Friday, June 7, 2019

House Hunt

The first house I lived in had orange countertops in the kitchen, a green refrigerator and green stove, multi colored paneling in the bedrooms, a lime green shag rug in the den. So who am I to judge the odd decorating choices of the houses we've been tromping through lately?

Weird paint colors and icky carpets, we can easily change. Harder to imagine is the fix for a teeny bathroom, so teeny you have to straddle the toilet before you sit on it. Or the house with the train track running the edge of the back yard. Or the house with the 30 degree slanted kitchen floor.

A shame, because we want to like that house. It's in the neighborhood we love, but are quickly realizing might be out of our reach. Old homes with character, as our realtor calls them, with big front porches, on winding, tree-lined streets. I stand in the kitchen for a long time analyzing the slanted floor, trying to imagine how we can make it work.

But no. Turns out slanted floors are a deal-breaker for me. That's a phrase we'd been hearing a lot from potential buyers of our home. What are their dealbreakers? Our small bedrooms (which I always thought were perfectly adequate). The split-level layout. The 1995-style master bathroom.

Picky people. I just want a floor that's level. A house that doesn't smell like death.

I wanted to like that house too! The huge tree in the front yard! With a swing! When we pulled up, I squealed like the little girl in the Miracle on 34th Street, my mind already spinning out future potential grandchildren taking turns swinging while I waved to them from the awesome screened in porch.

That death smell though was truly a dealbreaker. One step inside and I could hear the Amityville Horror warning blaring GET OUT reverberating in my head.

My husband's annoyed with me. We can get the smell out, he says. It's just old cigarette smoke.

I think it might be something more than that, I tell him through my shirt. Which I have pulled up to protect my nose.

Our daughter is on my side for that one, but in the next house, she accuses me of having unrealistically high standards when I point out that the living room is too small to fit a couch. This is a house that ticks off all of the items on our list. Pleasant and/or neutral odor. Level kitchen floors. A toilet you can sit on without straddling.

Added bonus: it looks like an HGTV-style flip with fresh paint and all new appliances.

Yeah. But where do we, um, put the couch?

We leave the place dejected. At this point we've put a bid on four different houses and gotten out-bid on all of them. The fourth we went over the asking price, but another buyer jumped in ahead of us by waiving the house inspection. I'm sorry. I get that it is a seller's market, but that's... crazy.

A friend told me that in her neighborhood potential buyers are writing letters to sellers explaining why they love the house and why the seller should sell it to them.

This seems crazy to me too, and yet...

Dear House Number Five's Seller in the Neighborhood We Love,

As soon as I stepped onto your screened in porch, took a swing for a while on your swing, I was in love with your house. The hardwood floors! The fireplace! The darling breakfast nook in the kitchen! It's clear you've spent time working on this place. You hung that porch swing and buffed those floors. You hand-painted those stencils of eyeballs? on the walls. You replaced all of the doorknobs with... faucets?

Okay, so we may not make the same decorative choices, but it's pretty obvious that you are creative and have a good sense of humor. Fun coincidence: some of my friends say the exact same thing about me!

In all seriousness though, I know you've loved living here. You made your house warm and inviting and comfortable. In a word, home.

Take a chance with us, and I promise, we'll do the same.










Friday, May 31, 2019

Home Less

Six years old and I had already lived in six places, one of them a tent in a campground. But that was only for the summer.

What happened was the duplex where my family was living was sold and the new owners booted us out in June. And then the apartment my mother found for us wouldn't be ready to move into until September. I'm unclear on the details of how we ended up at a campground.

My father took the car and moved in with his mother. My mom's sister gave us her tent and drove my mom and me and my two younger brothers out to the campground. It was the 1970's. Camping was In. I had a Barbie camper. I used to set it up on the grass or drive it down to the pond where my brother and I swam every day.

It wasn't really swimming. We lay on our stomachs and kicked in the shallow water and pretended we were floating. Our baby brother sat in his gated play area, drooling. He learned to stand up that summer by grabbing onto the bars. Mostly we ignored him. Ate our hotdogs at the picnic table under a tarp. Drank our Joy juice, the orangey drink my mother mixed up for us, which we called Bug juice because if you left a dixie cup of it out for more than a minute, you'd find insects dying on the surface. 

We only went into the tent at night. Rolled out sleeping bags on plastic swimming rafts. By morning the sleeping bags had always drifted off the rafts and we woke up on hard ground. It was musty in the tent. Don't touch the canvas when it rains, my mother warned us. It'll make the water drip on your face. 

