Old Dogs, New Tricks

I just learned how to tie my shoes.

Okay, okay, it’s not like I’ve been tripping over my laces for most of my life; I’ve known how to tie my shoes ever since I was five and figured out how to loop the bunny ears into each other (it would take another year before I learned my go-to, “the wrap-around”). But recently, I stumbled upon the TED Talk in which scientist Terry Moore demonstrates, in less than three minutes, the proper way to tie a shoe to ensure that it remains tied. And straight.

I’ve done it. It works. My shoes stay tied. They look straighter and, if I do say so, cuter. And if anyone was bothering to look down at my feet (they’re not), they’d probably notice a little more pep in my step.

All too often, I’ve believed there’s only one way to do a thing. One solution. My single-mindedness even extends to what I order at a restaurant—if one of my favorite local joints makes something other than a skirt steak sandwich with gorgonzola, arugula, and garlic mayo I am completely unaware of it.

I’m predictable. Maybe you are, too. There’s a comfort in “one way” thinking. We figured out the one way to tie our shoes, bake a soufflé, do our job, raise a kid, get across Midtown during rush hour. It can feel affirming. Or it’s an exercise in sheer stubbornness, borne out of the binary belief that there is only one right way to do something. Anything else is either wrong or dead-wrong.

Looking down at my shoes, I felt the door on my belief system crack open a little. What else needs a second look? Soon, I saw a video of an Eastern European circus where at least a dozen French Mastiffs were performing tricks—laying down, hurdling over each other, rolling over in unison, all on command. Their faces and bodies were near identical to the Beast, though their energy, readiness, and follow-thru might have made them an entirely different species from him. Sure, the Beast knows words like “sit,” “shake,” and “excuse me,” but sees them as optional requests rather than commands. He’s 130-pounds of one-way stubborn.

I grabbed a handful of doggie snacks and headed outside with the intention of teaching him to bark on command–it is an impressive bark. A curious Beast followed closely behind. Once there, I turned around, held up a treat and said “sit.”

He sat.

I said “paw.”

He raised his paw.

I said “speak.”

He tilted his head.

“Speak!” I repeated, dangling the cookie above him.

Again, no response.

“Woof!” I barked. “Woof! Woof!” I figured a demonstration would help him understand exactly what I was asking him. Soon, I was barking as ferociously as if an intruder had just entered my backyard. The Beast stayed quiet, eyeing the treat just inches from his face.

Then he jumped up and grabbed it from my fingers.

Clearly, there was another way to look at this situation. Beast had figured this out and was now happily munching away at the treat.

I raised my arm, holding another treat high above. “Up!” I shouted instead. I’m sure you can guess how the rest of this goes. Beast happily gulped his snacks and, if only for a moment, I entertained the idea of one day having my own Eastern European dog circus.

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It’s comforting to think we got it right, that with structure comes productivity. We tie ourselves (sometimes literally) to what is known. But there are times when it’s refreshing—and even necessary—to break our patterns and upend our limited thinking. It’s more than tying our shoes or teaching an old dog new tricks. It’s stepping outside our comfort zone, opening ourselves to things we never even considered, letting go of our excuses to make way for possibility. When we dump the “can’t,” we suddenly can.

What discovery did you make that changed your thinking?

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To the left, my old way. On the right, another way.

Look Back…But Don’t Stare

Nostalgia is my dominant gene. I can’t recall a time in my life when I wasn’t nostalgic—the moment I was born, I’m certain I immediately longed for the warmth of my old womb complete with room service. I’ve so romanticized days gone by for most of my days that I have a great deal of catching up to do if I ever hope to get to the present:

vintage view master 1980s reels (1)

In the 1980s, I yearned for my View-Master and life before Kindergarten. By the 1990s, I missed roller skating birthday parties and Saturday morning cartoons. The 2000s have found me wishing boot cut jeans and Lilith Fair would make comebacks. God, I miss landlines.

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Do yourself a favor: Go to YouTube and see when Stevie Wonder visited Sesame Street: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_ul7X5js1vE

I’ve done this with people, too. I have a whole mental photo album (remember photo albums?) of faces I used to know—some departed forever, some who simply faded from my life. In my lonesome moments, I open this book in my mind and retrace the paths that lead me to—or away from—them. I miss a lot of people a lot of the time.

I’m not alone, either. Who among us hasn’t Googled an ex or considered Iran-Contra to be “simpler times?” The recent Star Wars trailer sent us all down memory lane at warp-speed. Between John Williams’s iconic score and the recognizable silhouette of an Imperial Star Destroyer nose-down in the desert sand, my neural pathways lit up like Christmas and I, like Chewbacca, felt as if I was “home.”

