My Life in Accidents

I have had three cars totaled in the past 21 years. The last one, my little Hyundai Accent I called “Butterscotch,” was in three wrecks, including the one that finished it off. My social media and local friends have already heard this sad tale, so I’ll leave it to the end so they can skip it.

I’ve had a a ridiculous number of auto accidents in my life. I think it’s my greatest fear, and I often say that if people died in commercial airplanes at the rate they die in cars, there would be no commercial air travel.

When I was 17, I was in the back seat of an Olds Cutlass with my best friend, going to an out-of-town basketball game. Another friend was driving, and her father was in the front passenger seat. It was sleeting, and we hit an icy spot. The car rolled over into a field and landed right-side-up. The dad got out and hailed a passerby, who took us three girls to the hospital. In this era before cell phones, I have no idea what the dad did next, but he probably asked our Good Samaritan to contact the police when he got to town.

We were treated for minor injuries–I had four stitches over my left eye–and asked another stranger to take us to the school where the game was. (This was small-town northern Ohio in the early 1960s, when we trusted strangers.) We knew we would be able to get rides home from there. The game was a blur, but my optometrist was there and he straightened my glasses out. I assume someone had called our parents. We were able to catch rides home. I took the SAT the next day, and the principal stopped at my desk and asked how I was. A rollover, when back seats didn’t have seat belts, was like being tumbled in a cement mixer, and I hurt all over. I must have done ok on the test because I got into college. (The Cutlass was totaled, but we think its sturdiness saved us from more serious injury.)

Other than a few minor fender-benders and rear-enders, my vehicular life went well for many years after that. Then on New Year’s Eve, 2000, we were on our way home from a gig (my husband, Gary, did comedy murder mysteries, and I had accompanied him to a private party, since it was New Year’s Eve). Going down a long slope on Loop 360 near Barton Creek Mall in Austin, light mist, green light ahead, Gary driving, we entered the intersection, as did a tan pickup, with which we collided. We spun and finally stopped. Gary got out an called 911. Several witnesses gave us their names. We rode an ambulance to the hospital and greeted the millennium on adjoining gurneys. Gary had air bag injuries and we were both very banged up. I missed nearly a week of work. Gary also had PTSD and didn’t really recover until well into 2001. My 1994 Saturn, the first car I’d ever bought on my own, was totaled. I replaced it with a 1999 Toyota Corolla, which I loved. We had a lengthy battle with the other guy’s insurance company (USAA, to name names), got a lawyer and ended up with a small settlement. I don’t think the cops even tested the perp for alcohol, at 11 p.m. on New Year’s Eve!

A few years later there was another red-light runner, but the damage was minimal and I got to keep my Corolla.

In 2009, a few blocks from our house on my way home from work, I stopped at a four-way stop, took my turn into the intersection, when a vehicle flew at me out of nowhere over a slight rise, nearly t-boning me, and took off. I spun out, stopped, and was shaking so badly a witness called 911. By the time the police arrived, a motorcyclist had pursued the other driver and brought him back. He was unlicensed, uninsured, and spoke no English. He was arrested, but I never heard the outcome. I had recently decided that car was like Birkenstocks–boring, beige, but utterly comfortable and totally reliable. Totaled.

Under stress, I made a terrible choice of a Chrysler Cirrus. It was a very pretty lemon and the last time it broke down we decided it was time for me to have a new car. Hating car shopping, I asked Gary to do the research and take me for a test-drive. We went to a couple of dealerships and were talked down to by a Ford salesman. We ended up with the Hyundai Accent, which was the best car ever. Small, easy to drive, easy on gas, and utterly reliable. In nine years, the only time Butterscotch failed me was when I stupidly left a light on and the battery died. Again, I had thought about keeping her “forever.”

Within two years she had a couple of major crashes–one when she was parked, the other when Gary was driving and someone changed lanes into him while turning a corner, both of which cost many thousands of dollars and a lot of time at body shops while I drove rentals. Then a few bumps and scrapes over the years, so she was a little worse for wear. Also pretty grungy inside from the dog and the teenager, so I had her detailed a couple of weeks ago (which came in handy when we went to the wrecking yard to get everything out, since I had taken almost everything out for the detailing).

On September 20, headed to our favorite off-leash dog park at 7:30 a.m. (the river and park are beautiful as the sun comes up), I started through a busy intersection with a green light and–BAM–a pickup truck reared like a great white shark, slammed into us and, yes, took off.

