Laundry Cart: A Tale of Woe and Salvation

The Boy and I are a perfect fit for each other. Most days, we are like yin and yang. I’m fast, he’s slow. I wake up early, he stays up late. I’m loud, he’s quiet. He’s big, I’m small. I run ahead, he hangs back to see how things play out from afar. Everything I know I understand in words, words, words, but he’s all images, and puzzles, and system specs. I’ve learned that a rough sketch is the best way to get my point across. The point is, we balance each other. Most days.

Other days, it seems like our respective compulsions and idiosyncrasies line up perfectly and form a unifying obsession. Let me tell you a story…

When we moved out of our house in LA, we left our laundry hamper in a pile of other free stuff on the curb. It wasn’t a bad hamper, and it was still in decent shape, but there was nothing exciting about it (I know, duh, it’s a hamper), and The Boy and I had reached that critical mass stage of moving, where packing one more thing would likely have resulted in a city-wide killing spree. It was 10$ at Target and it wouldn’t fit in the car, so it went. We’d buy another one when we got there.

So for the first few days in Portland we were using empty Home Depot boxes for all our dirty clothes, until we finally made it to Bed, Bath, and Beyond. As we wandered the aisles in search of a hamper, we were horrified. They were all brutally ugly wicker monstrosities patterned in strange granny patterns like pussy willow branches and butterflies. Another store, we agreed. We’d find one somewhere else. But as we were checking out with our other purchases, I spotted my hamper. It was one of those huge industrial canvas carts, hidden underneath the check-out counter, a place for employees to throw returned pillows and suchlike. It was calling to me, with its dirty canvas and giant industrial orange label reading: Dandux. “There it is!” I whispered to The Boy. He agreed: we needed one. Until we got home and looked up how much one of those carts costs, and groaned at the 200$ price tag.

Now, I know that it’s just a hamper, and it’s going in the closet, and it doesn’t really matter but… this is one of those instances where something small sets both The Boy and I in the clear-eyed, cold-blooded grip of obsession.

We tried store after store: Ikea, Target, Bed Bath again. We were heartsick. We couldn’t find a cart for less than a hundred dollars, and all of the other hampers looked so trashy, so cheap, so forlorn.

And then, after yet another fruitless trip to Ikea, The Boy dragged me into Home Goods. I had major Ikea fatigue at this point, I was hungry, and thirsty, and generally being a brat. And then, tucked into the back an aisle like she’d been forgotten, my little cart. The most lovely little mini canvas cart I’d ever seen, with STEELE emblazoned on her face in stenciled letters. On sale for less than half the cost we’d seen online!

So all of this is to say that The Boy and I are quite insane, and we have a very nice hamper.

 

 

 

 

A Whole House Full of Opportunity

PDX Before_34PDX Before_40Well, we made it. We’re here, we’re (mostly) unpacked, and we’re already so in love with this city. Rain, roses, bridges, great coffee, great beer, great food… what could be better? Plus I’ve seen like eight rainbows in the last week. That’s more than one rainbow a day. Not a bad deal. I can feel it in every conversation–The Boy and I are already so much happier and more relaxed here. Even Matilda is loving her new home, she’s been sweeter and cuddlier ever since we got here.

Now that we’re kinda sorta mostly unpacked, we’re deep into project mode. We love our blue baby so much, but she’s going to need a lot of work. First of all, we don’t really have any furniture… our 400 square foot cottage didn’t allow us much room for extra stuff, so now I’ve got two completely empty rooms. Second, the blue dream is old, and could use some big updates in places like the kitchen and the bathroom. Also, some kind of depraved animal clearly lived here before us, so we’ve been scrubbing, scrubbing, scrubbing all week, trying to get her clean. I mean… they put chewing gum on the backsides of all my beautiful crystal doorknobs. CHEWING GUM. What?? What is that? Who would do such a thing? A depraved animal, that’s who. They also lit a fire in our non-working fireplace, completely scorching the back wall, so they weren’t even an especially bright depraved animal.

PDX Before_36PDX Before_39If there is a book-buying disease I have it bad. This isn’t even half of the collection.

PDX Before_18PDX Before_25PDX Before_27PDX Before_55PDX Before_57PDX Before_58That last room is the most exciting for me. Right now, it’s basically our dumping ground for everything that doesn’t have a home yet.  But one day soon, it’s going to be my very own office with a desk where I can write and a little armchair for me to read in by that big gorgeous window.