I often wonder if my forebears lamented the advent of the remote control or miniskirts or power-steering. My Grandma Dewing regularly started her conversations with “When I was a little girl…,” causing my cousin and me to roll our eyes. My eight-year-old self couldn’t understand why she would prefer a Clark Gable flick over “E.T. The Extraterrestrial.” I mean, she grew up during the Depression—wouldn’t anything be better? And yet, she got just as lost in her reverie of Victory Gardens as I do about Schoolhouse Rock. I’m sure today’s kids will fondly reflect on One Direction and Snapchat, though I, like Grandma Dewing, will find that baffling.

Little Grandma Dewing

Grandma Dewing before she ever saw “E.T.”

Is all this wistfulness healthy for the soul? Billy Joel reminds us, “The good ol’ days weren’t always good.” Hindsight is 20/20—I believe the Latin term is “if-I-knew-then-what-I-know-now-amus.” I conveniently forget the foolishness of my “good ol’ days” in which I sometimes broke hearts and dishes. I have to remember, too, that “way back when” wasn’t always so great because groups of people were marginalized and women only made 70-cents on the dol—oh, wait, nevermind.

Recently, I learned the word Weltschmerz, which Merriam-Webster defines as “a mood of sentimental sadness” and “mental depression or apathy caused by comparison of the actual state of the world with an ideal state.” Leave it to the Germans to come up with the perfect word to describe my strain of nostalgia. The helplessness I feel over society’s injustices and inanity is enough to make me reach for my blankie and binge-watch Star Trek, in which the future–without war or poverty–looks hopeful, and we get over ourselves and get about the business of exploration, cooperation, and the Prime Directive. Also, Tribbles.

Hubs does not suffer as I do (does he ever?). Rather, he follows the Gospel of Dr. Seuss, which says “Don’t cry because it’s over. Smile because it happened.” If anything, this bittersweet longing reminds me that I’ve had a great many things in my life to smile about. I must have faith that there will be many more smiles to come.

tribbles

What sends you on a trip down memory lane?

Paint By Numbers

After a harsh winter—and by “harsh,” I mean having to endure friends in warmer climes complaining the cold—it looks like spring may be on its way here in the Northeast. I think there’s one more possible snow flurry predicted, followed by freezing rain and, hell, let’s just throw another Nor’easter on the pile before we’re officially done.

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The first day of Spring. No, really.

Hubs and I spent most of the winter shivering under throw blankets and waiting for nine o’clock to roll around so we could go to sleep without feeling too guilty for letting down our late-night partying twenty-year-old selves. Even the Beast, who relished every snowfall, felt a 50-yard walk to the corner in single-digit weather was a little too far.

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The last house project we worked on was in the fall when, after cutting down the Hedge, we replaced the deteriorating porch. Then, one dry and chilly weekend in November, we painted to protect it from the coming elements. After that, we hung up our paintbrushes and hunkered down for our long winter’s nap.

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But we’ve crawled enough out of the depths of sub-freezing temperatures that it’s time to get back to work. First up? The living room. Last week, we spent four days prepping and painting. For someone like me, who easily grows bored in the middle of my own sentences, prepping for painting is a painful process. There’s spackling, plastering, taping, sanding, clearing out, covering up, and waiting—all before a single stroke ever touches the wall! Anyone who thinks home redecoration is a fun business either never preps or has a short memory.

A boy and his sander.

A boy and his sander.

Who knows when the faded walls of our house were last painted, but it was time for change. After much negotiation, Hubs and I agreed on a paint color. This is no easy feat: Aside from our differing tastes, Hubs is colorblind. Purple looks brown to him, blue might be mistaken for green. A month into our courtship, we sat across the table at a nice restaurant and he said, “It’s sad that I’ll never know what color your eyes really are.”

“You’re in luck!” I responded enthusiastically. “They’re grey. And they change with whatever I’m wearing!”

We ended up with a light neutral color that could compliment the kind of train car coffee table or reclaimed barn door or industrial bookshelf that everyone is clamoring to put in their décor these days. “You better like it,” said Hubs, “because I’m not painting this room again for a while.”

Choosing a paint color was a cinch compared to settling on what to listen to while we painted—I refuse to believe Neil Young motivates anyone to work on the house; Hubs insists he can’t paint and stay awake while listening to an audiobook. In the end, our only option was my old trusty radio, which I’ve had since 1986 and has survived every project from painting, cleaning, moving, and summer camp dance routines.

Best. Investment. Ever.

Best. Investment. Ever.

