Yard Sale Part 1: Selling Off the Memories

yard saleJust a short post today, as I get ready to help my mom prepare for her giant yard sale tomorrow. Thankfully, Mom is in good health and is downsizing from the three-bedroom home where my brothers and I grew up to a really lovely, much more modern condo. She’s not moving very far either, so she won’t have to say goodbye to any dear local friends. In fact, the condo is only about a mile from the old neighborhood, so even the neighbors she’s come to love and trust won’t be far from her. Oh, and many, many of her friends also live in the complex she’s moving into.

So this is—as much as any major move can be—a happy change in her life. A positive thing. And yet, there’s a sadness—often unspoken—about the whole thing too. The house she’s selling is the first and only one she ever bought with my dad, who died fourteen years ago. And although most of Dad’s clothing and personal items have been donated or given to people who wanted them, his gentle presence still inhabits the home, and whenever I go there, I sense it strongly, as well as his absence.

Today, then, my kids and I are headed up there to start going through the things she won’t be able to bring to the condo. Things that fall into the category of “not good or important enough to keep but not trash either.” We’ll put price tags on the dishes and drinking glasses we used as kids, old Halloween costumes, and the curtains and furniture that gave that home its character for so many years. My daughter asked if it’ll make me cry to do that, and I told her that I hope not. They’re all just things, after all, things that will most likely get used by other families much like ours. Memories are in your heart, I tell my kids, and my mom. And I firmly believe that. Possessions are nothing, in the scheme of things.

I’ve had yard sales before too. Several years ago–when we were certain we wouldn’t have any more babies–my husband and I hauled all but the most precious baby stuff out on the front lawn and spent a lovely day watching people younger than us find treasures in the items that we no longer had use for. We thought it might be hard seeing our old Pack ‘n’ Play get taken away by strangers, or our kids’ favorite ride-around toys and mobiles go off with other people, but in the end, it didn’t really bother us. Actually, it made us happy to see other people so happy to get what they wanted at bargain prices.

So I hope this sale will have the same vibe. The weather tomorrow is supposed to be beautiful, so that will help. But will I shed a tear or two when I see new people buying my dad’s old tools? Or his lawn mower? Will I cry when people walk off with boxes of my brother’s record albums, or the board games I used to play on the porch with friends on rainy days?

I honestly don’t know. If you care, stay tuned for next week’s post…

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Dog and Cat are (slowly becoming) Friends

Spencer and Sherlock making friends

I thought the couch was canine territory…

Last month, I posted about losing our sweet cat, Jack, to cancer, just weeks after we’d adopted a new kitty named Sherlock to be his pal. Suffice to say, it was a sad and confusing time for all members of our family, both human and animal.

But today’s post is a happier one. Because the good news is that Sherlock and our dog, Spencer, are bonding in ways we never thought possible. You see, despite the fact that Spencer has lived with cats since he moved into our home two years ago and has always been respectful of their space, he never interacted much with them. Certain areas of the house were feline and certain ones were canine.

But Sherlock didn’t care for that arrangement. From the moment we introduced him to Spencer, he seemed to want the freedom to roam anywhere he liked, and he was constantly trying to play with (or at least antagonize) the poor dog. Honestly, it was hard to tell what was going on in his cat brain. He’d sit on a table or countertop, and when Spencer walked over to give him a sniff, Sherlock would strike out quite viciously with his claws. Then Spencer—who’s a formidable hunter outdoors—would run away. For a while, we were afraid Spencer would turn on Sherlock, so we humans kept a close eye on the two of them, and made sure to separate them whenever we left the house. But as the days passed, it became increasingly evident that the dog didn’t want to hurt the cat.