So yeah, lot’s of work to be done, but we’re like giddy little children so excited for the challenge. This is the first place where I really have the space and the time to take on projects and make it my own. It’s going to take some effort and a lot of time, but we’re in this for the long haul. So, just so you can see what kind of crazy people we are, here’s our project list in no particular order:

Refinish and paint the kitchen cabinets
Replace the kitchen cabinet hardware
Replace the icky laminate kitchen counter with wood
Repair the enamel in the kitchen sink
Replace the gross faux-marble kitchen contact paper (apparently you can do this with wallpaper–I’m pushing for this one)
Install over-the-sink shelves in the kitchen
Build a dining room table
Buy and button-tuft a new couch
Cover up the fireplace scorch marks with tile
Build floating bookshelves in the living room
Find a coffee table
Replace the bathroom sink
Buy/build new light fixtures for bedroom, living room, dining room, and my office
Buy/build some kind of storage for The Boy’s vinyl collection
Buy and refinish a tanker desk for me
Buy dining room chairs
Plant veggies in the backyard
Seed the weird back bit of the yard with wild flowers
Plant dahlia bulbs around the border of the back deck
Replace the weird cloudy mirror in the bedroom
Hang outdoor lights
Refinish our existing dressers
Finally build me a headboard
Make a temporary backsplash in the kitchen from pressed tin
Replace the toekick in the kitchen
Buy a cozy reading chair for my office

So consider these our “before” pictures, because big changes are coming. You can see all of our ideas for the new pad over here.

All photos by ME.

Unto the Path

path1path2We’d only been in our new house for about a day when a mysterious package arrived. It came from Maggie, and I knew our wedding present was inside. It was wrapped in such a way that only Maggie could wrap a box – thorough, meticulous, hard to open. It made me smile, as The Boy hacked through layer after layer of bubble wrap with his pocket knife, and for a second it felt like she was there with us.

Finally, we got through all the layers, and found a simple wooden picture frame with a piece of cardboard laid over the front. The Boy removed it carefully, and both of us gasped very softly in delight.

It was made by ShadowfoxDesign, based on this picture that The Boy drew for me so many years ago. It seemed just right that it should come to us now, in our new home, with so many possibilities and so much unknown ahead. We’ll hang it over the fireplace in our living room, so that it’s the first thing everyone sees when they walk in. So that whenever I come in the door, I’m reminded of my two very best friends in the world, and how lucky I am to have them.

I’m telling you guys, she’s one of the best ones.

Photos by ShadowfoxDesign

Portland or Bust: A Tale of Freak Snowstorms and Dream Homes

unnamed

The plan went like this:

1. Decide we’re moving to Portland.

2. Give up our LA apartment, with a move-out date for March 1st.

3. Fly up to Oregon two weeks later for a four-day trip with one mission: find a new home. Never mind that I’d never even seen the city before, that Portland has one of the most competitive rental markets in the country, or that if we went home empty-handed, we’d still have to move out of LA on March 1st.

4. Pack ourselves, the cat, and the tiny yellow couch in a U-haul and beat it on down the line, as they say.

So that was the plan. Who knew that Portland would get hit by a freak snowstorm on the very day we were due to arrive? Being east-coasters, we didn’t think much of it from afar. Four inches of snow? A Connecticut plow would have that snapped up before you could even dream about what you’d do with your snow day. Portland, however? Not so much.

So the days kept ticking by on our all-out house finding mission, and we kept not looking at houses. We did, however, eat many scrumptious meals, drink plenty of delicious beers, and visit a whole city of books.

And then we found her: nestled in a quiet and pristine neighborhood, our little blue bungalow. That’s how I thought of her right from the start: as ours. She had everything we wanted: a big backyard that could easily house a handful of hens, a bushel of tomato plants, or maybe even (one day) a dog. A tiny second bedroom that could serve as a sweet little nook for me to work in peace–The Boy, bless his heart, is seemingly impervious to my I’m writing, don’t bother me face… perhaps a locked door will do the trick. A basement where The Boy can indulge all of his cardboard box-hoarding compulsions, away from where I can see and trip over them. A big dining room where we can host all of our friends over for dinner. It’s walking distance to some spectacular ice cream and a wing joint named after a Grateful Dead song (basically my two very favorite things in the world).

