Wolf Whistle

The current state kitchen from big stainless steel fridge to teeny counter to old sink to more teeny to stove. Also some raggedy cabinets. And no backsplash.

There was that day, much earlier in this adventure, when we went appliance shopping. We needed to pick stuff out so it could be designed in. Like what if we wanted warming drawers or wine chillers or a pizza oven? For the record, none of those items were on my list.

Our contracting team sent us on the adventure to the fancy appliance showroom.  This was not Kenmore-land. Not big box Best Buy. It was quite fancy and a bit intimidating. But, first, we had to get there.

We made an early Saturday morning appointment, which bordered on stupid since we don’t normally travel together in the morning.  Except for those early mornings that marked the beginning of two weeks at the beach–also known as the pre vacation screamfest that takes fifteen miles to overcome. I know this because for as long as I’ve been with The Spouse–inclusive of those pre-nuptials years–whenever we drove up the I-95 corridor, like going to see the Orioles in Baltimore, visiting his family in Manhattan or trekking the rest of the way up to the Cape for those beach days on the island, whenever we’d near Exit 35 to Laurel/Scaggsville I would always say,

“Hmmmmm. Scaggsville. That’s where you’re from.”

And The Spouse would always reply, “That’s where I met you.” It’s part of our shtick.

And on those early mornings, after frantically shoving bags and boys and bikes and dog into the car. And after the inevitable disagreement at volume. And after me glaring out the window through hot tears and in cold silence, we’d approach the exit. And I’d wrestle with my righteous anger and vow not to talk. And then I would get this worry that if I didn’t say it this time, that it would break everything. And so I’d say, “Scaggsville, that’s where you’re from.” And he’d answer, as always.

But on this morning, the one I started writing about, we were driving up I-270, the other way north out of D.C.  We weren’t heading on a trip, but were still in the car in the morning, together. This time, there was no yelling. Well, maybe a little peckish huffing followed by some sighful puffing. Nevertheless, we made it to our appointment on time. Our appointment to check out major appliances.

Our architect had emailed a list of items to the sales consultant a few days before. She was well prepared for us.

We were early, the first clients in the showroom. We started with an offer of coffee. There was a fridge that had a built-in keurig coffee maker right in the door, near the water dispenser. It took a long time to brew.  It was silly and gimmicky. I asked who would buy it. In fact, they don’t sell very many of that feature. Us? We’re keeping our current bottom-freezer-without-French-door icebox. It’s fine and just a few years old.

Our guide steered us to our first event, the cooking surface. This was the only appliance that I wanted to invest in. I wanted high heat burners and low heat simmer. I was thinking five burners. It was going to be the jewel in my kitchen. It would make me a cooking star.

First, we learned the difference between cooktops (burner controls on the top) and rangetops (the top of a standard oven with controls in front). We went through the paces on a pair of GE’s to see the difference between the cooktop and range–especially in moving pots and pans across the surfaces. I was leaning rangetop. She then had us walk across the showroom to the far side. The Spouse ran ahead.

“Oh! It’s the Wolf! It’s the Wolf!” He was nearly jumping up and down.

I looked at the salesperson a little sideways. She was caught a little off guard, too.

“You know this appliance?” If I could have raised one eyebrow independent of the other, be assured I would be doing so. I think he saw the unnatural furrow above my right brow. He took his hands off of the red knobs, caught in his excitement like Dan Ackroyd gleefully sliding down that fire pole in Ghostbusters.

“I’ve used this at the condo in Telluride and at Sundance, too.” [Yes, Loyal Reader, The Spouse is way cooler than me.] He described the low and high burners. The model we were looking at had low and high on all six burners–yes six.

After we wiped the drool from our chins, we looked at the Viking. He knew that one, too. Was not as favored. Turns out he was right. They are in a quality spiral, and not in a good way. The Thermador? He knew that one, too.  But it was the Wolf that compared to all others. It was our new standard.

It was the all super hot and super low burners. It was the relighting feature. It was the clarity of the controls and the more obvious signs of being “on,” especially important for super low simmering. It was the promise of an amazing chocolate roux for shrimp étouffée, like The Spouse prepared for his colleagues in Park City.

