Monday, December 31, 2012

The Keeper of Things

My sister gives me all the junk that was our mother’s: blue and yellow bedspreads, clearly out of style; a pocketbook; brass butterflies; an old ironing board (I already have one but this one was our grandmother’s); the praying hands.

No explanation was needed for the praying hands. I knew what they were. Just like I know what the horn-of-plenty is, also white ceramic with a pearlized glaze, and the cutting board in the shape of a teapot that says, “Cookie’s Kitchen.” Things that have always been there. Things I always assumed everyone had—praying hands, a horn-of-plenty, a cutting board with their mother’s name on it…

She told me I was getting them. It wasn’t like she was bestowing upon me some valuable family heirloom. It was more like, whether I liked it or not. She’s a little bitch. She knew I’d take care of them, even though I am not religious, because they sat on my mother’s dresser for years, even though she was not religious. In fact, one time, she threw a crucifix into the garbage, that’s how not religious she was. It was a big one, about a foot tall, made out of oak with a ceramic Jesus attached to it. It used to hang over my parents’ bed until one day I spotted it in the garbage. Somehow it had gotten its arm broken and my mother didn’t want it anymore. But we couldn’t just throw it away! It was Jesus!

I rescued it from the trash and carefully put the arm back together again. The jagged pieces fit into each other, elbow into forearm, like a puzzle. You could hardly see the crack and if you didn’t bump it, it stayed. I carefully hung it back up. The next day it was in the garbage again. I pulled it out. My mother took it down off the wall, broken arm swinging, and dropped it back into the trash can. She said, exasperated, “Debi, it’s broke!”

She kept throwing it in the garbage. I kept digging it out. She hid it under the potato peels and wet newspaper, her passion about disposing it in such a disrespectful way proof that she was not passionate about religion and as soon as her back was turned, I dug it out again. She put it in, I took it out. Toward the end, I hid it in a shoebox. Though my dedication to saving it was no proof that I was religious. I just felt sorry for it.

Now it’s because these things were my mother’s.

I’m very sentimental about things. My sister knows this about me so I am an easy mark. She’s worse than my mother about throwing things out and so I know not to hesitate, not to question whether I have the room for something, not to suggest that she keep it because it will be out on the curb the next day if I even blink an eye. So she pawns off all the stuff on me. I am the keeper of things.

She even gives me her own crap. I knew she was angling to give me the old picture of a little boy that looks like her son for a few years now. Every time we passed it in her house, she said something about it. Isn’t it nice? Doesn’t it look like Michael? Like she was warming me up. Finally, somehow, I found myself the owner of it. I think she stuck it in with a bunch of other stuff that I actually wanted—the retro kitchen stool, the aluminum canisters, and the aluminum spice set that goes really nice in my kitchen with all the stainless I have in here. I had to take it. I took it even though I don’t have a wall to put it on and now I feel guilty because it’s not hanging up. But she has a load off. She knows I won’t throw it away. She knows I’ll find a spot for it.

She gave me a dented Thermos from the fifties that used to go in her retro kitchen in her old house, curtains that don’t fit any of my windows, gadgets that were my grandfather’s, a black milk can, and a stuffed chair that I had to make room for. She gave me the other half of the set of family silverware that I never knew she had (all these years I thought what I had was the whole set), photo albums, and dishes my mother once used for pudding.

And then the praying hands. They were in a box with a Bible. Not my mother’s Bible—I don’t think she even owned a Bible—but one with her name scrawled inside that the funeral home had included in our “package.” Even though she had never laid eyes on it, and I will never read it, I can’t get rid of it. Her name is inside.

Any day now, I will get the horn-of-plenty.

Since writing this, my sister has, in fact, given me the horn-of-plenty.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Thinking Outside The Box

I'm sorry I've been late. It's been hectic here. I don't even have time to blog right now but just to prove I'm still alive, I thought I'd post some pictures of what I'm doing to my bedroom. That's right, that wall is black. Black is shocking enough but for those of you who really know me and know how much I love old things, country things, and homey things, and light sunny colors, black is downright unorthodox.

The problem is, the bedroom was looking a little too "old lady." Once I put out all my antique clocks, lace doilies, and pictures of someone else's ancestors in round picture frames around the room, I knew I had to add a little modern. So this is what I am working on.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Pulling the Horse Trailer

I think I almost hit the horse trailer coming into the driveway. I couldn’t be sure. I couldn’t see. It was dark. But it looked pretty close. It looked so close, in fact, that I cringed while waiting for the resulting scrape of wood post on metal. Luckily my entrance was of the soundless variety except for the slow crunch of tires on gravel and the horses whinnying to each other—You’re back! Hi! Welcome back! But it scared me.

I only thought I had to be scared going out. I exit out of the driveway onto the side road. Even though I got out the loppers before we left and cut off all the bushes that I could, widening the driveway by about a foot, it’s still pretty narrow and the street you turn on to, which I could do nothing about as far as widening, is just as bad. If I miscalculate, I’m in trouble. If I don’t turn wide enough, I’ll hit the hip of the trailer. If I turn too wide, I’ll go into the ditch. And I don’t know how to back up. It’s the reason why when the weather was iffy last month and we were supposed to go to a 4-H meeting on horseback (hence, requiring the trailer), I said, “I’m not going in this rain. I think I saw lightning. Yes, I definitely saw lightning!”

“It’s not even raining,” Kelly said, holding her hand up to the dry air. “And that was the neighbor’s headlights.”

You can’t pull the wool over her eyes. So I bribed her with the mall and then I distracted her by promising to take her to the tattoo parlor to get her cartilage pierced right after school on Monday. Hey, it’s not like I offered her a big sprawling tattoo of a skull-and-crossbones. Plus we were completely out of Victoria’s Secret underwear and Cinnabons.

The truth is, after twelve years, including trips back and forth from New Jersey to Oklahoma and Oklahoma to Virginia and then to New Jersey again, numerous times, I’m still no good with the horse trailer. It’s the backing. It’s tricky backing up a horse trailer. When you want the trailer to go left, you have to turn the steering wheel right. When you want it to go right, you turn the steering wheel left. It goes against everything I was taught. Point the nose and the back end will follow. I know, I know about the trick where you grip the steering wheel on the bottom, so that when you want to go right, your hand is actually moving to the right. But then I get even more balled up, as my mother would say. Top, bottom, left, right—where am I supposed to put my hand?! Wait, wait, I can’t think!

