Monthly Archives: December 2010

The House – The Kitchen Guys, Part Deux

Cinnamon spiceImage via Wikipedia

Since it is Friday, I found out what the kitchen guys would do on Wednesday. They were going to put in the VCT tiles. I had picked two Armstrong colors, antique white and cinnamon brown to be laid out in a checkerboard pattern. When one of the apprentice workers showed me the tiles (which I guess he was not supposed to do) the tiles my contractor had purchased were white and buff. When I pitched my fit the boss was not there. The guys filed out silently on that Tuesday afternoon. On Wednesday morning the boss showed up and used that calm-down-or-I-won’t-talk-to-you nonsense that everyone uses these days. I said that this was not really my angry voice, this was just my emotional voice and we moved on. He said, “go get your contract.” “Do you still have your contract?” I did. Sure enough right in my contract it said “in stock only.” No one stocks cinnamon brown, I already knew this. I said, “but in this case there is no extra cost to order colors that are not in stock. If there is I will pay.“ I said, “I cannot get the contrast I want with white and buff” (think school cafeteria). He started to call tile stores to try to find cinnamon brown. No one had it. I said, “I’ll have to go to each store and see what they do have.” He was fine with that. But I decided to call before I went out to see what other colors everyone had. We really could not wait. The whole team was ready to go. I was finding white, buff and black at every store. I was thinking about switching to white and black. Finally I called a tile store I had never visited which was right around the corner from my house and they had 21 boxes of brown tile, not Armstrong, Mannington. I raced out to look at it and it was a medium brown, not my fine, dark cinnamon brown, but I asked them if they could meet my price and they did. I sent my contractor over and he took that buff tile away and got me that medium brown tile.

While all this was going on, I was supposed to be meeting my friends. They wanted to see a movie and then tour my new house, then have dinner at the Vietnamese restaurant, and have dessert and exchange gifts at another friend’s house. It was obvious that touring my house, which was full of kitchen guys and one little Princess cat hiding in the closet, was out of the question. After the tile dilemma was solved I did finally make it to my movie (The King’s Speech; it made me cry) and the rest of my nice day. The tiles went in on Thursday. They look spectacular!

Have a very happy New Year! I hope 2011 brings you health and good fortune and peace.

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The House – The Kitchen Guys

The kitchen guys arrived on Monday. They tore out my old cabinets and put the new ones in place. My cabinets have been downgraded several times as I moved from Home Depot and Lowe’s to a general contractor. I wanted Shaker style in natural maple. I did get a sort of Shaker style, not in natural, in something called toast. The stain is not consistent from one cabinet to the next or even within a cabinet but the construction seems sturdy enough.

On Tuesday they trimmed up the cabinets and laid luan on the floor to prepare for the VCT tiles. When you listen to modern construction the sounds have definitely changed. You no longer hear the hammer. Everything is electric and over half of it has some kind of air compressor spurts involved that sound like they are machine-gunning each other in my kitchen; but thankfully no guts. Or it sounds like you are at the dentist’s office, because there is also some kind of this metal foil involved. It’s picky work, at least the trim parts and the measure parts. There is arithmetic involved and some joking and music. They won’t be done on Tuesday. What will they do on Wednesday?

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You’re in my Space

[1] A Hazy Day in New York CityImage by caruba via Flickr

I have been watching the coverage of the Nor’easter and its effect on NYC airports. I’m thinking that the Passenger’s Bill of Rights has taken a real “shellacking” (which I am assured by New YorkTimes is a ‘word of 2010’). People were on planes on runways way longer than they should have been and apparently were without services like food. They could not get off the planes because the planes were stuck on runways which were nowhere near terminals. I can’t help wondering why these problems seem bigger, and more common, and more difficult to untangle and, for me, the answer that suggests itself is the overall growth in world population and US population along with it.

Overcrowding is something we really need to think about and plan for in the future. Americans are far less tolerant of crowding than people in some other nations, especially in Asia. We need more personal space than others and we may have to adjust this requirement in the future. Today I saw a photo of a festival in Korea which was wall-to-wall people; another day it might be a religious observance in India where people seem to be comfortable with being almost on top of each other. Even the crowds in front of the Vatican seem larger. I notice more crowding at my own local mall. I often will not go on the weekend because it is so difficult to get into the parking lots and to find parking.

