Monday, July 30

what we do on vacation

Our vacation is going well, though it's taking some getting used to. First of all, my parents are very social. It has been hard to find time for myself to draw, read, write, etc. Yesterday afternoon, after several discussions with them about needing a little space, I spent a few hours on the screened porch drawing and then reading.

Here are some photos.

Our new screened porch (which still isn't 100% bugproof, but it's getting there):
inside (looking into the shed)by candlelightWork in its various forms:

We trimmed the mock-orange bush so we could back the car in to unload the new washing machine. An example of work making work. My dad put fencing around his bean plants last night since someone seems to be eating them (very Blair Witch, I know.)
At the moment, in the early afternoon sun, my father is shingling the screen porch. I was helping him but seem to mostly get in the way, so now I've been instructed to make some lunch. ah, vacation!

Thursday, July 26

heading north

Believe it or not, we are once again going on vacation.

Tomorrow morning, my father is arriving at 8am to pick us up and drive to Maine.
For those of you who don't know, my parents bought a 19th century farmhouse in the early 1970s. I've gone there every year of my life; my mother even found out she was pregnant with me when they were there. It's a very special place for me, though every year I find my relationship to it shifting.

I often read Apartment Therapy, and recently there was a thread about a blogger who is living for a year making no environmental impact. He and his wife and daughter live in New York City but have gradually given up everything that impacts the world: electricity (meaning that they don't even take the elevator in their building), transportation that requires gas, you name it. They have even given up (gasp!) toilet paper.

In any case, Apartment Therapy was reporting on them because someone had asked the blogger how he entertains his daughter without a television. His response was really, really wonderful, and it made me very excited to see that sort of parenting. It's exactly what I'd like to model my own parenting style (when the time comes) after. And it also reminded me of my childhood and made me reflect a little on it.

We spent the summers in Maine. I honestly don't know whether we were there a week or 3 months, but it seemed to stretch on for a glorious lifetime. We didn't just sit around and read or go hiking or something, like other people do when they visit Maine (not my parents!).

My parents bought two houses on the same driveway and neither of them were modernized. I mean, really not modernized. There was no telephone, electricity or running water. We used an outhouse, got our water from a hand pump in the kitchen or from the well, used kerosene lanterns and bathed in a lake.
Gradually, things changed. First we got a telephone, a party line, and our neighbors would sometimes come over to make or receive calls. We kept a log on who called what numbers for billing purposes. Electricity came next- probably around 1980, running water came about 10-12 years later. My parents still don't have a shower or a completed bathroom; about 10 years ago my father carved a bathroom out of what had been a guest room, erecting some beams which he covered in fabric and installing a toilet in the middle of the room. The wall is now solid but the bathroom feels more like a room filled with bathroom fixtures than a finished room: a clawfoot tub, a Victorian sink, a toilet. It needs to be honed, but it works for now.

I never missed having what wasn't there; as a child this lack of amenities was fascinating and special, I knew my experience was rare and I treasured it for that reason. There is also so much to do at any one time; a television is beside the point. There are books to read, letters to write, drawings to make, sweaters to knit-- nevermind all of the repair work the house constantly needs. And that was always part of the experience: working on the house. So will this trip be a vacation? Hopefully, in some ways. But my dad is already talking about putting in an outdoor shower, so maybe I'll be helping him with that.

Sunday, July 22

productive weekend

We have been wanting to work on our apartment for awhile, but I've been busy and then Christopher's been busy. This weekend neither of us were occupied, so we set ourselves on a few projects and plugged through.

The first project, which we didn't expect to take so much time and energy, was that we got a new fridge. My cousin, an architect, is working on a gut renovation of an apartment in Chelsea. All of the appliances were getting dumped, and she asked if we wanted the fairly new Fisher & Paykel stainless fridge. yes! We would love to replace all of our appliances but just can't afford to.