“Do they all have red knobs?” The salesperson started to answer, but The Spouse interrupted.

“That’s their thing.” Turns out, though, that you could get stainless steel knobs if you wanted.

Today I old-school mailed a check for our new appliances. And in addition to buying the first dishwasher that I have ever owned (I know, right?!?), we bought the Wolf. That mighty fine Wolf. With the red knobs. Added to our repertoire, next to the exit.

Trees and Bark

The flowers on my new dogwood tree.

There are other things that are happening that are not, technically, the remodel, but are still part of the rehabilitation of the homestead. The remodel is of the house. It’s of plaster and wiring, and composite quartz, and plumbing and fixtures, and windows and siding, and cabinets and paint. And floors.

There are other projects that are happening simultaneously. These projects are of improvement, but not necessarily coordinated. These things, like blob removal, have also been on the list. It is just now happening. It’s happenstance, the confluence of projects, that is.

The city has an amazing program that makes it easy to have rain barrels installed, to install landscaping with native flowers and grasses and to plant trees.

When we first moved here, the back of the lot was lined with old, Ent-like monsters, circling our yard, standing tall with branches full of green leaves. Some of the specimens stretched sixty or eighty feet into the sky. Birds during the day and bats at dusk would fly from one to another, taking their bug meals to-go.

Some of the rough gray and black trunks became incased in ivy. The invasive thick green tendrils would crawl up the tree and fool us into thinking that the tree was healthy. Fortunately, only one of the big trees fell during a storm. But many others became sick one distressed branch the size of a canoe at a time. The neigbhors began to take them down before they collapsed on a roof of a house or a car.

One neighbor took down a healthy tree. We were mad about that, but he hates nature anyway. You can tell by the astroturf that is his yard. And the white stones that fill the tree box that the city owns in front of his house. At least there’s a tree there. Yay community spaces.

When my first dog ever died, The Spouse buried that fluffy yellow beast in the back of our lot. It’s actually allowed–even in the city. And I wanted a dogwood as a remembrance. And, as is my way, I thought about it much more than I acted upon it.

The city program is designed to stop stormwater runoff to the Bay and to restore the tree canopy for the birds and the bees and the bats and the beauty. When the city said that they would bring in and plant shade trees, I scoured the list of tree types. Yes! They offered flowering trees, too. Two more years passed before we finally got our assessment.

Two rain barrels, landscaping and four trees. And one could be a dogwood.

The friendly team from Casey’s Trees planted the trees last week on a Friday. They put a white birch with the curly bark where the blob was. They dug holes in the backyard to install a white oak and a red maple along the fence line and a sweet dogwood to the right of the garage. I dutifully watered my new charges and watched the buds form and begin to unfurl almost like a time-lapse on the National Geographic channel.

This week, a mere few days after planting, the dogwood bloomed. It displayed the creamy white petals filled with little green candies on up-stretched branches that look, to me at least, as if the tree is offering itself to me.

And I am grateful. Woof!

The Green Sweater

An old green cardigan. It's mine. Now. Not for long, though.

So there’s this picture of me. Standing next to the Spouse. It was Easter dinner. I’m wearing these old glasses that are a little too round for my face. And, even though it’s a family holiday dinner we’re hosting, we’re pretty casual.

Many Easter dinners started on the back porch. Those early sunny spring Sundays have served up the first al fresco parties of the year. There was that IKEA set we had with the bargain wood table, two chairs and the bench. Then we got the metal chairs with comfy cushions to surround the mosaic tile table with the red and white awning-ed umbrella.

The back porch served up our renewed love of pink wine.  Our guests recoiled at the petal hue of that early rosé. The color that–back then–telegraphed sticky sweet wine. But not this one. It was French. It was dry. And it had stone fruit, actually peach, esters that surprised.

I poured this beautiful wine and challenged our guests. There were olives and cheeses and I don’t know what else–maybe prosciutto wrapped honeydew?–providing culinary cover. So we got drunk before the crown roast of pork or salmon roudelade.