Throw the video screen in there that’s in the new dually, and I don’t even know where I should look. At the screen? Over my shoulder? In the side mirrors? But which side mirror? The left one or the right one, the whole mirror or that little miniature mirror that’s built into the whole mirror? Do I look ahead or should I just stop and get out and survey the situation before I go one more inch? My head is whipping all over the place like Linda Blair’s head on The Exorcist, my hand is going all over the place like the steering wheel is too hot to hold and the horse trailer is going all over the place—veering to the left, jackknifing to the right—and somehow I am getting more and more off course. Pretty soon, if this keeps up, I will have to call Kurt.

It’s embarrassing. I know I shouldn’t be embarrassed. No one who may be watching knows how long I’ve been pulling the trailer. As far as they know, this is my first trip out. I have nothing to be embarrassed about.

Kurt says just smile at one of the guys and he’ll help you. And that, in effect, is the whole problem. I’ve been smiling at the guys to get them to park my trailer for twelve years now, or letting Kurt drive (because he likes to drive and every time I think I should practice while he is with me, I’m too tired to insist and decide just to put my cowboy boots up on the dashboard and find a good country music channel instead) and so I’ve never really practiced.

Now I’m getting desperate. I’m thinking about letting Kelly do it. Of course, she doesn’t even have her license yet. But I’ve got a loophole. I heard there’s something called a “farmer’s license.” This is a special license for kids who aren’t old enough to get their real license yet but are needed on the farm to drive tractors and pickup trucks laden with blueberries or asparagus, a special permission for farm families who need all hands on deck, so to speak.

Or I can cowgirl up and just practice. And hang one of those Victoria’s Secret bras I got from the mall on the antenna. It couldn’t hurt.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

A Man's Truck

There is a man’s truck in the driveway. It’s a big suped-up electric blue Chevy. It’s got some kind of thing on the hood like the engine is so big it’s busting out of it like a heart busting out of a lovesick cartoon character’s chest. I expect to hear it go boing!

The driver of this truck is one of the boys who is in hot pursuit of Kelly. This one is making some headway because she hasn’t allowed any of the others to come over. I like her taste in men. She picks the ones who are nice. This character (that’s what Kurt calls them—characters) brings her gifts. When she mentioned she liked Sour Patch Kids, he came to school the next day and brought her two packages of the candy. Two. I thought, this kid means business.

When she mentioned she liked Miranda Lambert, he got tickets for the concert and didn’t protest when I said I would drive them, even though he drives. He offered to put down my mulch. And he wouldn’t take any money for moving my stall mats.

But he’s a man! I look at that truck and think my baby’s growing up.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

The Big Reveal

The house is peeking out behind the corner, ready, at any minute, to step out and show itself like a child in the leaves who has given up and jumps up—Here I am! I am right here! I was here the whole time!

Every day it reveals itself more and more. Daffodils are popping up everywhere.

Trees I thought were dead, are blooming. There are flowering trees and flowering bushes. We tie orange baling twine around the trees that have white flowers so we don’t inadvertently chop down a tree that flowers when it’s not, when it looks like every other scrubby sapling that has gotten out of hand and sprouted up where it shouldn’t because no one loved this place for so long.

I have a weeping cherry. I like saying I have things. Trees. Flowers. A garden. My tomatoes. My blackberry bushes. My crocuses are coming up. Like a person could really own these things that come up out of the earth on the whim of the sun and the rain or someone’s decision to get out a hose and start sprinkling. Like you could own a child. Even though it’s your child, you don’t own it any more than you own the bud on the oak tree. But I still have them. They are mine. Children. Trees. Flowers.

I didn’t know it was a weeping cherry right outside my kitchen window when we bought this place but that’s what I was hoping it was when I was having my coffee in the wintertime and I noticed the drooping branches and the bark that was similar to my cherry trees back in Virginia. And now there are pink blossoms, so I think I was right.

Another one in front of the window has white blossoms on it but I’m not sure what that one is. The one I thought was a lilac, is not. I’m not sure what it’s going to be.

Like the flowers, bricks and stones and slate are popping up in the grass. We walk back and forth so much from the barn and the driveway to the house that we wore down a path on the lawn. We knew that one day we would have to buy some concrete, or pavers, something, to make a walkway. It’s very hard trying to keep your shoes clean when you have to go somewhere when you’re walking across the grass. Try tiptoeing across the grass in high heels when it’s raining. Okay, that’s a lie. I haven’t worn high heels in years. But what if I wanted to?

One day I noticed a brick in the dirt. A little flash of red. First one. Then another. Then a whole section about one foot square. I told Kelly to cool out her horse there. There’s nothing better for wearing down a path than walking your horse back and forth. Might as well utilize this horse power!

It wasn’t long before there were so many bricks showing that Kelly couldn’t stand it anymore and so she got out the shovel and started digging.

She uncovered a beautiful brick walkway. Now we don’t have to build one! It was there the whole time! And a nice one! Nice old bricks. I think about Mr. Apple laying those bricks, and all those years they were buried, covered with dirt and grass for so long that no one even remembered that they were there.

We found the original well. It’s in the basement. I can see it through a big hole in the brick wall that leads to the crawl space. The only reason I noticed it was because I was chasing a bird and he flew in there. (Don’t ask; that’s another story.) It’s about the size of a hot tub and is made out of yellow bricks in a staggered pattern like the Yellow Brick Road. Someday I’ll crawl in there and look inside. Not the well. The crawlspace. Well, maybe the well if I see something glittering inside. Maybe that’s where the treasure is.

We also discovered two automatic waterers on the property. I’m assuming they’re automatic waterers. That’s what they look like they’d be. But I don’t know for sure since I’ve never seen an automatic waterer in real life. I’ve only heard about them like I’ve heard about Haflingers. I’d probably recognize a Haflinger if I ran across one but I have no first-hand knowledge.

