It’s sort of always something with me. Really. My brother, who I believe is quite fond of me, calls me a disaster magnet. I don’t like that, although I am quite fond of my brother. But I will admit, things happen to me that don’t necessarily happen to the next fella, or at least, not as frequently. Things like a whole host of weird health stuff, for pretty much my whole life. Things like getting laid off and then a couple of weeks later having my appendix rupture and not knowing better, walking around it with it for 3 days before driving myself to emergency. I mean, it’s not like I’m going to run to emergency for every little thing, like searing pain on my side? Right? Or things like having a gastric ulcer and ending up in the hospital days before I was scheduled to move across the country. It’s always something.
Other things too. Like that time I was robbed 4 days before Christmas, and had all of my gifts for everyone stolen. Or, and we are going back decades, but still, missing my flight home from Paris and being stranded, completely broke, in Europe until my very angry, and at the time cash strapped, parents could scrape up enough money to get me home. Oh, how about being stuck on the New Jersey turnpike for 7 hours in a snow storm? In a taxi? For all of these things, I have tried as best I could to manage them with as much grace and humor as possible. It’s easier sometimes than others, and maturity, or what can pass for maturity, has definitely made it easier.
So, here’s the latest, if not disaster, hmmmmm, we will call it a hiccup in the life of Kathi Sue Gold. I had been feeling just generally poorly for the last few weeks. Achy and exhausted and with a sore throat that wouldn’t go away. I thought maybe I had the post-holiday, winter blues. I genuinely worried that I had finally passed the peak and had started the slow descent into old age, where everything basically hurts all the time. It was too soon! I was too young! But I wasn’t feeling better, and so, trying to learn from my past, I finally took myself to the doctor a couple of weeks ago, where I was diagnosed with strep throat.
Aha, I thought, now I can get better! I dutifully took my little Z pack and looked forward to the return of energy and joie de vivre. But it didn’t happen. A week later I still had the sore throat and the exhaustion so I emailed the doctor who assured me that the 5 day Z pack actually takes 10 days to work and all would be well, but it wasn’t.
A few nights ago, I woke up with the worst throat pain I’ve ever known. I couldn’t swallow. My glands were swollen and I had a high fever. Like I said, I’ve had a lot of medical shit in my life, so I try to take things in stride, but I felt awful, really really bad. I was a bit scared. I even called the doctor’s office at 4:00 in the morning, not really knowing what I wanted but just wanted my condition known by someone. But when the answering service asked me if it was an emergency, I said no. I may have felt like death but I knew my demise was not imminent.
I got into the doctor later that day, and after a bunch of tests and scans the results were in. The strep was still present, apparently resistant to the Z pack. And, as a special bonus gift, I also tested positive for mononucleosis. For which there is no real cure except a lengthy period of rest.
So first of all, mono? Really? Isn’t that something teenagers get, not mature women? And, isn’t that known as the kissing disease? I really wish I had some sort of wild and sexy origin story here, like I went to a rodeo and I got so carried away I made out with the winning bull rider. Or something like that. But the truth is, I honestly have no idea how I picked this sucker up. No one I know has it. And tragically, at least in my mind, I haven’t been kissing anyone. Got to work on that, but perhaps I should wait 4 to 6 weeks.
Because that, allegedly, is how long it takes to recover from mono, more or less. When I asked the doctor how I would know when I was better, she said, because you will feel better. Okay, then, clear as mud. And when I asked her to define rest, she said whenever you’re tired, rest. Not so helpful, because I am tired all the time, although I guess there are degrees to it.
How do I feel, honestly? Sick, grumpy, bored, housebound, discouraged. Completely exhausted. With a headache and sore throat and a cough that just started. Last night, just lying on the couch watching TV, I suddenly felt so bad I pulled a throw over myself and curled up in a ball and just went to sleep. I woke up in the middle of the night with Daisy lying on top of me, like she was protecting me from harm. Or getting ready to eat me, either way.
But here’s the deal. Even in all my sad, sick grumpiness, I know this is just temporary. I’ll get better. People deal with far worse, all the time. So, I’m trying as best as I can to take care of myself, keep perspective, and a sense of humor, and remember it’s just a moment in time. Counting my blessings, which always helps no matter how bad I feel. I’ll recover from this most inconvenient illness and stay alert for the next unexpected wrinkle that comes my way. After all, it’s always something.
The end, for now
Well, first of all, let me say that fall totally lived up to its promise as my favorite season! It was fantastic! The weather was glorious. The whole New England leaf changing thing, it has not been exaggerated, so astonishingly, breathtakingly beautiful. Everywhere you looked, like even in the grocery store parking lot and on the side part of your yard that no one else can see so you don’t give it adequate attention, suddenly broke out in a riot of colors! Hello Gorgeous (foliage)!
I had a sweet little run of visitors, all quite high on that precious roster of my most favorite people. First my sister came, arriving during a rainstorm so treacherous cars were stalling out on the turnpike. For four days we laughed and teased and talked. While out showing her the local sights, I somehow fell whilst crossing a stream, ending up flat on my tush in a few inches of cold, mucky water, which only made us laugh harder (it’s somehow part of my family lore that I will inevitably end up rear down in slime). We wore turkey hats in public and hiked around Walden Pond. Such a fun visit!