I got through the intersection and pulled to the curb. Got out, called 911, and a woman passerby stopped, even though she had not seen the accident. No witnesses stopped. The police arrived and encouraged us to have them call the EMTs, and we agreed. The nice lady took Gary and the dog (who was fine) back to our house and Gary got his car and came back, following the ambulance to the hospital. We were both checked out with X-rays, CT, EKG (for me because I had chest pain). While we were there the police officer came in and told me they had found the guy. I guess they put out a call to look for a white pickup with extensive front-end damage. It was a Ford F-150, against which Butterscotch had no chance.

Butterscotch is, of course, totaled. The jerk’s insurance company (AAA) has been responsive and cooperative, and I’m just waiting to find out how much payout we’ll get. I just want a later model Hyundai, either an Accent or possibly an Elantra or Sonata. At least online research makes the process similar, but the nearest Hyundai dealer is in a town about 30 miles away. And I have way more important (and interesting) things to do than car shop.

I am traumatized; I back-seat drive when a passenger and drive like an old lady. Which I guess I am but didn’t drive like one.

RIP sweet Butterscotch.

Tire-d

On the rocky road that has been my life this summer, I have developed a couple of flat tires. My normal high-energy pace has slowed to a slog. Husband says it’s the heat, but I try to limit outdoor activity to around dawn and dusk. I was actually ill the other night, after a slightly spicy Chinese dinner, a too-early walk in the heat, while being followed by a friendly stray female Pitbull that attracted way too much of Junior’s attention. Lesson learned: walk later in the evening. No idea what to do about stray dogs.

Now that the focus is my #1 job of being granddaughter’s “Learning Coach” for her online school, part of every day is spent reviewing her lessons, watching webinars and communicating with faculty by email and phone. I am very impressed with the quality of the curriculum and the responsiveness of faculty. Except for algebra, she seems to be handling the work easily, and the algebra teacher is going out of his way to help. (The school is Texas Connections Academy at Houston, part of the Pearson system. It’s a free accredited charter school that complies with all state academic requirements.)

Except for school, I just about have energy for taking the dog to the off-leash park every couple of mornings and a neighborhood walk in the evening, plus light housework and cooking. I swim at the gym when I have the energy to get there. Shopping happens when we’re nearly out of some necessity (you know, wine, chocolate, toilet paper).

Junior in the off-leash dog park on the Guadalupe River.

So what have I been doing? A lot of reading: Since our move I have read: Nomadland (Jessica Bruder), which I loved, then watched the movie, which I thought was a travesty and bore no resemblance to the book; The Silent Traveller in London (Chiang Yee), a fascinating perspective on pre-war England, by a Chinese man living in London in the mid-1930s; The Brooklyn Follies (Paul Auster), a funny and heartwarming novel by one of my favorite authors; Draft No. 4 (John McPhee), about both the writing process and a memoir of his life as a writer and teacher (and he was my late brother’s favorite author); The Midnight Library (Matt Haig), the intriguing best-selling novel about alternative lives; Breath (James Nestor), both a memoir and a how-to on best breathing practices, which most of us are doing wrong. Now I’m reading The Doctor Who Fooled the World (Brian Deer), about the notorious, lying, dangerous anti-vaxxer who started the modern anti-vaccine movement, Andrew Wakefield. I’m also trying to re-read Justine (Lawrence Durrell), the first volume of The Alexandria Quartet, and I’m remembering why my first reading of it was such a slog. Next in my queue is Loving What Is (Byron Katie), which my therapist recommended: “fall in love with realty.”

I’m also knitting a bit, just scraps, and getting back to a needlework piece that I’ve been at for about 10 years and which I would really love to finish. I tried to teach myself how to crochet a circle. I have scrap cotton yarn, which makes great coasters, but square knitted coasters are… well, square. But my hand hurt after too many attempts and I put that aside for now.

All those tiny lilacs! On a black background! No wonder it’s taken me 10 years to get this far.

Watching movies on TCM: “The Best Years of Our Lives,” which is a classic post-war film, and quite compelling. The young man who played the sailor with no hands, Harold Russell, was so interesting I read up on him, and what a biography! He spent much of his life supporting and helping veterans. My favorite quote about him was that he got so adept with his hooks that he could “pick up anything but a dinner check.” Last night was a Fred-and-Ginger movie, my go-to when I want to chill out, the Barkleys of Broadway, surprisingly the only color movie Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers made, as if it makes any difference, when he’s in white tie, top hat and tails and she’s in flowing white chiffon! Another actor in that movie, whom I find appealing with his snarkiness and his incredible talent, is Oscar Levant. He was so talented, funny and snarky, and mostly unknown today. I’m going to look for more of his movies, starting with him playing the title music in Rhapsody in Blue, the biopic of George Gershwin.