There are two of these contraptions; one in one field and the other on the other side. We found them when we were clearing brush. One of them is covered by a fiberglass dome. In the basin on top there is plumbing. If you tip it over, there is a round hole in the ground filled with water like the hole the sump pump is in. The other one is a rusty metal box and we haven’t been able to budge it. The real estate agent never said anything about these and of course we were not allowed to speak to the seller until after the closing when the coast was clear, evidently to prevent him from blurting out something he shouldn’t and causing us to not want to buy the place. But this plan backfired because there is nothing he could have said about it that would have made us ask for our deposit back. Everything that was bad about it, we already knew. In fact, if we had been allowed to talk to him and learned about the automatic waterers, like how we later learned just how much of a horse community this is, we might have paid more for the house. Automatic waterers was a selling point the real estate agent never mentioned.

And a danger. Luckily we stumbled upon them before a horse broke his leg stepping into the hole, or worse, someone’s toddler visiting us fell down it. Since we have no idea what we’ve really got on our hands, though I’m sure it’s something good even though it’s obviously going to require some work to get it up and running again, this will have to wait until we have more time. In the meantime, no small children will be allowed to run around unsupervised. Small children tend to crawl under things and hide inside things so they can pop out and say, Here I am! I am right here! I was here the whole time! Just like neglected houses that begin to reveal themselves when they are loved.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Why The Teal Will Never Work

It’s weird. I can’t make decisions like I used to. I used to make a split decision and then bam, next thing you know, we were heading out to Oklahoma to be cowboys. When the wind was blowing up my skirt a little too much, bam, next thing you know, we were in Virginia chopping wood and baking pies. When I wanted to go home, I thought nothing of the fact that the economy was in the sewer and it’s more expensive in Jersey and we had no jobs. Next thing you know, we were up here. (Well, not exactly that fast. It took a year to sell that house but once I made the decision, in the heat of the moment—wailing over my mother, kicking myself for getting shanghaied into buying that bad luck trailer from someone who I thought was my friend, sick to death of trying to make a living in a place where there were no people—I might as well have been gone.)

I used to make fun of my girlfriend who would go to the paint store and come back with eight quarts of various shades of white—cream, antique white, cloud, linen—and still not be able to decide which of the whites she should go with. I’d think, Com’on! It’s just paint! Paint it already!

With all the moving I’ve done, it was a good thing I could make decisions. I’d unwrap my pictures, get out the hammer and nails, eye up a spot, and nail it up. And that was that. There was no measuring, no standing back and scrutinizing it and taking it down and filling in the little hole with a dab of paint and then doing it again. No. I hammered that nail in with confidence and often confidence begets excellence. My pictures were always the right height, neither too far left nor too far right, and the perfect composition for the room I hung them in.

Nowadays, I’m stymied about where to hang my Wallace Nutting and I grapple with my decision on the rearing horses. I’ve bought a number of samples of paint for the living room, repainted one wall twice when I thought one of the samples would work but it didn’t, and still haven’t decided what I should do with the built-in cabinet. Should I paint it a color? What color? Should I just leave it white? Should I strip it?

I also don’t know what to do with my accessories. Do the insulators look good on that cabinet or should I put something else there? The blue Mason jars look nice but are they too kitcheny? What about the Texas stars? Are they too cowboy? Should I just do the whole living room over in monochromatic creams and browns like how it looked before I started unpacking all my things and it reminded me of the spread that’s in this month’s Country Living? But then I’d have to get rid of my cool lamps, one green, one turquoise….

I haven’t decided what color to paint the woodwork. The trim on the outside of the windows is brown and the trim on the inside of the windows is white. It should be one or the other, shouldn’t it? And what about curtains? All of my windows are bare. Even if I had the money for new curtains, I wouldn’t know what to buy. In the old days, I’d throw a bandana on the window and it would work. I’d pick something out of Linens & Things, eenie, meenie, miney, mo, and whatever I bought—lace panels, flowered swags, a simple valance—would look great.

I am frozen with indecision. You might say I have performance anxiety. Perhaps part of the reason I’m afraid to commit and buy some brown paint is because I don’t have any money and if I make a mistake, I blew it. Who knows when I’ll be getting a few bucks again? Maybe another reason is because I made so many mistakes, moving all over the country on a whim, thinking I could learn to make pies, thinking I could trust my new friend who told me she was giving me a great deal on a trailer and I better not pass it up, not thinking about what would happen if someone I loved back home got sick and I was so far away….

Now I’m older. There’s not much time left. If I don’t get this right, I may not have another chance.

So it’s much more important than it seems, whether the bookcases should be white or the bookcases should be brown. There’s a lot more riding on this than it appears.

What I decided for the living room:

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Good Smells and Bad Smells

The laundry room smells like cows. Kelly has been meeting at a local dairy farm a couple of times a week to practice for a Future Farmers of America cow judging competition. She’s been learning what constitutes good cow conformation and the difference between a Jersey cow and a Holstein. The Jerseys have feminine heads. That’s what she told me. They must be the ones I see in the children’s books with the long eyelashes and cow bells around their necks. They are usually named Elsie.

Kelly wears big rubber boots when she goes to these meetings at the dairy farms and when she comes home, she is reeking. I don’t know what they do over there—roll around in the stuff? As soon as I walked into the laundry room last night, I said, “Oh, Kelly is back.” Even though she was nowhere in sight.

It would be hard to live near a dairy farm. They really stink. One time I was on line behind a lady in Shop-Rite and I knew she lived on a dairy farm because I could smell her. I wonder if they notice it, living right there? Still, I’d rather live next to a dairy farm than where I grew up in Jersey City where the air was thick with exhaust and the sickeningly sweet smell of the purple dye factory on the highway. Or by the fish factory in Port Monmouth. But I didn’t mind living near IFF (International Flavors and Fragrances) in Union Beach. When they’re running, the air smells like perfume. When I was a bartender at the Cambridge, the guys would come in and give me samples of White Diamonds and Polo in small, unmarked bottles with black plastic caps. Everybody smells good in Union Beach.

I purposely put my manure pile behind the barn so it wouldn’t bother the neighbors across the street. I don’t think they can smell it. I’ve already got someone coming to take it for his garden. I’m talking about a big garden. He’s a farmer. He came three times already and we use the tractor to scoop up the manure and dump it into the bed of his truck. It falls with a plop and overflows. If he hits a bump when he leaves, balls of manure bounce out and land in the driveway.