Next, my lovely friend Mr. Kettles, who I’ve known since high school, drove up for a weekend from New Jersey. We visited the Old North Bridge in Concord, on a day so cold that our selfies took on the look of polar explorers, we were so bundled up. And, in the most serendipitous way, we found ourselves at The Orchid House, also in Concord, which was the home of our beloved Josephine March, i.e. Louisa May Alcott, where Mr. Kettles stealthily bought us tickets to a “special holiday tour.” I became quite teary with happiness when I realized the tour included Alcott family reenactors, and remained dewy eyed with joy throughout the house tour, which ended in the parlor with four adorable young ladies who put on a little skit for us, and then led us in singing carols. It was magical!
Finally, my BFF came for a nice, long visit over Christmas. At last I could show her my house, my route to work, my grocery store, all of the things that we talk about all the time. We explored the local countryside and watched movies and ate and drank, and shared a great dinner out with another close friend and basically had a perfect time. The merriest of Christmases!
And then, the holidays and visits were over. The guest room was empty, the next visitors aren’t scheduled for months. Back to work, with the annual, stressful, busy season beginning January 1. It got cold, really cold, like 5 degrees. It snowed and then it stopped snowing, and everything was slushy and wet and gray. I longed for warmth! I longed for California! I longed for my sister and Kettles and the BFF! I realized the weather might be like this for the next 3 months and I felt depressed. For the first time since I moved here, I had doubts about my ability to do this, to live cheerfully in a place where the weather dictates so much of life, about 6 months of the year it’s either cold and dark and dreary, or hot and humid and sticky.
And then, I got over it. I remembered how awesome fall was, and how lovely spring will be, and how nice and novel it is to have seasons that change. I remembered how beautiful it is here. I remembered, quite clearly, how lucky and blessed I am to have a great job, busy season or no, and great friends nearby and far away. I booked a trip to California, and realized I can do that as often as I need to, finances permitting. I got out my cutest scarves and boots and gloves and earmuffs and thought about making soup and stews and muffins and all sorts of treats to keep cozy and warm through winter.
I’ve been here 14 months, and it’s still an adjustment. Perhaps it always will be. Last winter was so mild and everything was so new to me, it didn’t really sink in. Now I’m really in it, responsible for a house and property and all the maintenance that goes with it, and a demanding job, with lots of people to manage and support and try my best to lead. It can be daunting. It can be lonely. It can be cold and dark and slushy. But for the most part, it is also quite wonderful. So, even if the weather outside is frightful, life is still delightful. And spring is only 66 days away!
The end, for now
Last week, I returned to California, for the first time since I moved away, in Nov. 2015. It probably won’t surprise anyone when I confess I was a bit nervous before the trip, filled with trepidation about what it would be like to go to the place I still considered home, and then, leave again.
This may sound weird, but in my mind, while I had moved forward and created this new life, everything back home had somehow frozen and stayed the same. It’s not a very logical concept, but while I have stayed very connected to the people I left behind, my goodness, I talk to some of them more than I did when I lived there, I had not given any attention or thought to the place itself and how I might fit back in to it.
It’s a little surreal to return to the place where you have spent 98.2% of your life (I used a calculator to figure that out), and feel like a visitor, but that’s how it felt. While the people, my family and friends, all remain the same as they ever were, in a very good way, the places no longer felt like I belonged to them. I was a stranger in a familiar land. It was odd and a little unsettling.
It was a quick visit, and the time moved too quickly. But I did get to spend some lovely time with my parents, attend the traditional Thanksgiving feast with my usual branch of family, have dinner with my brother and his wife, and share a couple of too quick meals with close friends. Plus I got to check out my friend Lea’s amazing new restaurant, Claudine’s, so very proud of this sweet girl who I have known for decades! And, as the final cherry on the sundae, I got to spend two days laughing myself silly and basically acting like a 13 year old with my best friend.
As great as the visit was, it wasn’t as hard to leave as I had expected. The worst part about my move is missing my people, and saying goodbye to them is never easy. But I know I’ll see them again, some sooner than others, they’ll visit me, and I’ll continue to visit them. However, now I have people on the East Coast, and I missed them too. I missed my dog, my house, my life. It felt good coming back to it, to the place I belong now.
I don’t know what the future holds, nobody does. I’ve said I don’t plan to “grow old” in the East, meaning at some far away point, when I can finally retire, I expect to head back West, to the warmth and to my family. But it won’t be going home, it will be creating the next new life. For now, my life is in Massachusetts, and I am home again.
The end, for now
Today marks the one year anniversary of my moving to Massachusetts. It’s sort of hard to reconcile in my mind, in some ways it feels like so much has happened, in other ways it feels like it was just a heartbeat ago that my dad dropped me off at the airport, with me desperately winking away the tears that threatened to cascade down my face.
In that year, I’ve moved twice, bought a house, started a new job, been promoted to a different job, made friends, lived a life. Day to day, things aren’t that different. I work hard, I spend time talking to my people (family and friends, you know who you are). I run errands on Saturdays, grocery shop on Sundays. Same as it ever was.