This Easter, the one that I started talking about, the one in the picture, had me with my period glasses perched on my nose and standing next to the Spouse. My hair was unattractively pulled back in a way that kept it out of the meal but that did me no beauty favors. Like I was the before picture from a makeover.

The point of this photo, when it was taken, was to display the wine. There’s me and the Spouse, like I said, and we’re holding an amazing bottle of French champagne between us. The wine with the super tiny, micro-fine bubbles. And the taste of toasted biscuits. And the color of diluted honey through a slightly bronzed lens. You might recognize this description as Cristal. And you’d be right.

The Spouse was gifted this fine vintage bottle from an academy award winning director after a rare personal print that he lent was projected with great care. That’s what Hollywood folks do, I guess. Have a very expensive champagne shipped to a dirty projection booth.

Legend has it that The Spouse was ready to pop the cork to share the nectar with his colleagues after the show when one of his staff stopped him. “No!” said he, “This is the good stuff. The stuff that the rappers drink. Share this with your spouse.” For this, I am forever grateful.

So the rescued bottle was hidden in the basement for a bit, until that Easter when we had family over and popped the Cristal. We shared with the boys and compared it to another bottle of champagne we poured. There was a notable difference–even for the barely teens. On this day I was wearing my green sweater. I know because of the photo.

I ordered the sweater online. I chose two shaker stitch sweaters, one a medium olive green and the other an ocean blue. I also ordered the matching shells. The blue set was donated first. The green shell a bit later. But the green cardigan? That became my go-to wrap.

From fall through the end of spring, I’d wear that heavy-stitched cotton warmer. I wrapped a decade of Christmas presents wearing it. I made about twenty-thousand-million pots of coffee with it over my shoulders. I checked homework and watched hours and hours and hours of Star Wars on repeat with the boys wearing this cape.

When I’d get home, I’d take of my work clothes and don the green sweater. It was my house sweater.  Like a Mr. Rogers-came-in-the-house sweater.

Over the years I baked three or four cookie trays, oversaw 8-12 science fairs, popped four-thousand bowls of corn, read two hundred books, bought $58,726 in online merchandise on Amazon, listened to 60 million songs and paid a gazillion bills while wearing it.

I didn’t really wear it much at all last winter. And also not so much the winter before. When I put it on this year it was misshapen. It was stretched out in weird ways, and shrunk in the most unattractive ways. The buttons didn’t align quite right, and the cuffs were a little frayed.

I was parsing through my wardrobe, trying to do some purging before we have to move out. No reason to pack away or to move junk. You know? And my hands lifted the sweater to eye level. I saw what must be the grown-up version of a teen looking at a beloved stuffed animal. It meant so much. And it was time to let it go.

It still brought me joy, but in the form of memories, not in function. I gave it a hug, like you’d give your scruff teddy bear, and placed it in the donation pile. Thank you, green sweater, for the years of joy. I will remember you always, like a fine, ephemeral champagne.

Living on a Prayer

A colorful rendition of a soon to fail, or perhaps failed, tub faucet kit.

So here’s what happens when you’ve been planning to do an upgrade for like, I don’t know–let’s just say, maybe like–twenty five years? Like literally since you bought the house that you walked into and it took your heart into it’s wood floors and interconnected rooms that made you feel like a child. The house that has windows that speak to you in tongues. Those windows that refract the light that streaks across those shiny wood floors that have been dulled over years of the tredding of sneakers and boots and paws and slippers and cleats and high heels and loafers. The house that you moved into and told The Spouse that this was your final resting ground. Like throw my corpse in the backyard when I die resting.

The house with the unacceptable kitchen that you ended up cooking for seventy revelers–actually between 55 and 100–for the past twenty five Christmases. The kitchen with the stove that your Dad saw when he met his four-week-old, Big Guy grandson and immediately took you to Sears to replace the 1940s stove. Really it looked super retro-cool, but was a disaster for cooking. And those few forties cabinets that you impossibly stuffed your goods in. But the door to that great back deck!

And now, we’re going to do that modernization thing. Including that bathroom.

Yes. That bathroom.

