Category Archives: MHH Column

MHH Column May 2017: Siding suspicions

I have some concerns.           

      Two weeks ago, I noticed that the siding on my house needed cleaning. My esteemed counterpart and I made a pilgrimage to the hardware store to purchase a few bottles of “house wash” which could be attached to a garden hose. Sounds pretty simple, right? It’s a one-hour job…two at the max, provided you get right on it and don’t let anything distract you.

It is fourteen days later and I am watching as the nozzle of a rented, pressure washer is being hoisted to an open second story window by way of a 50-foot wet extension cord. Does anyone else see a problem here?

It was bad enough that the job had to be postponed the first week due to rain, but it was further delayed by Johnny-On-The-Spot’s procrastination skills. Not only did he have to watch a few Saturday morning cartoons and catch up on his online video games, but then he felt compelled to take his mother out to lunch and waste 30 minutes playing me snippets of the Beatles’ greatest hits.

“Look, I love you but seriously… either play all of ‘Hey Jude’ or none of it. Don’t jump tracks midway through. It’s hard on my ears,” I told him.

“I’m just killing time waiting for you,” he replied. “I need your help.”

“What do you need me for?” I asked.

“I can’t see the dirt.”

Of course he can’t. He only managed to turn the entire side yard into a swamp, rent a power washer and rig a dangerous system for reaching the top of the house that will result in either his electrocution or the flooding of my bedroom. Yet he hadn’t actually done anything. I firmly believe I am present solely to bear witness to the forthcoming tragedy and have an appropriate statement for when the EMTs or insurance adjuster arrives.

Over the next several minutes, I took several pictures in order to point out certain problem areas and then left him to it. An hour later, my colleague came inside and turned on the TV. He announced that the job was finished and he had returned the equipment. However, I remained suspicious.

“So all four sides of the house have been cleaned?” I asked.

He seemed genuinely surprised by the question. “Well no, I only thought one side was dirty.”

The moral of this story is that if you want something done right, do it yourself. It will be less dangerous. The job will be completed in full and your relationship will be a lot stronger for it.

 

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April column for Michiana House & Home Magazine: Monitoring the leaks

      One of these days, I will learn. Nine years ago, we moved into our new home and upon settling in, our washing machine began to leak water onto the laminate flooring. As President of this operation, I pointed the problem out to the Secretary of Home Improvement and he acknowledged that Houston, we indeed had a problem.

He proceeded to monitor the situation for the next decade.

Now, I don’t like to nag, but I am the kind of person who was born with a lot of get up and go whereas my counterpart…was not. In fact, he is a big proponent of the wait-and see-method of dealing with problems. Perhaps if we pretended not to notice the washing machine leaking, maybe it would stop doing it.

“It’s not a naughty child making a play for attention, you know,” I commented wryly.

When it became a more pressing concern a few weeks ago, he agreed it wasn’t faking and decided to take a look at it. That’s when he decided I must be overfilling it with clothes.

“You’re kidding, right?” I responded. “That washer can hold up to 12 pairs of jeans in its largest setting. It should be able handle a baseball jersey and a pair of sweatpants without its water breaking!”

“Well it only does it when it has a full load,” he offered.

I asked him if his honest solution to this problem was to divide the clothes in half and do double the laundry. Admittedly, it was a solution, but not a very practical one and considering the washing machine was a high efficiency model, it seemed like a bit of a cop out. In the end we decided to purchase a new unit.

Before it arrived though, I insisted he replace the floorboards I knew to be warped underneath the old machine. We had some extra ones that were included when the house was built. I showed him how they fit together and felt relatively confident that he could handle the repair.

I really have too much faith in that man. My floor is now a unique jigsaw puzzle of mismatched boards with wood putty filling in where there were gaps. Take my advice, if someone tells you they only had two boards, even though they needed four and “made do” by using wood putty, check their work, I beg of you. Don’t try to make sense of it, just check the work.

The other solution of course is to order additional flooring, have it installed or address the original leak before it becomes a bigger concern. Of course you might want to reconsider your relationship choices before they become a permanent part of the household “cabinet!”

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March Column for Michiana House & Home Magazine: Walk this way

sidewalkMy parents moved into their home on July 28, 1972. I know this because it was the day my mother was due to have me however, I did not feel like attending the festivities. Evidently I was not too excited about joining the planet or the prospect of having my own room because I didn’t show up the following day, the day after, or the day after that.