Of course, transporting a large fridge from the 5th floor of a building in Manhattan to the 6th floor of a building in Brooklyn isn't so simple. Through my cousin, who was taking some things for herself, we hired 2 Mexican men to carry the appliances down. This was just a horrible idea for every one and thing involved. The men weren't strong enough and ended up dragging the appliances down the stairs. My cousin's stove was totally stratched up and our fridge ended up completely dented by the time it got to the sidewalk, where my father and I loaded it into the back of a rented trailer. From there, my dad drove to Brooklyn and met Christopher (while I went to work). They were unable to get the fridge up the few stairs outside our building (Christopher's forearms got pretty bruised in the process) and so they had to bring it around to the rear of the building and through the basement. Our elevator is small and Christopher backed into it with the fridge and handtruck, fililng the elevator and leaving him pinned between the fridge and the wall and making it very difficult to exit.
After all of that, we though it'd be fairly simple to install, except that the new fridge was 3 inches wider than our old one. I didn't think this would be a problem. All I thought we needed to do was push our wall cabinets over to the far wall and cut off the end of the counter. (The counter had a 3" lip on the right side.) For several hours yesterday we unbolted the cabinets and pushed them to the left and screwed them together and bolted them back to the wall, but we only seemed to gain about 1/2" . What I hadn't anticipated was that the wall behind the fridge wasn't vertical and so there wasn't as much space as we thought. It wasn't pretty. In the end I realized we had to remove a 15" cabinet and replace it with a 12" one, which we have to order. Amazingly, everything in that cabinet easilly fit into the base cabinet below it (clearly we have too much room!) . That all happened today and it was fairly quick and painless. And now we have a beautiful new fridge. The space inside is so much more efficient than our old one; it feels so empty!! Another huge bonus is that this fridge is fairly shalllow. Our old one stuck out a few more inches and blocked the doorway a little. You may have thought that this was enough work for one weekend, but there was more! Christopher (rightfully) has decided to get his office in shape before the fall. As he's going away for 3 1/2 weeks in August, this is his last chance. So, when he wasn't listening to me curse about the cabinets, he was patching and sanding and painting the last bit of the office.

I don't think I've posted photos of our office before. It's an L-shaped room, with a window at one end. Christopher has one side (the part with the window) for his office, and my studio is set up in the darker area of the room. Since I barely use my part it's become a bit of a dumping ground for random boxes and things we don't know what to do with. And since Christopher has been using his desk since we moved in, his area has never really gotten organized or completed. We painted most of the room back in January and put in some bookshelves but it never got finished. Here is Christopher in the office in January: Here it was last week: And here it is now: It still needs some shelves and general organizational strategies, but I think it's on its way!

Wednesday, July 18


Today work was busy. I wasn't as bored as I often am, which is good. I left a 6 and walked over to Park Ave to get the 6 train downtown. What I saw looked something like this: I'm not sure how to describe how I felt to someone who wasn't in New York on September 11. Today I didn't experience the same shocked numbness that I did then. Today I felt very, very afraid. Today I felt like I wasn't going to make it home and see Christopher again. Not only that, I didn't think my phone would work if I tried calling. I felt very alone.

I started to cry, right there on the sidewalk. Of course, I wasn't the only one. Everywhere around me people looked blankly shocked and concerned. We stared north towards Grand Central Station and the smoke. We watched the fire engines and police cars whiz by. Traffic wasn't moving. Neither were the pedestrians.

I called Christopher. The phone rang. He answered rather cheerfully. I sobbed. I told him about the smoke I was seeing, the fire engines that I'm sure he could hear. He looked on the internet to see what they said, but there was nothing. I felt lost. He told me to take the Q home instead of the 6, since the Q doesn't go near Grand Central. I got off the phone and, armed with my plan, headed towards the Q. The explosion turned out to be a pipe on 41st and Lexington, and one person was killed. Of course, the smoke and the sirens awakened in me (and everyone else on Park Ave) an extreme fear and sadness that seems to lie just below the surface of so many New Yorkers.

The New York Times has a few articles on what happened, and a little photo essay of the events. One of the photos shows a group on cell phones and just behind them is a couple. The man looks completely shocked and emotionless, and the woman is clearly crying as she rests her head on his shoulder. That's how I feel. Only now that I'm not on Park Ave, I've put the emotions back under the surface and I'm trying to ignore them again.

Monday, July 16

sunblock for me

Yesterday I saw two of my closet friends with their significant others, one for brunch and the other for dinner. Somehow, maybe it's my age, maybe it's where I am in life or just where I live geographically, but I don't see these friends very often. One of them is in the process of moving to New York from DC, and the other lives in Queens, which might as well be DC when you live in Brooklyn.

In any case, these friends are completely different, but on both occasions the conversation turned to a recent New York Times article on sunscreen. "Do you use sunscreen?" they asked inquisitively, "Do you put it on daily?"

"Of course I do!" was my reply. I am terribly paranoid of the sun's rays and apply SPF 20 to my face every morning, along with some SPF 40 to my arms and other exposed skin. When this article appeared on July 5, Christopher and I poured over it, trying to find how our sunblock rated in effectiveness.

Both friends agreed that they covered themselves with sunblock, and one offered me a tube at the table in case I wanted to reapply. "Early and often!" she quipped.