So now we’re just looking toward fall (which comes around Thanksgiving in these parts) and getting through the school year. Or maybe just one day at a time. I do feel a bit better having written this: finishing something mildly creative.

The Seven-month Half-mile Move

From infancy to the present, I’ve had 27 addresses. I don’t remember the first one, a 200-year-old cottage in the village of Exning, England, that had no electricity or indoor plumbing (except for one water faucet), according to my sister. The toilet was an outhouse. We moved into the first home I remember, a very nice council house in Newmarket, when I was four. It had indoor plumbing, including a toilet, but no central heat, which was typical for English houses at that time.

Of all the moves in my life, the longest was across the Atlantic Ocean, but I was eight and it was an adventure coming to the U.S. on a French Line ship. The shortest move was across a parking lot, from a small upstairs one-bedroom apartment to a larger ground-floor two-bedroom. This .4 mile move was the second-shortest. Trying to decide which is harder, after moves across country, across town and across an ocean, it’s the difference between ripping the Band-Aid off quickly or slowly. It’s torture either way, but with a long-distance move you pack up and move out and you’re done. From the time we moved until we sold and closed on the old house I was still going back to get mail, check on the pool, water plants and so forth. We closed on the old house July 29.

My husband and I decided to downsize around the end of last year. A big yard, large trees, a pool and a hot tub were becoming too much to manage. The Big Freeze of February, 2021, reinforced the decision, since keeping a pool system running so it doesn’t freeze is hard without electricity! (We were fortunate to have some power every day during that awful week, and the fireplace helped keep us warm).

Winter

I contacted our real estate agent in January. We looked at nine houses and made an offer on one in March. It’s the one that got away, and I still wish we had that house, but it wasn’t to be. We looked at our current house in April, made an offer, which was accepted, all within three days. We closed in late May and had the movers on June 8.

We thought a short move would be easier, with lots of time and not very much distance. We started packing early in the spring, and planned to move small items ourselves, using movers only for furniture and heavy items. So after we closed I sent out an email asking friends who had SUVs or pickups to make a trip with one load. It helped a lot. For many days we’d load up each of our cars, plus a friend’s if one was available, make the two-minute, five-block drive, unload the vehicles, and return to packing.

After the movers came it took five days to finish emptying and cleaning the old house. I had my dear cleaning angel, Ana, for nine hours on a Saturday so we could list the house at a peak time to sell a house with a pool. Another angel, our Realtor, actually painted a room that weekend because he didn’t want to list the house with the paint job granddaughter had done in her room.

Ten days after moving, we discovered our shower had a leak, not covered by the warranty company, nor did the inspection company take any responsibility. To make a long and painful story short, the shower had to be totally renovated. Insurance paid part of it, and the work began on July 20 and ended on August 6, with the shower being usable again on August 8 (exactly two months after moving in). During this time we shared granddaughter’s bathroom, and I showered at the gym about half of the time. On the bright side, I didn’t care for the old tile or the glass door, and I do now have a beautiful shower that I love, which the tile man guarantees “forever,” because he’s never had one fail in 40 years in the business!

Old leaky shower with glass door
New walk-in shower that will never leak!

We have finished the necessary unpacking. All that’s left is art, and we have hung a few favorite pieces. Because this house is smaller, with less wall space, we’ll need to decide what to hang and what to store. Most of it is in the garage, and it’s just too hot right now to work out there, unpacking and re-packing. It will have to wait till cooler weather, or perhaps an early morning when I feel up to it.

Living room view with our only tree, a crape myrtle, blooming. Junior guarding his Pink Squeaky. The “table” covered with a sari actually contains art waiting to be unpacked.

I am happy with our decision, and granddaughter, who will be doing virtual school this year, loves her “suite,” and has fixed it up and is keeping it nicer than her previous room. I think husband misses the big back yard and the trees (which needed at least $1,000 worth of tree work last winter, which I kept putting off). For me it’s a relief to have less responsibility.

The neighborhood is pleasant and I enjoy sitting on the porch watching the hummingbirds buzz around. Because it’s a zero-lot line house (oxymoronically called a “garden home” with almost no yard), there are few windows and the interior of the house is dark. We have some electrical repairs left from the inspection, and we’re going to see about adding more interior lighting to brighten up the hallways.

I do love the kitchen. It’s smaller but well laid-out and efficient. It also has a skylight so it’s bright during the day.

I love the quartz counters, the passthrough window that actually looks toward the street, the skylight, as well as tons of recessed lighting.