Current dog psychology informs us that dogs are pack animals, and apparently, Spencer has begun to view Sherlock as a member of the pack. Yes, he’ll chase the little fellow, but whenever Sherlock jumps onto the kitchen table, Spencer “gives up.” He’ll walk away “defeated,” but in fact, he and I both know that he can hop up on that table in a heartbeat if he wants to. I’ve caught him up there plenty of times, searching for crumbs or whatever tidbits we humans have left behind.

animals_sleeping

A mid-morning nap

Also encouraging is the way the animals have recently begun greeting each other with nose touches. And they’ve started sleeping together on the couch like a couple of people who’ve been married for a while (sharing a bed, but facing opposite directions).

Perhaps even more importantly, they’ve started causing trouble together. One day last week, when all the humans were out of the house, Sherlock climbed up into our pantry and knocked a large bag of dog treats onto the floor. Unfortunately, the bag hadn’t been sealed tightly, and when we arrived home, we found poor Spencer looking quite ill with the last of the treats dangling from his mouth. Then, as we tried to recall how full the bag had been and wondered if we should call the vet, he vomited—all over the living room rug of course—and was fine. (The rug’s OK too, thanks to a lot of scrubbing and a generous dousing with Nature’s Miracle.)

It was a good lesson for us (make sure to seal those bags carefully, and keep the pantry door closed!) but we also couldn’t help laughing a bit about how the cat had helped the dog with his ongoing quest for treats.

cat and dog back hallway

Finishing off the kibble in the back hallway

Then, just this morning, I heard some noise out in our back hallway—where we keep random stuff—and was surprised to discover that the cat had clawed a hole in a bag of dog food, and both animals were enjoying the kibble that had fallen to the floor. They weren’t squabbling over the food either. They were just snacking peacefully together; one piece of kibble for you, one for me. Again, I cleaned up the mess with some annoyance, but more amusement. I guess it’s time to find a new storage spot for the dog food.

But I’m proud of these crazy creatures. Here they are—a rescue dog who spent his formative months wandering the woods of South Carolina, and a cat who was recently surrendered to an animal hospital because his owner couldn’t care for him—learning to trust each other and even share food. It may sound corny, but it gives me faith in humanity. After all, if two animals with diverse and difficult histories can manage to coexist in peace, surely people can do so as well.

Posted in animals, cats, dogs, life | Tagged , , , , , , , | 8 Comments

Grateful for our New Faucet…and Water

faucetTrust me, I realize that the particulars of my kitchen sink are about as insignificant to most people as, well, the particulars of anyone’s kitchen sink. Hell, my kitchen sink doesn’t occupy much space in my mind either. When I stop to consider all the things in this world I’m grateful for, plumbing fixtures don’t usually come to mind…until recently.

Our faucet issues actually began during the spring, at the height of racing season. Our son just completed his first year of rowing for his school’s crew team, and let me just say that although crew has been amazing and transformative for him in so many ways, the team races during the fall and the spring, and also practices over the summer and winter. So the sport is extremely time consuming.

The busiest time of all, though, is spring racing season. Most regattas last two days (Saturday and Sunday) and often involve traveling to and arriving at a designated riverbank right around sunrise. Now, the kids have lots of jobs during regattas: they unload the boats from the trailer, and rig them for racing. Then they row (of course!) then de-rig and reload the boats at the end of the day. They also need to rest and eat well, so as to maximize on their performance. Meanwhile the parents set up and maintain a food tent that serves hot and cold food throughout the regatta. This involves cooking, cleaning, hauling stuff, running to the local grocery store when necessary, and making sure the kids stay hydrated. And regattas often go until dusk. Meaning that by the time Monday rolls around, everyone’s often exhausted.

But I digress. My point is that our kitchen faucet started acting flukey during spring racing season, so nobody felt the need or energy to deal with it. It was an old faucet, controlled by a lever that rotated on a ball joint; you moved the lever up to turn the water on, down to shut it off, to the left for hot water, and to the right for cold. But at some point in April or May, we started to notice that the control was getting wacky. At first, the only weird part was that the water wouldn’t shut off when the lever was placed in the downward position. Instead, you had to move it around in various different directions until the flow stopped. But that was OK. It was just a little more challenging. No big deal. Guests found it puzzling, but some member of our family was always available to help shut it off.