But in other ways, so much has changed. For one thing, weather has never factored so prominently in my life before. In California, it’s basically warm, hot or really hot, 95% of the time. Very rarely, it rains (hence the drought). Even more rarely, the temperature dips, perhaps to 65 degrees and we all don scarves and mittens and drink cocoa and pretend it’s cold.
Massachusetts weather is far more dramatic, and changeable. They say here if you don’t like the weather, wait 10 minutes, and there is some truth to that. I’ve never experienced such significant weather, including of course snow, but also violent rainstorms, stifling humidity, oppressive heat and bone chilling cold. It’s only mid fall but the temperature has already dipped into the 40s and even 30s (nighttime) several times this month. What’s odd to me is how quickly I have acclimated to these lower temps. Whereas I too bundled up if the thermometer read 65 degrees in California, here I’ve been known to go out without a jacket unless it’s below 50.
I have been worrying a lot about winter. Again. I mean I worried a lot about winter last year, before and after I moved East, but last winter was just a tease, an amuse bouche, as it were, of what winter could be. This is not hyperbole on my part, it was actually the mildest winter in decades, a welcome follow up to the winter of 2014, which people are still talking about, the one where more than 100 inches of snow fell through the season. Last year, I think our total was about 14 inches. Early predictions, which of course could totally not come true, are that this winter will be a harsh one. And, frankly, I’m a bit scared.
The big difference for me this year, is that unlike last year where I lived in a townhouse with 24 hour maintenance and a crew that started shoveling and plowing as soon as the snow stopped falling, now I own and am completely responsible for the maintenance of a semi old, semi large, barn of a house with a decent sized front, side and back yard. And while I have hired a service to plow the drive, the rest is up to me, including figuring out how poor Daisy is going to do her business when the snow gets deep, as I suspect it inevitably will.
I’ll figure it out, just like I’ve figured everything else out. I’m lucky to have some good friends who will advise me and who are gracious enough not to laugh in front of my face. That’s been a great gift in this last year and probably one of the greatest challenges too, meeting new people and making new friends. It may surprise some of you to learn that I suffer from social anxiety. I know I come off as a confident and outgoing person, and that’s absolutely true, but the specter of unfamiliar situations fills me with dread and I have to fight hard against retreat and paralysis. I’m ALWAYS fine once I get there, but prior to arrival, the anxiety and angst are actually painful, and come with the bonus of feeling ashamed. So, imagine the battle when almost every experience over the last year has come with that struggle. But I’ll continue to fight against it. I can’t build a new life for myself without leaving my living room, as comfortable as that feels. Yesterday I did my first gig as a volunteer at a sweet little community theater, ushering for the matinee. As usual, I was filled with nerves prior to arrival, but it was fun and felt right and I’ll be back there again, for sure.
My life here is happy. Happier than I expected. In some ways I think everyone should push the restart button at midlife, it’s as invigorating and exciting as anything I can think of. Of course there’s been loneliness and challenges and struggles but those are all part of life and I wouldn’t have traded anything that has happened to me in the last five years for anything else. Really, truly. Last week, I was driving down Boston Post Road, one of the oldest roads in the country, and, especially with the trees still brilliant with color, a beautiful and stunning sight. The song The Long Way Home, by Supertramp, came on the radio, with that gorgeous harmonica introduction, and I just started crying, hot happy tears because in that moment, I felt gloriously at home.
The end, for now
Considering the fact that I recently moved into a 77 year old house, I guess it should be no surprise that it requires constant maintenance and repair. Just yesterday I gave a sharp yank on a door that seemed a bit stuck, only to have the doorknob come off in my bemused hand. And while I had the large, urgent items looked at before I moved in, if I were actually keeping a running list of things that need to be done, the list, she would be long!
In my previous life, I would have had a variety of options to address these things. First, I would call Kerry. The bestie is pretty handy (plus smart and pretty and all those good things). She could probably knock out the first (easiest) level of chores, ably assisted by me in the background as comic relief. Too complicated for Kerry? Time to call Dad. He could take care of almost any problem, whether it be rewiring a light switch or installing a new faucet. Feeling guilty about cajoling an 82 year old man to do my dirty work? Not quite comfortable making him climb a ladder or do anything too intense? I was lucky enough to have a good friend in the neighborhood who also worked as a handyman and could basically cover any remaining project not requiring complex plumbing or electrical work. I even had a plumber on retainer, who came so often he felt bad about charging me full rate. What a sweetheart.
So here I am, without my team, and as I said, the list of things to be fixed grows daily. A couple of weeks ago, I decided to change out all the light switch plates, which were old and yellow and looked even dingier against my newly painted walls. I don’t have the skills to change the actual switches themselves, but my current “house fund” (the one set aside to take care of household repairs) is currently hovering around $26, so I decided to do what I could. It’s not a complicated task, but given that I had 15 plates needing to be replaced, it wasn’t a quick one either. It took a few hours, and included two trips to the hardware store, one bandage (don’t ask), a short temper tantrum (see previous item), and a few hot tears (see previous item(s)). But I got most of them done, except for the one behind the hutch that is too heavy for me to move, and I have to admit, I did feel a sense of pride at my, albeit minor, accomplishment.
