Anniversaries


I spent yesterday celebrating our 32nd wedding anniversary with my amazing husband, almost 33 years since we first met. If you’d told me all those years ago that I would be married this long, I wouldn’t have believed you. My track record up to that point had been nothing short of disastrous. Nevertheless, we usually recognize the date simply, a day free of work and the usual chores, a quiet dinner out.

We always manage to note our nuptials in the nick of time, right before the looming national holiday, a boisterous and bombastic event that steamrolls over our quaint little memories of a small country wedding with only 25 guests. (And that count included my husband and me.) For Throwback Thursday on Facebook yesterday, I joked that the above photo could easily have been taken in 1925 instead of 1985 if it weren’t for the Instamatic camera with 110 film that my husband holds in his left hand.

This year another anniversary follows fast on the heels of firecracker festivals and sizzling backyard feasts. It’s a new one that I dread, and one that I will always remember because of its proximity to the Fourth. Funny, how I don’t often recall the death dates of dear, departed pets, but this one seems to be different. He was the last, at least for a while until we become settled again; and in my travels of late, he returns to me in the form of farm cats at the retreat center where I work, who snooze on the porch steps all afternoon, or find a warm lap in the cool dawn dew when one becomes available from a lawn chair.

Once a country cat, my old buddy would have loved this place, where his kind roam freely all day to catch mice and tease the birds, though still called in to safety every night away from coyotes and other creatures of the night who would do them harm.  When I first came, they ran from me and stared back at a respectful distance, but now we are on a first-name basis. They tell me all about their nine lives, and I tell them about my old friend, how he could hunt even without his front claws, how he loved to stay out all night and sack out all day in a corner on the floor, no soft bed needed.

But I keep to myself how he ended his days up in a third-floor apartment, with a cupful of grass instead of a whole backyard lush with the stuff, while birds taunted him through the glass door of a balcony the size of his litter box. We did what we could to make the transition easier for him, since another home in the country or even a new suburban yard were out of the question for us in this stage of our journey. A cowardly trip to the shelter was unimaginable. In the end, he was stuck in his geriatric ways enough to be dependent on the people who took him in all those years ago, for better or for worse.

At least on this Fourth of July, I take solace in knowing that he doesn’t have to endure the battle sounds of our country’s anniversary, unless he wants to.

When the Last Pet Leaves

The last picture of him.
The final picture of him.

We said goodbye to our cat this summer, the last of five pets who came with us when we moved from the country back to the suburbs 13 years ago. With his departure, our 30-year streak of caring for a dependent (pet and/or child) ended, as well. We are truly empty nesters now.

I won’t lie to you — it feels strange. I’m having a hard time adjusting. No more trips down the grocery pet aisle, no more lugging cat litter up two flights of stairs, no more fur in the dryer vent. Okay, maybe I don’t miss those. But on the other hand, I do miss his greeting at the door after a long trip, his purring for no particular reason, his warm body hogging most of our bed on cold winter nights.

This particular cat was MY cat, my familiar. In early years outside, he left me half-dead gifts by the backdoor; in later years indoors he brought me tiny trinkets carefully placed on the floor by my side of the bed — buttons, toe nail clippings and plastic bits, choking hazards that a lesser being would ingest and end up at the emergency clinic. But not him. He caught elusive flies and terrorized the house spiders, leaving their gigantic crumpled carcasses in full view as evidence of his love for me.

He was a sickly, flea-infested stray who showed up at our door 14 years ago, and pushed the limits of my husband’s patience when I called to tell him that “we had a situation” with a stray kitten. “You didn’t feed him, did you?” he asked warily. And of course I had.

I must admit, this was always the plan. Child off living her own life, pets gently ushered out. But the empty rooms devoid of hairy tumbleweeds seem sterile now, and the silence that greets me when I turn to say we’ll be back soon is hard to bear.

Life goes on, however. Every day I notice more spiders moving in, rejoicing in corners free of feline tormentors, still alive.

Empty Nesters

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Day 20: Two

After 24 years, we are back to a duo. No matter what you are told, believe me, it’s harder than you think.

Yes, folks, it’s that time of year again. I’m looking forward to my third go at participating in Susannah Conway’s August Break by posting prompts here on the blog and on my Instagram account. There are no rules, really. Simply take a photo every day for the month of August, based on the prompts or not. I take a photo a day all year long, but you can’t lose no matter how many days you keep this up. And the more, the merrier!