Racing season ended, and we found ourselves immersed in a string of graduations, birthdays, final exams, end-of-year parties, vacation plans, summer camp plans, and a whole bunch of other things. Calling a plumber wasn’t tops on our minds. Sure, we’d begun to notice that the “hot” and “cold” controls on the faucet were getting messed up too, but again, we weren’t really concerned. Sometimes moving the lever to the left would result in hot water coming out, while other times, it would be cold. So we’d move it to the right for hot. Or down a bit. Or up.

“Mom, are we ever getting this faucet fixed?” asked my daughter one day in June as she attempted to fill a water bottle with cold water.

“Yes!” I told her. “When we have time.”

Ironically, though, as the days passed, we all spent more and more time dealing with the faucet. Cooking became more challenging, as was washing and rinsing dishes. Tending to the animals in the morning took longer than normal, as no dog or cat wants to drink warm water. (“Hang on a minute, guys. I’ll fill your bowl as soon as this faucet decides to spit out some cold!”) Not to mention that we were wasting more and more water each day.

But as June melted into July, my husband’s work got busier and busier, and with the kids out of school, suddenly my schedule was completely different. I was trying to find writing time—yes, someday I’ll finish making revisions on my new novel—while also trying to get a handle on summer.

Then, last Sunday, after being out all day, the family got home and my daughter went to the sink to wash her hands. But what came out wasn’t just hot or cold water—it was spray. Whatever had been “going” in the faucet over the past few months had completely “gone,” and there was no control at all. A trickle still flowed from the faucet, but the majority of the water was spraying wildly from the base of the faucet, soaking the floor, countertops, and, everyone in the room.

So on Monday morning, I finally called our wonderful plumber, Charlie. And within two hours, we had a brand new, extremely efficient faucet in place of the old one. The following day, I woke up a little late and rushed to the kitchen to feed the animals and get breakfast started for the kids, one of whom needed to leave for camp in less than an hour. And it was amazing. There was no wrestling with the faucet, no question of what temperature of water might emerge from it. Gone also was the challenge of wondering how long it’d take to turn the thing off. Having it work so perfectly made me feel terribly guilty about all the water we’d wasted over the past few months.

Is there a lesson in this? Well, I guess if your faucet isn’t working properly, it makes sense to get it fixed sooner rather than later, as it’s probably not going to fix itself. But this little kitchen experience also helped me remember how lucky I am to live in a home with running water, and where help for most problems is just a phone call away. It’s made me think of people in parts of the world where water needs to be hauled, and where clean water simply isn’t available. And as we reminded our kids during our little water crisis: just be thankful that there are other faucets in the house. And a toilet. Because millions of people on this earth don’t have toilets either.

Finally, I discovered that March 22 is World Water Day, an annual event organized by the UN to raise awareness of the water crisis facing our planet. If you’re interested in learning more, feel free to check out their website here.

This is the first in a series of blog posts about being grateful for the little–and big– things in life. Guest bloggers are welcome: if you’re interested, please contact me at mary@pocomotech.com

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Today I’m a Guest on February Grace’s Clockwork Conversations….

Very honored–thanks February! It was so much fun chatting about life, books, college, music, and various other things.

Read the post here:

http://clockworkconversations.blogspot.com/2015/07/conversation-39-author-mary-rowen.html

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Summer Playlist for Sunny Days, Stormy Nights, and Roadtrips

summer_playlistIt’s July 3rd, and it finally feels like summer has hit New England. Maybe it’s just me—I’ve been hacking away at a dark, “wintery” novel—but I don’t think so. The weather simply hasn’t been typical of summer until now. Yes, we’ve had a few hot days and some humidity, but it hasn’t stuck around long. Just last Sunday, my husband and I went on a little boat cruise in Boston Harbor (more on that below) and were chilly in jeans and sweatshirts. Some people on the boat were actually wearing winter jackets. In late June.