We will have to expect this crowding to get worse. Malthus wrote about this in the 17th century or thereabouts. He did the math. At a certain point the population will reach a point where it grows exponentially in a relatively brief period of time. Storms will continue to have greater impact because of human fallout, collecting in public places will get harder. Attending a game, a concert, a festival may eventually be limited to the very rich or we will see quasi-public events offered by the media. Disease control issues need to be addressed, food safety issues also, and, it seems, having enough energy and water will be more and more problematic. Overcrowding will eventually change the world as we know it – another reason for a race to outer space.

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Great Movies?

Cover of "Pretty Woman [Blu-ray]"Cover of Pretty Woman [Blu-ray]

I love movies but my tastes are quite plebian. I love movies that are probably considered total “chick flicks.” Although I will watch a profound movie with a deep message, wonderful film values, and perhaps a really bummer ending, the movies I love to watch over and over again are relentlessly positive and romantic and usually have happy endings. I don’t crave reality in my movies, I crave clever romantic escapism. Except for movies, I don’t think I close myself off from unpleasant realities. But make me choose between Titanic and Pretty Woman and I will choose Pretty Woman every time. After all, with Titanic, the title tells us all we need to know about the ending.

I’m talking Pillow Talk, That Touch of Mink, Come September, Charade, Sabrina (both of them), The Nun’s Story, Breakfast at Tiffany’s, French Kiss, Notting Hill, Moulin Rouge, A Knight’s Tale, Love Actually, Emma (both of them), Pride and Prejudice (both of them), You’ve Got Mail, Sleepless in Seattle, The Thomas Crown Affair (both of them), Dirty Dancing, The Terminal, Lost in Translation, Independence Day, Slumdog Millionaire.

Not an exhaustive list; there are many more and a few favorites with a sad ending have snuck in over the years, like West Side Story, Shakespeare in Love (not a truly sad ending), Steel Magnolias. I’m sure you see what I mean. I cannot be a movie critic because it’s pure schmaltz for me when it comes to movies. Schmaltz or dancing – I could watch the tango in Moulin Rouge forever – but dance movies are another topic.

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Snow in NYC

NEW YORK - FEBRUARY 10:  People walk through C...Image by Getty Images via @daylife

It’s snowing on the East Coast. It’s Monday. People are expected at work and they may start off for work and get stuck somewhere else. Maybe they will just call in to say they can’t make it and they will stay nice and cozy at home. Everything stops in the big cities on the East Coast when it snows. I live in a place where we have huge snowfalls all the time and it may slow us down but it doesn’t stop us. They are showing pictures of Boston in the snow, New York City in the snow. They tell us that Raleigh, North Carolina had a white Christmas for the first time ever. I was in Greensboro, North Carolina when it snowed several inches and my sister and I were stuck in her apartment for several days. The snow often turns to ice in the South where they do not sand or salt the roads and so travel gets very treacherous.

When there is an East Coast storm on or near a holiday it hits travelers the hardest. Our visitors were lucky. They traveled on Christmas morning and had no difficulty. I have been stuck in an airport, but never for days at a time. You are on your own if your flight gets cancelled. You have to decide whether to stay in the airport, get a hotel room, or find another way to travel. Sometimes they warn you not to leave the airport; they will not take care of you if you miss your flight. There is little cosseting in air travel these days, although at La Guardia Airport they gave people cots and blankets.

I was taking a train once and I arrived in New York City just after a snow storm. New York City looked quite festive with snow. In fact the pictures of Rockefeller Center and Central Park with a light coating of snow are over the TV today. We see the branches on the Rockefeller Center tree weighed down with snow and it makes us forget all about how difficult it will be to get around NYC today. Everyone was in a very good mood when I arrived in NYC in the snow which was quite a surprise. New Yorkers, who we know love their city above all others, often act very blasé about it, but during a snow storm they don’t even try to hide their pride in their city. Cab drivers will tell anecdotes about storms they have survived and their faces in the rear view mirror will be animated and happy. I did get stuck at the train station. The track along the Hudson River was flooded. I had to switch to the bus station and get a bus home. They just said on CNN that all three New York City area airports are closed. Not all of these travelers will be able to switch to other transportation. New York City probably doesn’t look so pretty to these stranded travelers. All we can say is be safe and we hope you get to your destination soon.

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Description : Brocart de soie français, Lyon 1...Image via Wikipedia

Although I am happy with the news from Washington, I am not going to write about American politics today. I am going to write about a favorite poem of mine. This is not a poem that critics love and it may seem like a “women’s” poem because it is by a woman and about a woman, but of course it really isn’t about the woman at all, it’s about war. What I like about this poem is the tension between the woman’s external world and her internal emotions.

