Thursday, April 28, 2011


"catch the sun"
jamie cullum

Not much been happening on the house front.  A few showings; tomorrow a realtor open house with a general open house sometime to follow.  

There are many houses on the market but I see that a few repped by our agent are "sale pending."
This whole notion makes everything just a little poignant.  Zeb and Eli made the effort to get home for the day on Easter.  Will it have been the last holiday in their childhood home?  How will the dogs understand it?  After all, their lives are so calm.

I've been in the garden picking flowers and checking on the tender green shoots of perennials I've planted over the years.  They are other things that I've planted and nurtured.  And, although I don't think I'll miss all the work they take, I will miss them.  Assorted images below.

And, of course, every dawn over Long Island Sound is now like I've never see dawn before.

Even in the bunker that is our basement, I find relics of young artists in the making.  Lost to their biographers and archives but for a mother with a camera. (It's a door, sideways).
Two mallard ducks returned for several springs.  Called Abdul Quakbar and Mrs. Quakbar.  They'd waddle up to the front door, quack a bit and wait for their bread and water.  We also have had a spider (or two) who return every year and grace us with their nightly efforts which leave me humbled and wondering about my own routine efforts and how they might otherwise be seen.
Tonight's finale.  Our wedding and honeymoon were scheduled around the opening night of CATS on Broadway, Ken being Production Carpenter.  I should have known what stage that set.  I spent opening night wondering why so many light bulbs were already burnt out but enjoyed the party at the Waldorf. And Eli had the best childhood Sundays ever going into the theater with Dad.  In fact, after the HOME ALONE movies, when asked what he would do if lost in NYC, he replied, "I'd tell someone to take me to CATS."

Writing this blog helps address some of this.  Maybe.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

My Hometown - Part One

I began this post a few nights ago; and while going back and forth between sites, closed this one and lost everything.  But not really, the words and photos were lost but not the memories or the idea.

And isn't that what this particular selling and moving thing, as well as the general idea of change and transition in life is all about.

btw, let me share a little counseling axiom:  You can have change without transition, but you can't have transition without change.  The easy explanation of this is that you can make an external and superficial change without the internal, life-altering ones but not vice versa.

If I want to take you on a deeper detour down the line, we'll explore The Stages of Change as developed by Prochaska and Carlo DiClemente.  Useful for all sorts of things.  Trust me.

Back on topic.  Pottsville, Pennsylvania.  An anthracite coal mining town in Eastern Pennsylvania.
Full of high society WASPs but plenty of immigrant Poles, Irish, Germans, even Jews.  How the hell did they get there?

Best known for the now celebrated Yuengling Brewey, the oldest family brewery in the US, or so they say.  I grew up with the smell of hops wafting down the hill to Garfield Elementary School (now a parking lot, I'm told) and we had field trips into the plant.  Yuengling's also had a ice creamery across from the brewery on Mahantongo St.  A logical use of shared resources and the kinds of ice creams for which otherwise objective adults who now buy lavender, green tea, lemongrass, bittersweet artisinal chocolates continue to yearn.

Pottsville's other claims to fame include author John O'Hara ("Pal Joey," "Butterfield 8") whose early novels include"Appointment in Samarra" (about Pottsville and Schuylkill County society) and the Pottsville Maroons who may have been one of the first NFL championship teams until they were charged with a violation (fledgling reporter John O'Hara covered the team).

Our first house, to which I was brought home as a preemie (my mother recounted that I looked like a "plucked chicken") was on Norwegian St.  I have a horizontal memory of being carried into a room with a lamp over a chair and my paternal grandmother in the room.  This is apparently accurate although there is no photographic confirmation.

At some point, we moved to a big old house on Mahantongo St.  Just down the street from the Yuengling mansion.  Except that we had tenants.  One in the former maid's quarters.  Another family in the former billiard room/trunk storage on the third floor.
Yuengling Mansion

Mostly, I remember Pottsville as a time of true innocence.  Unaware of the history or the class discrepancies.  In my memory, it was all like this:

and like this:

But there's another story here.  My parents'.  Two immigrant families.  A Polish Catholic girl, born in the USA to two Polish immigrants who found her way briefly to NYC as a hairdresser (and a night or two at the Stork Club - my brother has the ashtray) and a Jewish immigrant young man who arrived in 1920 at age 12 from a long lost Polish/German/Russian village and who, speaking no English, graduated from high school, went to Penn State and was valedictorian of his class and got a scholarship to Harvard Law, serving up creamed chipped beef (or shit on a shingle) to the creme de la creme.