But scratch all that. Because now it’s July, and I’ll bet even that nasty pile of snow in Boston’s Seaport District has melted. Temperatures are in the 70s, and I awoke today to the sound of reggae music playing from a car stereo in my neighborhood. The windows are open and the ceiling fans are spinning. What’s missing? A summer playlist, of course.

OK, so first of all, I’m no kid, and I’ve never claimed to be cutting edge. Even as a teenager, new bands and singers usually took a while to grow on me, but once they did, they’d integrate into my body chemistry or something. And although I’m always interested in new music, I never toss out old favorites either. Hence, my playlists tend to be blends of newer and older albums, often with some genuine classics tossed in. And if you missed that, I said albums, not singles, because I come from a time when you bought an entire album and listened to it all. Singles are fine for working out and dance parties, but if I’m going on a summer road trip or playing music at a vacation house, I like listening to the album in order. Sorry if that makes me a dinosaur, but I think there’s value in hearing the songs the way the artist intended. So here I go, loading up the old iPod, and sharing with you in case you’re interested.

Please feel free to comment and add your suggestions. The only thing better than a summer playlist is an interactive one!

  1. Courtney BarnettSometimes I Sit and Think and Sometimes I Just Sit (March 2015) This is Courtney Barnett’s debut album, and I think it’s pretty amazing. The first time I heard Courtney was on the radio a while back with the single “Avant Gardener.” It was such a cool, original song; somehow it reminded me of Bob Dylan and the 60s, but also sounded so modern, and I loved its confessional style. When I heard she was planning to release a full-length album, I knew I’d want to hear it, and it doesn’t disappoint. Courtney’s fast becoming an international sensation, and she deserves to be. The woman’s got it all: talent, youth, spirit, humor, beauty. David Bowie recently said that Lourde sounds like the future to him, but in my humble opinion, Courtney Barnett sounds like the future. My favorite song from the new album right now is “Depreston.”
  2. Robyn HitchcockThe Man Upstairs (June, 2014) My husband introduced me to Robyn Hitchcock for real back in the mid-90s. At the time, I knew Hitchcock’s name because he’d had a radio hit in the 80s called “Balloon Man,” but thinking you know Robyn Hitchcock after hearing “Balloon Man” is like saying you know Bobby McFerrin after hearing “Don’t Worry, Be Happy.” In other words: neither of those songs is representative of those artists’ catalogues and genius. For some reason, however, Robin Hitchcock has never become huge in the United States. Many of his albums of original songs are among my all-time favorites (especially 1990’s Eye), but recently, (thanks again to my hubby) I’ve become aware of his 2014 album called The Man Upstairs, which is mostly a collection of cover songs. The only ones I’ve heard so far are his version of the Psychedelic Furs’ “The Ghost in You,” The Doors’ “The Crystal Ship,” and Roxy Music’s “To Turn You On,” (which is a beautiful song, regardless of who sings it) and I already know this album will be an essential part of my summer. Plus, Gillian Welch did the cover art for the album. How cool is that?
  3. Talking HeadsStop Making Sense (Audio CD, 1994, soundtrack to the 1984 concert film) Yes, I’m aware that Talking Heads are now most frequently heard on classic hits radio stations, but somehow that’s always seemed wrong to me. Because unlike most bands from the 70s, 80s, and 90s that get played on those stations, Talking Heads always tend to sound new, no matter how many times I hear them. Maybe it’s because I went to college in the mid-80s, and partied to the band way too many times with people at my very first job. But here’s something else: that Harbor cruise (mentioned above) that my husband and I went on last week featured a really good Talking Heads tribute band called Start Making Sense. Oh no, you think. Not a tribute band. I thought the same thing until I heard them and was once again reminded of how many great songs Talking Heads wrote and performed. Even stranger, my husband and I were probably the two oldest people on the boat! Everyone else appeared to be in their twenties or thirties, and it was packed, despite the bad weather. What does that mean? I’m not sure, but I think it means Talking Heads never get old. And boy, did that music ever sound great out there on the water with the spray flying. If you need your memory jogged, here’s “Swamp” with some concert footage.