Rainy nights I fought the urge, but in the end, always touched the canvas. My mother was right. Rainy days were the worst. Nothing to do but sit at the picnic table under the sagging tarp, rain spattering our backs while we colored in coloring books. The best days were spent rolling down the hill above the pond, tromping through the woods, playing on the playground. 

My goal that summer was to see-saw on the seesaw, but I didn't have anyone to balance out the other side. Both of my brothers were too young and the others kids were weekend kids at the campground, coming and going too fast for me to work up the nerve to introduce myself. 

My sixth birthday my mother hung balloons over the picnic table. My aunt gave me another barbie for my camper, the Sunshine Barbie who came with her own beach towel. A Mod Ken who had a collection of sideburns and beards that I promptly lost.

By the end of the summer my brother learned to swim for real. Our baby brother took his first steps. I made a friend and we see-sawed until dark. 




Sunday, May 26, 2019

Noon Protest

I should've brought my NO! sign, but at the last minute, I chicken out and leave it in the car.

What? my daughter says, when she notices I'm not carrying it. This is her first protest with me. I think she expects me to be more militant.

Mostly, I'm annoyed and tired. I can't find a parking space. And then we can't figure out how to use the Pay-for-the-Parking app. We walk fast toward what looks like, at first, to be a small crowd across the street from the Ohio Statehouse. The governor just signed a bill that will outlaw abortion after 6 weeks.

I am not pro-abortion, by the way.

I am pro-believer-that-humans-should-be-able-to-decide-what's-best-for-themselves-when-it-comes-to-their-bodies-families-lives. I don't know how to explain this any better than that.

On the way to the protest I tell my daughter the story of the girl I knew when I was in tenth grade who almost died from pre-eclampsia giving birth to her baby boy. I tell her about how I went to Planned Parenthood for birth control pills, in high school, in college, in grad school. I tell her about how a couple of years ago I told my story to a legislator in the statehouse, a Republican, who in all likelihood, voted for this new bill, but who, when I spoke to him, listened and seemed to agree with me that it was a good idea for girls to be able to make their own reproductive decisions.

The crowd grows bigger. It's the usual group-- mostly women, mostly older, but some young women, a few men. Someone starts a chant We Won't Go Back. 

I hold up my phone to record it and my daughter elbows me and whispers that my phone's not on. We both laugh. Cars driving by honk and the crowd claps. Off the top of my head I could tell you the names of dozens of girls I know who were raped. Several so battered they ended up hospitalized. Only two of these girls brought charges against the rapist. In one of the cases, the guy got off. The other is still making its way slowly through the system.

A man with a megaphone tries to drown out the speaker, a woman from Planned Parenthood who is explaining what actions they are taking to fight these new restrictive laws. I can't hear what the man is yelling. Something to do with killing babies.

Another chant starts. My body! My choice! My daughter holds my hand and shouts too. When I was pregnant with her, I started bleeding at 20 weeks. Freaked out, I called my doctor. She said, if you keep bleeding, head to hospital. We'll try to stop the labor but if we can't, we'll have to deliver. And I'm so sorry but babies can't survive at 20 weeks. Do I need to explain to you that the doctor was talking about performing an abortion? There are new bills making their way through state legislatures now that will penalize women (and/or doctors) faced with this heartbreaking situation.

A woman in the crowd wears a red robe straight out of The Handmaid's Tale, a book I once thought was science fiction. The speaker thanks us for being here, but next time, she says, Bring a man with you. The few men in the crowd say Hey! And everyone laughs. But the speaker is right. We need more men standing with us. We start another chant. Women's rights are human rights. 

A friend of mine nearly died from an ectopic pregnancy. If she wasn't at the hospital when the fallopian tube burst, she could've bled to death. There'a state rep in our legislature who believes that what happened to my friend should be criminalized. Apparently, he doesn't understand that ectopic pregnancies don't lead to babies. Ever.

The man with the megaphone will not shut up. He stands with a handful of counter-protesters. They carry huge signs with photos of what look like chopped up limbs. I suspect these are the same people who stand outside Planned Parenthood clinics and scream at girls and women who have appointments to get breast screenings and birth control, and, some, yes, abortions.

I know a mom who's 19 year old daughter got pregnant and did not want to have the child. The mom dropped everything and took her daughter to get an abortion without hesitation. She did not tell her husband. I know a woman who got pregnant when she was 16 by a much older man. She did not tell her dad she got an abortion.