They were, both back in Pottsville, set up on a blind date by their opthamalogist, and eventually eloped to Atlantic City, giving my cousin a note and a quarter to deliver it to my mother's mother.  Just recently got that note when my Aunt Esther died and my cousin provided it.  Family tumult immediately ensued; the end result of anti-Semitism and tragedy two decades away.

A time of reflection and process.  Excuse the commercial.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Spring Gleaning

Last week was a flurry of activity and angst (that's the double A..what would make it triple?  Anger?
Arthritis?  Aching? Arm-wrestling? Anxiety - that's a given -? Avarice? Aging)

This week? Stasis.  Both welcome and grounding.

It's allowed me time to appreciate my home, the dawn when walking dogs - sun rising and changing the blue-black into fiery orange and then to cerulean blue, feeling the sun on my face and arms;

Point No Point
the dusk as I watch the sun set from my bedroom windows with streaks of peach, rose, aubergine, a russet turquoise tumbling into darkness with sparkles of stars.

The cardinals, blue jays, the pileated woodpeckers and the same larks that Romeo and Juliet bemoaned (for very different reasons).  Not to mention the wild parrots who continue to amuse me with their colors and their adaptability. They now come to the bird feeder and are blase about the dogs, cats, and baby strollers.  They probably should be living in Park Slope.

Our backyard is very modest and in need of serious and kindly attention.  I went out and bagged the dog poop (no delicacy possible) and gently moved the leaves and twigs from my herb garden (built by Ken as an homage to the base of the Statue of Liberty and first serving as sandbox for small boys and friends.) Looked at the pale and tentative emerging shoots of the flowers and other green things that I've planted and tended for decades now.  And wondering/hoping they can be loved by someone new.

And torn again by what I need and want to do for house and garden vs what I need and want to do for me.
The Flaming Lips - All We Have Is Now

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

In through the out door

It's quiet on the house front.

While reviewing the posts to date, I notice that there is a definite absence of humor.  No question the house has had its share of laughs at our expense.

One of the first that comes to mind happened soon after Zeb was born on November 28, 1984.  I went to the attic to start to get the Christmas decorations.  The attic just had beams with insulation and I made a misstep and below is more or less what Ken, sitting with Zeb on his lap, witnessed.

More recently (and more frequently than I care to count), I've locked myself out of the house.  My only point of entry at those moments becomes the dog door.  Even Zeb's friend Patrick Marro has used this technique in order to sneak into the house to leave us flowers from Zeb and Eli on our anniversary.
Warning to burglars:  Two large and protective shar pei only allow friends in through their door.

Video below is not me.  But you get the idea.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Thanks to friends

Here:  Sue, Jerri, Carol, Peggy, Earle et al

There and Everywhere:  David, Kristen, Alison, Margery, Sarah, Andrea, Joe & Shel et al

 "beautiful wreck"  shawn mulllins

Dear Zeb

Part of an email from Zeb.


...I saw the blog for the house, it makes me too sad to read it. Hope it's helping you process things tho....


Dear Zeb,

I'm sorry that the blog and the potential sale of the house make you sad.  And, yes, the blog does help me to process it.

I'm going to share a few other thoughts with you about the whole thing.

Many elements have gone into making this decision (and, who knows, it may not sell).  One obvious one is that the house is beginning to get a little run-down and that makes me sad to see - the collapsing garage, we need a need roof, the windows in your room need to be replaced and the basement could use an overhaul.  That's just for starters.

The yard needs work and a new fence and gate.  Between Dad's long hours in NYC, commuting time and degenerative disc disease, he can't do everything that he'd like to (and certainly not what I WANT him to - lol).

Over the years, Dad and I chose both to live fairly well and to "invest" in you and Eli rather than pay off the mortgage, renovate the house or even save what we probably should have.  We absolutely have no doubt that this was the right decision and would do all over a New York minute.

You and Eli had rich childhoods with good friends and the opportunity to use your imaginations, learn and explore.  You went on to have first-class educations both at Fairfield Prep and then at two prestigious private universities.  And, I think you had some memorable and formative vacations, camp experiences, cultural excursions, etc etc.

Those are the things that last.  The memories, the evolution of the men that you and Eli have become and the rich family history that we share. 

The house was the framework for some of this but the lives lived within are what truly will withstand the passage of time.  A house needs to be full of life.  It's been a good house and a fabulous home and I hope it gives that opportunity to whomever lives here in the future.

