Saturday, October 25, 2014

Goodbye, Childhood Home

We sold my parents' house.  

It's gone.

Well, it's still there. I don't have a key, though.  Last Thursday night, I pressed it into the palm of my brother, M., who in turn forked it over to the new owners during closing on Friday. 

(M. agreed to serve as our representative during closing.  Which turned out to be much more daunting that any of use knew it would be.  He ended up having to sign as all seven of us.  Have you ever closed on a house?  I got sick of my own name during our last two closings; I can't imagine signing seven different names on approximately four thousand, eight-two pages.  We may have accidentally given him carpal tunnel syndrome.)

I digress.

I took off last week so that I could, without distraction, say goodbye to my childhood home. This has been a year-long process, to be sure. But I couldn't rush the last week. I needed to be as methodical, considerate, and thoughtful in that last week as I had been during the previous year.

I wasn't alone. Not always.  But there was a half hour that I had to myself that allowed me to devolve into a puddle of sad.

It was Tuesday.

After dropping my four-year-old off at his bright and shiny preschool, and kissing him goodbye, I wended around the Baltimore beltway to my parents' house.  The day was cold.  Gray.  Misty.  Perfect weather for desolate endings.

I inserted that key, turned the knob (scraping my knuckles on the realtor's lockbox), and entered the chilly confines of the home -- the house, now -- that was on the cusp of belonging to others.  The door squeaked and scraped open for me the same way it had hundreds of times before.  You know how you become accustomed to the sound of your house welcoming you? That welcome music from a place that knows you, that embraces you?

I heard it on Tuesday.

I'm a bit maudlin.  I know that.  And tears are cathartic for me.  So I decided to wallow.  Why not? I was alone.  The weather was the kind that Morrissey would bask in.  I gave my permission to sink deep into the dark that I was feeling.  I picked up a CD of my father's -- Glenn Miller's Greatest Hits -- and jabbed it into the CD player lurking in the corner of our family room.

'Moonlight Serenade' surrounded me.  I sank into my father's office chair -- the ratty, peeling office chair that now lives in my guest room -- and wept.  I am an ugly crier.  Have I told you that?  My daughter is a very, very pretty crier.  Her tantrums result in glassy eyes, wild hair, and cherry flushed cheeks.  Me?  Blotchy, sniveling, and creased.

Anyway, I've heard that song thousands of time in my life.  All of those times are associated with my father.  He'd put on big band while working on the pool, or sorting photos, or decorating the house for Christmas.  So, I can't hear Glenn Miller and think, "Wow, I love this era of music!"  Nope.  When I hear Glenn Miller, I think, "Daddddddyyyyyyy!"

Yeah.  So, lots of chubby tears rolling down my cheeks.  Thank the baby Jesus none of my family were there to see me.  This is a thing that needs to happen alone.

I got up to go to the bathroom to grab  tissue, and I had to take a knee.  My belly cramped up, heaved, and I thought I was going to throw up.  

The last time that happened to me was Christmas, 2010, when my mother was dying.  My younger brother, C., was visiting her in hospice and called to say that he noticed that the urine in her bag was really dark.  He said that the hospice nurse said that this was a sign that my mother's end was nigh.

I kept my cookies, though.  In both situations.

There's more.  Good Christ, there's more.  But, the depth, breadth, and overwhelmingness (which may not actually be a word, but hey, who cares?) of all of this can't possibly be distilled into a single post.  

So, look forward to more of me working through the devastation, maybe? Does that make for good reading?  Dunno.  But I have found that I need to vomit my feelings through my fingertips before I actually understand them.  And I am only just starting to really want to understand how I feel about all of this.

Friday, August 29, 2014

I'm Trying an Online Styling Service. You Can't Stop Me.

This is probably the most ridiculous first world problem you will hear today. Though, my own personal best was when I was *thisclose* to griping about how I had to take all of our perishables to the fridge in the basement when the upstairs fridge conked out and needed to be repaired.

At this point in my life, I am finally, finally admitting:  I need help with my style.  Is that sad?  I mean, I enjoy shopping, and trying things on.  I think I have good taste.  But...  Yeah, the mirror shows a whole lotta meh.  I should have more fun with my clothes.

So, I signed up for an online styling service.  I fed it my sizes, style preferences, color/pattern preferences (and which ones to avoid).  Here's the note I sent to my 'stylist':

Hi there!  I'm an office worker who pretty much lives in Talbot's khakis and twinsets (solids, not many patterns).  It's a boring look, and I'd like to make it more interesting.

I can't work a scarf.  I think it's because my breasts are disproportionately large for my frame -- whenever I wear a scarf draped around my neck I feel like a bird that's puffing out its chest.