Someday I want to have a big garden. I’m curious to see how I do in New Jersey since the neighbors in Virginia were amazed at the bounty I had, being someone who comes from Jersey City where the exhaust is thick and the only yard was the patch of grass between the sidewalk and the street. One time someone planted pansies in the grass. There were little popsicle sticks in the ground that said pansies in black Magic Marker; that’s how I knew what they were.

It wasn’t my mother. My mother couldn’t keep a philodendron going. You’d give her an Easter plant and she’d leave it in the purple foil on the windowsill until it died. Mrs. Pontius on the first floor must have planted them. She wore a dress like the nuns wore only it was a color and it had a pattern on it like checks or flowers, and an apron and clunky shoes. I’d go to the store for her. I’d knock on her door and say, “Mrs. Pontius, do you need anything from the store?” She’d give me a quarter for going. I’d always refuse it but she’d insist I take it, sometimes grabbing me and shoving it into my pocket herself and then slamming the door. Secretly, I was hoping she’d make me take it.

The rich people who lived in the single families up the street had pussywillows in their yards behind wrought-iron fences. They also had statues of the Virgin Mary under cement domes painted blue and white and stone birdbaths. I’d like to get some pussywillows someday. I also like hydrangeas. And geraniums. If it’s an old timey thing, I like it. Lilacs are my favorite. But they don’t make ‘em like they used to. When we had to tear out the old lilac bushes at the Jackson house because it was the only spot to put in the new septic tank, it broke my heart and Kurt went out and got me some new lilac bushes. But they weren’t the same. They were scrubby and there was no smell.

I was surprised there were no lilac bushes here at the yellow house because it’s an old farmhouse and that’s what those ladies planted back then. Actually, I was pretty disappointed. But I was wrong. There are two of them. The other day I saw the first purple flower. At first I thought it was a bird but when I looked closer, I saw tiny clusters of lilac cones! One is in the front yard and the other is right outside the kitchen window. I imagine what it will be like soon when all the flowers are blooming and I open that window!

It’s going to smell wonderful! It’s going to smell much better around here than how the laundry room smells now.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Hurry Up and Ride

I’m on a real time crunch because I’ve set myself the goal of riding by April. Actually April 1, but I’m not going to get specific because I’ve blown right by my target date. Let’s just say April.

I’m harried, trying to get as much of this house fixed up as possible before I start riding because once I start riding, I’ll be lucky if I have time to throw in a load of wash, never mind painting rooms, spackling holes in sheetrock, scraping, gutting, washing, and the endless opening up of boxes to look for things I suddenly remember I’m missing.

I don’t want to stop now. I’m on a roll. I got all the grout and the paint splatters scrubbed off the bathroom floor and now all we have to do in there is grout the tile around the tub. There are no curtains but there are no curtains on any of the windows except for Kelly’s room. Luckily the bathroom upstairs is windowless otherwise the neighbors would be getting an eyeful. This is where we’ll go if there’s a tornado. They say you should take cover in a room with no windows. I’ve never had a house that had a room with no windows. I was always worried about that. It used to make me mad when the guy on TV advised everyone to go into a windowless room or down into the basement. What if you didn’t have a basement or a windowless room? I’m glad I finally have one so I can comply with the news guy’s instructions. Of course there’s no room in there for people to hide. I don’t even have a place to put an extra roll of toilet paper. We’ll have to sit on each other’s laps. The Big Stupid, aka Motley the dog, will have to get in the shower. He’ll do it. He’s game for anything. And cats are willowy. They can squeeze in anywhere.

Anyway, ordinarily there would be no rush. Riding that is. Not fixing the house. I can’t stand living in a house that’s not fixed up. I’m not saying that it has to be all done. But it has to be painted and broken windows need to be fixed and it’s got to be clean. Especially the floors. Not just because we’re in the flooring business. In fact, being in the flooring business causes me to suffer with crappy floors even longer that I would have because the same thing is in effect that causes the shoemaker’s kids to have no shoes. I’m not sure what it is but the shoemaker’s kids run around barefoot and one time I lived with stick-on tiles that were supposed to look like black marble and were peeling up in the corners for a whole year.

One thing is Kurt won’t put down junk. He’s gotten good taste from installing so many nice floors over the years—wool carpet, solid hardwood, rugs that look like sisal but feel like cotton—that he won’t settle for less even though it means we could afford it sooner. But if there is someone’s else’s carpet in the house, that I don’t know where it’s been puked on, and it has been puked on because the chances are good that the people who lived in it prior had animals, especially if it’s a farmhouse like I usually buy, especially if you see the telltale signs of claw marks on the doors, I want it out ASAP. Even if it looks clean.

But now I feel rushed about riding too. Like riding is a quart of milk that’s going to expire if I don’t get out there soon and do it. Even though I still think of him as a colt, Harley just turned fifteen this year! He certainly doesn’t look or act like fifteen but let’s face it, he’s not a young whippersnapper anymore and neither am I. There are lots of people who ride into their sixties, seventies, even eighties. There are even senior citizens who barrel race. But I’ve had so many breaks from riding due to all the moving that it’s like I never rode at all and who starts barrel racing when she’s fifty-something? I’m not talking about trail riding here. Does one start running marathons when she’s fifty-something especially if she’s never even taken a walk before? I know it can be done. But it wouldn’t be easy.

Plus, after losing my mother I learned that you can lose anything in the blink of an eye. My horse. My health. The farm. Who knows? I have to get going while the going’s good. And so I’m on a painting frenzy. There’s no time to even wash out the brushes because maybe I’ll get fifteen minutes to paint again and so I stick them in a plastic bag sealed with a rubber band so I can grab them at any time and continue. If there’s only ten minutes, I hurry and get a hammer and nail and hang up a picture. If there’s only five minutes, I carry a box up to the attic bedroom. Hurry, hurry, hurry.

I know that you’re never done with your house. There’s always something to clean, beds to be made, dishes to be put away, laundry to be folded. But I hope, soon, that all the stuff we are doing because of just moving here will be done and I can just go out and live life like everyone else. Ride my horse. Run a set of barrels. At the least, I hope I have those nasty rugs out.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Decorating on a Dime

We did this with no money. Fixing, cleaning, decorating. I’m not saying that I picked things out of the garbage. Wait. That’s a lie. Yes, I did. Every time I go to the dump, I come back with something good. I’m kind of on the barter system down at the dump. I bring some garbage, I come back with a milk-glass hobnail vase. I bring some garbage, I come back with a glass candle holder. I bring some garbage, I come back with decorating magazines still in their plastic covers.