The yard is tiny; it was a dog run that we extended into the front yard and added a fence. So we take the dog to the off-leash park on the Guadalupe River as often as possible, which is good for him and for us.

View from the porch with the hummingbird feeder. The next-door tree is a hummingbird haven.

The fact that I’m writing this shows that I’m breathing a little easier. Life is still challenging with husband’s health issues and supervising a high school freshman doing virtual school, but I try to be grateful–we have enough, we are comfortable, and we have good friends in a beautiful community.

Flat Rock off-leash dog park. This view feeds my soul.

Turning a Corner?

Re-reading my last post, I’m again painfully aware how desperate things had become. Even when you reassure yourself that this too shall pass, that things will get better, when you’re in the deepest well of despair and worry, it’s hard to recognize that truth. Everything–the old house, the new house, unexpected expenses, the shelter dog who wasn’t working out–all of it kept me awake at night.

And then came some relief: our homeowners’ insurance will pay about half of the shower renovation in the new house. I have also contacted the inspection company with vague threats of “action,” which probably means a nasty review and bad publicity, rather than legal action–lawyers cost too much to make that worthwhile. The A/C repair in the old house was relatively inexpensive and the house is now cool again.

After eight days of the rambunctious pitbull-lab, Strawberry, we had to give up and return her to the shelter. She was a blocker and a jumper, putting both husband and me at risk of injury; she was a chewer, destroying several items; a digger, with patches of grass now bare (and then she jumped on me with her muddy paws); once she pooped and peed on the carpet in my room. She was young and needed attention and training, and we don’t have the resources to do that. With many tears and much sorrow, I took her back. The shelter ladies were kind and understanding, but I still felt tremendous guilt and sorrow over abandoning the sweet girl.

Then, wonder of wonders! A friend who volunteers at the shelter called and told me that a man who had shown interest in Strawberry before we got her came and picked her up two hours after he was notified she was again available! Such joy and relief!

All of the essential unpacking is done, even a lot of non-essential knickknacks and all the books. I even spent an afternoon actually organizing the books (mostly by genre–art, religion, English lit and so on, but some just by size because they’re so big), something I hadn’t done even in the other house. We had to add a bookcase, odd since we had donated quite a few books to the Friends of the Library. But the photo albums had lived on the lower shelf of an old coffee table, which we also got rid of, replacing it with a 50+year-old mid-century table (with no shelf) from my first marriage that had been stored for years. Thus the photo albums are now on bookshelves.

Mid-century modern table brought back to life after years of storage. (There are also two end tables.)

Only one box remains in the house, filled with art, and covered with a cloth to make it resemble a table. The rest, mostly art, some pottery and other decorative items, remain in the garage and storeroom. Except for the large Hamilton Pool painting, which still leans against the wall and needs to be safely hung, we’re in no hurry to make holes in the walls. And finding a stud to hang such a big piece, and then hefting it, is a challenge (it’s about 6’x5′ and very heavy).

Making good use of an old sari to cover the still-packed box. Junior guards his new squeaky toy, which was Strawberry’s, but it’s fair because she destroyed his stuffed puppy and his other
squeaky toy. Love the view of the front yard with the blooming crape myrtle.
The living room is rather large so it’s divided between a seating-TV-fireplace area, while the front, with its good light, is the reading room/library. The antique desk is still a little cluttered with unpacking items.
The other end of the living room, with TV and gas fireplace.
Dining room with thrift store tablecloth. The “Wine” plaque was a house-warming gift from a friend.
View from dining room to the front porch.
Front porch with hummingbird feeder. The next-door tree is full of hummingbirds and I can feel the vibration before I see or hear the bird at the feeder. It’s so much fun to sit on the porch and watch them. We had the fence built before we moved in so Junior would have a safe yard. I’m not happy with the color and hope it will fade, or eventually we’ll paint it to better match the house.
Street view of the porch, the neighbors’ hummingbird tree in the foreground, and Junior at his post.

Our real estate agent came by this morning with an offer on the house, so things are indeed looking up.

Buying a house is like getting married

If buying a house is like getting married, getting a real estate agent is going onto a dating service, then you check out multiple possibilities, hoping the next one will be exactly what you’re looking for. Then you pay some money and date for a while (the option period, when you can still back out). Then the contract is your engagement, inspection is the pastoral counseling and closing is the ceremony. There is no honeymoon, only the hell of moving.

We looked at nine houses. This one seemed right–quiet neighborhood where we already know people, small, low-maintenance yards, beautifully renovated interior, and only about half a mile from the old house, making the move “easy,” right?

