Wednesday, March 22

A Carport With Balls.

When we first moved in last summer, our carport was covered in vines and greenery which made it look very nice, even if it was a bit unkempt and attracted lots of bees:


It stayed that way through the summer and most of the fall, green and bushy even if it wasn't producing the delicious grapes that some of the other vines on our property were. Then as winter approached the greenery started dying off, as greenery does, and we just had the bare vines covering the carport. It was then that we first noticed IT poking out, and we could see IT in passing. But IT wasn't too prominent, and at first I wouldn't have even noticed IT from most angles. As the winter carried on and the vines fell away IT became more prominent, but it was only this weekend after K. worked in the garden and cut away all the vines that IT became a prominent feature of our yard:


Yes, in addition to all of the other crazy things that the previous owners left behind, they left us with an eagle statue prominently adorning our carport, at least for several months of the year. Now, every time I walk to the car I feel like I am crossing through the set of The Colbert Report (and yes, I know that this is probably ironic payback for my dreams of installing The Daily Show set in our living room...)

But worst of all, at least as far as K. is concerned, every time I see the eagle -- or really even think about it, for that matter, I can't help but break into song. What song, you ask? Well, I start singing the classic "Let The Eagle Soar" by Governor/Senator/Attorney General John Ashcroft. Sure, I don't know any of the lyrics beyond the first two lines despite the fact that I was once in a musical with Ashcroft's son (True Story). But those first two lines are stuck in my head pretty much constantly these days. Say what you want about Ashcroft as a politician (and, believe me, I do), but the man can write a song.


Saturday, March 18

The Tablympics

As I mentioned earlier, it's spring break. And unfortunately, both K. and I had too much work to do to undertake a major project in the house. Today I faced a large stack of grading to do and a colloquium I am giving at a nearby college to write and some midsemester evaluations to write, not to mention the fact that I really really wanted to finish and send out the preprint that I have been working on. And K's To-Do list is no shorter than mine. So what did we spend the day doing? Lots of minor projects around the house. For K, this mainly involved working in the garden, and I'm sure she will post photos and descriptions of all of her work later. For the first part of the day, I also worked outside, cleaning out our shed (doing some prep work for a future Revivalizing Project which we will disclose at a later date) and finally throwing out the last of the boxes that have already been unpacked from the move - yes, many of those have been sitting in our shed all winter, doyougotaproblemwithdat?

After lunch, I came inside and started the main projects of the afternoon -- putting together the many tables that K. bought during her IKEAdventures the other day. Yes, dear readers, our long national nightmare is over as we finally bought bedside tables after many moons of looking. We did in fact go for the tables that K. suggested in that earlier post, the Tovik bedside tables. And I have to say that K. has great taste, and that they match the bed I built a little too well, and now I think people will assume we bought the bed at IKEA as well:



Sure, they look quite IKEA-y, but I finally have a real bedside table, and I am very excited about that. Also at IKEA, K. picked up a couple of side tables for the den. And because I had so many more important things to be doing today, I decided that building four tables was better than just building two and I proceeded to put together the Leksvik sidetables that she had picked up to match the previously purchased entertainment unit. And now our den is a little closer to being fully furnished:




Astute readers will notice something else about that last picture -- yes, after 8 months of living in our house we finally got the nerve up to actually hang some art. It was scary and emotionally trying to put holes in the walls that we poured our blood, sweat, and spackle into, but I got up the nerve to do it, and hung three prints, newly framed in some frames that (all together now) K. bought at IKEA. When we got married, my dad gave us a collection of prints of the posters from all of the Summer Olympics that he had gotten during the Atlanta games. For the last five years we have looked for frames but never found ones that worked because they are somewhat awkwardly shaped. But IKEA's fetish for the metric system came to the rescue once again, and we were able to pick up a few frames that pretty much are the right size. And now we have hanging in our den the official posters of the first Athens games, the first Stockholm games, and the oh-so-hip Mexico City 1968 poster. Next time we go to IKEA we will pick up a few more and cover more of the modern era, though we have a family dispute about whether we would actually want to display Robert Rauschenberg's poster from the Los Angeles games, which features the cutting edge and hightech picture of calculators.