[A side note: Set to the local Oldies station, it soon blasted Dead or Alive’s “You Spin Me Round (Like a Record, Baby).” I remember when that song was first played at underground clubs and on alternative radio. That it was now played after such standards as Boston’s “More Than a Feelin’” and Billy Joel’s “Piano Man” was enough to make me reach for the Ensure and contemplate my long existence.]

As we painted, Hubs and I kept arguments at a minimum (ok, I got a little irascible when I thought he was a little heavy with the paint) and we ate a lot of take-out, including two days of pastrami Reubens from a local Italian salumeria (I make no apologies), and soon the room started coming together. By Sunday night, the furniture was back in place. Too bad we didn’t get a single second to enjoy it because we were both zonked from all that effort. Nothing like a house project to remind you to pick up some ibuprofen at Costco.

Before

Before

After

After

With the walls and trim finished, the room looks more bright and clean than ever. We still have a few things to go—including stripping old layers of paint off the bathroom door, as well as decorating. But now that we’ve done an indoor project together, with the help of a friend well-schooled in D-I-Y and a few YouTube videos, we’re ready for the next item on our to-do list.

But first, a nap.

"Zzzzzzz....."

“Zzzzzzz…..”

Geeks & Crafts

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If there are two things I’m passionate about, it’s the British television show Doctor Who and composting. (Yeah, you read that right.) I’ve loved the regenerating Time Lord who travels through space and time in a Big Blue Box since I first saw Tom Baker and his colorful scarf on PBS. (If you have no idea what I’m talking about, you’ve had at least fifty years to catch up—get thee to Netflix!)

 

My ardor for composting combines my long-standing environmentalism—fostered by my seventh-grade teacher, Mr. Olson—with my guilt over throwing out rotten food. Also, I’m terrible when it comes to growing and nurturing plants (my mate still blames me for killing his “bachelor” ficus plant during our first year of dating). Yet, feeding the worms, and returning scraps back to the earth? I got this!

 

Between the prepping and painting, the demolishing and rebuilding, the fixing and repairing on our new house, I was feeling more and more like a (gasp!) grown up. This had to stop! So, when a new composter arrived on my doorstep—a top-loading, bottomless plastic bin—I knew this was my chance to have a bit of fun, add a pinch of whimsy, celebrate my geek side. One look at the shape and it all became very clear.

 

blank bin

 

In Doctor Who, the Doctor encounters many monsters and aliens. None, however, is more fearsome than the Daleks—an extraterrestrial race of cyborgs hellbent on galactic domination. Sure, they may look like rolling traffic cones with lightbulbs and a plunger, but their garbled cry of “EX-TER-MIN-ATE!!” and their ability to kill without mercy will send a chill down any Gallifreyans spine. Certainly, one could disintegrate my leftover romaine.

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Using painters’ tape, I started by marking the body characteristics of the dalek.

 

taped bin

 

Next, I used the same roll of painters tape to trace circles that dot the “skirt” of the dalek body onto a used pizza box and double-side taped them onto the composter. No, I didn’t measure. But simply “eye-balling” their placement doesn’t make me any less of a fan.

 

taped spots

 

Once all the tape was in place, I sprayed the piece with two coats of Rustoleum Aged Copper spray paint. I was getting giddy—not from the fumes, but from the fact that it was starting to look exactly as I’d hoped!

 

Dalek done

 

Perhaps the most exciting moment for me came Halloween night when, just before sundown, some familiar-looking trick-or-treaters showed up at my door. “Would you mind coming into my backyard with me for a photo?” I asked with uncontained enthusiasm. Normally, such a request would rightly give one pause, but the 11th Doctor, Amy Pond, and the TARDIS were great sports about having their picture taken with such a formidable enemy.

 

dw gang

 

All that is left to finish up are the lights that adorn the top of the Dalek’s head and the eyestalk. I suppose I could craft even greater detail onto to the piece, but, for now, “Dalek Caamposter”—named for Dalek Caan, one of the four daleks in the Cult of Skaro (yes, I speak Geek)—is already doing its job of breaking down my yard waste and veggie scraps. Come spring, I hope to have rich black compost to help my garden—say it with me—GER-MIN-ATE!!

Dalek lights

 

Got a geek craft? Share in the comments below!

The Ballad of Bonsai Pete

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He’s stands six-foot-eight

He thinks plants are great

He’s Pete. He’s Bonsai Pete.

 

When last we met, Hubs had put the Hedgemony up on Craigslist—a last-ditch effort to save it from almost-certain destruction. While we had a few smatterings of interest, there were no serious bites. Until Pete.