The Downsizing Dozen: Basic Bliss

anniversary - Version 2

Yesterday, my husband and I celebrated 30 years of marriage. The anniversary gave me an opportunity to compare what we had then, to what we have now. And I found us lacking.

We have less furniture now. When I moved in to my new husband’s duplex, I found the usual trappings for a bachelor pad, with the mandatory bookcase made out of boards and cinderblocks, and a mattress on a sheet of plywood. But our friends pooled their meager wages earned as teaching assistants and struggling writers to give us a queen-sized futon as a wedding gift that we used folded on the floor for a sofa, along with the towering coffee table, easy chairs and dining room set that my husband already owned. We were gifted a massive metal office desk that took up half of our spare room and a lovely Victorian dresser that we dragged around the country for 29 years.

We don’t keep unnecessary knickknacks. I brought very little when I moved 900 miles away for graduate school, but I possessed the soul of a collector, determined to scour local junk shops for kitsch to support my “eclectic” interior design plans. As a newlywed, I considered it my duty to transform our modest ranch house into a PeeWee’s Playhouse wonderland, my 1980s TV inspiration at the time. That wacky vision, combined with all the spoils from my in-laws’ big downsize to a retirement community that same year, led to a pretty cluttered and bizarre decorating scheme.

We need fewer clothes. About the only dowry I brought along was a big wardrobe with shoes and accessories, mostly vintage tat and ratty leftovers from college. I never threw any clothing away, even when something wore out, because that’s the way I grew up. My husband was the same way. And in your twenties, I believe style and the way you look are more important than at any other time. All that would change with a new baby several years later, providing very few opportunities to shower much less put together an outfit. But as a newly married couple, we felt compelled to buy more “sophisticated” clothing in rainbow pastels that screamed Miami Vice and shoulder pads the size of boulders to prove our maturity.

We are down to only kitchen essentials. What my husband lacked in furnishings, he made up for in pots and pans. The man wooed me by cooking Sunday dinner with all the fixings after I had nothing to offer but a couple of shriveled up pork chops with freezer burn. He’d inherited many mismatched dishes and silverware, odds and ends from his grandmothers. And I entered my married life with not one but two espresso machines and a demitasse set as wedding gifts, in addition to an addiction to PBS cooking shows. I plunged into gourmet cooking with a passion hotter than any flambé, determined to master the perfect roux, undaunted by a recipe’s 50 ingredients. All of those specialized dishes meant buying more fancy gadgets and better place settings to show off my artistically arranged micro-servings.

Thinking back, there were many other purchases and acquisitions those first few years, including a custom-built bed frame for our first mattress set, a brand-spanking-new car, and a cantankerous Corgi puppy. We finally qualified for a credit card and took on our first loan. We were proud of the parties we gave, the holiday dinners we cooked, and the guests we hosted.

And when we were ready to move 900 miles back to where I came from to start a new life, we realized that the large U-Haul truck we’d rented was too small.

Fortunately, we’ve remembered this moment of truth throughout the years, using it to fuel a shedding process that continues to this day. All the household goods we thought we needed for a successful marriage are no longer necessary. What we lack in possessions, is more than compensated by the love we share, and the trust that we will always have enough.

Well, this is the last of the Downsizing Dozen. If you’ve been following along, I hope you’ve found some value in the details of our journey to a small walk-up apartment in June of 2014 and a simpler lifestyle. We will continue to examine, reduce and relinquish the old while we accumulate new experiences and fresh memories, life’s precious present. My inaugural post entitled Giving It All Away was featured in July, Make It Stick in August, Following Your Feet in September, Case of the Missing Mac in October, Diminished Drumsticks in November, Dwindling Decorations in December, Finding Focus in January, Forgotten Food in February, Travel Time in March, Shifting Into Single Gear in April, and Tiny Tending in May.

The Downsizing Dozen: Tiny Tending

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As suburbanites everywhere march along to the beating blades inside their lawnmowers and collect the stray mulch that spring downpours washed out of obsessively sculpted landscapes, I fill my two little railing planters with carefully chosen herbs I will use in my cooking, at three stories up on a tiny balcony. From this great height, my old life of lawn maintenance and yard work seems very far away, indeed.

As I’ve mentioned many times, I spent my childhood in the country on several farms and remember spring as a frantically busy season at my grandparents’ family nursery, where thousands of annuals were sold in the merry month of May alone. Fields were tilled and planted, and the family garden begun but often neglected for farming’s other pressing demands.