There is just that one. The one that was clearly very cheaply revamped to sell the house. You knew that when you saw the wallpaper trim tacked onto the subway tile that surrounded the tiny vanity with the door that you couldn’t open fully because the toilet bowl was an obstruction. Yes. That one.

The house that I love.

And, now, I am crossing my fingers and making the sign of the cross and maybe lighting candles with herbal essenses that are healing, so that the tub fixtures will allow us to take the number of showers we need until–well, until we move to the interim space.

Frankly, I know we are on borrowed time. Both the hot water and the cold water faucets are stripped. This is pretty recent–like two weeks. So there’s the most awesome pliers that we are using to deliver and adjust the water for showers. It rests on the edge of the tub, in case someone needs to adjust the water temperature. Actually, in order to get the water flowing. Currently, it’s just that essential.

When you’ve been planning to gut the bathroom for twenty-five years, and you are close to doing it, you just don’t want to invest in a new tub faucet system. Especially because you are living in a dream world. Where the tub is on the other wall. And there is room for your legs when you are doing your morning constitution.

And then, you look at the plans and realize that everything will be somewhere else. But not today. Not, yet.

Pray for showers. Just need a few more months. Just. A. Few. More.

Bowl Game

A bowl of beef bibimbap, with veggies. There's a pair of chopsticks and some red sauce on the side.

Shopping on Christmas Eve has different flavors. Some pick up a last item or two–like the roast for the main event. Some frantically pace and pounce because they didn’t shop and are without inspiration. They will likely settle for anything within budget. Then there are those who are simply celebrating the season.

The market was crowded with all of those people, and more. Strollers blocked walking space and the bar counters were lined with people having a drink. The cafe tables lining the walls and tucked in underused nooks were mostly filled. A big man was seated at one of the tables. He moved with great deliberation, slowly pulling his bowl closer to the edge of the table. He stopped to check the progress. He pulled it just a little closer.

He was likely six foot five or six foot six if he were standing. His head was rectangular, not a definite point to his chin, but he had one. While he was big, he wasn’t heavy. In his youth he may have been athletic. But his youth was decades behind him now.

He still had some hair on his head, and it wasn’t white. It was a sandy brown that made him appear younger. His hair should have been white, or gone. His gold framed aviator glasses held thick lenses. If you looked at his eyes through the bottom bifocal, they were magnified to bug level. He was wearing a button down plaid shirt. It wasn’t flannel and the plaid wasn’t wild. He had a camel colored ribbed sweater vest neatly buttoned over his midsection.

He wheeled in a little closer to the table. The armrests of his chair hit the tabletop, keeping him a little further away than he wanted to be. He pulled his bowl a closer. His hand trembled just a little bit when he picked up his spoon. He carefully aimed the spoon into the bowl. He leaned in to meet the spoon with his mouth. Some of the rice missed his mouth.

A woman with a dark, wavy bob maneuvered through the holiday crush of humanity. She had a lidded bowl between her hands, her pinky finger hooked around a bottle of spring water and two pairs of chopsticks wedged between the bottle and her ring finger. She was unhurried and without stress, unlike every other person in the market. She wore a holiday cardigan that was not ugly but that was a little warm for the day. It swung open offering people a glimpse of an “H” with an arrow and her checked politics. She wore smart walking shoes that didn’t look like walking shoes.

She used to hike with him when she was a girl. They’d go for long walks along the stream. Most Saturday’s they’d be in his boat, doing the morning fishing. Their discussions were mostly practical. Sometimes there’d be a lesson for her. His rule? If you want to eat it you have to clean it. He’d shown her how. When it wasn’t summer, she might tell him about school. He’d listen more than talk. She grew up and went away, but still walked with him and fished with him when she was in town.

She brought the lidded bowl to the table and took off the lid. It was pretty hot. She moved his bowl away from him. She pulled napkins from her bag and nestled one under his chin, draped over the top button of his shirt. He slowly moved his tremoring hand to his chest, where he methodically tamped the napkin flat. She blew across the soup in the spoon and moved it toward him. She looked into the lower part of the lenses of his glasses, her right eye asking a question. He nodded ever so slightly, his mouth starting to open. She put the spoon near his mouth and he tasted the soup. He nodded more definitely. It was good like she said it would be.