I had my doubts that anything would come of it when I responded to Pete’s query—Craigslist is often a repository of dead-ends, empty promises, and email collection services, plus I still couldn’t believe that anyone would want a behemoth hedge. But Pete was sincere—he belongs to the Bonsai Society of South Jersey—and was looking to get new plants to grow and cut.

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Hedge vs. Beast

“I’m speechless!” said Pete when he first saw it. Hedgestrosity truly was a sight to behold. It and the Great Wall of China are visible from space. In truth, I’d never known anyone to be so giddy over a waxy plant. But Pete isn’t like we regular humans. He is serenity personified. He oozes Zen. He picked up his first Bonsai snips twenty years ago as a New Jersey State Trooper in effort to learn patience. Two successful decades later, he embodies the calmness and stillness of a mountain, perhaps because, at 6’8”, he’s the size of one. “Maybe you should take up bonsai,” Hubs turned to me and said.

The Man himself: Bonsai Pete.

The Man himself: Bonsai Pete.

Pete let me know he needed to trim to get an idea of how many plants there were and if it housed a wasp nest. While no wasps, it was home to a large spider whom I named “Clarence” in honor of “the Big Man” Clarence Clemmons—its body was the size of a penny—and who weaved his web on our porch every night. His speed and precision were mesmerizing and I nearly wept at the natural beauty of it. I’m soft like that sometimes. We, of course, were happy to let Clarence stay and help himself to the smorgasbord of insects that graced the front porch, though I’m sure the neighbors worried that the Addams family had moved into the neighborhood.

Atta boy, Clarence!

Atta boy, Clarence!

For the next few weeks, Pete—whom I now refer to as “Bonsai Pete” because, well, wouldn’t you?—methodically trimmed back the hedge, which he guessed to have sprouted sometime around the Kennedy administration. Occasionally, he’d pull up a limb that had fallen and rooted itself in the dirt, which was once farmland dating back to the last 1800s and very rich in nutrients. “That kind of soil never goes away,” Bonsai Pete informed me. “No wonder that hedge grew like crazy.”

It took several trips

To make cuttings and snips

For Pete. For Bonsai Pete.

Little by little, Hedgemony whittled down to five manageable stumps. The porch, once completely hidden by greenery (and a whole other story), emerged in its place.

I couldn’t be happier that the stumps have found a new home and an excellent caretaker.

The hedge may be gone

But at least it still lives on

With Pete. With Bonsai Peeeeeeeete!

 

This one is now called "Frog's Mouth."

This one is now called “Frog’s Mouth.”

Hedgemony's new home.

Hedgemony’s new home.

One of the cuttings making a new start.

One of the cuttings making a new start.

Hedgemony

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he·ge·mo·ny: (noun) influence or control over another country, a group of people, etc.

 

he·dge·mo·ny: (noun) when shrubbery takes over the house.

 

There's a house behind that hedge. Trust me.

Some perspective: The Beast is the size of a teenage manatee. (Cool name for a band, dontcha think?)

 

It’s easy to spot the new place if you’re driving down the street. It’s the one with the massive hedge. You can’t miss it. It’s the size of a small whale.

I don’t know how long ago it was planted—actually there are several shrubs in there, boxwoods and yews—but somewhere along the way they merged, became sentient, and embarked on a quest to take over the house. It’s so massive and cumbersome that, if Sleeping Beauty were held captive on the other side, her prince would’ve given up and gone home.

Even before we moved in, we were fairly certain Hedgezilla would meet a swift end with a wood chipper and stump grinder. Friends and neighbors sharpened up their chainsaws and a tree guy offered me a quote for taking it all away. None of us had the time or skills to carve it into a Beast-shaped topiary.

How cool would this be!

How cool would this be!

Then my brother-in-law saw it.

“You can’t just kill it!” he pleaded. “Call a landscaper and see if they’ll take it.” The man who’d lived his entire adult life in the concrete nirvana of New York City had anthropomorphized a plant and was now Team Victory Garden.

Yet, Big Brother’s words had got to Hubs who then asked me to put the hedge on Craigslist. Yes, you read that right. You’d be amazed at the stuff people post on Craigslist. You’d be even more amazed at the stuff folks get off of it, too. Soon he was taking pictures while I wrote an appropriately ludicrous ad:

 

“FREE to a good home–or anyone who wants to try their hand at topiary. Large hedge. Like, really large. I’m no gardener, but have been told that there’s a boxwood and yew in there–and possibly a family of gnomes. Thick stumps and roots, will need to be dug out carefully since it’s very near the house and front porch. Serious inquiries–and gardening tools–only.”

