My garage never smelled so good

September 17, 2012 at 4:18 am (Uncategorized)

We’re not on a trip, but our latest experience is, indeed, a trip. As I’d referenced when we were on the Other Coast, we’re remodeling a portion of our house, notably the kitchen, family room, living room, and dining room. In addition, we’re putting in real lighting and hard woods on the top two stories. Yes, we’re doing this all at once to avoid the piecemeal approach to remodeling and to ensure we’ll only lose our minds once in the disruption and chaos.

As I type away, the floor guy upstairs is regaling me with his nail gun, the electrician with his ceiling drill, and the three pets, hangin’ with me in the one-third below-grade basement, with their synchronized snoring during their 20-hour naps. (In all this remodeling jazz, they’ve bonded. They move in tandem. For example, when the puppy, Jacky, decides that, like Goldilocks, she’d like to try a new bed on which to slumber, the two cats, Cocoa and Sunshine, follow her. Just yesterday evening, I sat tapping away at the keyboard in our guest bedroom-cum-master, kept company buy the large tabby (Sunshine), preening next to me; the tiny half-tabby-half-Siamese (Cocoa), looking at me plaintively from our bed with her piercing blue eyes; and Jacky, our labradoodle, who makes a habit of staring at the cats’ butts with a longing only canines can muster. As a measure of just how close the pets have become, the cats have taken to drinking out of Jacky’s water bowl, and Jacky just keeps on snoozing.)

While the four of us (humans) are sharing a bathroom with our two cats’ litter boxes and their food and water bowls, it’s actually cozy in a good way and a welcome change from having comparatively tons of space. (Though, if pressed, I’d admit I’d like to be a tad farther away from the scent of the cats’ litter boxes.) I’m asked again and again, including from our contractor, “Aren’t you just sick of this?” The answer is a resounding “no.” Could my opinion change? Of course. But in the mean time, I don’t dread coming home; on the contrary, I look forward to our intimate family space and watching the girls from a short distance away as they do their homework together at desks no longer separated by a wall, but only by about 10 feet of air.

The next question, of cousre, is “Are you doing take-out every night?” I’m not a big take-out fan, and while I love dining out in an adults-only format, it’s not very relaxing on a school night to head to a resto when I’m constantly watching the clock, knowing the girls have unfinished homework.

To that end, we have turned our garage into an in-home PODS and diner; it’s missing only an oven. We have — on one outlet, and so the fuse blows kinda often — a microwave, toaster oven, blender, rice steamer, and slow cooker, all at the ready. The item that’s made all the difference in the world is a borrowed two-burner unit. (A huge shout-out to the Stanley family for this gem!) I even made soup last night, sauteeing onions and our victory garden’s bounty of tomatoes, and then pureeing the ochre mess into a thick soup. Granted, this all took me quite a while, as my chopping space is much reduced (I’ve commandeered a corner of our former kitchen table on which to chop stuff) and I had to constantly consider which device I could use while leaving idle the other one…so as not to — for the second time that day alone — blow a fuse and further lengthen my preparation and cooking time. But, at the end of my burst of cooking energy, the garage never smelled so good. Sauteed onions in a splash of olive oil and dressed with kosher salt out-scented the tire rubber and motor oil.

Upstairs, the once-sunken floor has been raised to one level, the hardwood floors are nearly laid, and there remain a number of holes in the ceiling where light fixtures soon will go. Despite a plastic barrier between the top two floors and our basement hide-a-away, plenty of dust has drifted down south; I can feel it in my nostrils, and Jacky is sneezing more than usual. The kitchen still resembles a bunker, and our exposed-brick fireplace never looked so imposing, now that nothing exists around it to soften its immensity.

More updates on our progress upstairs — and down — soon.

To those who celebrate the Jewish New Year, l’shana tova and all the best to you and yours in 5773.

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I wonder what the Charles River tastes like?

September 4, 2012 at 5:16 am (Uncategorized)

Jet lag has prolonged your great wait for the final blog entry (note my sarcastic tone). The wait is over, whether you wanted it to be or not.