I’ve been trying out glass globes. The only thing that broke during all the moving was a glass globe that sat on the top part of my red antique lamp. It’s an odd size. Every time I go to the dump, I fling a couple of Hefty bags filled with kitty litter and coffee grounds, then I rifle through the pile of things the dump man put aside because he thought something was too good for the garbage and someone else might be able to use it. I find a glass globe that might work, take it home, try it, and when it doesn’t, I bring it back and trade it out for another one. One of these days I’m going to hit on the right one.

The dump man is cranky. Someone gave me a heads-up about that. He takes his job very seriously and you’re in big trouble if you try to sneak a Betty Crocker cake box into the regular garbage instead of putting it in the cardboard recyclables bin and he catches you. But that doesn’t worry me. I look at it as a challenge. Not just the recycling but the relationship. I get along great with grumpy old guys. Especially if they’re anal. Because let’s face it, I’m a little anal. I admire it that the dump man is out there with his broom directing people to the green glass bin and the brown glass bin and watching that someone doesn’t get his tin cans mixed up with his aluminum. Because if you’re not going to do a job right, why do it at all? And recycling is no joke. You should see those bins filled with the colored glass like boxes of jewels glimmering in the sunshine. It would be a shame if that was just thrown into the landfill with all the diapers and chicken bones instead of melted down and turned into new Mountain Dew bottles.

So I don’t mind him. I go out of my way to be friendly to him. We talk trash, him in his orange vest with the yellow tape on it, leaning on a broom, me all dolled up now because you can’t go anywhere in New Jersey unless you have makeup on, even the dump, leaning on my truck door. We discuss the characteristics of the globes I take home and the likelihood of the newest one fitting. We complain about taxes and the people who run the town who won’t let you put fluorescent bulbs into the dump. He tells me that I can sneak some of the wood that I’ve been cleaning up from my property into the regular garbage if he doesn’t see me, wink, wink. I think, someday I’m going to bring him cookies. You might call that a bribe. I call it a thank you. A bribe would be something you give to someone before the fact. That would be like if I gave him some cookies and then he looked the other way when I came with my truck filled to the brim with items on the violation list. But that’s not the way it went down.

It wasn’t only garbage that I availed myself of to get this place shaped up. I also charged a few things. I splurged and bought vintage wallpaper for the kitchen. It’s just the thing to bring back some of that old fashioned look someone stripped the place of back in the 70s when they thought replacing doors that had crystal knobs and porcelain sinks on legs was an improvement.

The olive green countertops had to go. Kurt is making a new counter out of sheets of laminate. He is actually fabricating the counter; not just buying a stock counter and cutting and installing it, which would be hard enough. He is going to glue sheets of laminate onto the old frame and make it himself. When Lowe’s refused to order the counter we wanted unless we paid them two hundred dollars for them to come out and measure, even though we assured them that Kurt measures for a living and even though we humored them by going home and measuring again because they insisted that Kurt’s measurements were wrong, and even though we agreed that we would be responsible and not Lowe’s if we made a mistake, they still wouldn’t let us order the counter unless we paid them to come out and measure. So we got our asses up. Now we’re making it ourselves. Visions of that show Renovation Disasters going through my head but screw them. We can do it! Thanks to them trying to squeeze another two hundred dollars out of us, we’re saving thousands of dollars.

We also got paint. We got spackle. We got faucets, door locks, weather stripping, fencing, gates, and new fluorescent bulbs. But we didn’t get a mortgage so if we’re maxed out on a credit card, we’re still ahead of the game.

I also got gifts. My girlfriends brought me things. This is the beauty of having good girlfriends. They know you and your quirky tastes. Micaela gave me this funky lamp.

Monica gave me this rooster.

I got this crystal candy dish from Jenise.

I have good friends, good family (a special thank you to my sister who went above and beyond the call of duty to help me with this place), and I didn’t even have to give them any cookies.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Lucky 13 Farm

Right from the beginning, we considered naming our new place Lucky 13 Farm. Kurt’s been wanting to get rid of the Smokin’ Bandits Ranch for a while now. I thought it was a clever name to come up with, being that we’re barrel racers and we smoke the competition. (Or at least we try!) Though young people, my own daughter included, wouldn’t get it since they’ve never seen that movie or have heard of Jackie Gleason or even Burt Reynolds.

eBay gave us a hard time about it. They refused to allow our name without a fight. They suspected we were selling illegal contraband—tobacco products—and I suspect they have people in India working the phones who don’t understand our vernacular and certainly not our jokes because it was like pulling teeth to get them to understand the smoke the competition thing. When they finally did give in, believe me, there was no appreciative chuckle.

Therefore, our farms have been nameless since the one in Oklahoma because we couldn’t think of anything better than Smokin’ Bandits Ranch and I’ve wondered if it was one of the reasons we’ve had bad luck at the places. It’s like having a baby and not getting it baptized. Or saying something bad is going to happen and not knocking wood, like You’re going to shoot your eye out with that BB gun, knock wood. But we couldn’t agree on anything. Kurt has been pushing for The Flying V Ranch for some time, but I think that’s too common. Flying this, Lazy that, Triple whatever. Blah, blah, blah. They’re all the same. Everybody’s got them. Granted, Lucky 13 is not unusual but at least it means something.

The yellow house sits on lot 13, block 13, plus the street address is 260. Thirteen plus thirteen equals 26. Just drop the zero! And let’s face it, we’re lucky that we got it. This was the first house we were interested in from the beginning, before we even put our house on the market in Virginia, but it was way out of our price range. Like a hundred grand out of our price range. I don’t even know how we found it—Kurt found it (he always finds good horses and good houses)—because the price put it out of our search criteria. Still, I inquired about it because I heard it was a buyer’s market and sellers were dropping their prices drastically. You never know.

The real estate agent was not encouraging. She said it had been on the market for a while but the seller wouldn’t drop a penny. Not a penny. She said it was a thorn in her side. All she does is take people there and he says no, no, no. Plus, there was water in the basement, behind the barn, and it needed a new septic tank. And the seller wouldn’t budge. Would not budge one iota.