And as I was walking away from the house the first time I saw it. Just a couple hundred feet away at the next intersection: a street sign bearing the name KLICKITAT ST. The home of one Ramona Quimby, age eight, beloved hero of my childhood. It seemed a most wonderful omen. All weekend long, as we sat by the phone and compulsively hit refresh in our email accounts, waiting to hear back about our dream home, I kept repeating that word again and again in my head: KlickitatKlickitatKlickitat. The same way you might turn a small object over and over in your hands when you’re nervous: KlickitatKlickitatKlickitat.

And the next thing we knew, she was ours. Our little blue dream, with plenty of space and the smell of rain always outside our door.

This new move won’t be easy, and there’s plenty of work ahead. But it helps to know that this one little thing fell into place, that this one little dream came true. Now it’s up to us to do the rest–I can’t wait.

So Long, California

BigSur_05_011.19.14_LA_14Over the last few months, two of my very best and most beautiful friends came to visit The Boy and I in LA. I wanted to show them all the magic and splendor of the golden coast, so I brought these ladies to Big Sur–“The Most Dramatic Meeting of Land and Sea”–and Leo Carillo Beach in Malibu. We scrambled over rocky bluffs, peered into crystalline tide pools to spy on lazy starfish and anemones in briney blues and violets, gazed up in awe at the tops of towering redwoods, and scaled peaks to look out across the whole wide earth all the way to the glittering sea.

BigSur_41_011.19.14_LA_341.19.14_LA_60BigSur_03_01BigSur_15_01These pictures are especially poignant to me now, because The Boy and I are packing up and hightailing it out of California. We debated this decision over weeks and months, but in truth it was while we were in Big Sur with Lorenza that my heart made its decision. I was sitting on top of a rock on a mountain overlook, looking down on a valley grove of redwoods that stretched all the way west until the land finally gave way to the Pacific. I felt nothing but happiness and the sun setting on my shoulders. Then something broke inside my head, and I had one of those perfectly clear thoughts: we need more space. We need more room to breathe. We need better air in our lungs. We need seasons, we need change. We need something more than the feverish grit and dizzying, disorienting, omnipresent sunshine of Los Angeles. But, sitting on top of that same mountain, I knew I was not ready to give up the wonders of the west, not yet. So Portland, Oregon, here we come.

BigSur_17_01BigSur_31_01BigSur_33_01I am beyond excited for our new life in a new city. We knew from the start that LA would not be our forever home, and eventually it seemed pointless to keep putting down roots if we weren’t ready to commit. Nevertheless, I’m sure I’ll be nostalgic for our Tiny Cottage one day.

BigSur_26_01BigSur_08_01BigSur_40_01In many ways, it was the perfect place to live as a newly married couple. 400 square feet offer no hiding places, no refuge, no room for cold shoulders or silent treatments. This house has been a wonderful crash course in marriage. The space forced us to be close, to speak plainly and honestly about our problems, to be gentle with each other even when one of us had had a bad day, and wasn’t feeling especially nice. We had spent so much time apart before we moved into the Tiny Cottage, and it was a little disorienting at first to swing so rapidly from 3,000 miles between us to just 3 feet.

BigSur_37_01BigSur_30_01To be perfectly honest, it wasn’t always easy. The Boy was slow to adjust to LA, and for months he was cranky, out of sorts, vulnerable, and lost. It fell to me to pick up the pieces a lot of the time, and quite frankly I did not always accept that role gracefully. We went through a little rough patch in those months, where it felt like we were arguing all the time and getting nowhere.

This was especially tricky during wedding planning, also known as hell on earth. I have one particularly fond memory of the early stages, which happened to coincide with The Boy’s poor mother staying with us for a weeklong visit, where a casual conversation about when we should start hanging lights in the yard erupted into an argument over nothing. I can see his mother so clearly, pretending to read on an airbed in our tiny living room, while we had a heated conversation in undertones just fifteen feet away in the kitchen. Ahh, wedding planning… that perfect melting pot where two different sets of values on family, religion, money, and tradition all come crashing together. Good times.