Our group, numbering in the hundreds now, marches across the street toward the statehouse, the man on the megaphone still bellowing.

My daughter is teary-eyed and I squeeze her hand. Next time, I tell her, I'm bringing my damn sign.

Next time, she says, Let's bring a megaphone.


Saturday, May 18, 2019

House Showing with a Dog and Cat

I thought it was hard with two little kids. The call from the realtor that potential buyers are on the way, leading to the tear through the house with a laundry basket, scooping up clutter--toys, the day's mail, a dusty dropped pacifier-- dumping all of that in the car, plus the kids, then a final run through the house, switching on lights, hitting every surface with a dust cloth, hiding the laundry.

We'd hang out in the park those days.

Or if it was raining, a trip to a McDonalds playland. Something fun to de-stress after what I'd just put everyone through. My son still had psychological scars from earlier house-showings. Back when I was pregnant with his sister and wasn't supposed to pick up heavy things (him) or bend over too much, I sent him scurrying around with the laundry basket. Basically lied to his darling three-year-old face that if he didn't clean them up, his toys would be taken by the Strangers Who Wanted to Buy Our House.

Today I'm on my own with the laundry basket, the cat moaning in her carrier, the dog anxiously panting a step behind me as I hide the kitty litter in the garage, scoop up her chew toys, Windex smudges off the floor.

The dog doesn't need me to tell her that Strangers are coming. She can smell them.

Speaking of smells, according to our realtor, you want your house to smell good. Baked cookies or bread? Great idea. A cutting from the lilac bush in the front yard? Also, great. But not both! We don't want competing smells. Otherwise the buyers will think you are trying to cover something up.

There's a delicate balance in the showing of a house. Shed all clutter and evidence that humans actually live here (shampoo in the shower, family pictures), but you don't want the place to be completely empty or people will have a hard time envisioning themselves in it.

It's all about the first impression. Apparently, buyers make up their minds in the first few seconds of stepping into a house. I believe this. Over the past few weeks I have been walking into strangers' houses and making up my mind fast.

It's driving my husband crazy.

Example:

Husband (stepping inside): This is nice--

Me (stepping back outside): NO!

In one case I wouldn't even let him stop the car. A million years ago our first realtor told us that before you make an offer on a house, you should always stand at the front door and take a look at the house across the street. That's the view you're going to see every day.

And what was across the street that made me want to keep driving? Let's just say that whoever lives there thinks it's a cool idea to hang a picture-window-sized-poster with one name on it. (hint: it starts with a T and ends with a p)

Have I mentioned that we have lovely neighbors across the street from our present house?

We also have really nice neighbors next door. So nice, in fact, that they have invited me to hang out at their house with the dog and cat while strangers sniff our home and make split second decisions about its value.

The cat moans. The dog groans.


After the strangers leave, I gather everyone up and we head home.




Tuesday, May 7, 2019

Grass in the Garden

For ten years I yanked it out by the roots. Now, I am letting it grow.

The raised beds are gone, the paths lining them grassed over too. The place where the magical green beans rose up, the tendrils twirling around my wrist whenever I walked past. The purple cabbages blooming in the corners. The neat rows of lettuce. The patch of borage the bees loved.

But that will come back. Already I spy the telltale leaves poking up here and there. We can't erase all trace of ourselves. 

The previous owners left behind a cluster of seashells by the front porch, lines of dried sage leaves on the door ledges of the bedrooms. I wrote the sage into a book it was so strange. 

We found an empty suitcase in the attic. Flower bulbs hidden in the back flower beds choked by weeds. The house where I grew up had writing on the wall. Maureen was here. I left behind a bolted lock on my bedroom door. 

House-hunting over the weekend we walked through a backyard where someone had buried a pet, a flat rock on the mulch the only reminder. And the ancient house downtown with the grapevines growing out back. The original vine came from Hungary, the realtor told us. The old woman who lived here made communion wine for her church out of the grapes.

Don't worry, he said, those vines will be easy to yank out, grow some nice grass. 

That house needed a good hundred thousand dollars worth of repairs. New electrical wiring. Probably loaded with asbestos, lead and who knows what else, but here I am thinking, Could we make it work,

tend to the grapevines, keep out the grass?




Tuesday, April 30, 2019

Top Ten Reasons I Love Working at the Library

10. Books! -- to shelve and take off shelves, to check in and check out, to organize and arrange, never mind sneaking a peek at the front flap or scanning the back, and all of those chats with patrons, did you like this one? What's your favorite by this author? Ooh! I have been meaning to read this, do you recommend it?