If you think about, I'm the person who has spent the most time in the house making it a home.  Dad's been gone at work a great deal, you and Eli have been in school here and then away and now living in New York and Brooklyn.  So, it's very difficult although certainly there is some excitement, too, within the uncertainty.  Nothing wrong with change or a fresh start.

I remember reading this quote:  "Home is any four walls that enclose the right person."  Or, in our case, any four walls that enclose the right four people and two slobbering dogs.  You can take that to the bank!

I love you, Zeb.

xxooxxoo  Ma

"This House is Not for Sale" - Ryan Adams

Monday, April 4, 2011

Preparation is Key

No bites after the weekend showings and Open House.

There's both a sense of relief and a sense of disappointment.  Our house is quirky.
It's not one to which the traditional Stratford buyer will respond.  We're gonna need
some "outsiders" like we were.

But, checking with the "experts" anyway.

Okay, we're pretty good up to item # 4.

And then I read about "home staging."

Professional stagers are highly skilled artists. They can take a blank canvas and paint a sensuous portrait without ever lifting a paint brush. Stagers possess the skills of a top-level designer and they create dramatic scenery that appeals to all five senses...The Kitchen is the "heart of the home," and here is practical advice for making that space sparkle:
  • Apply orange oil to cabinets that appear dry, which will renew their original luster
  • Put out large bowls of fruit such as polished apples, bright oranges, luscious grapes
  • Arrange colorful and fun cookbooks on the counters
  Bring the outdoors inside through the use of greenery and plants; in creating clean, crisp spaces and arranging furniture with plenty of room to walk around. She says bathrooms are essential to dress well. "Bathrooms should look open, airy and delightful." A favorite tricks is to add baskets filled with spa treatments such as:
  • Towels, tied with ribbons
  • Scented soaps
  • Creamy lotions
  • Moisturizing & Facial jars
The back yard needs staging, too. For patios and decks, bring in plants and potted flowers, and adds additional color by setting the picnic table with bright, plastic dinner plates.

We're screwed.


Sunday, April 3, 2011

Open House

cellar door

Today's the Open House.

Did I clean the house because I want it to sell or just because I can't bear the thought of strangers coming in and thinking, "Christ, what kind of woman allows a house to look like this?"  Which is a corollary of why I always clean the house before going on a trip.  I think to myself, "If the plane crashes and people have to come over to comfort Ken and the boys, I need the house to look nice because I don't want it to reflect badly on the dead, namely, me."

It's also certainly possible that it will not sell.  All this agita for nada?  I can see friends nodding their heads and thinking, "Nina, this is different because...?"

Looking through my digital photo albums for this post and I realize that I don't have many pics of the house since my photographs went primarily digital.  And also since those little boys became young men.  I have numerous actual photo albums filled with fading photos of boys with underwear on their heads, boys covered head to toe in mud, boys with friends at birthday parties at museums, McDonald's, bowling alleys.  Photos of boys dressed as bats, stinky cheese head, CATS characters, in drag.  Every holiday, every hamster, every snake.  Boys snowboarding, boys on beaches, boys in cars and on planes.  First days of school and graduations.

Going cold turkey today on searching NY Times real estate, and Craigslist.  Absent while nameless faces stroll through the rooms that hold thirty years of the lives of four people, two cats and three dogs.

I'd like LCD Soundsystem to take me out the door.  With help from the Muppets.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Friday, April 1, 2011


Today I fell in love with our house. 

Or, more specifically, some of the features that Ken has built in and the renovations that he designed.  As well, as the decorating we've done to make a contemporary interior out of a traditional cape.

This came after a day of fretting over the dogs and how they might adapt to city life.  No door to open to allow them to scamper into the backyard or a deck to sit on to watch the squirrels.  I keep telling myself that the dogs aren't the reason not to do this - which is absolutely true - but they will be included in the challenges and compromises of finding a new place.  They do have some city characteristics even though they don't know it.  The regular walks, 2-3x a day, something that many suburban dogs don't get, their backyards being their entire universe.

So, on this drizzly, grey evening, as I left the house well lit by lamps and candles for a showing, they and I went to the beach, not another soul in sight, and they had a good old romp while I searched fruitlessly for more sea glass.

We came home.  Two of us had duck jerky.  The other, after a round of mat Pilates, has poured a Friday night martini.

And then it became clear.  Yes, I do love what we have made of this house.  Completely and absolutely.  But, what I don't love (or even like) anymore is yard maintenance, snow shoveling, weeding when I'd rather be reading or at a museum.  And not having time with Ken on our rare shared days off because we're both too busy with "the house."

This family has always been at it best when working together on shared goals.  A change might just be the thing.