As I write this, our dog Jacky Fudge is snoring behind me, sounding rather human so deep is her fatigue. If only I, too, could head to bed; I’d also be cutting wood. But, no, it has to wait: There were the 150+ swork emails to plow through; the tiny home in which we now live to reorganize and make functional; and the LAUNDRY to wash, dry, fold, distribute, and put away (much of it having sat since Aug. 14, clean but unfolded so that, by today, a lot of our clothes resembled crumpled cow pies that needed whipping into wearable shape).

At this moment, our larger cat, the tabby Sunshine, is stretched out in between the girls’ beds in what used to be our playroom but is now their shared bedroom. And Cocoa, who is gray and therefore hard to detect in a dark house at night, is somewhere, sound asleep, I’m sure. The cats, upon our return, are no longer nocturnal. They’re simply -turnal. Yes, I made that up and it means — thank you for asking — that they are now sleeping an admirable 24 hours a day instead of their otherwise ridiculous 21.5.

Why is there so much displacement going on? As I’d mentioned in my first post prior to our East Coast journey, we decided this summer to commence a remodel and that its first stage (read: complete-and-total-demolition) should best begin during our trip. We got that one very, very right. It’d be hell were we living through the portion of the demo that’s already been completed. We returned yesterday at about 1 p.m. (thank you again, Clif, for picking us up at PDX!) to the wooden shell once known as our “house.” Not an appliance to be seen! Not a light on the top two floors that works! Only one accessible bathroom!

And, yet, we’ve created a bit of a cozy nest for ourselves in our bottom, “playroom” level. Down here, there is our “office,” a bathroom, a “pantry,” a closet for the furnace, and the actual playroom. The girls have done a great job of making that room their single bedroom. I overheard Alyssa on the phone today as she talked not-very-quietly to a friend — while standing a mere 5 feet from Hayley — and told her, “Well, it’s a good experiment to have Hayley and I sharing a room, as we’d thought we’d like to. (Pause) I learned that wouldn’t work out very well.” No shit, Sherlock. They’ve each ensconced themselves on the opposite side of the room and strategically placed a physical barrier between the heads of their beds. Alyssa pushed a large red chair and its foot rest into her visual field, while Hayley’s got her chest of drawers serving the I-can’t-see-you function.

Dave and I are right next door, sans bed frame, with our mattress on the floor, kinda Japanese-style. We’ve strategically draped some clothing over this room’s various computers’ “eyes,” as they either blink, stare, or shimmy all night long. They make crappy nightlights, that’s for sure.

Our bathroom — and, for those of you who don’t like cats, you may want to skip to the next paragraph — now is both a bathroom for humans AND for our cats, as well as the place where our poor felines must dine. The bathroom already was a tad narrow, now made even more so by their two litter boxes (they don’t  like to share, just like their human companions, my daughters) and food and water bowls. It was Alyssa who had the quite-brilliant idea to move the cats’ litter boxes into the bathtub so they’d be less in our way, both physically and visually. Great idea, which we’ve since employed, but it comes with a hitch: As if very-tall Dave is going to fold himself into small enough of a person to scoop-the-poop from the depths of the tub. I’m looking forward to handling the pooper-scooper job all on my own. Meow.

Our kitchen, you might ask, is where? Why, I’m glad you asked! It’s been transported into our garage. Yes, we are preparing and eating food in the space previously designated for our cars, their oil, their exhaust, our garbage and recycling bins (that largely hold our pets’ unmentionables until the grace of Garbage Day comes every Wednesday), Dave’s greasy tools, our Shop-Vac, lawnmower, rotting shells from Gearhart we refuse to throw out, and only a few cobwebs. Wanna dine with us?

We have a microwave, toaster oven, fridge, table, cutting board, and outlets for other Knudsen necessities, like a slowcooker and rice steamer. Actually, petrol jokes aside, we’ll make due quite well with our abridged cooking functionality. And I’m grateful for the freebees, too. (Thank you, Mom!)

Now that we’re set up, I can reflect on our final day in the Boston area.