Newly emboldened by hanging that art, I moved to my office where I hung a few things including my diploma (because unlike Doctors, mathematicians are not required to display their credentials in their place of business) before calling it a day:


Friday, March 17

Spring Break!

When we lived in Metropolis, we were 19 miles from the airport we generally flew out of (and that's according to Google Maps rather than as the crow flies). Here in Smallville, we live 72 miles from the airport we generally fly out of. Ironically, the difference between relying on mediocre public transportation and being able to drive it ourselves generally means that in both instances getting to t he airport took 90 minutes or so -- if anything, it's faster to get to the airport nowadays than it used to be, and certainly much easier than dragging bags on the trains and busses.

But despite this similar time to get to the airport, one crucial difference is that here in Smallville the college I work for has a shuttle service to take me to the airport. And since K. and I share a single car and I had a 10am flight last Friday, I took advantage of the college's transportation. Now, under normal circumstances they allow us faculty to pay a little more and get a private shuttle, but on the day before spring break they were rather taxed and so I had to ride with the commoners students down to the airport while all of our luggage would travel in a separate cargo van. Which didn't sound like a big deal when they first told me, but when I arrived at the shuttle stop to find that I would be on a bus with 25 students, 22 of whom were about to spend a week backpacking and
rock-climbing together, and none of whom had slept the night before and several of whom still reeked of whatever beverages they had been drinking the night before -- well, suffice it to say that it was not the most pleasant shuttle ride as the students (none of whom were actually my students, thank god, though one was someone I failed last semester, adding ever so slightly to the awkwardness) partied on the bus while I sat there reading my newspaper and trying to listen to the podcasts of Le Show instead of listening to their tales of wild R-rated exploits. At some point during this adventure the students mentioned that they were flying to Tucson for rock-climbing, which was also the location of the conference I was flying to, and I had panicky thoughts that I might also be on a plane with the loud and excited spring breakers, but it turned out that they were flying through ATL while I was going through PHX.

And then, of course, the shuttle broke down on the side of the road. Something about a tube breaking and smoke coming out the back and overheating and they weren't really sure what it was but somehow the bus we were on was stuck on the side of the road about halfway to the airport and the driver of the cargo van was making lots of panicked calls on his cell phone. And my flight was only an hour away.

Some sweet talking on my part convinced the shuttle drivers that I should go ahead on the cargo van to the airport while the spring breakers waited behind for the bus to be fixed, and so off we went, leaving the hung-over students on the side of the road as we went ahead to the airport, where I made my flight.

All in all, it was a very eventful trip to the airport (and, incidentally, a nice conference visit as well although the fact that I spent spring break doing math means that I didn't get any work done on house projects and I am not exactly re-energized for the second half of the semester, alas and alack.). But I'm still thankful that upon my return I was greeted not by the college shuttle but by K. and the minivan. Picking me up gave her an excuse to come into the big city and get into lots of trouble at IKEA and Target, but I'll let her tell those stories.

Thursday, March 16

Spring Is Nice But...

Friday was positively balmy. I walked quite a bit around town, so much my feet actually hurt. A high point was that I scared up a beaver by a stream! We stared each other down for several minutes, then the beaver won and I continued on my walk.

I decided it was the day to take up all the "mulch" over my bulbs. You may recall that we dismantled the Christmas Tree, then its boughs served a second life as mulch, and now it's going to a third use as fodder for the compost pile. So basically now we have a spruce bough pile.

This exposed all the little green shoots, so they could get sun and fresh air. In the few days since, the garlic bed has really gone to town. Check it out:

Then - shazam! - we had our first crocus!

(Those are the fallen pine needles on top of the normal mulch - I hope it doesn't hurt the little flowers.) It looks like I might have lost a fair number of my flower bulbs ... to the chipmunk, I think. There were all of these little burrowing trails running through our grass and flower bed after the first big snow melted.

But my daylily transplants seem to be about 75% successful. Yay for spring. Now I just have to prune the bee-ivy and grape vine, order seeds, build planting beds, buy soil, and on and on and on...

