One more renovation, one last time

IMG_4184While it’s still very much in the planning stages, and could be nixed by the historic commission, here’s a sketch for a shared entry vestibule that will keep the wind from whistling in (and around) our front door.  Hey, I can dream, can’t I?

I’ve never been one for over-ambitious New Year’s resolutions.  I like to set the bar down where I know I can succeed—eat an apple a day, get more sleep, that sort of thing.  But this year I have a project up my sleeve that’s not of the “Consume More Kale” ilk (trust me, that one isn’t happening), but is, instead, a project born of a universal truth: as soon as there’s a construction renovation on your radar, there’s a countdown clock activated.  You know, that 60 Minutes-style tick-tick-ticking second hand, sweeping time away, reminding you that there’s work to be done, if you want to get all your ducks lined up and your project ready to roll.

It’s not like we haven’t been here before.  This is at least the third time that we’ve needed to clear the decks so that some bearing walls could move or some systems could be updated. And yet, here we are, yet again.  How does the time keep flying by?  How did our once-new kitchen (circa 1984!) get so old?

Some items on our current to-do list fall under the heading of things we’ve tackled at least once before, back during Reagan’s first term.  These items are like the fillings I got when I was a teenager.  Seriously, why did no one tell me that my teeth would crack around them, twenty years down the road, or the crowns would fall out and need to be replaced?  Fillings and faucets and tile floors, it turns out, do not last a lifetime.

Then there’s the projects we’ve never quite gotten to—the rattily old third floor windows that frost over in the cold, the exterior bricks that need re-pointing, and the gaps around front door where the wind whooshes through.  We have a stove that’s missing some knobs, and a kitchen counter that’s so waterlogged, it’s about to burst.  And it’s not that I don’t love that bathroom with the circa 1955 pink-and-black tile floor and the cracked plastic sink.  But with our boys moving on, and the prospect of recovering a some space for other (read: my own personal) purposes, the moment for doing one last This Old House project is now.  Our house may well fall down around our ears if we don’t hit the basics, and soon.

And all I have to do is get three decades of living out of the way.  Start with the stuff that’s been kicking around since we were newlyweds, and work on through to the current piles of periodicals to be read.  Easy peasy.

That’s my New Year’s project.  Attack every closet, every shelf, every drawer.  If we don’t need it, give it a new home.  If it’s something I’ll want to see when the renovation’s done, find a safe place to store it.  Start now.  Be ruthless.  If it isn’t precious, make it go away.

Need I even add, easier said than done?

My son’s rooms, for starters.  Even with vigilant efforts over the years to offload outgrown clothes, and to clear out the flotsam and jetsam that got dragged in and out of their various backpacks, the sheer volume of stuff that my kids have accumulated is daunting.  And so much of it seems like it might be important: phone chargers and thumb drives, file folders and textbooks.  Where to draw the line?

IMG_4377What to do with two dozen wolves, polar bears, and other fuzzy treasures?  How do you offload the creatures that you tucked in at bedtime, whose names you once knew?  How can I have forgotten?

IMG_4433How can I find a stash like the one pictured above, and not wonder how a decade and a half evaporated since this sweet boy was reading Julie of the Wolves and The Golden Compass and naming his stuffed animals after the characters he adored? I don’t know the answer to that question.  I also can’t bear to offload those creatures, not anytime soon.

IMG_4449Among the items we have way too many of, here are two of the five bags I’ve filled up with three-ring binders and folders and report covers.  Clearly, we are a family of note-takers, project assemblers, homework collectors, meeting-minute scribes.  What’s the half-life of usefulness for pre-calculus notes, or AP US History quizzes? I’m banking on the fact that the internet can provide easy access to most of what was contained within these covers.

IMG_4451Confession: I put this bag of baseball trophies out on the sidewalk on trash day.  Then I retrieved them, at 6:30AM.  It didn’t seem fair, somehow, to offload them without letting the boy who won them have a say.

IMG_4384This was a first wave of donations, put out on the sidewalk for pickup by the nice folks at the Big Brother/Big Sister Foundation.  Lucky for me, organizations like this one send me mailers to let me know when they’ll be in my neighborhood.  I’m working up to frequent flyer status with multiple non-profits.

IMG_4452No doubt about it, I have a lot of work to do.

So, yes, this is what I’ve been up to lately, and what I’ll be picking away at, over the next few months.   Let me know if you have any need for, oh, say, a couple of twin beds, or a desk, or a lifetime supply of three-ring binders…


Once more to the lake, or something like that

IMG_4185These little flowers were planted 23 years ago, upon the occasion of my first born’s birthday. They keep showing up, even in January, bless their little hearts.