I wear black plastic glasses.  Not chunky hipster ones, but still bold.  My glasses -- and my long crop of slightly crazy blonde & reddish hair -- are kind of my trademark.  (Re: the hair:  think Julia Roberts' hair in pretty woman.  Just the hair, though.  I'm pretty sure that I'd only come up to her hip, height-wise).

Lastly, I'm porcelain-pale, and I have cornflower blue eyes.  I tend to gravitate toward blues and greens to bring them out, but am open to different colors.

We shall see what comes of it.  If you're lucky, I may even post pictures...

Sunday, July 20, 2014

The Great Purge Continues

I spent the bulk of my time this weekend clearing out my father's musty home office. In its original incarnation, it was my older brother's bedroom.  When Older Brother moved out, and took up residence with his lovely wife, my younger brother took it over.  Then, Younger Brother moved out because his shenanigans were more then he wanted my parents to deal with. 

That's when my father took over the space.

And boy, did he ever take it over. He immediately installed brackets and shelves, floor to ceiling, and filled it with books, video tapes, DVDs, cassettes, magazines, sheet music, musical instruments, pictures, bric-a-brac, bricks...  But, mostly books.  Big little books, Oxford English Dictionaries, pulp fiction crime novels, bibles, science fiction.  Oh! The science fiction.  My father WAS science fiction, honestly.  If he'd held on for a few more years, he might've made the singularity.

But, back to the room.  It's just a ten by twelve room. You wouldn't think that a room that size could hold so much stuff.  I'm twenty bags of trash into this room, and it's still hemorrhaging refuse.  

And getting rid of this stuff is hard, because so much of it is him.

This room?  It's like a collapsing star.  It siphoned in everything that was of interest to him. If you could chuck everything on these shelves, pinned to these walls, hanging from the drop-ceiling brackets, into an industrial blender and distill it, you would have my father's essence.  He read every word, saw every picture, thumbed through every page.

And here I am, rummaging through his essence, and THROWING STUFF AWAY.  I had a hard time with this, at first.  Then I started think that maybe I was clearing the dross, the stuff that took up his brain space in his later years, the stuff that cluttered his mind.  And maybe, by purging the weird nutritional supplement pamphlets, by getting rid of the old television recordings of the Pope's funeral, by tossing the forty-two Christmas cassettes, I am laying bare the brilliance.  The brilliance, the faith, the dance into the arcane study of magic...

I am fascinated with him anew, and saying goodbye all over again.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

On Things and Stuff

My parents' house is stuffed with three generations' worth of stuff.  Possibly more.  If I find the Magna Carta, I'll let you know.

It's heartrending.  But it's funny, too.  I can't help it.  Maybe it's the Irish in me? When things are all grim and gloom, I still look for the humor.  There's always humor.  Sometimes you have to dig for it like my mother went after crab meat, but it's THERE.

I'll probably post some other day about the heartrending.  Like the fact that I found anniversary cards that nearly equaled the number of years my parents were married (47).  Or that they kept our kindergarten report cards.  And that my father really, really wanted to be a published writer, but never managed to make that happen.  I'm guessing there are seven reasons for that...

But the funny!  There are things I'm finding that I can't grok.  To wit:

Yep, that's an 18" machete.  Now, my parents didn't live in the Amazon. They lived in suburban Baltimore.  There is much pavement, and approximately zero jungle.  By the way? There were TWO of these. One in my parents' bedroom. I really, really can't figure that one out. (Also? The background is my Dad's workbench.  Jesus H. Christ, that is just a sampling of what the basement looks like.)

There's also this treasure:

Clearly, my mother held on to this for a couple of decades.  That typeface is STRAIGHT out of 1975.  (Like me.) Also?  I don't know which marketing whiz thought 'Porkecue' was a clever take on the more traditional 'barbecue.' But, it made me giggle.  This series of pork/barbecue recipes was nestled in a fusty old box of other recipes. Here's what's weird: my mother never made ANY of the things that were mapped out in the recipe clippings.  Speaks of some hopes and dreams, I guess.

My favorite find from last weekend:

What you see there, my friends, is a vintage male enamel urinal.  It was found among what I assume to be my Dad's parents' stuff.  They were born in the 1900's, so, maybe this is circa 1950? Who knows.  But, similar models go for about $20 on eBay.

I'm heading over there this weekend to put in a few hours of labor, like I do most weekends.  Afterward, I'll attend my nephew's/godson's high school graduation party. Think he'll want one of these fine items as his graduation gift?

Sunday, March 09, 2014

21st Century Woman

I just need to document that this weekend I...