All of which is very exciting, but I have to tell you about a very decided downside of all this spring business. Uh...the smell. It was by walking to all different parts of town that I came to the conclusion I really wasn't imagining it. The town really does smell like manure. Which isn't that bad, except when you think you're having olfactory hallucinations because everyone's just walking around like normal, la-dee-da, while you are trying to figure out where the Odor is coming from.

It's a lovely town. The agricultural landscape is gorgeous. Hey, there is a herd of cows two blocks away. What did I expect?

Sunday, March 12

It Wasn't Really an AHA.... much as an Aaaaah!

The Real Estate section of today's New York Times is featuring an article that claims "buyers often unknowingly seek out spaces that are physically evocative of havens from their childhood."

Which reminds me of the story of why we chose this house over The Other House. Amidst the many duds, we saw two great houses on the same day. The Other House was wonderful - a cute snug foursquare on a busy street in the Next Bigger Town Over. It had intact woodwork, a woodburning fireplace, french doors between the living and dining rooms, and the most stunning oak beadboard ceilings in the enclosed porch room. It was cozy, an effect that was emphasized by the Capital-C Country decor of the previous owner. There was an adorable reading nook in tucked into the back stairway, an original root cellar (I've had a long obssession with root cellars), a charming backyard. Oh, I could just go on and on with how lovely it was. We loved it and felt like we would be so comfortable there. Like we could move right in and get on with our lives. Two drawbacks:

- If our family grew to include more than one child, we would have to move. From the small size of the rooms to the limitation of only one bathroom, it definitely had a feeling of a starter house.
- It's location meant that D. would have a 25 minute commute every day, each way. And we wouldn't be IN the community where he worked, which could adversely affect our social and professional networks.

Did I meantion it was really really really really really inexpensive? Like we could easily have afforded it on D's salary alone.

Then there was Our House. With the yucky carpet, dingy walls, and smoky smell. Oh yeah and peeling exterior paint, nasty bathrooms, and vinyl-sided addition. At twice the cost. Its condition was nowhere near as bad as some housebloggers, but we knew it would take years of work and thousands of dollars to get the house to what we wanted.

Let me remind of its advantages: four blocks from campus, one block from the town square, 10-foot ceilings, intact oak woodwork and pine flooring on the first floor, four large bedrooms and the option for a fifth, separate den and living rooms, all totalling 2,600 square feet. It was spacious in every sense, and that was very seductive after three years in a way-too-small city apartment.

We spent all night and most of the next morning going back and forth between these two houses. We're not the King and Queen of Decisionmaking, so it wasn't clear how we were ever going to come to a conclusion.

We visited The Other House a second time the next morning, and it hadn't lost any of its appeal. Our (fabulous) real estate agent was pretty sure we were going to choose The Other House.

But....that's because she didn't know about my dream. In the night, I had dreamed about my childhood house - a large Victorian in San Francisco. The only house I remember both of my parents living in. My grandmother even lived with us for a while. Its layout was actually very similar to Our House. It had a foyer with a bannister I used to slide down and a door on the right to the living room, just like here. In my dream, I saw again the tall ceilings and large windows, the brightly colored walls of the 1970s.

I remember being swaddled in a towel after a bath and standing next to the radiator to warm up. I remember my dad carrying me through the house when I was sick. I remember the "mountains" of cereal and pancake letters that my father would make us for breakfast. I remember my 5th birthday party, when I got my favorite childhood book. (I bought myself Alala again for my 35th birthday.)

And I think that was the deciding factor in making me choose this house. It felt familiar, like I could just let my my breath out here. And that feeling of comfort has just increased - as we chose deep bold colors for our walls, as we found new and old furniture to fill the rooms, as our heirlooms give it character, and as we start having friends over. It was in January that I started feeling this way, like it was OUR house now (which honestly has contributed to my lack of motivation for further improving the house). Often, the feeling is accompanied by the memory of that dream I had the night we first walked into the house. As if it was a premonition of what Our House could be.

Friday, March 10

Lessons from a Small Town

1) Do NOT ever leave the house in sweats. A simple trip to the bank or to get milk can turn into a nightmare if you aren't dressed in something you'd like to be seen in. I have run into the President of my non-profit's board at the payment desk of my doctor's office. Because we live on a well-trafficked street, I can't even step out onto my porch to get my newspaper without trepidation.