It’s been one of those weeks, when I’m intensely aware of my role as mother being…not diminished, exactly, but definitely entering new territory.  And I know I’m not alone, since many of you are also in the same zone, with children who are no longer children, launched from high school to the great beyond.  If it didn’t hit me back when we went to a college reunion where our eldest was raking in tips as head bartender…well, go ahead, just insert a Doonesbury reference right about here.  The recent scene in our driveway, when our sons hopped out of the car and untied the Christmas tree that they had picked up for us, the alleged grownups, was evidence enough that life has moved on, most fantastically.

And I do mean fantastic, in the fantasy sense.  The notion of one’s offspring ever being old enough to do so many things that our kids, our young men, are now capable of…it was all so unfathomable, when I was trying to get the grocery shopping done with a fussy baby in a frontpack, or with two inconsolable toddlers, each crying over the muffin that I had unceremoniously cut in half.  The years flew by, they gained skills, and still, it was hard to imagine one’s children as functioning adults—oh, wasn’t it just a few weeks ago?—when they struggled with oral book reports, or missed the cut-off man on a throw from deep left field.  They grew long and gangily, their voices changed, they became independent individuals, but still, they need parenting.  They need some help.  They needed me.

Now, hmm.  Not so much.

It’s an amazing continuum, from full on life-support provider, to cook and transportation provider, to official witness and documentarian, to where we are now. And just a little bit daunting, how un-required my services are these days.

Which is not to say I’m feeling useless, or abandoned.  On the contrary, one of the lovely bonuses of the pause between fall and spring semesters, the quiet in the schedule for all of us over the holidays, has been spending time all together, as well as one with another.  A trip last week to the MFA, when we had the same idea as everyone else (let’s catch the Sargent watercolors before the show ends!) provided me and my college-age son with a lovely and unexpected visit to some less exalted galleries, full of glorious calligraphy and amazing ceramics.  I love just being in quiet spaces like those, and waiting for my son to point something out to me, and tell me what he thinks.

IMG_4076Somehow, my college guy knows that those little medallions are there to indicate the end of a verse, most beautifully described.

Then, on Saturday, we hopped on the Red Line to catch a late afternoon showing of American Hustle, and finding it sold out, located another theater (thank you, smart phone technology!) with a later start time. Together we hopped back on the subway, enjoying our mission to see as many Oscar contenders as possible before his midyear break was over.

With tickets in hand and time to spare, we found ourselves walking around Boston Common and the Public Garden, visiting my son’s favorite statues.  It floors me, how much history he knows—far more backstory than the statues alone reveal.  There’s one he particularly loves, of a Polish hero of the Revolutionary War named Kosciuszko, whom I urge you to do a little Wikipedia search on.  The guy’s name should be as well known as Lafayette’s, and yet, here we are, two centuries later, wondering why he deserved a statue.  Or at least, there I was.  Thankfully, I have a son who knows why this man was cast in bronze, with the plans for a West Point fortress clutched to his breast.  Spoiler alert: Kosciuszko was befriended by Thomas Jefferson, who, as executor of his will, never made good on his wish to apply all his worldly goods to the freedom and education of African slaves.  That bit, I learned from my son and his amazing memory (thank you, AP US History), and his acute sense of justice and fairness.  I am so grateful to have these little moments to see his heart, full on.

IMG_4212He’s just across Boylston Street from the Four Seasons Hotel, if you care to pay him a visit.

Meanwhile, our older son lives just close enough by to make fairly regular visits home. It’s an extra wintertime bonus for us, that he’s working as a ski coach on the weekends.  That gives us the excuse to overlap up north.  The fact that he’s so utterly not in need of my helpfulness has somehow enticed me to wake up ahead of him, when he’s heading off to coach, and pack him a lunch to go.  It feels like the least I can do.  I’m a sucker for providing food as a source of love, whether it be in the form of applesauce or roast chicken with rosemary or ice cream birthday cakes.  As my sons have grown older and their palates for adventurous eating have expanded, it’s my pleasure to offer up new twists on old favorites.  That, and provide the most primitive proof of my love for them.

IMG_4119Yep, that’s me, spreading the love around.

So, there’s no great reveal here, just the observation that what has been creeping up upon me for years and years has arrived, so definitively.  I walk with my kids, my young men, in places familiar to me, and as E.B. White noted when he described returning to his childhood fishing haunts with his son, time has gotten all topsy-turvy.

“We stared silently at the tips of our rods, at the dragonflies that came and went.  I lowered the tip of mine into the water, tentatively, pensively dislodging the fly, which darted two feet away, poised, darted two feet back, and came to rest again a little farther up the rod.  There had been no years between the ducking of this dragonfly and the other one—the one that was part of memory.  I looked at the boy, who was silently watching his fly, and it was my hands that held his rod, my eyes watching.  I felt dizzy and didn’t know which rod I was at the end of.”