  • Took myself to the doctor (woot! sinus infection);
  • Shopped for groceries;
  • Went to a 40th birthday party and danced to '90's house music, stayed up too late, and maybe indulged more than I should have (especially considering the sinus infection);
  • Took my daughter to a birthday party at Chuck E. Cheese (REMEMBER: late night + vino + sinus infection = I am a Woman of Steel to venture into a Chuck E. Cheese, ESPECIALLY one that has a placard reading 'No Firearms Permitted'*);
  • Noticed some leaking around the toilet, confirmed leaking in the basement under where there toilet lives, correctly identified it as a cracked wax ring under the toilet, and REPLACED that sumbitch because Past Self is a rock star and had a spare wax ring laying around.
 So, yeah.  Normal weekend. Right?

*I mean, are firearms EVER permitted in a Chuck E. Cheese? And if the fine employees at a Chuck E. Cheese noticed that someone was bringing a weapon into said establishment, how on earth would they enforce the placard?  Most of them are tiny teenagers.

Thursday, March 06, 2014

Vintage Baltimore

We're clearing out my parents' home.  Fun, right?  It's the de-accessioning of my nuclear family's belongings, natch.  But also my grandparents', and whatever familial detritus was handed down from them.

One of the things that I happened upon was a random collection of negatives.  My father, for the entirety of my life, was STRAPPED.  With cameras.  Lots and lots of cameras. The result of which were lots and lots of pictures.  But sometimes, we only have the negatives.

Know what?  I *enjoy* the negatives.  Because the negatives are kind of like secrets...  I'm finding places he went, compositions he considered, family events he participated in, but stood slightly apart from...  And, I've uncovered  dozens of photos of Baltimore from the '40s and '50's.  I think I'm going to do something with them...  What, I'm not quite sure.  But some of these?  Really need to see the light of day, and not hang loose in a dank basement.

Friday, February 21, 2014

I Probably Should Have Planned That Better

A couple of years ago, my Dad added me to his bank accounts.  This was after my mother passed away, and just at the start of what I now recognize as his debilitation. He never veered off into full-on dementia or anything like that, but became more and more forgetful. Didn't remember conversations, quips he'd just made, things like that.  Anyway, I started tracking his finances and paying bills, and he added me to his accounts to facilitate that.

In the initial wake of his death, this actually made things bunches easier.  We didn't all have to pitch in to pay bills until we could start using some of the estate money or anything like that -- since he added me to his accounts, I just wrote checks against that money.  Yeah, my name was on it, but it was his money.  Didn't feel right to use it for anything but his bills...

He had this one account that only had a few hundred dollars in it, and I've been letting it drift for the past 6 months.  It wasn't hurting anything to let it lie, and he had a a decent chunk of change in the other account to which I had easy online access.  But, the easy account dwindled down to a few dollars, so I knew it was time to close the other account and siphon that money to help cover the electricity bills for his house (still working on clearing that out and selling it, but that is another post).

His bank branch is a stone's throw away from my office Since today was a fairly meeting-free day at work, I decided to carpe diem.  Or carpe argentum?  Anyway, I knew that this task would be tinged with emotion. Saying the words, "My father passed away," well, that's never easy.

Here's what got me:  she went to retrieve a few papers after I turned over my license and his death certificate.  When she sat back down, I glanced at what she'd placed on the desk as a reference.  It was the little slip of paper that my father and I signed three years ago when he added me to the account.  There was his signature, a scrawl I've seen thousands of times, floating next to mine.  Memories of that day came flooding back, and I was very grateful that the bank staffer had to get up and make a photocopy of some other documents.  I didn't need her to see me getting all melty over a scrap of paper, no did I?

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Everything Is Awesome

If you've seen "The Lego Movie," that title likely triggered an earworm that is more persistent than Chekov's parasite in 'Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan.' (I am a very happy gigantic nerd.)

My kids have seen the movie.  My older two have seen it twice, and I am so very happy that it has re-ignited their love of all things Lego.  My oldest boy has persistently, ardently loved Lego for many years now.  But he drifted into the kit zone.  'The kit zone,' in my completely made-up parlance, is the zone in which a kid thinks s/he can construct ONLY the thing in the instructions.

The underlying message of The Lego Movie is: Dude, you can mix and match and do whatever the heck you want with Lego.

And so they have...

My coffee table is currently decorated by roughly one billion Lego.  Among them are a cannibalized Joker's play set (currently occupied by Superman, the Human Torch, a hairless Indiana Jones-lookin' sumbitch, Patrick the Starfish, and a pink fairy), half a Star Wars pleasure barge, and some 'Friends' pink and purple and purple and pink blocks.

Most precious to me, though, is the 'house' that my oldest boy and my daughter co-constructed.  According to the two of them, within it, you will find two families -- my son's and my daughter's fantasy families -- having a dinner party.  The menu?  Pizza.  Here, take a look:

I'm not really sure what the trophy's about?  Being awesome?