Part of my problem is that I genuinely have a hard time reading instructions and applying them. I’m not sure what the issue is, I know I’m not a stupid person but I certainly feel like one every time I try to interpret assembly instructions. People (names might rhyme with Larry and Lad) get very frustrated with me about this, but it’s a real thing. It’s like instruction dyslexia, they may as well be written in a foreign language. Last week I tried to install a simple solar light outside. Seriously, folks, what does this mean?
Fix the wall plug into the wall, insert the screw into the wall plug but leave a gap for hanging the lamp
What wall plug? What screw? Why a gap? Why??? I ended up just taking a hammer and banging the hell out of a nail and wedging the solar light on top of the nail. Done. No screw, no plug, no gap. Will it stay up? Who knows?
And speaking of hanging things, and hammers, if you come to visit, please refrain from commenting that all my pictures are hung too high or too low. I know! But the walls in this house are super thick and hard to hammer. So once I get that nail in the wall, it’s not moving! Because, well, once I tried to remove the nail, but we aren’t going to talk about the big hole on the freshly painted wall, are we? I thought not.
Of course I can hire a handyman to help me, and eventually I will. But even though I am not skilled, or talented, or able to read instructions, there is a certain satisfaction in being able to do things myself. I never thought I would be able to replace a toilet seat, but after watching the online tutorial, and getting a little advice from a kind coworker, both the bathrooms in this big, crumbly old house have nice shiny clean new seats. And whenever I, ahem, sit upon them, I think to myself, well, I guess you’re not as unhandy as you think. Hmmmm, maybe I should try to replace that doorknob!
The end, for now
Note: I wrote this a few years ago, before I began posting to this blog. Stumbled upon it today, it cracked me up, and I decided it was worth a repost. Hope it makes you smile.
So, my Dad and Marge have a little “cee-ment” pond in their backyard. Literally, cement, but since they are in a high rent district, they refer to it as a “water feature.” Fancy! And, they keep fancy fish in it. Mostly fancy, large goldfish, but also some Koi. Are these the same thing? Turns out I am only a fish expert when it comes to sushi and tuna in a can. And trout, caught down by the old mill stream, but that’s another story for another day.
We all love their little pond. At family gatherings we will often spend time admiring it. It has little lily pads, it’s painted blue (like the deep blue sea, see?), and sometimes favored family members are allowed to sprinkle the fish food flakes in.
I do not live in a high rent district. I live in the ‘hood. The mean streets. The asphalt jungle. Okay, I’m full of shit, I live squarely in a nice suburb, but it’s still a little more diverse, and a little less “contained” than the Palisades, home of Bob, Marge, and the pond. And as I was tooling about my neighborhood one morning, I noticed a house that had a sign in front. And the sign said, “Koi for sale”. But wait, there’s more. On the other side of the yard, there was another sign that read, “funnel cakes for sale.”
Let’s take a moment here. Sometimes when I feel sad, and discouraged by life’s knocks, I only need to think of the splendour of the world that allows illicit Koi and funnel cakes to be sold. It really is a magical land of wonder, and we are just living in it!
Fast forward. Dad comes out to the Valley, and we head over to the koi/funnel cake house. There’s a guy sitting in the front yard. A couple of buckets by his side, and an old, scraggly bulldog at his feet. Not to disparage, but the house seems shabbier than the street view had revealed. I’m now a little nervous that I have dragged my sweet, elderly papa into this “fishy” adventure. [editor’s note, Bob Gold is a fine man, but sweet and elderly might be construed as poetic license. More like canny, smart and spry as hell.]
So Dad and Koi man are now chatting it up, and somehow Koi man is asking Dad for advice on how to start running. Did I mention the old man had just come from a race and was still wearing his medal? The Koi conversation starts to hone into transactional state, and Koi guy mentions he has more koi “in the back.”
Now I’m more nervous. In the back? Are we about to be koi-napped, kept alive with funnel cakes? But Dad willingly follows Koi man, and I timidly slink behind them. And walk into what looks like a massive Koi operation. They have literally transformed their in-ground swimming pool into the world’s largest koi bowl. There are pipes running over it, the water is murky green, and it is filled with hundreds, possibly thousands, of beautiful, fancy, beautiful koi.
My Dad asks the price of a single koi and we are told they are over a hundred dollars a fish. Koi man explains that he imports them from Hawaii, and has another koi warehouse somewhere else in L.A. Dad demures that he is not interested in spending anywhere near that on a fish, and the guy beckons us over to a bank of coolers against the wall. He opens one, and we see it is filled with baby koi. $10 a fish. So Dad says for me to pick one out, which I do. Koi man bags our fish, we shake hands, and depart. No funnel cake has exchanged hands, unfortunately. I ask Dad what he is going to name the fish, and when he tells me he doesn’t plan to name it, I suggest “Kathi.” So, Kathi the Koi goes home to the Palisades.