2) Everyone is RELATED. If you're in a meeting and someone's name is mentioned, chances are that 1/3rd of the people in the room are related to him/her.

Corollary: 2a) People with the SAME NAME are rarely related. No matter that there are five businesses, a road, and a historic mill all with the same surname, they know nothing about them.

3) Be NICE. There's no big city anonymity here. If you say something snarky about the newspaper while at the diner, be prepared for the editor to be sitting in the next booth. If you criticize the theatre performance, it's a good chance you'll be overheard by the Executive Director of the sponsoring organization. And you'll be seeing these people over and over again for the rest of your life, so you really don't want to piss them off. They'll be the ones who decide whether you get a job or whether your non-profit gets a grant someday.

It's like the final episode of Seinfeld, where the Snarkastic Four get put in jail. It's starts because they jaywalked (which is Not Nice), then it just escalates because they don't understand the social mores. As surely as cynicism and irony are a successful coping strategy for isolated-among-11-million-people big city life, niceness is the grease that makes small-town life function.

More to come...

Sunday, March 5

Whoa! Houseblogs in the NY Times!

I posted too soon. Without reading the whole Magazine. Look! Here.

Stephen Metcalf manages to combine a whole slew of my interests and rants (housep*orn, Jane Austen, Orson Welles, romance) into a cohesive narrative of Houseblogging

Because I can't just keep posting about the magazine (we have an Oscars party to prepare for), why don't you just go read it yourself then come back here and we can chat. Okay? Okay.

Putting the Fat in Tuesday

In addition to eating pancakes on Shrove Tuesday, I also bought a dozen Fastnachts from the local Lutheran church. I just love the idea of the little Lutheran ladies staying up all night to make me donuts, also I love donuts. But I happened to get sick in the tummy (maybe from all the treat eating), so we didn't make it through more than two Fastnachts total. D finally asked me: "Why do you keep taking only one bite of different donuts?" "They all look so different, some small and solid, others big and puffy, some light and some dark - that I think they might taste different." But they didn't and my stomach would not stand for any of them.

So on Wednesday night, I decided to do something about the ten remaining Fastnachts. What would you do? Well, I attempted my first ever Bread Pudding. (Go ahead and google donut bread pudding. I'm not crazier than other people.) So I beat together some milk, cinnamon, nutmeg, vanilla, and the really cool green eggs that we get from a local farmer (they're not green on the inside, just like normal eggs).

And I tore the donuts into bite-sized pieces, then tossed it all together with some raisins. To tell you the truth, I didn't make enough liquid custardy stuff and I didn't let it soak long enough. I think I chose the wrong kind of pan (deep instead of wide), and I think I might have cooked it too long. So it was a wee bit dry.

D basically turned up his nose at the results. Sooooo....I decided on Thursday that there was only one possible course of action: to soak the whole thing in booze. But the only alcohol I had to spare was the tail end of a bottle of brandy (left over from a party grogg, a great recipe I inherited from my mom), so Bob's Your Uncle that's what I our liberally all over the Fastnacht Pudding. Until it was drowning really. I kept trying to bail the brandy up and over the top, but it just wasn't soaking through.

D, who has little tolerance for the hard stuff, pronounced it inedible and, I believe, said something along the lines of "You have got to stop experimenting in the kitchen." So on Friday, after 24 hours of soaking, I poured out the excess brandy, mixed it with some butter, sugar, and vanilla, and made a really delicious caramel sauce. Mmmmmmm. That was goo-ood stuff. I removed the remaining pudding to a pie pan, poured the caramel over, and baked the whole thing to dry out the overpowering presence of brandy.

And finally, I produced something my husband would eat! After three days of noodling around in the kitchen, I basically had made upside down cake without the pineapple. Well, it doesn't matter because we ate it up in no time while watching Thumbsucker, the indie film released last summer and based on the novel by Walter Kirn, who happens to have written a really cool essay on the emotions of homeowning and interest rates in today's special Real Estate issue New York Times Magazine.