A week later, my mother was tired of hauling me around inside of her and so she called my aunt to come over and take her for a walk. Apparently a walk is the kind of thing that can encourage nature to take its course, but by the time my mother waddled around the block, she was no closer to having me than she was before.

However, it was enough time for an entire crew of contractors to set up camp on the lawn and reduce the front sidewalk to rubble. It was the kind of productivity that would impress any homeowner…if they had ordered the concrete work in the first place.

“What are you doing?” My mother asked the foreman.

“We’re installing your new sidewalk, lady,” he replied, rattling off an address that belonged to our next-door-neighbor.

To this day, I don’t know how they managed to misread the giant numbers posted near the front door, but they did and now there was a giant gaff. My mother was furious that her new home looked like a wreck. The neighbor was mad that her new sidewalk was being installed on the wrong property and how my mother didn’t go into labor right on the spot remains a mystery to me.

“Don’t worry, we’ll get it taken care of at no cost to you,” the foreman assured her, eyeballing her stomach.

And that’s exactly what they did. My parents got a new sidewalk at no cost. My neighbor got a huge discount on her project for the inconvenience and when I arrived a week later, they all had me to thank for it. Naturally, my mother recounted the story of my birth many times over the years, and there are several humorous anecdotes that are part of the saga: My father taking the time to shave and stop for gas on the way to the hospital and how I managed to have an accident all over myself on the way out of my mother’s body, but my favorite story is how my delayed arrival resulted in a free sidewalk proving good things come to those who wait.

 

 

 

 

 

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December 2016 column Michiana House & Home Magazine: Shoot The Dog

garage         My grandfather believed in putting production into everything that he did. Although he never performed onstage, he possessed the personality of a vaudeville showman and he never missed an opportunity to infuse a little “razzmatazz” into all of his projects. Never was this more evident than the year he bought my grandmother an automatic garage door opener for Christmas.

It was the early 1970s and a time in which such a gizmo was viewed with the same kind of gee whiz wonderment we reserve for keyless ignition systems and talking refrigerators. Garage door openers were expensive. They were considered a luxury and not something everyone could afford. In fact, it you were fortunate to possess such a device, it was a sure sign that you had saved your pennies.            Grandpa decided that the best way in which to surprise grandma with her gift was to install it that morning and then take her out to the driveway for a demonstration after the family arrived that afternoon. Unfortunately, he ran into a few technical problems and had to call in the reinforcement: my father. Needless to say my mother was none too pleased that dad had to go over to his parents’ house on Christmas morning while she was left to get herself and two kids ready, pack the car with gifts and cook her contribution to the holiday meal.

However if my mom was angry, that was nothing compared to grandma’s fury! She was so mad that grandpa and dad were holed up in the garage that she kept up a running monologue about her displeasure for most of the day. She only stopped when the dynamic duo came in to eat dinner and participate in the gift exchange. Then she said nothing at all.

Finally, when the wrapping paper, ribbons and bows were cleared away, grandpa led his thoroughly ticked off wife to the driveway where she was greeted by a stuffed toy poodle laying in front of the garage door. Grandpa handed her a small plastic water pistol. “Go ahead Ruthie, shoot the dog.” He stood behind her and pulled the small remote control from his pocket.

Grandma took aim and pulled the trigger as grandpa hit the button in his palm. The garage door opened and the stuffed poodle rose, revealing a sign that said, “Merry Christmas.” She fired again and grandpa closed the door. Up and down, up and down…I don’t know how long it took grandma to realize what her present was or what was really causing it to function, but her anger melted away and she was delighted by grandpa’s thoughtfulness.

Though I have never instructed someone to shoot an animal (stuffed toy or otherwise) I have been known to organize holiday scavenger hunts, pull out last minute surprise presents and conceal something extraordinary in the seemingly ordinary. You are never too old to enjoy the enchantment of the season, so it’s important to create a little Christmas magic whenever you can.

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November 2016 column Michiana House & Home Magazine: Leftover Memories

leftovers        My mother savored memories. Like leftovers from a Thanksgiving dinner, they were the kind of thing she chewed on for a week, rehashed, reimagined and reinvented as she found new things to reflect on.

A few years after my father died, I threw her a surprise birthday party at her house that was attended by several family members and friends. Mom was truly caught off guard and seemed pleased by the whole thing. Although I stayed behind to chat and to clean up after everyone went home, she still called me 15 minutes later (as I was walking through the front door of my own home) in order to thank me again, tell me how much she enjoyed herself and to relive the night all over again.

“So how did you know when the house would be empty?” She asked.

“Oh, right before you and your friend Jack went out for dinner, I had them ask to use the restroom so that they could call me from their cell phone,” I replied.