I would love to tell you this is where the story ends, but like most of my stories, there’s a twist. My dad decides he wants another fish and comes out the next weekend. We go back to the house. No Koi man. No funnel cake sign. No old bulldog. The house appears to be abandoned. We peek over into the backyard. Pool has been drained. Did we dream this?
And, within a few weeks, Kathi the Koi had mysteriously “disappeared” from the pond.
The End, for now
It’s been just three weeks since I moved into my new/old/big/not huge house, and I’m finally feeling settled. Again. This morning, I got up early, went to the Farmer’s Market, did a Target run, and listened to Wait Wait Don’t tell Me as I unloaded my booty and assembled my new Swiffer Wet Jet. It felt very much like a regular Saturday morning to me. I felt happy and content.
I won’t lie. The first week or so in the new place was hard. It didn’t feel like home, and in a way, it was almost as bad as the way I had felt when I first moved to Massachusetts last fall. After months of stressing about finding a house, the challenges of the sale, packing, moving, all that, my stress didn’t melt away as soon as I got into the house. I felt very overwhelmed and lonely all over again. I wanted my family. I wanted my best friend. I wanted to feel safe and comfortable and I didn’t feel either of those things. The house felt too big, I wondered if I had made the right choice. I had just gotten used to Waltham, had found my routine there, so important to me, and now I had to do it all over again. It wasn’t a good feeling. But fortunately, it passed.
Within about a week, I was starting to find my way. I had worried about the further commute to the office, but it really only added about 10 or 15 minutes to my drive, and it’s a lovely one, through back roads. I pass a lake, and a little “honor” flower stand. There are a ton of private schools, unseen except for the long winding drives, and coworkers have warned me that my ride might become a lot more congested once school starts, but we will cross that bridge when we come to it.
I’m still getting used to the house. It’s big, at least for me. It wasn’t necessarily my plan to buy such a large place, but in a weird series of events, it became the place that I could afford, and that hit most of the items on my list, i.e. a garage, a fireplace, room for an office. It also has a spooky basement, which is both cool and sort of scary. It’s dank and dark and there’s a fireplace in it! I am so curious about that, the house was built in 1939, so it’s not like the Underground Railroad was passing through the basement in old timey times, although I like to imagine it was. It is, however, second only to my bedroom in coolness, so I don’t mind going down there to do the wash (it’s where the washing machine is). I’ve also come to appreciate that the basement is where all the things you don’t know where to put go to live.
I’m not thrilled about the mouse in the house. I’ve seen it twice now, both times in the living room, coming out from under the heating vents. And please don’t tell me there’s more than one, for my sanity, I’m choosing to believe he’s a solo artist. I’ve laid traps throughout the house, but thus far, nothing has been caught. And I do plan to get a cat but possibly not for a few months. I’ll admit, it grosses me out to have rodents in the house, but I also know it’s part of living in an older house. My neighbor told me all the houses here have them, and it’s just something you live with and try to eradicate as best you can.
I love New England. It’s really beautiful and the history awes and excites me every day. Even this morning, driving to the market, I marveled at the wonderful old Victorian houses as I whizzed by, not museums, but very much alive and filled with families. It’s green here. They talk about drought, and I know there are concerns about the lack of rain, although to me it feels like it rains all the time. It’s raining now, and big thunderstorms are predicted throughout the day. It’s different. It’s lovely.
I wish every person I love could teleport here, for an hour, a day, a week, a lifetime, to experience what I see. It’s quite an adventure to restart your life in your fifties. I still think back on the last three years, from the shock of the sudden and brutal layoff, through the months of uncertainty, interviews and stress, to the decision to make the big move, to here. Today. It’s a good life, and I’m so grateful for it. Now, I just have to get rid of that mouse.
The end, for now
I’ve been toodling around for a day or two now on a post titled My New/Old House. You know, all about getting settled in the house, and how maybe it’s haunted, and like, why is there a fireplace in the basement, and have I mentioned that it’s pretty big for one person and I might need to adopt a kitten? And possibly a wolfhound? And how I’ve been exploring the local area and I found a bakery that has been operating in the basement of someone’s house for the last hundred years. Stuff like that.
But we interrupt these posts in progress for a word about the weather. More like 3 words. Like, excuse me, but, What The Fuck? Or, a teeny bit more appropriately, Oh…My…God. If you recall my previous posts, you may remember that before moving East, I experienced considerable anxiety about winter. Driving in it, living through it, cold, snow, ice, boots, puffy coats. All those frightening things. And winter had its challenges (read the aforementioned cold, snow, ice, boots, puffy coats). But it was also fairly gentle and I managed to get through it basically unscathed.
I never gave any thought to the other three seasons, except to muse how lovely spring was, with the beautiful flowers and scampering bunnies and whatnot. And to eagerly anticipate my first New England fall, with the changing leaves and apple picking and whosis. Never gave a second thought to summer. Whatever. Not my favorite season anyway, and if I had pondered on it, it would have been merely to think, oh, won’t it be nice not to live through another summer of heat in the San Fernando Valley, where it’s not unusual for the temperature to top 100 degrees for weeks on end.