 

Surely, my Craigslist ad would drift off into the graveyard of the Internet. Time to sharpen my hedge shears, I thought. Then—wouldn’t you know it??—we had two responses within eight hours, including a woman who wanted the hedge for her mother’s yard.

Who gets a hedge off of Craigslist?” The BFF in Cali was incredulous. “It’s gotta be a scam.” I’d encountered my share of Craigslist scammers over the years, but I was unfamiliar with anything remotely called the Free Hedge Scam.

I invited the scammer very nice woman to come look at it that afternoon.

“This feels like a message from the Universe,” she cheerfully said, reaching her hands out as though a magnet pulled her towards the gargantuan bush. She took it all in, touching co-mingled leaves and needles, stepping back to admire the greenery. Then she turned to me and earnestly said, “The yew is the Tree of Life. It represents Saturn and Pluto.”

Look, three days earlier, I was burning sage in my kitchen like I was Stevie F***ing Nicks, but all I really wanted to know at that moment was if she had a shovel. No, but what she did have was a sane friend whom she’d brought with her and who likely talked her out of it on the drive home. We never heard from her again.

Saturn and Pluto up close.

Saturn and Pluto up close.

The next day—the Sunday the plumbing burst, in fact—my old neighbor, Benny, texted me: “Can we come over and cut down the hedge?” Ever since he saw our front yard, Benny had been scheming and dreaming of a way to get rid of the hedge—where to start, what to cut, how to haul. It was as enigmatic to him as a Rubik’s cube. Perhaps Hedgemony did have mystical powers. (Fun fact: some ancient religions worshiped yew trees.) Twenty minutes later, Benny arrived with family in tow, and all of us—Hubs and the Kid, too—spent the better part of the day cutting and sawing and pruning. Benny’s two little kids even helped stuff the yardwaste bags.

Sometimes you have to take a break from the hedge and play Star Wars.

Sometimes you have to take a break from the hedge and play Star Wars.

By four o’clock, exhausted and sweaty, we stood back to admire our work. We’d only cut down ten-percent of the hedge and you wouldn’t even know it. I started to seriously consider the tree guy’s quote.

The "After" photo. No, really.

The “After” photo. No, really.

Another week had gone by and the hedge seemed a foot taller when a new email arrived. This time, it was from a local bonsai group. Everything I know about bonsai comes from Mr. Miyagi from The Karate Kid and his bonsai trees were not the size of a Humvee. But I’ll forgo my ignorance in favor of the bonsai guy’s knowledge. “Once I start carving,” he texted me, “you will want them back.” A quick Google search of “large bonsai” suggests he might be right.

To be continued…

"What's happening??"

“What’s happening??”

Plumber Cracked

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There’s one thing in this world that can undo me faster than a belt buckle after Thanksgiving dinner: Plumbing. Alien invasion? No problem. Scandal season finale cliffhanger? I’ll work through it. Clogged sink? Get out the straight jacket.

And so it was this Sunday when the slow drip we’d discovered on Friday had evolved into a trickle and finally a steady leak. While new to us, ours is an older house with both lead and brass pipes, so plumbing issues are not unexpected. It’s like that super-volcano under Yosemite: You know it’s gonna blow eventually; you just hope it’s not today.

Methuselah, the pipe

A pipe callled Methuselah

Someone with authority—I won’t say names; it’s not entirely up to code—suggested turning off the main water valve*, opening all the spigots in the house to drain them, and applying steel epoxy to seal the joint.

*We interrupt this blog post for an important public service announcement: Always know the location of your water shut-off valve. Most of you may already know this, but for the rest of us, like the name suggests, the water shut-off valve will immediately stop any water from coming into your home should an emergency arise. No sooner had a friend suggested I find where it is than it became the most important thing on the planet for me to know.

After turning the water off, we waited for the drip to stop. This is science, kids. It’s all about gravity and letting water drain out at the lowest point. It’s knowing “dry pipes good, wet pipes bad” when doing repair. It’s wishing that I had chucked my Liberal Arts education in favor of plumbing school. Plumbers are always working and they all drive Cadillacs.

But the drip never stopped, despite the main water line being off. A neighbor came over and tried to tighten the valve at the leak. Here’s what I learned about old brass valves and wrenches: They are not friends. The leak was now a spray and my basement was a wet mess. There was no turning the water back on. No going to the bathroom. No taking a shower—we’d spent the day outside doing yard work and looked it. And the soonest a decent plumber could arrive was Tuesday. Oh, and did I mention that this was all happening on the eve of Hubs’s big birthday? Turns out, the pipe was so corroded that, had my neighbor so much as breathed on the valve, it would’ve snapped like a twig.

Shocking to think that water actually got through that.