First, there is no easy move. Across country, around the world or down the street, you pack up all your stuff, have someone take it to the new place, then unpack it. In this case the new house is smaller and we donated loads, carfuls, truckloads, to charity shops. Before and after the movers took the big items, we made multiple trips with both cars, along with friends’ SUVs and trucks. After movers, it took another five days to finish moving out of the old house. In June, in Texas, with the help of my cleaning angel, Ana. I still have a scar and a knot from various injuries during this phase.

The real estate market is hot here, as it is around the country, and we soon had several excellent offers on the old house. Meanwhile, after nine days in the new house, we discovered that the second shower was leaking into the closets on both sides (discovered when I reached into a closet to find a place for my shoes and pulled out a wet quilt husband had stashed there). I immediately called our insurance, our real estate agent rented a giant fan, and we got Servpro here. The warranty company sent a plumber, who said we needed a tiler, that it was either a grout or tile problem.

Bringing in two tilers, we learned it was a total failure of the shower, needing demolition and renovation, in the low five figures (that’s $xx,xxx). If this was a marriage, now would be time for an annulment. But we were looking forward to the proceeds from the sale of the other house to help cover this expense. We have contacted the inspection company–I spoke to the inspector and he said he did test that shower but he clearly failed to find this problem. We think the previous owners didn’t use this shower and didn’t know about the problem. We also hope to get some help from our insurance.

So we’re sharing a shower with the teenager. I’ve been swimming and showering at the gym.

Ok, so we’re moved in, necessities unpacked and we’re working on the non-necessities, like books, art and knickknacks. On Thursday, I’m at the doctor’s with the granddaughter when I get a voicemail from our agent: the buyers, with their fabulous offer (way over asking) have backed out. The house is “BOM,” back on market. I alarmed the nurse with my tears. I knew the inspection had been the previous week and I figured we would have heard if there were any problems. Turns out there is a (fixable) problem. The A/C isn’t working. Now we face that repair in addition to the shower. Real estate gets us coming and going.

I have always been a goer, doer, get-it-done, never bored. This has me down and out. I am awake in the wee hours, worrying, then don’t want to get up and face the day, take long naps because that’s all l feel like doing. I have hung exactly one picture, while we have a gallery’s worth in boxes and lined up in the garage.

And to add to the merriment, granddaughter convinced us she had to have her own dog. Strawberry is a sweet shelter dog, about a year old, a pitbull-lab mix, who just pooped and peed on the carpet in my room. She’s also energetic and needs to be trained not to jump on people, especially the guy with Parkinson’s.

I know these are first-world problems. I know we are privileged. I know we will be all right, we have savings, this will not break us.

But with a husband with Parkinson’s and raising a 14-year-old, I thought my plate was quite full. Now it’s just a hot mess I can’t, and don’t really even want to, deal with right now.

I would share a picture of Strawberry, with Junior, who remains the perfect dog, but I don’t remember, or have the mental capacity, to figure out how to add a photo in this new WordPress format.

Happy Fourth of July. It’s thundering here so maybe the fireworks will be canceled and the birds and other animals won’t be freaked out.

Last post for a while

Yes, we are moving. With the complications of husband’s Parkinson’s and my getting too old to manage all this infrastructure, we’re downsizing a bit. Not moving far, just a few blocks away in a similar neighborhood. As painful as moving is, I’m looking forward to a more suitable house.

We looked at nine houses, put two offers on one house (and lost both times), and 48 hours after the sign went up our offer was accepted for this house. It should be convenient and comfortable for all of us. This neighborhood has an alley in the back, meaning the trash cans and trash trucks, garages and driveways, are all out of sight. But most of the houses have tiny or no back yards. Our “dog run” is so small that we are doing some creative rearranging of fences to create a better yard space adjacent to the front porch, so our side and front yard will be our “back yard.” What better way to meet the neighbors? (I wrote a note to the neighbors whose property line the fence will follow, and received a pleasant, welcoming reply. Good start!)

When we moved here four years ago I thought it would be my last big move. I joked that my next move was “the nursing home or the funeral home.” But life throws things you don’t expect, and we make adjustments. This will be my 27th address is my lifetime, so I’m pretty experienced at moving. And moving .4 mile is a lot easier than packing up and moving across country, or across an ocean!

So long for a while. I’ll check in when we’re settled and show more pictures. For now I’ll see if I can wrangle one or two interior shots. It’s a beautiful house and I think we’ll be happy there.