Well, folks, turns out there is something far more uncomfortable than 100 degree weather for weeks on end. I never would have believed it until I experienced it, but there’s this thing called humidity. And I know we’ve all heard that old adage “it’s not the heat, it’s the humidity” but whoever believed it? Not me. How could 90 degree weather ever be worse than 100 degree weather? Well, let me tell you! The day I moved was the hottest day in 3 years, about 95 degrees out. No big, right? Add in 70 percent humidity and you are now approaching the gates of hell. And sure, I may be prone to dramatic license now and then, but trust me, listen to me, believe me! I thought I was going to die. I have quite literally, in the most literal sense, never sweated so much in my entire life. And I’m a person who doesn’t even like to admit I perspire, perhaps a gentle glow now and then, but sweat? Nope. And on that day, sweat ran from my eyes. My shirt was plastered to my back. It sucked the life out of me and made every little chore seem like the hardest task ever accomplished. And it didn’t let up. Not at night, not in the early morning.
My new house is not air conditioned, which means it stays hot. Fortunately I had the sense to put a window unit in my bedroom, which has remained blissfully cool while the rest of the house swelters. We are in a heat wave in the North East, which is what they call it when the temperature remains over 90 degrees for three or more days in a row. It is brutal, and the only blessing is the realization that unlike SoCal, we have seasons here, and this weather won’t persist beyond the next month or so. I can do another month as long as the end is in sight.
In addition to this heat and humidity, twice this week, we have had something called microbursts tear through my neighborhood. A microburst is defined as a sudden, powerful, localized air current, especially a downdraft. It’s sort of like a mini, short lived, backwards tornado. It comes in quickly and violently, with teeming rain, extremely heavy wind, lightning, thunder, and even hail. I’ll confess, the first one scared the pants off of me. Good thing it was so hot I wasn’t wearing pants in the first place. But in the span of about thirty minutes, the sky darkened, rain came pouring down, lightning and thunder crashed above and I stared out the side window watching it all in fear and amazement. A few minutes later, I heard a boom and a crash out front and I ran to that side of the house to see a huge tree limb, which had either been hit by lightning or torn off by the wind, blocking off the street in front of my house.
I had just met my across the street neighbor the night before, and he had kindly said, if you ever need anything. I didn’t quite know what to do, so I ran over to his house and knocked on the door. He came out and told me he would take care of things, that he would drag the tree limb to the roundabout that centers our cul de sac and then it would be the town’s problem. I wasn’t too sure about that solution, but I really don’t like to play the damsel in distress, so I told him I would do it (not really being sure I could physically pull that off but at least I wanted to try), but he told me no, the neighbors wouldn’t mind if he did it, but I was brand new and they might get ticked. It was all a little weird to me, so I confess, I sort of stood out there wringing my hands (shades of damsel, bad Kathi), until he came back around and yelled at me to stop standing under the tree in the storm. The tree limb disappeared the next morning, so I guess his solution was a good one, but it still made me a little nervous.
The storm ended as quickly as it began, but three nights later, we had another microburst. This one was even more violent, knocking out power across towns and uprooting trees, some of which blocked off major thoroughfares. My property held up through that one, but another neighbor on the cul de sac had three old trees in their yard completely uprooted, one of which crashed into their garage and caused some decent damage.
It’s all very different from what I’m accustomed to. Not bad, necessarily, but it will definitely take some getting used to. I’m thankful for all of my earthquake preparedness, I have the flashlights and battery radio and lanterns all in strategic places in the house so I can survive a short power outage reasonably well, although it was pretty steamy in the house the other night without my trusty bedroom AC or even fans to blow the hot air around. But as I mentioned earlier, summer here is a short three month season, as opposed to the year round SoCal heat wave. I’ll learn my microburst protocol and hopefully be a little less freaked when the next one inevitably comes (predictions are for storms tomorrow). And I’ll get ready for fall, and cool weather and sweaters. And maybe lighting that fireplace in the basement, and cozying up with some apples, and a kitten. And perhaps a wolfhound. The adventure continues.
The end, for now
What is the opposite of “moving?” I think it must be “still.” And at this moment, I can’t think of a more beautiful word, a more desired state of being. Under the waterfall, my feet swaddled in puffy clouds, garbed in a simple, ethereal yet slimming raiment, with only the sound of sunshine and lollipops buzzing in my ears. Still.
Remember the time I sold my house in California where I had lived my entire life, and packed all my worldly goods and moved to lovely, but oh so different New England? And I settled in, and I wore boots and learned to shovel wee bits of snow and got promoted and did, like, 3 jobs at once, and felt content and happy and finally, at last, settled, resettled. A backwards Pilgrim, as it were.
I remember! So clearly. I mean, it was only about 7 months ago! And yet, settled as I was, it was always the plan that my initial move here wouldn’t be long term. I had taken a 10 month lease in a well-managed and amenity rich townhouse, always with the knowledge that the end game was home ownership.
But it was a bit trickier than I had foreseen. Timing was problematic. To go beyond my lease left me vulnerable to a very steep rent increase. To break it early required a minimum of 60 days’ notice and a ridiculously steep penalty. The goal was to time it perfectly. Having sold in the L.A. market I expected to enter into this race in a favored position. I had been watching the local real estate for months on Zillow and fully assumed I would come in on favorable level. But the Metro West Boston real estate market was a notoriously tough nut to crack!