  4. Tame ImpalaCurrents (June, 2015) Damn, I love this band. They’ve been around since 2007, but I only discovered them a year or two ago when I heard their song “Elephant” on the radio and said, “What the hell is this?” It was psychedelic, hooky, and adventurous, and it kind of blew my mind. So when I heard they were playing at the Boston Calling Music Festival this past spring, I was so excited to see them live. Yes, it was a chilly, windy night out on City Hall Plaza, but with the wind blowing thorough their long Aussie hair, Tame Impala heated up the crowd with “Elephant,” their new hit, “Let It Happen,” and a whole bunch of others. Can’t wait to listen to the rest of the album on the beach this summer.
  5. Bruce SpringsteenGreetings from Asbury Park, NJ (1973) What’s a summer playlist without a little Bruce? This album was released in 1973 when I was about nine years old, but I made it my own it during one of my high school summers, when I was doing some serious “Growin’ Up”(and definitely check out this video, recorded at Max’s Kansas City in 1972), so to me, it will always remind me of summer and rebellion. Sure, some of the songs are upbeat and some are slower and darker, but hey, that’s summer too. And the cover art is a postcard from Asbury Park, one of the East Coast’s most iconic beaches. “When they said sit down, I stood up.” Tell ’em, Bruce.
  6. The VivsThe Odds (2015) This is a brand new album coming out soon from my favorite local band. Great people and great musicians who’ve been on the Boston scene for a while (they’re made up of former members of Tribe, Edith, and several other bands) they sing harmony like nobody else and write funny, sad, intelligent songs. Can’t wait to hear what they’ve got in store this time. Here’s the first single they’ve released; it’s called “Ouch Wow.” Can’t you hear this playing at your next party? Or maybe on the soundtrack to a great summer movie? 
  7. Bright EyesLifted or The Story is in the Soil, Keep Your Ear to the Ground (August, 2002) Conor Oberst is yet another artist I didn’t really know about until he’d been making albums for a while, but now that I’ve seen him in concert multiple times and listened to pretty much everything he’s recorded, this album has risen to the top as my favorite. Call me immature, but if I live to be a hundred, summer nights will always be laced with memories of teenage angst, and this album vibrates with angst from start to finish. Even better, there’s not a bad song on it. Not familiar? Here are two samples, Laura Laurent and Lover I Don’t Have to Love. If you don’t like these, this record probably isn’t for you.
  8. Bettie ServeertPalomine (1992) Sigh. I don’t know what it is about this record, but every time I hear it, I want to cry sentimental tears. And yet, it makes me so happy too. Lead singer Carol van Dijk’s voice has a way of tugging at all the right heartstrings. What could be better to listen to on the drive home from the beach? Want a sample? Here’s the title song, “Palomine.” “Yes, the sun will always shine….”

I could go on, but this post is getting long, and it feels like a good time to head outside and catch a little of the afternoon beauty. Again, please add any of your summer faves in the comment section. Thank you, and happy 4th of July!

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A Hemingway Quote for the Day

Seems to grow more relevant with each passing day…

Hemingway

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Dinnertime with Teens: a Poem

Table for oneAn hour or so ago,

the family was here.

We ate and talked of school and politics, movies and summer plans.

Someone told a joke. Someone laughed. Someone got mad.

Everyone loaded the dishwasher.

 

It was the type of dinner I imagined

back when mealtime meant

sippy cups, peas thrown from highchairs,

and cut-off sandwich crusts.

 

They’ve scattered now.

Someone’s reading, someone’s biking, someone’s online.

Alone in the kitchen, I sponge the table and try not to think about the future,

when family dinner will be a thing for holidays, at best.

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