Shocking to think that water actually got through that.

The pipe wasn’t the only thing to snap. I was now two flushes away from a full-blown meltdown, so I did my family a solid and stepped outside. Feeling exhausted, stressed, and desperate, I dialed a friend of mine. “Just talk me off the ledge,” I told her. “I’m losing my mind over plumbing.” She listened as I recounted the evening’s events, then offered her house, only four blocks away, so we—the Kid, the Hubs, and I—could take warm showers. “Go get something to eat,” she said. “And call me when you get back.”

We hung up and I pulled my unwashed hair into a ponytail—we were hitting a local dive; freshening up was optional. Then, before we could even leave the house the grab dinner, my friend called back, “We’ll be there in five minutes.”

The “we” was my friend, her husband, and their neighbor who just so happened to be a plumber. Things to know: Everyone has a guy. Each neighbor I’ve met says the same thing, “If you ever need something done, I got a guy.” These “guys” do everything from plumbing to electrical work to landscaping to basic handyman work—and they’re all named Frank, George, or Carlos.

Men at Work

Men at Work

The plumber came in and quickly assessed the situation, but made no promises. Over the next four hours, the basement was a hot bed of activity—removing the old busted brass pipes, cutting new copper ones, and doing something called “sweating.” Then, at the stroke of midnight, the moment of truth: The sound of running water through my kitchen sink—and no one hollering from the basement to “turn it off!” It was music to my ears.

After a long night, I awoke the next morning to wish Hubs a “Happy Birthday”. . . then immediately hopped into the shower before another disaster befell. I also woke up with an overwhelming gratitude for my friend and all she did for me. Who knew just three simple words—”I need help”—would have such a profound effect! I feel so lucky, I might go buy a lottery ticket.

The update: Since then, we’ve made at least a dozen trips to the basement to check on everything. The new pipes are holding. The basement is dry. I’m hopeful my sanity may yet return.

Hello, GORGEOUS!

Hello, GORGEOUS!

 

Cleaning House

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[pulls back cobwebs and looks around]

 

Hello?  [Echo: Hello?…hello?…hel…]

 

Anybody here?

 

[sees faded jpegs, digital alphabetic letters, and dust bunnies scattered across the floor.]

 

Wow. I haven’t been here in awhile, have I?

 

[opens the curtains to let light in]

 

Since my last post nearly ten months ago, life got full. Then it got boring. Then busy, then uneventful, then chaotic. Blogging took a backseat. I mean, who needed to read my latest existential crisis over an episode of Cosmos? (The eventual breakup of the Pleiades in 100 million years leaves me bereft.) The Beast and his twin neighbor certainly don’t want to read about it.

 

The Poker Face Twins

The Poker Face Twins

 

[picks up a broom, starts sweeping]

 

Since we last visited:

 

  • I had a birthday.
  • I visited the BFF in Cali.

    Thelma & Louise

    Thelma & Louise

  • We celebrated the holidays—Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, Independence Day—with friends and family.
  • I got a GoPro.
  • One of my dearest friends came for a visit and we took in a Broadway show.

    "Matilda!"

    “Matilda!”

  • The Kid graduated high school10491224_10204217469017628_986815001876500697_n
  • Bought a house.
  • The Beast had his two-year heart check up and he’s doing great—

 

What’s that? Oh, I said we bought a house. Crazy, I know. Ten years—nearly to the day—after moving to New York City, we found ourselves packing up once again. It’s actually our seventh move in a decade (that’s how everyone does things around here), but we’re finally setting down roots. It means that now, when the sink is clogged or the oven is on the fritz, we have no super to call and fix it for us. We are the super. But it also means we can hang pictures and paint walls the colors we want without worrying if we’ll get our deposit back. Already, my Pinterest boards have blown up.

 

[sprays cleaner and wipes down the sides of the blog]

 

One of my girlfriends said to me, “The year we bought our house, I was also pregnant and starting a new job. Buying the house was the most stressful thing.” She wasn’t lying. While owning a home is great, trying to get a mortgage and a definitive closing date should be included in the Scared Straight program. House hunting is not for the weak. It can be an emotional roller coaster of offers and withdrawals, bids and outbids, quick decisions and long waits. Our ever-patient real estate agent doubled as therapist some days. After a few failed attempts, we stopped talking about the process with our friends and family—even each other. In fact, most folks are just finding out we moved.

 

But now that we’re here, the angst that had hovered over us since March has slipped away. Of course, it’s been replaced with the “My God, what have we done?” angst that always accompanies these undertakings.