I didn’t know that Boston and the surrounding suburbs was the third toughest real estate market in America, behind only New York City and San Francisco. I wasn’t aware that the medium price in the area I was renting in and worked in, Waltham MA, and the even more desirable border towns I had come to love, Lexington and Arlington, were so far priced out of my league that the only house within my range was under 800 square feet and had no closets! And I actually bid on it! Over asking price! And cried when I didn’t get it. Who needs closets, asks the crazy lady with 14 pairs of boots?
So, reality, as well as realty, finally reared its practical little head. And I set my sights out a little further, to Framingham. Initially I had resisted Framingham, because it was farther out than I wanted to be, about 25 miles west of Boston and 13 miles from work. And it was admittedly, on the face of it, less charming than the lovely town of Waltham I had been living in, with its beautiful town common, historic mansions, farm stands and surprisingly, a quite fabulous restaurant row.
Framingham is much more suburban. It reminded me in some ways of the San Fernando Valley, with malls and parking lots and a Loews and Cineplex. And at first, I resisted that idea. I didn’t make this huge life change to eat at PF Changs, if that makes any sense. But then, I found a darling house, in a sweet, extremely charming neighborhood. With two fireplaces, and a possibly haunted basement and a sunporch. And it needs love and it needs money put into it, but wait! There’s a Trader Joe’s! And a Whole Foods! And a historic downtown and a town common and lakes and ponds and farm stands all waiting to be explored. I started to feel much better about living in the ‘ham (as the locals call it).
The story of how I got the house, and the serendipity surrounding that, and the wrangling and negotiating and multi mini dramas swirling around me for the last 60 days is a tale for another time. I closed last week; it felt like we wrestled down to the wire. The work being done to the house has involved intense levels of coordination; the house had been vacant for a year and it needed some TLC. Over the past 8 days I’ve project managed a troop of electricians, a painter, a handyman, pest controller and cleaning crew into a beautifully choreographed dance. We’re at the tail end. There’s two nights left before I leave this townhouse.
If any of this sounds easy, I haven’t done a good job of telling the story. It has been hard, really, really hard. As always, I am incredibly grateful to the wonderful and extraordinary love and support of family and friends. I’m not always graceful or smart or logical, or even cheerful. Thank God for the crew that listens to me doubt and complain, and renders advice even when they know I may not listen to them, and loves me anyway in spite of my flaws.
I am frankly exhausted. I haven’t slept for what feels like weeks, my body hurts from lifting and hauling, and I’m pretty sure my boxes are having box babies and laughing at me behind my back. Daisy has been a brat for days, she doesn’t understand why things are in such disarray and I’ve been so cranky, she knows something is amiss. And I’ve tried to explain to her, yes we are moving again, but this time is going to be the last time for, I hope, a long while. And we’re going to have two fireplaces, and space, and privacy and a yard, and, yep, Trader Joe’s is in the near vicinity. And we’re going to get past the pain of moving, and settle in. Again. And we’re going to be blessedly home at last, and beautifully, wonderfully, still.
The end, for now
I’ve had the blessing of a run of visitors lately, which has been fantastic in itself but has also been a great opportunity to explore the local area more. I currently live about 11 miles, as the crow flies, outside of Boston, but it’s not like I’m running into the city every week. In the six months since I have been living in Waltham, Massachusetts, I have been to Boston six times, averaging about once a month. The rest of the time I’ve been doing fascinating things like looking for a house, going to the carwash, cleaning the house, doing laundry and grocery shopping in my spare time. But with family and friends coming in to town, of course there has been a great reason to get out and see the sights of this wonderful place.
Here’s a rundown on where I’ve been and what I’ve seen and my purely subjective opinions about them. A few things to keep in mind. I love American history, especially living history. I also have an extremely limited attention span. I’m not an especially big shopper, or a big hiker. I like good food, and comfort. So, if you’re a big adventure seeker, or someone whose perfect day is meandering through a quaint town looking at shops, you definitely want to buy a guide book, or ask someone with similar tastes.
The Boston public transport system (MBTA) is excellent and easy to use, and is how I have been maneuvering around in Boston except for the couple of times I’ve been driven in to town by a friend. I have not quite worked up the courage to drive myself around Boston, the traffic seems treacherous, the pedestrians fearless, and the parking scarce and pricey.
I’m not sure why, but this is one of the first places I wanted to see in Boston. It has been a central marketplace and meeting place since 1743, and I guess I was expecting to find some super charming history there. Nope. Basically, it’s a huge crowded indoor/outdoor mall. And like most of Boston, it’s crazy expensive. I had a mad craving for ice cream one of the days I visited the hall. A small cone was $6.95!