We forgot about it and bought the winery house. Well, we didn’t actually forget about it—I thought about it from time to time—but we gave up on it. Then we lost the buyer for our house in Virginia and the seller of the winery house wouldn’t wait for us to find a new one. We weren’t looking for it, because we weren’t expecting the price to be lower, but when we found a new buyer, we stumbled upon the yellow house again, and lo and behold, the seller had dropped the price! The real estate agent was wrong! It was still out of our price range, but much closer. And it had a new septic tank! (This is a big ticket item in New Jersey; like thirty grand.) What luck!

And you know the rest of the story, how we got it and lost it and got it again. We’ve been very lucky. And so the lucky thirteen thing made sense.

The house was empty when we moved in but it was dirty. It had been either rented or vacant for thirty years. I’ve been here for three months and I’m just starting to get the smell out now. It smelled like a cellar. It was easier to clean, being empty, but I wish it had stuff in it.

I prefer to buy old houses that are filled with stuff. Even if I have to rent a Dumpster and get rid of it all, you never know what you’re going to find. In all the junk, there’s always a Roseville pot or an old violin or some funky lamps. In the Jackson house, I hit pay dirt. We not only found the hidden room with the coins, but the family of the deceased owner took what they wanted and left furniture, knick-knacks, and even this cool old picture.

One time we went to see an old house for sale that looked like the people just put their coffee cups down, stood up, left, and never came back. It was filled with furniture, pictures on the walls, clothes in the closets, and jars of blackberry jam in the pantry. A pair of eyeglasses sat on the arm of a naugahyde couch. An apron with green rickrack and a pocket to keep hankies or change for the milkman hung on a hook on the wall. The house needed a lot of work and there wasn’t quite enough land, but I didn’t care. I still wanted it, if only for the vintage wallpaper alone (grey with a white medallion in one parlor; tropical flowers—grey background, teal, burgundy—in the other) and the trunks upstairs crammed with linens, lace doilies and sepia-colored photographs as thick as cardboard. But when we went outside, I could smell the oil seeping up in the ground from the oil tank below. The land was polluted and we had to walk away. But I still think about that place all these years later.

There was nothing in this place because Mrs. Apple had been gone since the eighties and the guy I bought it from and the renters had picked it clean. But I did find a few things when I was cleaning. All lucky things. I found a chunk of Fool’s gold. I thought it was a plain old ordinary rock when I swept it up. What in the world was a piece of Fool’s gold doing just sitting on the floor in the corner all by itself? Okay, it’s not real gold but it’s gold! I found a Chinese fortune from a fortune cookie. It actually says something about cleaning and moving mountains. That’s me! Then I found a keychain with a little horseshoe on it stuck in one of the baseboards. Everyone knows horseshoes are lucky.

I also found a couple of other things. It seems that whatever I need, comes to me here. You might remember a few years ago I fished a wicker table out of the Dumpsters in Virginia using a strap with a hook on it that I got out of the back of the truck. The table was in great condition but, being wicker, the top is a little lumpy. So I keep a big atlas on the top of it and put my lamp on that. I’ve been wanting to get a piece of round glass for it. But now I don’t have to. The master bedroom was empty like the rest of the house. The only thing in there was a piece of round glass, exactly the size I needed, leaning in the corner like Santa Claus’s cane leaning in the corner in the house at the end of Miracle on 34th Street. Just waiting for me.

I also needed ice cube trays and couldn’t find them in any of the stores; not even Wal-Mart. Our refrigerator has an icemaker like most do nowadays but it’ll be a while before we can get to the plumbing. So I’ve been making ice for Kurt’s lunch box in plastic cups. Then I saw something blue sticking up out of the dirt in the backyard. Big expanse of green lawn and one little blue thing to catch my attention. Lo and behold, it was an ice cube tray!

One day, while walking across the front lawn making visual love to the house with my eyes, I found a wet dollar bill. Kurt said, “Now they’re throwing money at us here!”

I think we’re going to be successful here. I feel lucky.

And our luck has been good. Kurt found work subcontracting for flooring companies and we’ve been grateful for that. But our ultimate goal is to do our own work. We left Virginia on December 13, and we made our first sale on—guess—January 13. Then we made our second sale on—guess again—February 13. The first customer knocked on our door. Just knocked on our door and said, “I want to buy some carpet.” The second customer came from an ad in the newspaper that cost me six dollars. Six dollars!

Now all I have to do is break through that wall to get into the hidden room and find the real gold.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Kitchen In Progress

Black woodwork. Vintage wallpaper from the 1940s. Two of my best decorating ideas.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Kelly's Room--Before and After

This is Kelly's room before and after. I bought that black dresser for ten bucks at a flea market and painted it. I painted the floor. I bought the orange spaghetti lamp at a garage sale for twenty-five cents. The metal headboard also came from a garage sale or flea market and I painted that too. It's old. It looks like a hospital bed, doesn't it? I have the footboard as well; just have to find the time to paint it. My sister chipped in and bought her the black velvet drapes, bedspread and vanity. I have a good sister.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

The Yellow House

It’s a big yellow house. I don’t know why I was thinking it was small. Maybe because technically it really only has two bedrooms. The third bedroom is in the attic and you can barely stand up in the middle of it, but for our purposes—guest room—it’ll work. All the other rooms are big. “Rooms” makes me think of my mother. She called apartments “rooms.” We moved around a lot when I was a kid. Maybe that’s where I get it from. Whenever a better apartment became available, we’d move. Up the street. Around the block. Across the hall. My mother would say, “It’s four railroad rooms, make your own heat and hot water,” or “Alice got some really nice rooms on West Side and another one is open,” and the next thing you know, we were packing up.

Every move was an upgrade. We got better and better until we moved down-the-shore when I was in seventh grade, and then finally, bought our own house, a little cape cod on a dirt road where I got my first pony, in Port Monmouth. I thought, this is the country! Compared to Jersey City, where the only horses I saw were the ones the mounted policemen rode, it was the country.

This place, where Kurt and I got the yellow house, is the best of both worlds. It really is the country—I can see a silo out my kitchen window—but it’s still New Jersey. I’m close to everything. I’m ten minutes from town where there’s a supermarket, Rite-Aid, a real New Jersey diner, fast food (three pizza places and one who will deliver!), banks, doctors’ offices, a dollar store, antique shops, gift shops, and a corner bar literally called “The Corner Bar.” It’s got everything!