BigSur_19_01BigSur_21_01BigSur_11_01But little by little, the Tiny House showed us the way. I learned the value of small measures: making an extra cup of coffee in the morning, without being asked… picking up his favorite soda from the grocery store… washing the dishes, even though he told me he’d take care of it in the morning. These things count in a very real way, and they can make all the difference. Around October, without warning, the load got a little easier. We were sweeter with each other, and bickered less. We spent a little extra time in bed each morning, talking softly together about our plans for the day. And we both learned something important, something critical, something obvious but nevertheless difficult about our marriage: sometimes, some days, one of us will have to carry the heavier load, and that’s ok, but it’s especially important, when those days roll around, to not just remember that we love each other, but to say it, too, in gestures large and small, explicit and unspoken.

BigSur_42_01Our new house will have a lot more space, but we’ll carry these lessons there with us anyway. And one day, when we’ve been married a lot longer than we have now, I’m sure I’ll tell someone about the tiny cottage we lived in when we were so young, and so in love, and so full of plans for the future.

All pictures by Xander Keeping.

 

Recipes in Tradition

My mom is really cool. She owns a pair of pink and black patent leather Doc Martens, and she made sea salt chocolate chip cookies way before they were “a thing”. They’re The Boy’s favorite cookies, so she makes them every time we come home. Well, a couple days after we got back from Connecticut I was feeling a little bored and decided to try my hand at her recipe. I had these grand ideas about us feasting on chocolatey sea-salty goodness, about giving some to the neighbors, about writing a blog post on passing recipes down through generations, blah, blah, blah.

Sad Cookies_24So it turns out that I’m not a baker. I followed my mother’s recipe exactly, and either I did something very wrong or my oven runs really hot, because they came out hard and flat every time. The Boy ate them anyway, and pretended to enjoy them, but I was a little cranky with two plates full of mediocre cookies and my poignant blog post going up in smoke.

So I decided to try again, and this time I wouldn’t screw around with sweets, which aren’t really my thing. But instead of wisely choosing to set my sights a little lower, I decided to go for the grand prize: my mom’s matzoh ball soup.

MBSoup_03A couple of Thanksgivings ago, I was chatting with my then-roommate as I packed my bags to fly home for the holidays. She asked if we had any special Thanksgiving traditions in my family, and I stopped for a moment to think about it. We do the obligatory going around the table and saying what you’re thankful for, but I couldn’t come up with anything truly original. And then it hit me. Matzoh ball soup. For as long as I can remember, we have had matzoh ball soup at Thanksgiving. My mom makes it from my grandmother’s recipe, and the second part of the tradition is this: every time we sit down to eat the soup, mom will ask if we like the batch, and–no matter how emphatically we all tell her that it’s delicious, spectacular, the best soup ever–without fail she will say, “But not as good as Grandma’s.”

MBSoup_36 I’ve asked my mother for this recipe once before. It was a couple years ago, when The Boy and I were living in Providence. We’d both caught the flu and were in desperate need of some homemade soup. She gave me the recipe over the phone, and then I proceeded to disregard everything she said. Why would you put parsley in the broth when parsley is supposed to be eaten fresh? Why would I buy a package of soup greens when I can buy the vegetables individually? Why would I use a whole chicken with the meat, when I could just use leftover bones?

For some reason I was surprised when my soup came out tasting nothing like hers.

But this time was going to be different. I wrote down every single thing she said, and I resolutely decided to follow every step, every instruction, no matter how skeptical I was.

MBSoup_45As I was getting the ingredients together, I started thinking about the last time I had eaten my mom’s matzoh ball soup. It was just a couple weeks ago, while I was back home for Christmas. The Boy and I were sitting at the counter in my mom’s kitchen on Christmas day, having a bowl for a lunch. I didn’t notice it at the time, but looking back I suddenly realized. She hadn’t said it. The famous words, “But not as good as Grandma’s.”

This seemed especially poignant considering my grandmother passed away just a few years ago. In the time since then, I’ve felt like those six words carried a special kind of significance, and of course sadness, every time my mother said them, like the soup was a kind of memorial to my grandma, which, in a way, it was.

When I found out that my grandma had passed, the first thing I felt was regret, something I’m sure is not unusual. Regret that I had not known her better. I had spent plenty of time with my grandma during my life, and yet I still felt like I had missed out on something, like I had failed to know about her life in some way. But this is what I remember: she was a pragmatic sort of woman, with a very particular sense of humor that prompted a wicked little laugh, and every time she came to visit us she seemed to spend most of the time cleaning. Maybe this wasn’t what she was like at all. Maybe my mom is seeing this and frowning because I’ve missed the mark so entirely, but nevertheless it’s what I remember. Seems a little paltry now, considering what a remarkable person I know her to have been. The most, and best, that I can say is that she reminded me in a lot of very particular ways of my mom, which I’m sure means that I’ll grow up to resemble her in a lot of very particular ways as well. Such is the way that these thing go. But maybe, for now, making Grandma’s matzoh ball soup is enough remembrance in itself.