Kitchen with skylight
Guest bathroom
The “dog run.” We’ll take out that front fence and gate and extend the fence around part of the front yard, connecting the yard to the front porch.

Unraveled

[After fiddling around with WordPress tutorials and not getting very far I’m just plunging in and seeing if I can get a post out while not pulling out my hair. Please forgive formatting glitches. For example, I have typed in the title “Unraveled,” but it doesn’t show in the preview.]

One reason the WordPress changes have me so flummoxed is that everything has me flummoxed right now. It’s not even the pandemic: the adults in our household are fully vaccinated; the grandchild is going to school in person and cases in our community are staying low. It’s spring, after a truly awful winter. But now it’s already too hot–into the high 80sF or even some days well into the 90s. Along with the heat, I am dragged down by, let me just say, the challenges of my family responsibilities, and leave it at that.

The last two items I knitted have been pulled out (known as “frogging” in knitting lingo, because you “rip-it, rip-it”). This seems so emblematic of my life, spinning wheels, pulling out yarn, running around without getting anywhere.

We have been house-hunting. We want to downsize–no pool, smaller yard, fewer trees, a more compact floorplan–but it’s not a buyer’s market here, or anywhere in the country. We have looked at eight houses, put an offer on one that we loved (twice!) and we’re still looking.  Here’s a rundown, mostly for my historical reference:

  1. N. St.: Pluses: Loved the interior: stained concrete floors; pretty kitchen/dining/great room; beautiful master bath and walk-in closet; convenient floorplan. Minuses: Busy street; no garage, just a run-down shed that would have to be torn down to build a garage; an outbuilding that could be fitted out as a rental or AirBnB–I do NOT want to be a landlady; priced to include the potential for rental space.
  2. N. Ln.: (Under construction.) Plus: big master bath with soaking tub, walk-in shower and huge closet. Minuses: tiny laundry closet, which is walked through from garage to a really tiny kitchen; master bedroom right off the living room (TV ears, anyone?); backyard going back to a 90-degree wall of a hillside; too small and too expensive.
  3. S. St.: Pluses: Beautiful renovation–quartz counters; all appliances conveyed; white shiplap walls and nice light; split floorplan with master bedroom not off the living room; pleasant fenced yard; outbuilding that could be fixed up as a studio. Minuses: too small, too little kitchen storage space; no garage (except in the outbuilding, via an alley); granddaughter hated the neighborhood (which is a bit working class with some gentrifying); too expensive per square foot.
  4. L. C. (1): Pluses: Pleasant, convenient neighborhood, an oval with maybe 40 houses or so. Minuses: too big and expensive; dated, stuffy, carpet, lots of florals; dead animal heads on the walls and even in the closets! (There is not enough sage in the world to smudge out all that negative energy.) Too expensive.
  5. E. Dr.: This is the one we put two offers on. Nearly perfect. On a cul de sac, backs onto a woodland park; immaculate; plantation shutters on all the windows; nice layout; convenient kitchen; all appliances (including a second refrigerator) conveyed, as well as a beautiful dining set with eight chairs; tons of storage; beautiful covered patio; water collection system. Obviously a well cared-for home. The owners had been burned by a deal that fell through. Then the second one fell through, but neither of our offers was accepted. Granddaughter had already started choosing paint colors for her room. We’re still mourning that loss.
  6. P. Way: Pluses: woodsy neighborhood, closer to the high school where we’ll be headed next fall; fairly good renovation; extra bedrooms and bathrooms (which meant studio space for me and a bathroom for each of us!). Minuses: outside city limits; septic; no garage; a really creepy outbuilding that I wouldn’t want to try to fix up; older heating system. I call the cosmetic renovations on older houses “lipstick on a pig.”
  7. L. C. (2): Pluses: nice layout; pretty kitchen; breakfast area I might have turned into a studio; that good neighborhood again, but… Minuses: near the front of the oval, too close to a busy road–traffic noise on the patio was annoying, and a church playground was on the other side of the fence; carpet; again, too expensive for what it was.
  8. L. St.: Pluses: gorgeous backyard, with a water feature, a seating area, swing. Minuses: garage was on a lower level, too many levels (built into a hillside–with Parkinson’s we must have a single level); another house that showed its age despite the reno; only 1 1/2 baths (I had considered that we could add a shower to the half bath if we otherwise liked the house).

So we keep looking. Our agent has me on an auto notification list and I check Zillow every day. We’re not in a hurry, we already have a nice house, and something will turn up. Or not, and we stay here a while longer. In the meantime I try to do little fixes around here either for us or for increased value.

He’s not worried. How can you not love that?

