them at the same time. I chose something vintage-y for the floor, but I’m a bit anxious about how it will all come together.

My hope is that by swapping out some of the scary yellow fixtures, we can work with the tub and make the room look like a better version of its own vintage. This is my dream, which will, of course, be tempered by a touch of bumblebee in our reality.

The idea of getting rid of the tub actually made me feel a twinge of anticipatory regret/guilt; we’ll see how I feel in a few weeks.

Please forgive me for any typos contained herein; whilst the baby naps, I type furiously. These days, it’s either bad writing or none.

 

*One wonders what Charlotte Perkins Gilman would have had to say about yellow contact paper; it’s so much more sinister. I think there’s a conference paper in there somewhere.