I’ll never forget the first garden of my very own. My daughter had been born early that spring after a difficult pregnancy on bedrest. I was finally recovered, full of energy and new life, so I dug and laid out a little plot for square-foot gardening at the corner of our rental property. I bought garden tools and poured over seed catalogs, amended the soil and put up trellises for the vine crops. By June everything I planted was up and thriving.

And then my husband landed the job of his dreams halfway across the country. By July, I had to leave my little garden behind, and start over. But I never stopped gardening. Every year at the first misstep of winter, when the soil begins to wake and earthworms stir under the robins’ watchful eyes, I feel the call. It’s in my blood, a part of my genetic duty.

And this year wasn’t any different. I’ve worked all sizes of gardens, from half an acre to containers on a patio, but this has to be my smallest space, yet. Our diet these days restricts eating large amounts of nightshades like tomatoes and peppers, which is mainly what I planted in years past. Nowadays, we use plenty of fresh herbs, and instead of ornamental flowers, I’m trying out a couple of everbearing strawberry plants with pretty pink blooms as an added garnish.

I’ve no doubt that given the chance, I will tend to a larger garden in the future. The tools I bought for that first little square-foot plot are safely stored in our garage, waiting to cultivate bigger dreams. But until then, this is enough.

Once a month for the next twelve, I’ll feature another step in the downsizing journey that didn’t just begin when we sold our suburban house and moved to a small walk-up apartment in June of 2014. This shift to a simpler life has been years in the making, and I hope you’ll join me in my family’s quest to get down to basics. My inaugural post entitled Giving It All Away was featured in July, Make It Stick in August, Following Your Feet in September, Case of the Missing Mac in October, Diminished Drumsticks in November, Dwindling Decorations in December, Finding Focus in January, Forgotten Food in February, Travel Time in March, and Shifting Into Single Gear in April.

The Downsizing Dozen: Shifting Into Single Gear

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One of the major changes we’ve made in the last ten months, much to the shock and dismay of friends and family, is to pare down to one car. That’s right, when the third resident of our apartment moved out earlier this month, she took one of our cars with her. And with it went the fuel expenses, insurance rates, repair bills, registration fees, and that reassuring sense of independence that the second vehicle provides.

We had already transferred ownership last year, but the second car was still available to us as a backup. Since my daughter was born, the second vehicle was usually assigned as my main mode of transport, and our newer “travel” autos were taken by my husband for his longer, and daily, commutes.

When my old car finally drove away to greener pastures, we heaved a sigh of collective relief that our offspring had a dependable way to get to work, but the reality of what we would be giving up finally smacked us in the rear bumper:

  1. Making appointments without checking with each other constantly.
  2. Use of an alternate when one car is in for repairs.
  3. Something to follow and pick us up in at the auto repair shop (see above).
  4. Another vehicle to haul an overflow of extra people, or stuff.
  5. Driving downtown to meet the other for an impromptu meal or a wild hair.

Well, you get the idea. None of these are deal breakers, and since we both work from home now, neither of us is left without transportation for very long. Plus, we can better afford to maintain our single vehicle and pamper it in a nice garage, instead of leaving two out in the cold (and hail).

As our first full year of downsizing looms closer, we hope to continue our monogamous vehicular affair for the foreseeable future on the roads ahead. After all, we’ve already driven off the cliffs of suburban conformity, so why slow down now?

Once a month for the next twelve, I’ll feature another step in the downsizing journey that didn’t just begin when we sold our suburban house and moved to a small walk-up apartment in June of 2014. This shift to a simpler life has been years in the making, and I hope you’ll join me in my family’s quest to get down to basics. My inaugural post entitled Giving It All Away was featured in July, Make It Stick in August, Following Your Feet in September, Case of the Missing Mac in October, Diminished Drumsticks in November, Dwindling Decorations in December, Finding Focus in January, Forgotten Food in February, and Travel Time in March.

The Downsizing Dozen: Make It Stick

Tape, anyone?
As long-suffering followers of this blog have read ad nauseam, I’ve been on the minimalist path for quite some time now, posting one-hit wonders such as Don’t Minimalize Your Bangs, Goodwill Hauling, The Urge to Purge, Hobbling the Hobbies, and my biggest blockbuster to date, What’s In YOUR Garage? Since 2009, I swear to you on my mother’s outdated china pattern that I’ve tried to walk the talk. So, imagine my surprise and shame while packing to move, when I repeatedly pulled out of various drawers and pandora’s boxes an endless assortment of . . . tape.