On Sat., Sept. 1 (happy Back-to-School month! Upon awakening, the girls did a jig. I’m not making that up.), we headed to a Charles River canoe-and-kayaking outpost in Newton. Alyssa — this will shock you all — wanted to kayak in a one-man rig. Much to our surprise, this place’s rules stated that as long as an adult was with her on the water, she indeed could paddle her own skiff. Dave, Hayley, and I took out a four-man canoe; Hayley crouched into a ball in its center, afraid both of getting wet and getting dumped. We kept assuring her that with Dave and I at the helm and aft of this water-going sucker, she’d be quite fine and remain dry. For reasons neither Dave nor I could figure out, Hayley started freaking out about being on the water — even while donning a very puffy lifevest — even though she’s a super swimmer and a fish when in the water.

Fortunately, Alyssa soon got Hayley out of her funk. Unwittingly so.

Alyssa, the one-who-knows-all-about-everything-without-ever-needing-a-lesson, scoffed at anyone’s suggestion she listen to a quick kayaking primer and jumped right into “her” sleek, red, ONE-PERSON kayak. It took her exactly 1 minute before she A. Ran into another person’s rented vessel; and, then, B. Dumped herself into the water, about 6 inches from the dock. Dave, Hayley, and I immediately commenced laughing our asses off. Indeed, Hayley has declared that incident the highlight of her entire trip.

As Alyssa surfaced (bobbing hilariously with her yellow lifevest in charge of the situation), what went through my mind was this: “Either she’ll shake this off and move on, or she’ll have a complete meltdown while we’re 20 yards away in a canoe and in front of the dock’s entire staff and its other rental customers.” Just as Alyssa began to confidently breaststroke through the shallow river’s muck and toward the dock, I braced for the ‘meltdown’ scenario.

A deckhand helped pull her onto the dock. She assumed one of her postures that I love the most (and portends good outcomes): She slightly stoops her shoulders and, in so doing, smiles a very complicit sort of half smile that turns her eyes into slits. With soaked hair completely askew and glasses streaming Charles River sludge, she marched right over to where a staffer was weilding her paddle, and she prepared – smiling the entire time – to relaunch her kayak. The relief I felt – and pride in her ability to slough off the potentially huge embarassment and skip the meltdown – fueled another round of guffaws. After our entire 45-minute canoeing-and-kayaking self-tour, I was still laughing…so hard, in fact, I was crying. My words here do this situation very little justice. It was one of the funniest moments in my eldest’s life that I’ve had the privilege to experience. Would that we had our camera with us. Alas, we did not. For fear it would get wet.

To finish off our day, we went to Framingham to spend the waning afternoon and then evening with our good friends Jacqui and Jeff Goldberg and their three sons, Isaac, Henry, and Mitch. We’d become friends in 1999, as Jeff and Dave were M.I.T. colleagues and, at that time, Jacqui and I both were childless and working, so we automatically had a lot in common, and our friendship grew from there. The Goldbergs have a pool (!), and so the five kids frolicked until they all were sick of each other, and then it was dinnertime.

The evening’s highlight for Alyssa was Jeff’s folks’ visit. Lynne and Howie live close by and are significant because they’re with whom we spent our first Passover, in 2000, while living the dream at M.I.T. And, Lynne, a recently retired school teacher, is the one who, shortly after Alyssa’s birth in 2001, sent us what quickly became — and remains — Alyssa’s one and only lovey. Today, “Baby” is the name of her soft, silky teddy-bear-blanket lovey. But its original name was “Lynnie,” after its giver, and Lynnie also was Alyssa’s first word, at 8 months of age.

When Lynne and Howie arrived at Jacqui and Jeff’s home, Alyssa had her head in a book and paid no attention to the new people who’d walked into the room. But Dave roused Alyssa from her book by telling her, “A celebrity is here who’d like to meet you.” Alyssa came over to meet Lynne, whom I introduced as the one who’d gifted her Baby. Alyssa’s eyes got huge; she spread out her arms; and she shouted, “You really ARE a celebrity” and spontaneously embraced an unsuspecting Lynne who in that moment had become an insta-heroine.