Boston Duck Tours
There are several versions of Duck Tours, we took the “original” Duck Tour, which was a blast. You ride around Boston in an amphibious vehicle, which holds about 20 passengers, plus a driver. I’ve learned that the success of a tour depends largely on the skills, knowledge and personality of the driver, and we got a good one. The tour, which is narrated, goes around most of the major sights of Boston, and then eventually the jeep thing you are riding in turns into a boat and you drive right in to the Charles River. It was super cool, and a lot of fun. I loved it and would do it again. The only drawback is that there were certain sights I would have liked to explore, rather than just drive by.
Boston Hop on/Hop off Tours
Another narrated tour of Boston, the benefit to this one is you can get on and off at various sites (see above). And included in the price is a tour of the Old State House (see below). Our first driver was pretty lackluster, which definitely detracted from the tour. It also felt to me that the tour kept circling around, passing the same sights over and over from different directions. And, although there were 15 stops, we only chose to hop off at stop 5, which was the Old State House. Getting back on after our stop was tough, because subsequent trolleys were full, so you had to wait for a few to come by to get on, and they come every 15 minutes. I liked the tour but didn’t love it. But I did love the Old State House!
Boston Old State House
The Old State House, which was built in 1713, was the center for all political life in colonial Boston. It was the hub of the city and the first public reading of the Declaration of Independence in Massachusetts was done from the balcony on July 18, 1776. The tour docents are history students and they are excellent and really know their stuff. The Boston Massacre, which was one of the early touch points of the American Revolution, took place in front of the State House, and there is a separate tour that explains exactly what happened and makes it come alive. I was fascinated by all of this, and look forward to visiting the State House again.
Boston Museum of Fine Arts
I don’t know why I was so surprised by the awesomeness of this museum, I should have expected Boston would have a world class museum. But I was surprised and delighted by the depth of its collection. Picasso, Degas, Renoir, and Monet, are all well represented. They had a wonderful collection of early American silver, including works by Paul Revere. When we visited, they had just acquired a Frida Kahlo that was pretty magnificent. There’s probably a lot more that we didn’t see. Given my aforementioned short attention span, we didn’t stay for hours, and again, it’s a little pricey, adult admission is $25. But I can see myself going back soon.
The North End is Boston’s oldest neighborhood, and it is also what we would call in other towns, Little Italy. It is a great place for walking around, the streets are filled with little restaurants and shops, and on a weekend night (or perhaps any night of the week), it is a lively and happening scene. A couple of tips if you want to eat there, check to see if the restaurant accepts credit cards and takes reservations. If not, bring lots of cash, and be prepared for a long wait! And even if they do take reservations, be sure to make them well in advance, the good ones book up quickly. I had dinner at Al Dente, which was delicious and does take reservations. I also recommend a stop at the famous Mike’s Pastries, which is known for its cannoli but also has all kinds of other goodies. Don’t be afraid of the huge crowds, the lines move pretty quickly and it’s a fun place to see and be seen while waiting in line.
Outside of Boston:
Salem is a hoot! It is an absolutely charming and picturesque town, up the coast about 45 minutes from where I currently live. Famous of course for the infamous Witch Trials, which took place in 1692, the town economy is certainly centered around all things witchy. We did the Witch Museum tour, which is hokey but interesting and fun. We also walked all around the town, and saw beautiful old houses that were built back when Salem was a major sea port. The port of Salem was at its prime between the end of the Revolutionary War and the War of 1812. I liked that part of our day better than the witch related stuff, but I would recommend doing the museum at least once. We didn’t get to the famous Peabody and Essex museum, which is supposed to be quite fabulous, but we did have an excellent lunch at a place called Finz that my dentist recommended. The lobster roll was superior to Legal Seafood, and costs about $5 less. It’s all about priorities. And lobster rolls!
Lexington and Concord
Last weekend, when my parents were here, we took the Liberty Ride Trolley tour through Lexington and Concord. The tour takes you through the historic sites where the first shots of the American Revolution were fired, including the path taken by Paul Revere on his famous midnight ride, and the Lexington Battle Green, where the Lexington militia confronted 800 British Regulars as the sun rose on April 19, 1775. It also takes you past the Old Manse, where Nathaniel Hawthorne and Ralph Waldo Emerson both stayed, and much to my delight, past the Alcott house. I actually got teary eyed looking up at the window where Louisa May wrote that charming story about her sisters. This was again a narrated tour, and our guide Marcia, a retired schoolteacher dressed in colonial garb, mobcap and all, did an outstanding job of bringing this important lesson to life. I loved this tour!
Before leaving Lexington, we also toured the Hancock-Clark house, where Sam Adams and John Hancock, he of the large signature, were hiding out from the British. This was where Paul Revere and William Dawes (the guy nobody mentions) were headed on that famous night, to give them the warning to skedaddle, because “the British were coming” to destroy the munitions they heard were being stored in Concord by the increasingly angry Patriots. If you’re a history buff like me, especially with a yearning to see how people actually lived during these pivotal times in our nation’s history, add this stop to your list.
And that’s it, that is what I have seen so far. My list of places to go next is long, and it’s going to take a while, I have a busy summer coming up, what with packing and unpacking and moving again(!) and settling in to my new, old house. But I’ve got time on my side, everything here has been in place for a few centuries already, and it will wait for me, while I make my own history.
The end, for now