At this point in both conversations, their significant others announced that they do not use sunblock, that they in fact do not believe in it because they tan. I thought this was really interesting. I mean, what makes one person exempt from using it? I mean, at this point sunscreen isn't just about sunburn vs. tan, it's about preventing skin cancer and wrinkles. And in your mid-30s, what is more scary than wrinkles?

I have two possible explanations for their reaction:

It might be a macho guy-thing, though Christopher slathers on more sunblock than I do.

The only other thing that these two men (my friend's SOs) have in common is that they are fairly recent arrivals in the U.S. from Eastern Europe. Maybe sunblock (and wrinkles and skin cancer) is an American worry, one of those weird things that has been marketed to us like anything else. (Which I think is true to some extent. There was recently some outrage about a Neutrogena ad claiming that skin cancer is deadly, whereas it's not that deadly.) It's also something that's luxurious to be concerned about: sun damage is long-term, not something that will make me sick next week.

On the other hand, why take a risk, especially when there is a huge hole in the ozone layer that's allowing in all of those UV rays?

Saturday, July 14

saturday pleasures

It was my intention to sleep in this morning, but dear Dinah decided otherwise and mewed at our door at 9:30 until I went out to pet her. Many of you who read this have small children and have no sympathy for me wanting to sleep in, but this week has been exhausting and I was parched for sleep.

But oh what one can accomplish in a morning!

One: our bathroom sink drain has been clogged for months. I battle it weekly with my eco-friendly baking soda and vinegar mixture, but it continues to reclog. This morning I did two doses of baking soda, vinegar and boiling water and finally gave up and poured some lye in. The lye seems to have done the trick and water flows freely down the drain.

Two: I made oatmeal. Not the instant in a pack kind, but the steel cut kind that I buy in bulk at the food coop. It takes about 1/2 an hour to cook, so it's not something I make regularly. But since it was a weekend and I wanted something heartier, I started a pot and worked on...

Three: the play I've been designing (which opened on Thursday night) is going to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, and we just realized that the folks in Edinburgh need a ground plan, which I drafted this morning.

And lastly, once Christopher woke up and had some oatmeal, I took a stroll down to the farmer's market at Grand Army Plaza. It's there every Saturday, and usually I'm too lazy to go down there. Plus it is more expensive than the coop where we do our shopping and also know we're getting local or socially responsible food. Anyway, it is a gorgeous day and I wanted to get some fresh spinach so I took a little walk. Little did I know that it's been too hot for spinach so no one has any. They do have everything else: zucchini, carrots, garlic, scapes, onions, peppers, cauliflower, gooseberries, currants, pickles, flowers, fish, sausage, cheese, bread. I'm sure I've missed something. In any case, I bought 3 pounds of mussels, an eggplant and a bunch of carrots. Buying the mussels was enthusiastic of me; Christopher doesn't like them so now I have a huge bowl of them to eat within the next day or two.
When I got home, Christopher was busy doing laundry. He's also on a mission to finish painting the office, which is a great idea. We've more or less abandoned that room in the past month because we don't have an air conditioner in there so it's unbearably hot. It's also terribly organized; we need more shelves in our closets and better organizing strategies and the office has taken a hit. Maybe that'll happen this weekend. Hopefully it will happpen this month. We are trying to make more of an effort to go to theater, and the summer in New York is full of things to go to. Tonight we're off to the Lincoln Center Festival to see Gemelos, with discounted tickets.

Friday, July 13

t-mobile: a feud

At this moment, I am livid.

I try to keep this blog fairly upbeat, happy, whatever. But now I have to drag in something that is driving me bonkers: my T-Mobile bill.

Ok, I have to admit that I have trouble paying it on time. We share a family plan with my parents, which means we have four lines on one bill. Since I do the majority of the talking (I use the phone as a work phone) I pay most of the balance and am the offical name on the account. My dad has a check sent to T-Mobile directly every month to cover their part; I pay the rest online a few days later. The bill is due on the 25th of the month but sometimes I pay on the 27th or 30th if I forget.

So what's happened: In May, I paid my part of the bill on the 25th. It looked like it went through. Their site said that I'd paid the balance. We were all good. And then, on June 2nd, the payment was sent back because I had mis-entered the bank account information. My error. I take responsibility for that part.

On June 3, with no warning, they turned off the phones. I didn't even notice and neither did Christopher. My dad did though, and he called customer service who told them that the payment had been revoked. He paid the balance, the phones were turned back on and we went on our merry way.

Until today when we received our latest bill, and there are $20 charges on each line for turning the phones back on. This I could understand if we never paid our bills or if I had been given a warning that the payment hadn't gone through and I'd ignored it. But no, this is just how they work. I called customer service and spoke to a man and then his supervisor. Both of them informed me that this is how T-Mobile works, that they are not responsible for telling me that a payment has been revoked before turning off the lines. They even said that I should have checked my account online daily to make sure it hadn't been sent back-- even though for over a week it reflected the payment having been made.