MBSoup_61When all was said and done, my first batch was a close interpretation of the original. The Boy and I sat down to a bowl full for lunch, and we both agreed that it was delicious, but not as good as Mom’s.

Chocolate Chip & Sea Salt Cookie

2 sticks Softened Butter

1/2 cup White Sugar

1 1/2 cups Brown Sugar

2 Eggs

2 tsp Vanilla Extract

2 1/2 cups Flour

1 tsp Baking Powder

1 tsp Baking Soda

1 tsp Coarse Sea Salt, plus a little extra for garnish

1 16 oz bag Chocolate Chips

1) Preheat oven to 350.

2) In a large mixer, mix the butter until creamed.

3) Add the eggs, both sugars, and vanilla and mix until combined.

4) Add the flour, baking powder, soda, sea salt, and chocolate chips and mix again.

5) Working in batches, transfer spoonfuls of dough to a buttered cookie sheet. Make small thumbprints on the top of each dough lump, and sprinkle a little coarse sea salt into the indentations.

6) Bake at 350 for 9-10 minutes. Cookies should look a little undone and just be turning brown when you take them out. Transfer to a cooling rack and repeat until you’re out of dough. Note: I had my baking time down to 6 minutes by the last batch, and they still came out over done, so keep an eye on them. Oven temperatures vary wildly.

I know this is ridiculous, but I feel a little weird sharing the soup recipe online (I can practically hear my mother rolling her eyes at this), but enjoy the cookies! They’re really delicious when my mom makes them, so I’m sure one of you can figure out where I went awry. And go ask your mom for her matzoh ball soup recipe, or, you know, whatever your tradition is.

PS: How great is my new spoon rest? Another gift from mom.

A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood

Echo Park_28X Echo Park_01Echo Park_81Echo Park_03Echo Park_75Echo Park_13Echo Park_65Echo Park_87X Echo Park_52X Echo Park_18Echo Park_82Echo Park_101The weather in LA has been lovely lately, so refreshing after being home in the snow for a week! The Boy and I have been trying to take advantage, so we’ve spent a lot of time over the past few days walking around our neighborhood and taking pictures.

We live in my very favorite part of LA, Echo Park, right in the middle of one of LA’s biggest parks, Elysian Park, which is also home to Dodger Stadium. The Elysian Fields were the Greek mythological paradise in the afterlife, and as a total mythology nerd I get a little thrill out of that. The Elysian Fields were supposed to be a pastoral haven free from snow and bitter winds, where the earth bore sweet fruit and the sun was always shining. Our Elysian is still very much a city park, though very large and not especially manicured, but compared to the smog and ceaseless traffic of LA, it feels like our own little paradise. We love our neighborhood because it’s very quiet, much greener than the rest of the city, and there’s this great feeling of an older artists’ community, where both the people and the houses are a little more eccentric.

There’s also an abundance of exciting nooks and crannies to explore, thanks in large part to the many “secret staircases” in the area, some of which you can see above. The staircases in Elysian Valley traverse the incredibly steep hills that line Echo Park Avenue (our home!) on both sides. Back in the 1920s, when Echo Park was being developed, the staircases served as direct routes for pedestrians in an age where there were far fewer cars. I was so excited when, during one of our first weeks here, I walked up one of those staircases and found myself in a little secret garden complete with a public swing, pomegranate trees, a babbling stream with a footbridge, and a whole flock of hummingbirds.

LA can be a bit intense sometimes, and neither The Boy nor I think of it as a forever home, but some days, when the sun is shining, and the jasmine flowers perfume the air, and I’m standing on top of a very tall hill looking out all the way to the Hollywood sign, I think, “Well this is nice.”

 

Valentines for Christmas

Christmas_2013KT_03Christmas_2013KT_06Christmas_2013KT_08Christmas_2013KT_12Typewriter_05Typewriter_06Typewriter_23Typewriter_24Just a little series documenting the unveiling of my gorgeous brand new Olivetti Valentine typewriter, a Christmas gift from The Boy. I think he knocked it out of the park, right?