My son's family comprises his wife and his son, whereas my daughter's family (whom you can't see) comprises a boyfriend/partner (she don't need no ring!) and they have two adopted children.

(I don't know who the angry dude through the doorway is.  Maybe my youngest son? Who is the opposite of angry at the tender age of 4.  Maybe my other kids think he will become embittered with age?)

I love this. Love it like I love coffee.  Which is a lot, let me tell you.  Anyway, maybe (read: certainly) I am reading too much into this, but I feel like if my 9-year-old son and 7-year-old daughter are envisioning futures where they are partnered up with wives and boyfriends and raising children, that maybe they feel like my husband and I are doing an OK job. 

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Our DVR Must Be So Confused

Since my father passed away, (one of) my older sister(s) has been staying with us for multi-week stretches.  (Don't sigh!  This post won't be maudlin, I swear!)  She has a diagnosed intellectual disability.  In layman's terms, she is a forty-something seven-year-old.  Actually, in a bunch of situations, she presents older than that.  Like, she can cook without burning the house down, and can call pharmacies for prescriptions.  And, socially, she comes off as downright teenagery.  Be that as it may, she's not able to live on her own, so she's been circulating among those of us who happen to have spare bedrooms.

She is lovely, if at times challenging.  The challenges are familiar to parents of younger children, and are nothing outrageous.  Not putting wrappers in the trash, having to be reminded to tidy up, etc.

The biggest, most hilarious impact she has had on our home can be found in the scheduled recordings feature of our DVR.  Now, to really appreciate this, you have to understand that there are exactly two household chores that my husband owns.  By 'owns,' I mean he took the chores upon himself, and performs the duties with no external forces (translation: I never, ever, ever, have to nag him to do these things).

These chores are:  maintaining the DVR recordings, and taking out the trash.

He is especially on top of that DVR thing.  He gets the season preview of Entertainment Weekly, plugs in the shows we intend watch, manages conflicts, and prompts us to watch things that have been sitting for too long.  It's like the platonic ideal of stewardship.

My sister is also an enthusiastic television-watcher.  If you stir in the fact that she struggles a little with reading the digital guide, well, you get someone who is a little trigger-happy with the record button.  As such, a really eclectic mix of programs has started popping up on the DVR.  Her tastes swing further than Big Ben's pendulum.  Around the holidays we would find things like, "A Puppy for Christmas," followed by "Sleepaway Chainsaw Ghost Murders."  "Christmas Teddy Bear Parade" and all of the episodes of 'Bones' ever made.  Seriously.  I think through some sort of time warp she's even snagged some future episodes.

And so, it makes me giggle when I see my wonderful husband purse his lips and furrow his brow when there's a recording conflict between 'Sherlock' and the latest Eddie Cibrian drama on 'Lifetime.'

Monday, January 13, 2014

My Dwindling Wineglasses...

My husband's a bit of a teetotaler.  He's no Carrie Nation. Or...  Is he?

He's destroyed seven wineglasses in five years.  I can't remember the last time I broke a glass.  He claims that he is not personally wreaking this havoc.  The dishwasher was blamed for three of them.  Okay, fine.  But the other four?  Those, he says, simply slipped and exploded when they hit the granite counter tops.  (I know, I know... My diamond shoes are a total bitch, too.)

In an attempt to thwart either his (a) passive-aggressive booze prevention methods, or (b) legit butterfingered-ness, I bought shatterproof wineglasses. Shatterproof!  Elegant solution, yes?  Except, they are plastic.  As such, they are not immune to the melty nature of the dishwasher.  It's tough to see, but observe:


So, anyway, I'm having a very 'we can't have nice things' moment about my wineglasses, because if I buy fancy ones, they will inevitably end up shattered or melted.  Do they make wooden wineglasses?  Besides the Holy Grail prop from 'Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade?'

Sunday, January 05, 2014

Happy New Year!

So, it's 12:30 p.m. on a Saturday night, and I'm under a blanket watching 'Celebrity Ghost Stories.' 'Cause I'm cool like that.

I have uncharacteristic energy at this time of night because I've spent the past two days in bed.  Not for any good reason, mind you.  I came down with whatever my husband and sons were infected with (tortured by?) earlier in the week.  Looking back, it was unwise of me to indulge in an evening snack of summer sausage and red wine while the threat of stomach flu hung in the air.  Trust, that is a meal that does not look good in reverse.

My husband's a hero and took care of all of the things around here (meals, groceries, JumpZone birthday party) so that I could loll around and recover.  The lolling happened in various places.  If you are ever a guest of ours, please note that the bathroom floor is *nearly* as comfortable as a bed!  Especially if you are lying prone and helpless.

I don't have any good reason for sharing this, except that I wanted you to know that my New Year started off with a bang.