It Wasn’t the Worst of Times

In my last post, I told the story of the worst winter of my life. The Great Texas Freeze of 2021 wasn’t really so bad for us; we were extremely fortunate compared to many others.

We had four days of rolling blackouts. Many people were completely without power for days or even weeks. We never lost water, while people in the hills went without running water for days or weeks. We did have a boil-water order for a few days, so I made tea and coffee when we had power; I also had emergency drinking water stored in the garage. If we had needed water to flush, we could have scooped buckets out of the pool.

After nearly four years in our house we had never used the fireplace. It still had wood left by the previous owners. I had no idea if it would even draw, so I lit a piece of paper and figured out which way to pull the flue lever to open it. (In our previous home it was side to side; this one is back to front.) We had a Solstice Party in 2019. We had a firepit in the backyard and wood provided by friends for the party. I hauled the wood in out of the snow and let it dry out. It burned fine, and husband spent his days tending the fire, which kept him both warm and occupied. When he wasn’t fiddling with the fire he sat with his feet on the hearth and a book in his hands.

The dog didn’t like the snow at first but once he got used to it he and the granddaughter played in it. A tall shrub on the front walk was bent over by ice, but it has straightened itself up and seems to be fine. It’s hard to say which of the landscaping shrubs will come back; the experts say “wait and see.” I’m pretty sure the rosemary is coming back. It’s hard to kill rosemary.

Bent over with ice, the shrub straightened after the thaw. The huge rosemary bushes are reviving. (The dog is waiting to be let in to the house.)

Me, my shadow and the dog, comfy in the snow.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On the Wednesday of the storm week, a friend in Austin asked if we could take in a relative who was traveling back to Austin from Arizona and had no place to stay and was running low on gas. Never knowing when power would be on or off, we welcomed him with the disclaimer that we may or may not have power. As it happened I was able to serve tuna melt sandwiches and potato chips for supper, and when the power came back on at about 4 a.m. the next morning, it stayed on for good, so he had coffee and toast. Our guest prepared to leave with snow falling heavily. I could hear him on the phone talking to his wife, who was obviously trying to persuade him to stay; we told him he could stay as long as he needed, but he really wanted to get home. We suggested a route on which he might find gas, and he said if he could get gas he would go on; if not he would come back. He texted me from the gas station that he did have gas, and he texted from San Antonio that he was staying in a hotel, and he got back to Austin the next day, Friday (we are normally a two-hour drive from Austin). He left some things behind and returned the following week, in warm sunshine, with cookies baked by his wife and granddaughter. We were just happy we could help, and having a visitor was actually a nice break in our week.

Our weather has warmed up to normal spring-like temperatures, school is back in and we are grateful we got off as easy as we did. The most annoying thing about rolling blackouts is you never knew when it would off or come back on, or for how long either way. It seemed like whenever we would comment on how long it had been on: blackout, early bed.

Texas authorities have a lot to answer for. This should never have happened in a wealthy state in a developed country. We will remember in 2022, when our governor (who first blamed the wind vanes for freezing until he was called out on the fact that it was the gas generators that failed) is up for re-election.

You Thought the Winter of ’21 Was Bad?

Yes, it was, and I acknowledge the pain and suffering so many people have endured (and are still dealing with, without water or power). I will chronicle our relatively mild inconvenience in a future post, but I am reminded of the winter that will remain the worst of my life: 1974.

We were living in a suburb of Cleveland, Ohio. In the fall of 1973, my then-husband was offered a job in Washington, D.C.,  where we had met and were married, and we were delighted to return to be returning to the D.C. area. But I was pregnant with our second child, due in November, so they allowed him to wait until the new year to begin the new job. The plan was for me to stay in Ohio until he found a house in the Virginia suburbs.

So I was alone in an old, drafty, dusty duplex in the middle of a Northern Ohio winter with a newborn and a preschooler with bronchitis (who eventually developed, and still has, at 50, asthma). In order to go on the simplest errand–the pharmacy, a doctor’s appointment or the grocery store–I had to bundle the older girl like the Michelin man and wrap the baby in multiple layers, trundle them out to the car in the (detached, of course) garage and wrangle them into car seats.

My parents lived fairly nearby, and I’m sure neighbors helped out,  but my memory is mostly of being up at night with the baby and running the shower to ease the older girl’s coughing. Those were long nights.

When husband found a house, I began the process of packing up and arranging movers. He flew home once and rented a van to take plants and other precious items. However…. during the gas crisis of 1973-74, there were restrictions on gas purchases. At this time you could only buy gas according to your license plate–even numbers of even days and so forth. I don’t even know how he made the trip from Ohio to Virginia. I had other things to worry about.