Best of all, it’s got horse stuff. You could literally walk to our new vet’s office; handy for emergencies and the pocketbook. There were five 4-H clubs alone that we had to choose from, all within ten minutes from the house, three western-wear stores and dozens of tack shops. There’s a Tractor Supply. And a rodeo—Cowtown Rodeo, the longest continuous running rodeo in America. It’s a real horse community! Luckily I didn’t know all this before we moved here or else I would have paid more for the house.

I also didn’t know how big it is. The two bedrooms threw me off. But the rest of the rooms are big. It’s got the biggest kitchen I’ve ever had. The table is right in the middle of it, not pushed up against the wall, just like I always wanted. When I’m cooking in the kitchen and I call Kelly in the living room, she can’t hear me. I have to walk there. I have to cross Texas to get there. My bedroom is so big that when we were painting Kelly’s room, we put all her furniture in our bedroom. I had eight dressers all around the perimeter of the room and I could have fit two more. Plus her bed was in there, my bed was in there, and you could still walk around the room. This is quite an upgrade from our little bedroom in Penhook where the only floor space was a path around the bed.

I also discovered a hidden room. One day while I was scrutinizing the house like a lover gazing into another lover’s eyes—look at the curve of wood over the porch! That’s a Dutch detail! Look at those windows! How tall! Is that wavy glass?! Honey, there’s wavy glass!—I noticed there’s a window up above my bedroom that doesn’t match any of the other windows inside the house. I ran upstairs and looked around. I discovered that there’s space up above my bedroom with no way to get to it. When I called the seller to ask about the room, he was unaware of it. Just what I was hoping. That means it must have been closed off since the original owners from 1925, the Apples, owned it. (What better name for the original owners of an old yellow farmhouse with a big country kitchen than the Apples?)

In the seller’s defense, it’s not that he is completely unobservant. His father bought the place in the eighties as an investment and never lived here. It’s been either vacant or rented out and they never stood outside making visual love to the windows like I have. All they wanted was to keep the roof from leaking so they could get their rent. Someday we’ll break through the wall and see what’s up there. That’s where the treasure is. I saw that on “If These Walls Could Talk.”

One time I did find a hidden room with treasure in it. This was in the Jackson house. We found old milk cans filled with coins (worth about five grand!), baskets, an oil lantern, and faded bills and tax receipts on brittle paper documenting the cost of the house which was less than the coins were worth.

Mrs. Apple would be happy that I’m here. I can tell that she loved it. But the house has been unloved for a long time now and it’s a bit of a fixer-upper—outdated and dirty with olive green counter tops, fluorescent lights, and broken cabinets sticky from the fingers of past tenants who didn’t wipe them before they opened a door.

The windows were so dirty Kelly wrote “Hi!” with her finger. Cracked panes were covered with blue painter’s tape like Band-Aids. There were clogged bathtubs, stained toilets, cobwebs, and the carcasses of insects in all the windowsills and on the baseboards. There’s a wallpaper border in the bathroom depicting a scene of foxhunters in England, torn and peeling.The linoleum floor is also torn and peeling. There are stains on the carpet. The tenants had animals. The molding around the doorways and the side door is gouged from teeth and claws. It smelled.

But it’s got potential! Every day we fix it up more and more and it’s blossoming. I think it’s because it’s getting love for the first time since Mrs. Apple had it because it’s certainly not due to our bank account. We had a few thousand dollars to play around with when we left Virginia and no jobs. We got down as low as three hundred dollars in the checking account before Kurt finally started working. It’s been hairy. But somehow we’re doing it.

I wish my mother could see it. She would come and help me. She would get out a razor blade and scrape the paint from the glass on the windows. But my father and sister have been here, and my niece, cousins, girlfriends… I’ve had more company figuratively scraping windows in the past couple of months than I’ve had the whole eight years I was away!

Maybe that’s why I’ve stopped crying about my mother. When I was in Virginia, I cried about her constantly. I couldn’t stop crying. I haven’t had a crying jag in a while now. I don’t know if it’s because I feel closer to her up here, or it’s the comfort from all my other loved ones around me. I do know that, like Mrs. Apple, she would be happy that I am here. She would say, “Debi, these are really nice rooms.”

Thursday, February 16, 2012

My Funeral

My girlfriend said I write about too many negative things. She said I should focus on the positive. She said if it wasn’t for Slow Bob, I wouldn’t be home. She’s right. So I’m writing about my funeral.

When we were leaving Virginia, I was surprised how many people were upset. I had no idea. I had no idea I was loved this much! Neighbors told me how much they’d miss me. Acquaintances—the woman who cut my hair, someone from the saddle club, the brothers Dewey and Fred—messaged me on Facebook. The bank ladies cried. Pearl and Eldon were so upset the last few weeks that we couldn’t even talk about it or else we’d all start crying. The night before we left they brought us hamburgers from Dairy Queen and bacon, egg, and cheese biscuits for breakfast the next morning. My friend Shelly sent her son and a couple of his friends to help us load the truck. Even our car mechanic, Mr. Walker, came over to say goodbye. He handed us a card. I told him I’d open it later because I wanted to read it and give its words my full attention. When we got up to Jersey and opened it, I found a $25 gift card inside. That really touched me because Mr. and Mrs. Walker probably don’t have a lot of money and they know they will never see me again. They didn’t give me that money because it’s good business and they hope I’ll call them the next time my car breaks down or because I’ll have to reciprocate when there’s some event in their life—the next wedding, a graduation... They gave it to me with literally no strings attached, no expectations, nothing. They just wanted to let me know how much they think of me. Even though they will never see me again. That was a truly altruistic move. And I have to admit, because most of you know I’m not a religious person, but that was some impressive Christian behavior.

But it was much more than twenty-five dollars that I received. It was the gift of finding out just how much I am loved. Some people go through their entire lives and never know this. I have gone to funerals that are packed with people and I wonder, did she know how much she was loved? I suspect most people have no idea. But I have been given that gift, a glimpse of my funeral. And the place is packed.

Monday, February 6, 2012

One Last Kick in the Ass Before We Left

One last thing before we left Virginia was Slow Bob extorted us. Three days before closing he said he’d just realized that he still had to pay rent in his rental house for every day he occupied the place (duh) and therefore he thought I should give him some things I was selling that he’d agreed to buy, for free. What does that have to do with me that he had to pay rent where he was living?