Patterns (from Men, Women, and Ghosts)
By Amy Lowell (1874-1925)

I walk down the garden paths,
And all the daffodils
Are blowing, and the bright blue squills.
I walk down the patterned garden paths
In my stiff brocaded gown.
With my powdered hair and jeweled fan,
I too am a rare
Pattern. As I wander down
The garden paths.

My dress is richly figured,
And the train
Makes a pink and silver stain
On the gravel, and the thrift
Of the borders.
Just a plate of current fashion,
Tripping by in high-heeled, ribboned shoes.
Not a softness anywhere about me,
Only whalebone and brocade.
The daffodils and squills
Flutter in the breeze
As they please.
And I weep;
For the lime-tree is in blossom
And one small flower has dropped upon my bosom.

And the plashing of waterdrops
In the marble fountain
Comes down the garden-paths.
The dripping never stops,
Underneath my stiffened gown
Is the softness of a woman bathing in a marble basin,
A basin in the midst of hedges grown
So thick, she cannot see her lover hiding,
But she guesses he is near,
And the sliding of the water
Seems the stroking of a dear
Hand upon her.
What is Summer in a fine brocaded gown!
I should like to see it lying in a heap upon the ground.
All the pink and silver crumpled up on the ground.

I would be the pink and silver as I ran along the paths,
And he would stumble after,
Bewildered by my laughter.
I should see the sun flashing from his sword-hilt and the buckles
On his shoes
I would choose
To lead him in a maze along the patterned paths,
A bright and laughing maze for my heavy-booted lover,
Till he caught me in the shade,
And the buttons of his waistcoat bruised my body as he clasped me,
Aching, melting, unafraid.
With the shadows of the leaves and the sundrops,
And the plopping of the waterdrops,
All about us in the open afternoon –
I am very like to swoon
With the weight of this brocade,
For the sun sifts through the shade.

Underneath the fallen blossom
In my bosom,
Is a letter I have hid.
It was brought to me this morning by a rider from the Duke.
“Madam, we regret to inform you that Lord Hartwell
Died in action Thursday se’nnight.”
As I read it in the white morning sunlight,
The letters squirmed like snakes.
“Any answer, Madam, said my footman.
“No,” I told him.
“See that the messenger takes some refreshment.
No, no answer.”
And I walked into the garden,
Up and down the patterned paths,
In my stiff, correct brocade.
The blue and yellow flowers stood up proudly in the sun,
Each one,
I stood upright too,
Held rigid to the pattern
By the stiffness of my gown.
Up and down I walked,
Up and down.

In a month he would have been my husband.
In a month, here, underneath this lime,
We would have broke the pattern;
He for me, and I for him,
He as Colonel, I as Lady,
On this shady seat.
He had a whim
That sunlight carried blessing.
And I answered, “It shall be as you have said.”
Now he is dead.

In Summer and in Winter I shall walk
Up and down
The patterned garden-paths
In my stiff brocaded gown.
The squills and daffodils
Will give place to pillared roses, and to asters, and to snow.
I shall go
Up and down,
In my gown.
Gorgeously arrayed,
Boned and stayed.
And the softness of my body will be guarded from embrace
By each button, hook, and lace.
For the man who should loose me is dead,
Fighting with the Duke of Flanders,
In a pattern called a war.
Christ! What are patterns for?

Although our clothing does not still constrict us in this way, and although our culture does not still limit our freedoms in these ways, we still lose our loved ones to the violence of war and we are still a nation in mourning when we think of our fallen soldiers. So I wish us peace in this season of peace and I wish that we learn how to develop a “pattern” of peace. Have a very happy holiday if you are religiously or culturally inclined, or have a great weekend if you are not. I will be back on Monday.

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Lucky Me

OfficeImage via Wikipedia

My new old house has a room that I have turned into an office. The worst thing about this office is the floor. My upstairs floors head relentlessly downhill as you move from the back of the house to the front of the house. You are practically running by the time you reach the front window. The house is 150 years old so I cut it some slack in the square and true department.