 

[fills up trash bag]

 

So, why return to the blog? Because, since March, writing has taken a back seat and I need the practice, and because home ownership has suddenly filled me with an unquenchable urge to do projects—painting, furnishing, rehabbing, restoring—and what’s the point of doing anything if I can’t document it, right? It’s an older house, built around the turn of the 20th century, so there are plenty of projects to pick. With a public outlet, I’m on notice to get them done. Plus, folks keep asking for pictures.

 

There's a house behind that hedge. Trust me.

There’s a house behind that hedge. Trust me.

So, it won’t just be What’s Camille Dewing?. It’ll also be What’s Camille RE-Dewing?. Expect Before & After pics, a tutorial or two, and maybe some inspiring ideas. I’m sure there will be some existential thoughts in there somewhere. After all, Neil deGrasse Tyson warns that Earth could be heading towards its next mass extinction. Let’s hope I find the box in which I packed my pants before then.

 

Disclaimer: I am not even close to being a design expert. I just know what I like and desperately try to copy it. That’s where you come in: Any tips or suggestions you’ve learned along the way, any horror stories and helpful solutions you’ve come across, any wisdom you’ve gained from doing, undoing, and redoing will be welcomed and greatly appreciated.

 

 

 

 

 

Lordy, lordy…

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I have a birthday coming up. Like STAT. Like, a big birthday. Like, a “zero” birthday. It’s not my first milestone.

At 8, you get balloons.

At 8, you get balloons.

At 10, you leave the land of single digits.

13 makes you a teenager.

18, you can vote and go to jail and be tried as an adult.

21, you can drink legally.

25, you can rent a car—from certain car rental companies.

26, you can rent a car from all car rental companies.

At 30, you are allowed to have a “quarter-life crisis.”

At 35, you can run for president.

I’m not the first person to turn f…ffff…the age I’m turning. I won’t be the last. I just feel like the most dramatic. (It doesn’t help that, this week, Facebook is suggesting I “like” The Waltons and the Hubs is talking to me about supplemental insurance.) People say “40 is the new 20,” but that’s a lie. Have you been around people in their twenties? They are adorable and can subsist on sushi and Red Bull.

But what has really gotten to me this birthday—even more than turning over the speedometer—is how to celebrate it. I’m at a total loss. Ten years ago, at my insistence (and a few phone calls to friends), Hubs planned the best party: A photo scavenger hunt. Everyone broke out into teams and, over the course of 90 minutes (and without bail money), took Polaroids (which were like Instagram, except you fanned it back and forth really quickly) of things on a list that included:

bday kiss

Kissing a team member at Dean & Deluca = 2 pts.
(2 pts extra for a stranger)

bday bartender

High Five-ing a local celebrity = 2 pts.

bday pumpkins

Entire team is wearing N.Y. Yankees attire = 3 pts.

bday pizza

Tossing a pie at a local pizza join = 1 pt.

bday rick pizza

Tossing a pie at a local pizza join = 1 pt.
(My buddy should’ve gotten extra points for height)

bday tub

Laying on a bed in a hotel room = 2 pts.
(We skipped the bed and headed straight to the heart-shaped jacuzzi!)

bday mike

Sitting in a cop car = 1 pt. (1 extra pt. for handcuffs or getting billy-clubbed)
(My dear friend Mike, whom I miss and think about often, was a real trooper!)

The team with the most points got a prize and everyone came back with a great story. This party was so fun, some people came away scarred for life (Wearing your birthday suit = 3 pts.) So naturally there was pressure to make 40 even better. But, not wanting to burden Hubs like I did back then, I took on all the planning of my party. And failed.

I am not a party planner. I’m not even a planner. Both my wedding (we eloped) and the reception we held six weeks later were totally and fortunately out of my hands. Time was running out and looking for “40th Birthday Party” inspiration on Pinterest brought up pictures of women all dressed in capri pants, sitting around on lawn chairs, sipping chardonnay, and taking home darling gift baskets. It seemed so quaint, so lovely, so fucking boring. (And there was no way in hell I was donning the “It’s my 40th Birthday Beyotches!” t-shirt that popped up.) Is this what awaits us at 40? I mean, I once sneaked backstage to meet Pete Townshend*, fer cryin’ out loud! I don’t do capri pants!!

Thankfully, my friend talked me off the ledge when she shared that, for her “zero” birthday two weeks ago, she went scuba diving with sharks and manta rays at the Georgia Aquarium. It was affirmation that, yes, there is more to mid-life than “charming” get-togethers and boxed wine.

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Happy Birthday to my sweet friend (second from the right, pre-dive)!