The Valentine was first produced in 1969 in time for the holiday with which it shares its name. Olivetti designed the Valentine to be lightweight, portable, and of course beautiful, to appeal to the romantic and itinerant natures of artists and poets, who would feel more at home writing on a cafe patio or the beach than in a cubicle desk. The company also released a series of stunning posters to promote the new “anti-machine” machine, as they called it. I’m particularly fond of this one. My new baby is one of the originals produced in 1969, and I love him because his Y and Z keys are mixed up, which I believe adds character.

So how on earth could I compete with a gift like that? I don’t know, but I think The Boy was pretty pleased with what I got him.

I hope everyone had a holly jolly holiday, and a splendid new year!

All photos by Xander Keeping, except for the last one, which I took myself and also happens to be the best one.

I Remembered

When The Boy left home for college his bed tagged along with him, so this time I was sleeping on a mattress on the floor. His old room is the only one on the top floor of the three-story house, and virtually the entire southeast wall is windows. Lying on the mattress in a dark and nearly empty room, I stared out of those windows for the second to last time as The Boy wheezed softly in his sleep beside me. What with the room being so high up, and me being so low to the ground, all I could see were the tops of the trees, branches bare and black against midnight blue, like I was in a treehouse or a small boat floating through the sky. It was one of those cold and clear winter nights, and I could see a handful of crystal bright stars winking at me from behind the branches. I hadn’t expected to be back there again, looking up through those windows across the tops of the trees.

We weren’t supposed to go home for Christmas. Earlier in the fall, when we’d discussed how we’d spend our first holidays as a married couple, we tip-toed around the real reason. We’d done so much traveling that year, we said. With The Boy’s graduation and subsequent move, and then the wedding… it was all too much. We needed a break. Some quiet.

But staring up through those windows, so far away from the relaxed and balmy LA Christmas I’d imagined, I knew something I had always known, but hadn’t said or even thought before. I hadn’t wanted to come home, because I hadn’t wanted to say goodbye.

The wedding had been the perfect ending to my relationship with that house, because it hadn’t really felt like an ending at all. The house and yard were still full of furniture, full of people, full of shouts and laughter, full of life, full of that magic green and gold. Weeks later, when I learned the house had been sold, it seemed fitting that the last memory I would have of the place was one of being loved, of loving, of running around in old shorts in 105 degree weather making flower arrangements, of wildflowers and the same old trees that I’d known since I was fifteen watching over me. I was sad that it was over, but I wrote this, and felt a little better. We had sent the old girl off in style, and it really didn’t get any better than that.

But things change, and somehow I ended up standing in that driveway again, walking through that door again. Only this time it was bitterly cold, half the house was in boxes, and the green and gold had been replaced with bruised purple and grey. This time, it felt like an ending: sad, and leaden, and with the kind of finality that you know won’t feel fully real until weeks later, when it’s over and gone, but you can still sense waiting in the wings.

That night, lying underneath those windows, I remembered.

I remembered the summer before The Boy and I started dating, when we’d get too tired and too drunk to drive me home, and I’d end up crashing in his bed, sleeping right beneath those windows. This happened almost every night. We were still just friends, but every once in awhile I’d wake in the middle of the night and find that our bodies had unconsciously wrapped themselves around each other. We’d pretend like it hadn’t happened when we woke the next day at 4 am to drive me home before my parents woke up and noticed I hadn’t come home. Who was I kidding? Like they hadn’t noticed…

I remembered waking up on hot summer mornings in a haze of blinding sunshine baking me alive through those shadeless windows. When I couldn’t stand it anymore, we’d pull all our blankets and pillows out onto his balcony and sleep off the rest of the morning in that cool early morning summer breeze carrying the smell of fresh cut grass. The railings were tall and solid wood, so lying on the floor all I could see were the swaying green treetops, outlined against a cloudless blue sky.

I remembered standing on that balcony in the middle of the night in my underwear and old leather jacket, smoking a cigarette. It was a warm summer night, and we’d only been dating a couple of weeks. I could see my best friend’s house from that balcony. Her lights were off. She’d left us hours ago to go to bed.