In shock, I felt moved to document the phenomenon in the photo above. That’s right folks, you counted correctly. There were no less than ten dispensers (couldn’t get them all in the picture) of sticky stuff. For every act of stickiness imaginable, I had all the bases (or folding flaps) covered. And this number doesn’t even include the medical tape I found, or the tower of duck, masking and electrical tape hiding in the garage, but that was to be expected.

No, the big mystery to me was how on earth a family of three had managed to buy and then forget about all that packaging tape. During her formative years, my daughter was (and still is) a very creative child who went through yards of tape to hold her projects together, bind her handmade book pages, fasten her abundant artwork on the walls, and ultimately leave waded on the floor only to be cut out of the hairs of a wandering family cat or dog later.

With all this taping of hers going on, I rarely had enough on hand to wrap the occasional gift much less mend a careless rip, in which case I was stuck with the ugly duck or masking tapes, and if we were out of those, then house caulk or chewing gum often came to mind. With the necessary scotch tape truly invisible to my naked eye, yet another entry to the weekly shopping list was made.

Here’s what I think happened: as the years went by, and my daughter’s appetite for temporary paper creations switched to sketchbooks and computer art, the tape dispensers disappeared into the gaping cavern of her closet, and fell behind the beanie babies and spirograph sets lurking on the back shelf. Our holiday gift wrapping has diminished (maybe that’s why we don’t have as many friends), and even when absolutely necessary, by then I had discovered the wonderful world of gift bags to fit any oddly (or normal) shaped object.

But here’s the big reason why I found so many. You ready for this? The reproductive habits of scotch tape are little known, so it’s my theory that they breed in any dark corner or unattended shopping bag. And in my case, they are known to disappear for years, only to reappear in multitudes. Furthermore, they are not the only office supplies known to do this–rubber bands and paper clips are also likely suspects.

So what can the unsuspecting suburbanite do when they open the door to a cascade of slippery plastic dispensers with their guillotines of tiny razor teeth? Follow these next steps carefully:

1) You evaluate possible causes of your dirty little secret, vow that you will go to great lengths not to recreate a similar environment ever again, and make that resolution stick.

2) You may be tempted to fling all humiliating signs of tape debauchery into the trashcan, but please take a deep breath, and think of a daycare center, classroom or craft program that would benefit, turning a bad situation into good.

3) Whatever rolls of tape you do keep, for the love of tidiness, I plead with you to store them in a well-lit area, out in plain sight, and NEVER, EVER allow them to wander off in pairs. You, your wallet, and your pets covered in little bald spots will thank you for it.

Once a month for the next twelve, I’ll feature another step in the downsizing journey that didn’t just begin when we sold our house and moved to a small walk-up apartment in June of 2014. This shift to a simpler life has been years in the making, and I hope you’ll join me in my family’s quest to get down to basics. My inaugural post entitled Giving It All Away was featured in July.

The Egg of It All

It is a well-known fact that my husband loves eggs. He consumes them in all their forms: fried, scrambled, poached and boiled. He likes them runny, with cheese and a bit of onion, on top in huevos or underneath hollandaise sauce. He even favors egg-shaped objects — his first car was a VW Bug (as close to an ovaloid as you could get outside of Ork in those days).

Unbelievably, we once considered buying an egg-laying operation in a futile attempt to make a living in an unaffordable part of the country. I remember a tour of the owner’s farmhouse revealed the largest egg-clectic collection of chicken and egg nicknacks known to man. Even the clocks on the wall bore the shapes of poultry.

It was truly egg-centric. (sorry)

So, stands to reason that any holiday even remotely celebrating the spherical will have his full participation. As empty-nesters, the whole point and motivation to pastel candy, gaudy long-handled baskets and egg dying would be done and gone if it weren’t for my spouse’s ellipsoidal zeal.

Pretty soon, those addictive miniature eggs with the crunchy malt centers suddenly appear in the candy dish despite my best attempts to avoid and prevent this sort of behavior. Then chocolate-covered coconut ovules spill out from behind the cereal boxes in the cupboard. Inevitably, I find telltale strands of fake grass clinging to his clothes.