It’s not like I’m doing nothing for my birthday, which falls on a Sunday. Hubs said he’d take me out for dinner the night before and brunch the day of—probably with the hope to be home in time for the second football game. And I’ll hang out with some friends. Then I’m heading out to California to spend a week with my BFF who was there for my milestone 18th birthday party. With the itinerary she’s planned, I could win all the photo-scavenger hunts.

So, after much consideration and handwringing, I postponed any party—who says I have to celebrate on my birthday? No idea of what to do yet, but I’m thinking it’ll involve someone dressed in drag. (The Beast?) And I probably better put some feelers out there. What fun stuff have you done for a milestone birthday?

[*For you youngins’, Pete Townshend is the guitarist of a rock-n-roll band call The Who. And rock-n-roll was a…ah, nevermind. And get off my lawn!]

Veni, Cucúrri, Vici*

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(*I came, I ran, I conquered)

I like my 5Ks like I like my men: dirty …with obstacles.

(Sorry, I can’t help myself sometimes.)

mud run c r before

So, how was it?

It was a gorgeous day last Sunday in the Bronx—sunshine, slight breeze, perfect temps—when Hubs and I arrived at Pelham Bay Park to participate in the Merrell Down & Dirty Mud Run 5K. Up until the moment they said “Go!,” I didn’t believe I was actually going to run this thing. EVEN AS I RAN I wasn’t sure I was going to finish. So I gave myself a fail-proof goal: Finish the race, get whatever I want for lunch. Run the entire race (or at least most of it), I can have ice cream—and only ice cream—for dinner.

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Were you nervous?

I know I am not the first person to run a 5K. It was just my first 5K. I had a mix of first-time jitters with I’m-not-that-athletic dread. My Facebook feed wasn’t helping quell my fears either as everyone’s Map My Run counts (11 miles) or humble-brags (“Ran 3.5 miles for the first time in two years!”) popped up. I’d abandoned my handy-dandy Couch-to-5K graph weeks ago and had yet to run the complete 3.1 miles that comprised the race. All I had going in to the starting line was my dear friends, an old pair of running shoes, and a shaky faith.

The gang!

The gang!

If you’re not a runner, why do it?

To spend a beautiful Sunday with my friends, of course. And to get a number.  Pinning a race number to my shirt feels so cool, and I don’t care how dorky that sounds. Plus, I was excited about the obstacles. My whole childhood had prepared me for the obstacles: crawling through tunnels, climbing nets, jumping walls, shimmying through puddles and pits. I didn’t just want to acknowledge my teachers for teaching me the ABC’s, I wanted to thank them for giving me recess.

Are you sure you did every obstacle?

Okay, okay, back off. I skipped the second to last obstacle—pulling oneself up an angled board by a rope. One or two quick pulls and I was at DEFCON Oh-HELL-no.

How did Hubs do?

Hubs always does well, it’s in his nature (don’t tell him I said that). He stayed with me for the first mile or so, keeping a slower pace, but always running (he had his own goals). “Keep going. We’re almost there!” he’d call out, though I saw no obstacle in sight. Occasionally, he’d point out places from his childhood. “Over there is the beach where I wandered away when I was two and ended up hanging out with another family.” “That parking lot is where my dad taught me to drive a stick shift.” “We used to skip rocks on the water here.” Hearing his stories turned out to be my favorite part of the experience.

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Awww. That’s sweet. How did you do?

Not wanting to hold him back, I ultimately told Hubs to go on without me. Now it was just me, running through the woods, dodging the dedicated runners and the winded walkers. Recently, I’d heard someone talk about running a Tough Mudder—a longer, far more involved mud run than my undertaking. By the last mile, she said, her body was tired, her mind was weary. So she started shouting all the things she was grateful for, from the smallest to the grandest things. As she tells it, she instantly had renewed energy and finished stronger and faster than she had ever done before. As I passed “Mile 2”—my feet wet, my heart racing, and my lungs full—I became grateful for everything, from the Beast to the Hubs to my amazing friends and more. I even gave thanks for the hurts and heartaches that helped shaped my life to this exact moment. I felt strong and more present than ever. “I got this,” I said. [Disclaimer: I do not think gratitude could get me through a marathon…but you never know.]

mud pit

Where does the mud come in?

The final obstacle in the course is a three- or four-lane mud pit designed to get you good and muddy. It’s what you always wanted to do as a kid, but your parents would never let you. We shimmied, we crawled, some of us did a face-plant right into the muddy mix. As soon as we crossed the finished line, it looked like Day Three of Woodstock—all of us caked in mud and smiling.

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What was your final time?

50:58.

But you skipped an obstacle.

Shut up.

What did you have for dinner?

Pistachio ice cream.

the gang after