Now he was in her town. She put the spoon down as they sat next to each other surrounded by the frantic bustle of holiday. They were both content, to sit with each other as if they were on a small boat in the middle of the lake sharing the silence and enjoying time with each other. Later, she would stand behind his chair and push, and they would take their walk.

Terminally A

A foreboding exit from the gates at the airport.

She was ecstatic when his mother texted back a, “YES!”, punctuated with a smiley face. She was going to be in the greeting party. Airport reunions were romantic. Like Love Actually.

She carefully meted out her hair product to hold her waves while still letting them gaily bounce. Not too stiff, just a jauntily released coil when she turned her head. After she positioned her Santa hat, she rewrapped a few strands of curl on her hot iron. Everything would be perfect. She looked a bit wistfully at the special lashes. She loved how they looked, but he thought they looked phony. She lightened. She’d wear them on New Year’s Eve. He’d be down with it for a party. She put gloss on the middle of her top lip to feature her Cupid’s bow. So selfie ready!

She climbed in the back of the Rover with his little sister. Madison was the only member of the family who was indifferent to her. She felt that his sister was exhibiting classically petty tween jealousy. Maybe Madison didn’t appreciate having an extra sister since his parents loved her. Maybe Madison was out of joint because her brother had another girl in his life. Her own squad agreed with her analysis. She was the insightful one among her friends.

Beau’s plane was due in at 3:40 p.m. They had to leave at 1 p.m. to be sure to get there, park and be at the gate for the reveal. She and his mom chatted about how much they missed him. He left in August, so it’d been four months. He didn’t make it home for Thanksgiving because he had papers to research and exams around the corner. He’d been so busy the past few weeks that he’d barely responded to her texts and no longer hearted her Instagrams–even when she tagged him.

His mom said that he’d been stressed, but that she was so happy that he was able to share Thanksgiving at a classmate’s house. Two or three of the “out-of-staters” were generously taken in by her family. Today, though, they’d all get to catch up, hashtag IRL–or as his mom said, “in person.”

Madison barely looked at her, but she was okay with that. She chatted on with his mom about her college applications. Beau’s mom was always so supportive. When she texted his mom that she’d like to surprise him with the family, she got an immediate invitation.

The dad dropped them at the arrivals entrance at the airport. He left them to park the car. They walked into the airport and Beau’s mom eyed the monitor. She couldn’t find his flight until she remembered there was a connection in Atlanta. There it was. Arriving on time in Terminal A at gate 5. They posted up to wait for the plane to land.

She sat next to his mother. Madison sat across from them. So annoying.

She pulled out her phone and took a selfie and set the location to the airport. She selected the filter that made her eyes look brighter, tagged Beau and captioned it “Having myself a merry little Christmas.” There was an immediate fifteen or so likes. She put the screen in front of his mother’s face. The mom smiled and nodded, but was distracted by Madison’s childish self-isolation. She didn’t know why the mom didn’t just make Madison behave. If she had kids someday, she’d make sure that the family stuck together. Then the dad joined them. He announced that Beau’s flight had landed.

They walked up to the gate exit. They’d have to wait for him to cross the line and enter the teary, kissing transition space. She stood just to the left. She wanted him to turn to her and be so surprised. His parents very kindly stood a few feet back from her. They knew it was her show. She hoped that they had their phones at the ready so they could capture their airport embrace after so many months apart. She left her phone in her bag. She couldn’t get a shot of them together. She was getting antsy.

A few people trickled out of the safe part of the corridor into the general population. Then a few more. This was first class. There was a pause and then the bodies came fast and furious. She quickly scanned the faces. She looked up higher. No reason to look at the people under six foot-two. She ran her tongue along her teeth. She knew they were clean and shiny, but it was a habit. Clearing the decks. She tasted the last hint of the wintergreen mint. That was their favorite cover up. Usually between themselves after spicy pizza, but sometimes to hide the evidence of booze. Next semester, she was going to see him at school and drink as much as she wanted like the other college students. Maybe they’d screw later in his dorm room. That seemed very grown up to her.