Although this year, I honestly thought we were going to amble through the holiday weekend without the whole hard-boiled routine, tempting sales on 12-packs notwithstanding.

By Maundy Thursday, however, he had that look in his eye, the dear man. He wanted me to pick up extra on grocery day. Okay, boil some up, I offered, thinking no big deal, we’ll have deviled eggs all next week.

But no. He wanted them à la shell. In color.

Too late, I mused. There’s no way unless we masticate some roots or fight a squirrel for the black walnut shells. Do they even sell those egg-dying kits of our youth in the stores anymore? You know, the ones with the transfers that never worked and the punch-out paper figures my brother and I used to come to blows over?

Not to be dissuaded, my husband fishes out an ancient box of food coloring, the kind with those little suspiciously-familiar-shaped bottles wearing pointy hats.

A half cup of hot water and a whiff of vinegar later, I am 10 again.

Re-hatched.

The Empty Room

A member of my household moved back to college a couple of weeks ago. But this time, instead of the claustrophobic closet of a dorm room, there is a big apartment to furnish.

Off the walls come the autographed mementos of childhood heroes, yellowing banners of former school victories, the dry-erase board that is still active after all these years, vintage music posters and personalized signs establishing territory.

The dirty clothes have vanished with their hamper, scattered footwear marched off toward winding campus trails or retired to the darkest, forgotten shelves. Chairs, drawing table and lamps have all been whisked away to find new productive lives.

The perpetually unmade bed has left dimples in the carpet to remember it by.

I wander around aimlessly in this small room, suddenly vast and hollow as a canyon, its cloudless blue walls and sand-colored floor containing my desert in parenthood.

Before the empty echoes of the U-Haul fade, another family would find younger siblings lined up to stake their claims, the winds of seniority shifting down the hall to find a new balance.

But at my house, there is nothing to redistribute. Everything has found its place. There is no mid-life hobby busting its seams, or exercise equipment for the middle-aged chaffing at the bit to spread its wings.

And even though I have an unobstructed path, there’s no incentive to vacuum away the traces of childhood.

Maybe tomorrow.

Home Impoverishment

My husband and I have lived in our current house for too long. Usually, we sneak out sometime between four to six years, before various basic functions like heat and electricity start to go bad and need replacement.

But we’re getting old, and we don’t move as fast anymore. Our long-range goal is to downsize now that our child-rearing has reached the collegiate level. But before we can sell, we are faced with an ever-growing list of painting, plumbing and other picayune projects.

All the rooms need facelifts to fix their late 90’s color schemes, and don’t even get me started on the remaining carpet. (Most of the downstairs rug has been replaced with semi-wood-looking laminate courtesy of my interior-decorating cat. If he doesn’t like the decor, he pees on it).

The furnace and air-conditioner still work, but are enjoying the twilight of their years, I’ve been told by concerned HVAC specialists. Our hot water heater, on the other hand, sounds like a popcorn machine and the ancient garbage disposal looks like the gaping pit of refuse hell. Throw in flickering lights, ominous chewing sounds in the crawl space and the world’s ugliest ceiling fans, and you can see why we can be caught drooling over those ads for downtown luxury condos with a complete staff at one’s beck and call.

It also hurts to think that we will not see a return for all these “improvements” in the current housing market. Our fear is that the house will need to be perfect just to get a passing glance, and believe me, it is not at the moment. (Why is the cat stalking the fireplace?)

Here is the crux of the matter: Does it make sense to pour money into fixing up houses for other people to buy, and put up with the barely acceptable ourselves for years? Am I not good enough to enjoy a “garden tub” of my own?

It seems like I’ve been sitting in half a cup of water since I was a kid. My dream is to live somewhere, someday, with a decent bathing fixture. Maybe I don’t even need a house — just the tub stuck out in front of a scenic vista like a certain commercial shown repeatedly during men’s golf tournaments.

(Please forgive my brief bathing reverie here.)

Anyway, the fantasy tub will not fit in my current house, so I’ll have to settle for a working shower head and drain. At least I’m clean as I fight the accumulations of hard water stains and calcium deposits. The new muted colors, imitation granite counters, fresh carpeting and depersonalized decor will help to attract the serious buyer, I’m sure. (Don’t all the home staging shows promise that?)

In the meantime, we can stop eating out. Or buying so many groceries for that matter. And who needs gifts for the holidays?

That tub with a view is looking better and better.