I remembered standing on that balcony on a hot summer afternoon, the day The Boy and I fell in love. He was waiting for me in the yard while I ran upstairs to grab something. His room, with its air conditioning and slate blue walls, felt so cool and refreshing after the scorching heat, and the heady smell of the trees, and the irresistible momentum of falling in love. I grabbed what I needed, whatever it was, but for some reason I felt compelled to go out on the balcony before I went back downstairs. I could see my best friend’s house from that balcony. Her car was gone. I could see a red garden hose, curled up neatly on the black asphalt of The Boy’s driveway. I could see him, waiting for me on the front stoop. He didn’t look up, but I smiled at him anyway. I didn’t tell him I loved him that day, but I would.

I remembered standing in that driveway a few weeks later, talking to The Boy over my shoulder as I rummaged for something in my friend’s car. It was late August, and he was home visiting from college. He’d only left for school two weeks earlier, and he hadn’t been planning on coming home yet, but we missed each other so much that he did. We still weren’t dating. When I went over to his house that night I actually ran across the kitchen to hug him and he breathed into my hair, “Hey, kid.” Later, he walked out into the driveway with me so I could get my cigarettes out of my friend’s car. For some reason I’d decided to take all of the cigarettes out of the pack, and we were trying to put them back in, talking about something unimportant the whole time, when finally I couldn’t stand it anymore, and I dropped all of the smokes we had so painstakingly been trying to fit back into their cardboard box on the ground, reached my hands around his neck, and kissed him for the first time in years, with the moonlight filtering down on us through those same old trees that I’d known since I was fifteen.

I took an oral history class in college, and in it we spent a lot of time talking about the powers and limitations of memory. One image that’s always stuck with me is the notion of memory as a hydraulic wheel. The more it spins the faster it goes. You start remembering a single image, or perhaps a smell, and that leads to another and another, and the more you remember the more you remember, coming faster and faster until you’re left swimming in the deluge. I laid beneath those windows on a cold winter night with the hydraulic wheel of memory spinning faster and faster in my mind, remembering, and remembering, and remembering with the cold brightness of the stars piercing through my heart and the warm skin of my husband’s back pressing against my side.

This was the goodbye that I never wanted to say, the real reason we hadn’t wanted to go home, and it was bittersweet and heavy. But on Christmas Eve I sat on the floor with The Boy, and his brother, and his mother, and his grandmother, wrapping presents. This song was playing softly in the background, and The Boy and his brother were joking around about something or another, while his mother sorted through old photos, running back and forth to show us when she found one of The Boy sporting a baby mohawk in his bath, or his sister in her wedding dress, and I hummed along to the song and thought, “I never would have wanted to miss this.”

Photo by Decade Diary.

The First One

Well a very happy holiday to all my fine friends. This was my first Thanksgiving ever away from home. The first time my mom did not force us to go all around the table, each one of us trying to come up with something sillier or more sarcastic to say we were thankful for (well, I’m sure this still happened, I just wasn’t there). The first time I didn’t get to eat matzoh ball soup before turkey dinner, a Schachte family tradition, even when Thanksgiving doesn’t coincide with the first night of Hannukah.

It was just The Boy and me, and our first Thanksgiving together was a little bit old, a little bit new. I cooked all day, just like I have watched my mother do every year. We ate a roast duck, candied butternut squash, two kinds of potatoes (because I have my priorities right), stir-fried green beans, cranberry sauce, and salty honey pie (bring this one to dinner parties; it’s delicious, unbelievably easy, and impressive).

Five minutes before we sat down to eat, I grabbed a stainless steel pan out of a 400 degree oven with my bare hand. As I stood there, hopping up and down and cursing like a sailor, some small unburned part of me was laughing in the back of my brain. It seemed like the perfect reminder that this was our first time, that we haven’t quite gotten it right yet, that we are so far away from home, and trying our best to do this together, the only way we know how, and still screwing it up sometimes. The Boy went to bandage my hand, and found that we only had electrical tape, so I spent the rest of the night with a big black glob of burn ointment and gaffer’s tape wrapped all around my palm. We don’t have a dining table (hello, 400 square feet), so we ate on the couch while we rewatched Battlestar Galactica. As I sat there, belly full of duck and two kinds of potatoes, mind a little fuzzy from the half a pain killer I’d swallowed, watching the Cylons nuke the entire human race, I turned to The Boy and murmured, “I think this is our new Thanksgiving tradition.”

Photo by Steven Alkire