What my office has that makes it worthy of discussion is a tree top view of a truly wonderful tree, a maple I believe, although it is winter and the tree is bare so I am not absolutely sure. On my first day in my office next to my lovely tree a woodpecker came to visit me. The squirrels look in occasionally to see what I am up to, but they are quickly bored and go back to chasing each other, as it looks like I am doing nothing. I imagine myself sitting in this office every day and watching my tree gradually change from winter to spring to summer to fall and I hope I get to do that.

When I get a digital camera I will post some pictures of my tree. Then you can watch the beauty of this bonus I got when I bought this house. You can watch it change with me as the year progresses. Will the tree then settle in to a pattern and will it change in the same ways each year I live here? Or will each year yield subtle changes with variations in the weather and the available sunlight. How old is my tree? Will the village eventually have to cut it down because it interferes with electrical wires or sewer pipes? I will have to enjoy it while I have it because I think it is a very old tree and perhaps does not have a lot of years left. Sort of like me.

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Years That Begin With Two-O

I guess I am still having trouble believing in years that begin with 20. I got so used to the 19’s that the 20’s took me totally by surprise. I never counted my life forward that far. Now it is going to be 2011 and I am thinking that the entire world is having trouble adjusting to the two-o’s. The weather has been a bit extreme, the natural and manmade disasters have been a little out of control, the global economy is out of whack, and a few small countries are having trouble with their aggression levels. Everyone seems a bit more nervous about the future than they used to.

And yet, even after a terrible year like last year; even after a year with Haitian earthquakes and BP oil spills, trapped miners and sagging economies, foreclosures and high unemployment, even after a year when our government acted like governing was all about politics instead of people, I still find such an irrational optimism in facing a new year.

It’s good that years begin and end. It gives us a break point. It affords us the illusion that time will start over, and that therefore life could start over with a sweet rebirth of promise and possibility. This year begins a new decade also, one in which we may be more comfortable with being in the 20’s. I don’t usually wish anyone a happy new year before I wish them a happy holiday, but this year I believe I will. So here’s to 2011. Here’s to less dysfunction, and more innovation, cooperation, and peace.

Elephant, or Bull?

Why on earth would the Republicans try to delay voting on the START treaty? Why on earth would they want to change any of the details of the agreement? It is an agreement hammered out between two governments. If changed it must get kicked back to the Russians for their approval. I’m sure the agreement doesn’t cover every eventuality or go nearly far enough in controlling the use of nukes in the world. But any positive agreement between America and any other country in these perilous times has value.

This delay is not, however, about nukes. This is about American politics. This is about who gets credit. It is about the great American power struggle. It is supposedly about the Republican belief (or message) that they are the true defenders of American democracy and that unless they put their stamp on the treaty America will be at risk. I think the Republicans should not be represented by an elephant. Perhaps it should be a bull. Or maybe we should all start saying “elephantshit.”

The House – 203k Blues

WASHINGTON - FEBRUARY 10:  A maintence worker ...Image by Getty Images via @daylife

I like my new old house. I am getting comfortable here. I get more settled in everyday. I’m enjoying my house even though it has been snowing hard for the past two weeks and I have had to shovel – a lot. I have also had some help; a neighbor has used his snow blower on my driveway twice and a young man from the neighborhood shows up to shovel my driveway at $20 a pop (however I am running out of twenties).

I did get my new furnace. It was installed on schedule and only four days after my old furnace quit. So far Princess and I are toasty. I am eligible for two rebates based on my purchase of an energy efficient heating system.

My kitchen project, however, has not even begun. My contractor has the flu, my cabinets are not here yet. I really didn’t care a lot because Christmas is so close, although the plumbing under my kitchen sink needs almost immediate attention. However, on the news they mentioned the deadline for energy rebates is December 31st and suddenly I do care about getting my kitchen work completed.

I find that I have a real problem because my furnace guy cannot be paid until my kitchen guy finishes his work. Apparently if you have a “streamlined” 203k everyone gets paid at the same time. If my kitchen guy finishes after December 31st, which he most likely will since he hasn’t started yet, I will lose my furnace rebates. I am going to speak to my mortgage company, but my mortgage has been sold, so my old mortgage company doesn’t feel responsible and my new company isn’t in charge until January 1st. I guess I have fallen through a mortgage crack. I really am hating this 203k mess. I just have to point out that if I had been allowed to stay with Lowe’s and Home Depot my kitchen would probably be done by now. I don’t think I have ever qualified for any government perk in my life and I will be angry to get this close and lose these rebates. Obviously, anyone with a new old house knows how important a few extra dollars can be.

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