In our contract we had agreed that Kurt and I had two weeks to vacate the property after closing. I told everyone who I showed the place to before they even set foot on it that I needed a whole month to move out and Slow Bob agreed to that from the beginning. I actually had another offer floating around at the same time but those people would have had to take possession on closing day. Bob said, “No problem!” when I told him what the deal was. So we took his offer.

When I was drawing up the contract, I thought, ah, Bob’s going to be excited to get into his new place, we can probably do it in two weeks, and so I told him, “I’m putting in ‘two weeks’ instead of ‘month.’” That’s how nice I am! And yet, in the end, he still screwed me. This is what he said when I didn’t answer him right away when he told me he thought I should give him my stuff. I saved the e-mail.

“if you are not willing to give us the washer/dryer and patio furniture in exchange for you guys being able to stay for 2 more weeks, I WILL call off the sale, we can find somewhere else to move. I think this is being more than fair. I know you guys want to move to NJ, don't try me any further on this matter.”

I was in shock. All this time I’d been defending him to everyone about his inability to close and how this was dragging on for months. Kurt thought he was up to something because his stories about not being able to close on time were crazy! The bank was making him change jobs. His ex-wife filed her income taxes one day late. He needed to get a tattoo that said “Southern Mortgages Rock.” I’d say, “Nah, he’s just a laidback southerner. I don’t think he knows how to do this—this is probably only the second house he’s ever bought. He’s not up to something. He’s real nice.” But he wasn’t nice. And so I stopped feeling like being nice.

For example, I promised to leave them all the hay I had leftover. His girlfriend was very concerned about getting the hay because she knew it would be hard to move in and then have to hunt around for hay in the winter. I offered to let her buy whatever I had left for what I paid. Already hauled and stacked. It was really nice hay that I got for $2.75 a bale. Now I knew I couldn’t trust them and they weren’t going to pay me in the end so we took 60 bales up to New Jersey and we gave away the rest of it. Didn’t leave them a flake.

Then I was going to leave them a bunch of extras. I’d included in the sale all the kitchen appliances, the woodstove, the round pen (inclusions not always a given in Virginia, especially in this price range), but I was also going to leave them things that I didn’t put in the contract and didn’t have to leave legally or morally, but just felt like it out of the goodness of my heart—the box fans on the stalls, my halter hangers, the cross-ties, dog house, shelves, the brand new heaters I bought for the other buyer, extra hoses, the rocking chairs on the front porch, the curtains Slow Bob’s girlfriend loved, firewood…. Stuff that equaled out to way more than I was selling my washing and dryer and the deck furniture for. We took it all. We took everything we could. We even took the chains on the gates. They’re lucky we didn’t take the gates themselves. They’re lucky we didn’t take the roast beast!

We would have taken more if we could have fit it. But we ran out of room in the truck. As it was, we had to leave things. I gave away what I could rather than leave it for Slow Bob. I told all the neighbors to go into the garage and take whatever they wanted—the gardening stuff, the extra refrigerator, the shovels, the old bottles. I gave away all the leftover firewood. And I told them why I was doing it, how Slow Bob and his girlfriend extorted me and they should know they can’t be trusted. The neighbors were mad. The neighbors know what kind of people we are and they were not happy Bob pulled this.

I also left the place a mess. Not on purpose. And not bad. But I didn’t clean it up like I usually do. Normally when I move out of a place I do one last cleaning—clean the bathroom, sweep and wash the floors, vacuum…. But Slow Bob was pressuring us to get out as soon as possible even though we had contracted for the two weeks (he even went to the house while Kurt and I were in Jersey moving stuff and scared my daughters into letting him move things into the tractor shed and come inside the house—he huffed and puffed and told Jamie when she explained I said not to let anyone inside while I was away, “I own this house!”) So when the last thing went on the truck, we got in and hightailed it out of there without sweeping up one dust bunny.

Here is Kurt squeezing the last thing in the truck—the mattress we slept on the night before. We couldn’t have fit another teaspoon in there.

I also left things I didn’t mean to because he was rushing me so much. Don’t forget, we never knew until we were actually sitting at the closing table that we were really going to close because Slow Bob’s bank wouldn’t tell us. Therefore I couldn’t even pack. I had to keep the place staged so I could still show it just in case. In fact, I had someone coming over that Saturday to look at it because I thought, if they can’t close again, they’re never going to close. So I couldn’t get ready. I couldn’t pack a box. I couldn’t change an address. I couldn’t prepare and do any of the hundred things you have to do when moving because I never knew if we were really going to move! It’s hard enough moving a whole farm to a whole new state (it took four trips alone just moving the vehicles, eight hours each way) but I also had to do things that I normally would have been doing from the moment we had a ratified contract. Now I had to do it all in a two-week period. With Slow Bob suddenly in a big rush.

So I was frazzled. When I was cooking our first meal in the new place I realized we didn’t have any silverware. I’d left the whole silverware drawer! Luckily I remembered Kurt’s mother had given us a new set of silverware as a gift for some occasion a couple of months prior and I was saving it for our new house. We found the box that it was packed in and got out the forks. But I’m really mad I left my nana’s spaghetti spoon, sentimental because it always makes me think of her, and some things it takes time to accumulate like an expensive can opener that actually worked on the big coffee cans and my new potato grater that would shave the paint off woodwork if you needed it for that. Every time I go to do something, I realize some other tool was in that drawer and I can’t scoop out the soup. I can’t imagine what they thought when they opened my drawers and saw all my stuff in there. I was leaving their kitchen all set up?

They never contacted me to ask me if I meant to leave that stuff. The good part is, they rushed me so much I also took what I didn’t mean to. We just carried out the whole file cabinet to the moving truck and when I got to the new place and looked inside, I discovered I still had all the owner’s manuals, warranties and records to all the appliances, the heating system, the new well, the pool, the woodstove, etc. I also had the extra pair of house keys. I figure when they call me to see if I meant to leave my silverware, I’ll tell them as soon as they send me my stuff, I’ll send them theirs. But I’m not waiting much longer. If they don’t call soon, I’m throwing it all in the garbage. Those new knives cut really nice.