She glanced back at his mom. She was trying to share a smile, but the mom was still looking at that selfish Madison. She was on the right, in opposition to the rest of them. Ugh. What a drama queen that kid was becoming.

Then, there he was. She took in a breath and blew out through her plumped shiny lips. He crossed the line, and she waited for him to see her. But he looked right. Right at Madison who squealed and ran into his outstretched arms.  Madison threw her own arms around his neck as he lifted her up and swung her around, a complete 360°.  The parents walked up to welcome him, and she found herself alone on the other side of a parade of people with their wheelies and their bags, some stopping to share hugs and others powering through to the baggage claim.

His mother gave him a hug over Madison who still clung to his neck, her legs wrapped around his waist. The mom pointed over the crowd to her. She watched as he looked over at her and then jerked his shaggy head back to his mother. He shook his head in an agitated way. Madison looked over at her, still draped all over her big brother. She narrowed her eyes and slightly turned up the edges of her mouth.

Then she knew what only Madison and her brother knew. Her smile faded. She dropped her head a bit, and she navigated her way through the crowd to the family who would give her a ride home.

Time in A Bottle

The Brooklyn Bridge from the FDR in the rain at night.

I was walking down Lex. That’s what my mother-in-law called Lexington. It was twenty blocks to East 72nd street. And twenty blocks back. I spent the first three or four blocks doing the math. Counting blocks.

The next few blocks I got a little overwhelmed by emotions. She hadn’t lived in Manhattan for seventeen or eighteen years, and hasn’t lived on this earth for over a decade. But I still miss her.

I remembered when I met her. It was my first time on the East Side. We were there for Easter. I wasn’t the first girlfriend brought home, and the relaxed banter around the table made me think that my presence didn’t have any great import. They come and they go, I surmised.

It was the biggest apartment that I had ever seen. There was a substantial foyer, with a bunch of furniture–chairs, tables, couch, lamps–and a big closet. On the right was the hallway to the bedrooms. One for the twins and the other a master bedroom with a separate dressing area with en suite.

The main living room was spectacularly huge, to me. It had multiple sitting areas and a most impressive oriental rug that, if rolled up, would likely take three men to carry. Someone would need to support it in the middle. The dining room was off to the side and led to a more regular-sized kitchen. The Future Spouse slept on the couch near the balcony. I slept on the pullout couch on the other side of the room, miles away.

There was a lively discussion around the family-laden table on that Easter Sunday. Catching up on school and jobs and the status of a cousin who was moving on to a third husband. The Future Spouse totally missed the middle husband. They come and they go, I suppose.

One thing that the Future Spouse did not miss, however, was the menu. There was a beautiful leg of lamb, peas and mashed potatoes. I am not a fan of lamb or cooked peas, but was brought up to eat what was in front of me without complaint, and, indeed, with gusto and praise to the cook. I wasn’t raised by wolves.

I had politely piled my plate with a reasonable amount of food that I was neither allergic to nor made me retch. Despite that, someone studied my plate.

“Well at least you like the mashed potatoes.”

I. Thought. That. I. Would. Die. Right. Then. Why couldn’t I just simply disappear? Maybe there would be an earthquake to distract us?

Embarrassed, I swiftly kicked his shin, sent daggers from my eyes and placed a forkful of lamb in my mouth followed by effusive compliments about the delicious meal. I mean really!

The woman who was the hostess and who would become my mother-in-law quickly spoke over the impolitic comment and acknowledged my truly heartfelt praise. She also shot a nudge–perhaps a virtual dummy slap?–over the top of her glasses to my companion who was rubbing his shin. The Spouse to this day claims that this was a strategic move to make me less nervous. I know that nobody supports that crazed claim.

As I turned down 72nd, I realized that I had five more blocks. I had forgotten about York. But I remembered now, even though I hadn’t walked this street for over a decade. I fought back another wave of emotions. It was still a part of my memories of home. A home, in this case, I was welcomed into.