The moment that still sticks most durably in my memory was when the movers were trying to get the washer and dryer from the basement and the washer needed to be drained. I sat in the middle of the living room floor, paralyzed. I felt like I couldn’t go on another moment.

But of course I did.

We had arranged for me to fly with the kids to Pittsburgh and stay with my in-laws while the movers took our goods to the new house, and then fly to D.C. when the house was somewhat set up. I remember nothing about the flights, how I got to the Cleveland airport, or how it was flying with a baby in my arms and a preschooler by the hand. I’m sure there were moments of great kindness from strangers.

The baby was allergic to disposable diapers and could not be left wet. The doctor had told me to use cloth diapers with no plastic pants and change her every time she was wet. I absolutely had to use disposables when we traveled, but at my in-laws house we laid her down with a bare bottom and a light bulb nearby, as the doctor had advised.

We ultimately settled in our new home (which I had never laid eyes on until I arrived with the kids) and lived there for eight years, until we moved to Texas. It was a wonderful neighborhood with good Fairfax County schools–the elementary school was a half-mile walk away–and it was worth the turmoil to get there.

Oh, but the journey was one of the toughest of my life.

Google street view of that house today. We paid a bit over $60K for it. The current market value is probably in the $700s–five bedrooms, three full baths, 1/4 acre lot, commuting distance to Washington, nice Fairfax Co. neighborhood–and those tall white oak trees–woods behind the house with neighbors on the other side, and kids to play with in the woods.

Hangin’ on by Loose Ends

Like just about everyone else right now, I’m trying to hang onto sanity while we wait out this pandemic. Now we’re doubly locked in by an ice storm, sub-freezing temperatures and a forecast for much colder temps and more precipitation.

Last week I was especially anxious and feeling at loose ends–even before the change in the weather. In fact, I sat on the patio and played with the dog just a few days ago, when it was 75F.

My anxiety stems not just from the lockdowns but also the stresses of responsibility: a 14-year-old who is a challenge to her old granny; a husband with Parkinson’s with multiple other health issues*. A dog. A pool, yard, trees, house, all of which require attention.

We have decided to try to downsize, so every day I check Zillow and contact our Realtor if I see something worthwhile. He showed us a house under construction the other day, and I thought, “Wow, I’ve never lived in a new house; this might be nice.” We drove over in a chilly rain that was turning to ice by the time we headed home. It took some imagination to visualize the finished product, but it doesn’t take any imagination to see a floor plan that just doesn’t work. The garage entrance took you through a closet-sized laundry room directly into the kitchen, which was tiny, like a New York City apartment tiny. An island with sink and dishwasher was placed so that a person working at the sink would be looking right into the living room. There was so little cupboard space I don’t know where we would put all our dishes, pans and serving pieces. One bedroom faced the street. The master bedroom was right off the living room, meaning a person watching TV will disturb someone already trying to sleep. The backyard ended at the sheer face of a cutaway hillside. The front door was approached along a narrow channel between stone walls. All this for $199 a square foot! The feng shui was terrible! The Realtor picked up on the fact that the house didn’t “sing” for me. Fortunately, he’s a great guy, patient and understanding. He knows this may be the last house we ever buy and we need to love it.

One anxiety reducer is Zumba. I find Tanju Koc on YouTube and after 30 minutes of keeping up with him–he’s cute and I can follow the steps–I feel sort of normal. I’d like to go to the gym and swim, but that will have to wait.

I was supposed to go to a retreat farther out into the Hill Country this weekend but it was cancelled because too few people signed up. Now that temps will be in the single digits, and the retreat would involve going outside among different spaces to sleep, eat and shower, I am so glad not to be out there, even though it has been, for five years, my favorite retreat ever–women quilting, knitting, sewing, stitching, felting and creative crafts I’m not familiar with, plus great company and somebody else cooking for three days.

Not being able to get out to shop, I made a Valentine for my husband while he went to a doctor’s appointment. I started when he left and finished as he walked in the door!

Front with ice-bent shrubbery (find the dog)

 

Inside

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

* In the middle of writing this piece, I had to stop and take him to the ER. He’s getting daily antibiotic shots, and was supposed to go to the nearby urgent care clinic this weekend, but it was closed. The ER nurse showed me how to give the injections for the rest of the weekend, so I can add “nurse” to my skill set.

Happy Valentine’s Day! Hope wherever you are you are safe and warm.

Some ice storm pics:

 

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