9. We also have dvds and cds and magazines and newspapers, and then there's the array of digital resources. Did you know that with your library card, from the comfort of your own home, you can stream a movie, flip through a magazine, download a song or a book?

Yeah, me neither, until I started working at the library. (For reference purposes, see: Kanopy, Flipster, Hoopla, and Libby.)

8. But wait, how much does a library card cost? (This is an actual question I got the other day when I was working at the desk.)

The answer: It's free!

7. And speaking of library cards, this is one of my favorite things to do at the library. Give someone a library card. To the woman above who had apparently never been inside a library in her life. To the man from Brazil who had just moved here and proudly showed me his passport and utility bill with his address. To the four year old who wanted to check out her own books. To the two boys who were helping their non-English-speaking mom apply for her own card. I love that moment when I hand them their new card and the little brochure that goes with it and say, Welcome to the library!

6. This cool packing-up of books we have to do. (The library where I work is part of a consortium with a bunch of other libraries and all of the libraries work together to ship books out to each other, so every day we are fitting and stacking and organizing bins in this way that I totally get a charge out of.) I think because it reminds me of playing Tetris.

5. Questions. These are like puzzles and even the patrons asking the questions sometimes know that it might be hard to find the answer. For example: What's that book that was mentioned on NPR a few weeks ago or a few months ago and had something to do with a dog and a hurricane?

Or

Did I read this book? (Fun fact: we can't actually answer that question because there's no way to see a patron's book-checking-out history. Which is a good thing, actually, because, the Bill of Rights.

4. Book Recs. I LOVE THESE! Usually it's a parent looking for a read-alike to a child's favorite book or a person waiting on a sequel and needing something else to read in the meantime. Sometimes it's just a lonely person who you can tell just

3. wants to talk, and guess what? They have come to the right person at the right place for that!

2. Because we are Open to All. See:



Those are the words etched in stone over the entrance to the main library downtown since 1907.

1. That day I was working in the Youth Services section and noticed the quiet little girl sitting by herself while her father was on his phone and I asked her if she wanted to do our famous Very Hungry Caterpillar Scavenger Hunt and she nodded, and I gave her the clipboard and she marched off quietly searching, and then I forgot about her for a while, and then she came back after finding all of the hidden items and had an extremely difficult time choosing a prize from our prize box, needing to touch every single item at least twice before making her final decision,

and that was only after I told her that if she came back another time, she could do the scavenger hunt again and pick out another prize.

A few days later when I was working upstairs, the same little girl marched over to the desk and held up her prize and spoke to me for the first time, smiling when she said:

"I came back."


Sunday, April 28, 2019

Finishing my book and finishing my book and finishing my book and finishing

my book.

This one's been a tough one to finish and I don't know why I am surprised. It was a tough one to start. A tough one to keep writing. Tough to finish the first draft. And the second draft. And now this third draft...

The letter from my agent, the one where she wrote me six single-spaced pages of notes that I might want to consider, that was tough to read. And tougher to digest. I started working part-time at a bookstore during the writing of this book. And it was tough to adapt to a new writing schedule. I found a library job in the morning and taught myself to work in the afternoons. I found a library job in the afternoon and now I am teaching myself to write in the mornings.

There are a million reasons every day for me to not sit down to work. The dog wants to be walked. The house wants to be painted. My daughter wants to graduate from college. Meanwhile the book spins around inside my head wanting to be written.

I started this draft last summer. Now it's almost May. Outside my garden's been bulldozed in preparation for our move. It was too big, too overwhelming, I thought, for a potential buyer to want to mess with.

Once, when the kids were younger and I hadn't yet been published and was suffering from an almost insane level of desperation and desire, writing feverishly book after book after book, submitting and collecting rejections, pinballing between absurd confidence that one of these damn stories would eventually sell and despair. That was when I came the closest I'd ever come to quitting.

It lasted a week and then I was back at it.

I have one chapter left to write.

(And okay, a few earlier scenes to fiddle with.) Then I'll send it off to my critique partner to get her thoughts. Another revision before sending it off to my agent. In all likelihood there will be a new single-spaced letter of notes I'll want to consider.

I will consider them.

New grass is coming up in the place where I once had lettuce. Along the edge a defiant asparagus stalk pokes out to tease me.


When I'm finally finished, I already know the story I'll work on next.