E.B. White, “Once More to the Lake,” 1941.

IMG_1533Our refrigerator is an archeological dig of images, all indicating that time is marching on.

 Yeah, there’s a whole lot of that going on in my life, these days.

back to our regularly scheduled programming

IMG_3985Just when it feels like we’re stuck, there’s a change in the air.

It’s been almost two weeks since we returned home from Christmas Up North, and yet it hasn’t felt like anything resembling a regular schedule these days.  Between the snow storms and the cancellations and the shifts from moist and foggy to breathtakingly clear and bitter cold, nothing feels orderly, or regular.  And since my beloved has been spending his time upstairs, editing a pile of case studies that have been hanging over his head for months, and since our eldest has a birthday just a week after New Year’s Eve, which always takes me by surprise, and given that certain schools don’t require their undergrads to attend classes until January is practically over with…let’s just say, the number of times I’ve had to come up with a creative answer to the “What’s for dinner?” question  has been higher than usual, for longer than expected. It’s the flip side of the empty nest syndrome:  I’d forgotten that four people can make a gallon of milk disappear in two days, and that last night’s leftovers don’t always stretch into a second meal, when there’s more than two mouths to feed.  Fancy that!

IMG_3888I made lots of soup, these past few weeks, which kept disappearing.



But despite the lack of normalcy in our days,  what has returned, right along with the changing phases of the moon, have been those universal signs of the seasonal shift, of time marching on as a new year dawns. Those incremental extra minutes of daylight, for starters–just enough to make you notice, somewhere around 5PM, hey, look, two weeks after the solstice, and it isn’t pitch black dark out!  Then there’s the fractional upward shift that the sun makes as it arcs across the sky, from skulking along the horizon to heading ever so slightly higher above the treeline.  Together the added minutes and extra amplitude combine to make for a glorious gift of just a little more light, every single day. I love that first awareness of forward progress, away from the darkness.  I love the sense of the sun is visibly reaching up, aiming to relieve us from the chill of December, just that little bit more, every single day.

IMG_3835The frost, particularly where the ice storm clung to each branch, made the dark days a little lighter.

Okay, there’s also been the shift from thaw to deep freeze and back again, to a weather front that turned the earth brittle with cold, and the wind whippy and raw.  But that’s what happens around here in January—freezes and melts and then more snow.  You might not be able to predict those shifts, but the phases of the moon, seeming to wax from crescent to quarter to full  before a week has passed–those phases hit their marks, whatever the weather might be up to, no matter what the academic calendar says.  My family’s spring semester may be a few weeks off still, but winter has turned a corner, already.  

IMG_4099Hello, moon! How’d you get so big, so fast?

* * * * *

The thing that I’d missed most since the holidays was my regularly scheduled perambulations, and the check-ins with mother nature that these outings elicit.  It took a trip to the reservoir on the coldest day of the year to get me back to my beloved routine of meandering, listening, letting my mind wander, giving over to my cathedral of solace.  Truth be told, I barely raise my pulse when I walk these days, what with watching out for ice and checking for birds of prey, hoping for more peregrine falcon sightings.  The competitive athlete I used to be has made peace with the mental health bonus of these outings, even when the aerobic benefits are nil.  It works for me, to know that fresh air  is its own treasure, even when I don’t break a sweat. That’s what the stationary bike is for in January, right?

Here’s a little bit of what I bumped into, on my first tours de Fresh Pond of 2014:

IMG_3944First off, the loop around the reservoir always seems longer in the wintertime, when the leaves are gone. No hiding the distance behind the greenery.  What looks like open water here is just the part that got scoured in the wind.  It’s all iced over.  No more flocks of any waterfowl these days.

IMG_3936I took a picture of this stand of, hmm, Jerusalem artichokes maybe? back in early December, and was impressed to see them still standing tall, several storms and weather systems later.

IMG_4038There’s a high fence to keep folks out of the reservoir proper, but this little side pond was perfect for pickup hockey practice on a cold afternoon.

IMG_4033I love the shadows of the tall pines on the hill as they stretch across the reservoir. I also love the sound of the air bubbles rumbling beneath the ice, looking for a place to burp themselves out.

IMG_4051I also have a particular fondness for oak trees that insist on holding tight to their foliage, all winter long.  They’re no fools.  It’s cold out here!

* * * * *

The arctic cold has subsided, for now.  There’s a warm spell headed our way.  It’ll snow again later, I’ll be spreading salt and shoveling before long.  But no matter what else happens, that moon keeps heading towards fullness, and back away again.  The sun rides a higher arc, until it doesn’t.  Together, the forces of nature are pointing me back to normal, back to a rhythm that follows the seasons.