Does this make sense to anyone? If your electric bill is a week late, they don't turn off your electricity. You get a warning letter or the overdue balance shows on your next bill. And then you pay it. And even then, they don't charge you $80 in late fees.

I'm not sure where to go from here. It actually seems immoral to me to pay the $80. I want to fight it. I want to make T-Mobile embarrassed and realize how stupid this is. Since we're under contract for another 18 months or so, the only thing I can do is make them suffer.

Suggestions, anyone? I'll do anything.


Saturday morning update:

My father called and spoke to someone who agreed to take the charges off. Why? Maybe I got angry too quickly last night, maybe the guy I spoke with had a snotty supervisor. In any case, it is apparently resolved. Not that I trust that this won't happen again; I'm planning to change our billing so it is automatically paid every month and I don't have to deal with their website and entering in my bank information.

Monday, July 9

queen of the night

My parents have had a plant forever. I remember it when I was little, in their backyard on Catherine Street. It hung off the wall and it never did anything very interesting. It barely grew. It reminded me of an antler.

The plant was very hardy however, and when they moved the plant moved with them. It sat in their greenhouse and continued to do nothing, until I was in high school. One night my mother called me in and showed me a single flower on the plant. My father had his photography lamps out and was taking pictures. They explained that this plant, which I had never paid much attention to, was a Nightblooming Cereus, a type of cactus from the Southwest. It blooms once a year and at night, but ours had never bloomed before. It was very exciting.
Since then, our Nightblooming Cereus has bloomed more often. Perhaps it likes living in the greenhouse. I was down there this weekend and noticed five buds on the plant. (The blue tint is from a tarp that covers the skylights.) When I went to bed I checked back and saw that four of them had opened. The greenhouse smelled fragrant, sweet. I was the only one there to witness these blossoms this year. On Sunday, the morning after, the buds were once again closed but drooped towards the floor.

Wednesday, July 4

creating things

I feel so glad to have today off. I don't know why this is different than any other day off, but I feel more able to relax and enjoy myself, for some reason. Maybe it's because everything is closed today so I'm not feeling like I should be accomplishing anything.

But- even without pressure- I have accomplished two things!

One, the baby hat started the other day is done. I still have to block it, but I think it's really cute. Oh, here's a question for all of you parents out there: should I put a chin strap on? The pattern calls for earflaps and a tie, but I'm not so into it. Another question for parents: Do you think this could translate into a hat for boys? The woman at the knitting store tisked at me when I said I'd like to make one for a baby boy, and now I have doubts. Maybe if I got rid of the decorative trim and used cooler colors? Argh, why do genders have to be identified by color?Two, I made a pie this morning. We're going to some friends' tonight for a July 4 hang out, and I volunteered to bring a peach pie, since peaches seem to be everywhere recently. I've never made a peach pie, but it wasn't so bad. The hardest part was cutting up the peaches after I'd peeled them, since without skins they were really slippery. Here are some photos:
These are the peaches prior to peeling. First you score Xs on their bottoms.
Next you plunge them into boiling water for about a minute, and from there into ice water for another minute.
Once they come out of the ice water, the skins just slide off. It's amazingly easy, except that they are then very slippery and hard to cut up. Once they are cut up, you just mix them with the other ingredients (allspice, nutmeg, sugar, lemon zest and juice, tapioca, salt) and stick them in the crust. I have to admit that there wasn't enough crust and it was hard to slide it into the pie pan without it breaking. The top of the crust is especially broken up, but somehow it looks good anyway! And I'm sure it doesn't effect the taste. Yum! I can't wait to try it!

Sunday, July 1

row by row

You may remember the tank top I was knitting myself, way back in May. The neckline was all wrong and I couldn't figure out why. On our trip to Western Mass in late May I reread the directions, tore out the neck and redid it. It now fits well; I just need to sew in the threads and block it. I'm not sure why I drag my feet on the detail parts, which will only take an hour or so. I'd love to start wearing it; the weather is just perfect. I guess this then raises the question of what I'm working on now. I'm glad you asked! I've got two projects on my needles. One is a sweater for Christopher. The other is a floppy baby hat that I'm knitting for my cousin's new baby. I'm terrible at knitting things for people; it's so hit or miss with whether I get it done or whether they'll like it. This hat is going to be a little bohemian, and honestly I'm not counting on them liking it. But I want to make it, so I am going to. And in the end maybe I'll just give it to someone else, or keep it.