Who knew our 2-and-a-half-week vacation to four different and very significant cities would include a visit by the person responsible for the object with which Alyssa has self-soothed since before she had teeth (or hair, for that matter). And for those of you who know Alyssa, her Baby is a huge Godsend. Self-soothing fussy babies, children, toddlers, and elementary-school students are very good kids indeed.

Well, it’s about time I end this post. Besides, I need to pee, right next to the litter boxes.

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The agony of da-feet

September 1, 2012 at 2:58 pm (Uncategorized)

I consider myself a fairly active person. As testament to just how active we’ve been over these past two weeks, you should see my feet. Actually, I wouldn’t let you look at them if you paid me, they’re in such poor shape. Blisters on nearly each toe and even a bruise on the underside of one of them. I have no idea where that black-and-blue mark came from, save perhaps from my overly cautious jogging on pothole-pocked cobblestones. Even Hayley is complaining about the buildup of dead skin on her dogs.

When the girls complain about the amount they have to walk, do we give in and, say, Go ahead, hail a taxi? Jump on a subway? Skip the outing altogether? Hell no! Thus, Hayley’s favorite question in D.C.: “Do we have to walk there?” In NYC: “Is this an Express Train?” In Philly: “I want to see the subway system here” (which we never did). In the Boston area: “Can we drive there?”

So, imagine her thrill yesterday as we drove to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology campus … but then visited its entirety on foot. I put her to bed last night at 9 p.m.; it’s nearly 11 a.m. and that child is still asleep.

We saw the incredibly ugly building where Dave took his engineering classes; we visited the since-updated and sleek-lookkng Sloan School of Management where he took his business classes in graduate school; we walked the length of the Infinite Corridor; and we visited the M.I.T. Coop, which looks a lot like the one at Hahvahd but sells instead lots of clever T-shirts that capitalize on the institution’s incredible nerdiness that contributes to M.I.T.’s world-famous reputation. Messages such as “Cutie ‘pi'” (with the pi sign), or “What part of [equation, equation, equation] don’t you understand?” Aren’t they funny, those M.I.T. guys?

Thank God, though, for the Coop, at both universities. It was at both of them that we purchased more books for Alyssa. She’s been reading her nearly 600-page books in two days. We’re actually at the point where we’re telling her when she can read and when she can’t, all in the hopes she’ll still have a tome to get through at least during a portion of our 8-ish-hour journey home tomorrow, Sun., Sept. 2.

Hayley, by contrast, loved the Coops, both of them filled with clothing, so she could fondle every cotton-blend fabric and then select gifts from them for various people, herself included. Generally, she’s taken in way more of the scene than Alyssa has, as Hayley loves staring out the rental-car’s window to memorize the landscape or ask why — for the 33rd time — we’re making yet another U-turn. (Damn Boston’s every-which-way streets and lack of signage!) Alyssa, by contrast, has gotten a great view of computer print as it appears on books’ pages.

Last night we had our first Shabbat dinner of the trip, and it was so nice just to light the candles, have some challah, and do very little else in the evening. I especially loved it when the family agreed my home-made challahs are better than the one I’d purchased at a Newton bakery. Too bad our kitchen will be under construction through Halloween.

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Spending a day in the distant past

September 1, 2012 at 12:52 am (Uncategorized)

We went to Sturbridge, Mass., a town completely dedicated to replicating life — in all its facets — as it was in the 1700s in Colonial Massachusetts. Bev Bookin recommended it, and for our final (sniff) day with the Millescamps, we took her up on her recommendation. Roughly 1.5 hours west of Winchester, Old Sturbridge Village (OSV) more than lives up to its name (and, counterintuitively, to its very modern website and FB pages — http://www.osv.org, for starters). Once there, we paid the $24 per adult entrance fee, and my first thought was, “Oh shit, this is going to be some corny village best visited by and suited to elementary school students bribed into playing ‘I-spy,’ Colonial-style.” Fortunately and surprisingly, I was very wrong.

Old Sturbridge Village is a gem (a rough one, given its inhabitants live as if it were 1730) and a find. It is not one single Main Street, for example, but, indeed, an entire village. Its streets are made of pebbles, and its placards posted outside and within each structure are incredibly informative and — as in the case of the barn where one can “milk” a life-size plastic cow — quite interactive, too.

The people who work in OSV dress in period clothing and not only act out their jobs, but truly perform them. Such as the cooper, who makes barrels from scratch, in a workshop lit only by natural light. And the mother who, donning a very unflattering, homemade dress and bonnet and round, wire-rimmed glasses, makes butter from the real cow that’s been freshly milked. As well as cheese. And dishes like thick pea soup — because the pea shoots from the adjacent garden are the fresh, ready-to-pick crop of the day — and a pear compote, all cooked in heavy black cauldrons heated over flames in the rough-hewn fireplace of the “small house.”

On the table laden with the completed dishes were the cookbooks the house’s residents once used and that OSV’s current employees cook from. The ‘mother’ of this house told me that — despite the unbelievable number of flies swarming the food, her hair, the ceiling, and the sows in the next-door slop — the Village’s employees all get the privilege of eating what’s freshly made in her kitchen each day. In fact, she said — while I batted away flies and she acted as if there were none in that stuffy kitchen — her edible creations end up nearly completely consumed by dusk, every day. Bzzzzzzzzzz.

In this home’s bedroom is its original bed, in which its inhabitants from the early 1800s slept, got ill, regained their health, and even died. The copper, lantern-like item perched near the bed was original to the period and it worked like a hot plate, keeping poultices like beef tea warm for an ill family member, for example.

OSV also had a couple completely unadorned churches that doubled as Meeting Houses; a horse-drawn carriage; a school house; a bank; a place where shoes are cobbled; a barn for two female cows, Posey and Betsy, and Betsy’s calf, Rainy; a farm where men in suspenders and mini-stovepipe-type hats plow the field with oxen; a small textile operation, complete with a working loom; a covered bridge; a gristmill; a “rich” person’s house, that of a “middle-class” family, and a poor family’s “small house”; and a pasture for the goats, sheep, and cows. The employees are trained to know all about their trade, the time period, and even the lingua franca of the day; visitors are greeted, for example, with “Good day,” and certainly not a “hello,” or “how’ya doin’.” Further, they are trained to speak in the third person so that visitors truly feel they’ve stepped into the past.

During our educational and fun visit, I also felt like a visitor to a zoo. I simply couldn’t shake the feeling I was the visitor-from-the-future — dressed in my modern-day, manufactured-in-China clothing, with a camera slung around my neck like the gristmill’s millstones — walking around the place wide-eyed, ignorant, and filled with wonder about the unknown. And yet, when you take a moment to consider the past-meets-present situation OSV’s created, you realize that in a mere 200 years, all things Colonial rather quickly *poof!* went away. In those things’ place, increasingly modern items sprouted, such as John Deere farm equipment; milking machinery; textile factories; medicines to cure many ills; ovens in which to cook food; and refrigerators in which to preserve them (and keep out the curious and rapidly multiplying flies). And here we were, Modern Man, gawking at ourselves from a not-too-distant past, lovingly preserved by folks passionate about that past and its preservation.

Later that evening, Alyssa announced that the visit to Sturbridge, Mass., was her favorite stop along the entire way of our trip.

In the OSV parking lot, we said a wet-eyed, quivering-lip good-bye to the Millescamps. They were heading back to Winchester, to meet the Barry family, who’d been our very generous hosts while they were vacationing on Cape Cod. The Millescamps, then, were to return to France the next day. And we were headed to Newton, to spend the evening — and our final days here — with Aunt Eli, Uncle Ken, Cousins Deena and Shelby, and Shelby’s fiance, Paul.

We laughed together all night long, largely at our own family’s expense. Being a close family — despite our physical distance — it’s become simply knee-jerk to call out our family’s particular oddities and guffaw over them. That is, until one family member ends up offended. But in the case of Dad or Uncle Bruce, poor guys, they weren’t here to defend themselves.

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