“He called you from the bathroom?”

“No mom, he dialed my number and let the phone ring once. That was the signal that you were leaving,” I replied.

She wanted to know how long it took me to plan it, where I bought the decorations, what bakery was responsible for the delicious cake, how many people I’d invited and who all was not able to attend.

“Why in the world would you want to know that?” I countered. “You had a houseful of people who love you and wanted to celebrate you. Why focus on the people who couldn’t make it?”

I later realized that wasn’t her point at all. For her, a surprise birthday party in September was the kind of thing that would tide her over until Halloween when she would count the number of Trick-or-Treaters she had, offer up a running commentary of how many looked “too old” to be out and lament the carloads of kids who were imported from nearby neighborhoods. Afterward she turned her attention toward Turkey Day, helping to organize my menu, tell me where the best deals were and double check the plans. After the meal was over, we’d go over everything again until I often felt as though we were having the same conversation on repeat.

As my world becomes more virtual, I’ve discovered that I also miss having long conversations with someone chewing over something that just happened. Today, I can’t even ask my friends went, about their vacation because I experienced it in real time via social media.

This month, let us be grateful for those memories that we make and experience in the here and now. Let us turn from the technology and be in the moment. Let us call the person after the fact and tell them how much we enjoyed the celebration they worked so hard to arrange rather than simply giving it a thumbs up on a web page.

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February 2017 column Michiana House & Home Magazine: Snow Days

snow   I’m not sure when it happened, but at some point in my life, I no longer cared for winter nor the weather that comes along with it. I suspect it has something to do with my driver’s license, my job and my two children, but I don’t get excited about “snow days” anymore. It wrecks my schedule, puts me a day behind and takes months to recover from.

Of course, it was a different story when I was a child. There was nothing better than a snow day! I remember eating my Frosted Flakes at the dining room table and listening to the morning DJ rattle off an ever-growing list of closings every half hour. There was nothing more thrilling than hearing your school name if it was announced or more heartbreaking if it wasn’t.

But if, by an act of God, school was closed it was like being let loose in a candy factory! The day stretched out before me with so much untapped promise and potential, it seemed as if it would never end. What would I watch on television? What would I do? Who would I hang out with? Would I go to my best friend’s house, or call him to come over to mine? Would I get out the sled or stay inside where it was warm and enjoy my Christmas presents I’d barely played with?

Naturally, my mother a bizarre rule to go along with this daylong vacation. I was not allowed to go outside unless it was 11 degrees or warmer. For the life of me I don’t know how she landed on that particular number, but it was lock solid. Maybe it’s a heat wave on the Kelvin or Celsius scale, but in Fahrenheit Land, it’s pretty freaking chilly. Luckily she worked most days, believed in the “honor system” and my brother was not a tattletale. What she never knew never hurt her.

But that’s all in the past. Today, the thought of the city coming to a standstill and my being homebound drives me to distraction. I’d rather have an impromptu vacation when it is 75 and sunny and I can get things accomplished. Still, snow days have a way of forcing us to stop and appreciate the majesty of Mother Nature at a time in our lives when she is most magical.

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October 2016 column Michiana House & Home Magazine: Wide Awake in Dreamland

sleepwalking        Everyone has his or her own unique was of dealing with stress. Some people are emotional eaters. Some go for a long run or walk while others swear by the concept of “retail therapy,” but I am a bit unconventional…I sleepwalk.

I’m not really sure when my nighttime jaunts began, but I know I didn’t do it as a child. That was my brother’s department. I vividly remember the night in which he padded down the hall and wandered into the kitchen in order to throw his pillow in the trashcan. On another occasion, he removed the drawers from his dresser and stacked them on his desk in a configuration that can only be described as “modern art.” There was also the time that he got up at 1 a.m. thinking it was time to deliver his afternoon paper route. He nearly made it out the back door before my dad caught him and put him back to bed.

When I sleepwalk, it’s just as scary. I am incapable of navigating the layout of my own home. I see people who aren’t there. I try to unlock doors that don’t exist and in my most recent escapade, I stood over my son’s bed and stared down as him as though he were lying in a casket.

“If your planning to audition for the next Paranormal Activity movie, I think you’ll get the part,” he told me the following morning.

“What are you talking about?” I asked him.

Evidently, I got out of bed to visit the bathroom, but for reasons unknown, I chose his facilities rather than my own. This required me to jump over the dog gate at my bedroom door. According to Boy Wonder, when I finished my business, I didn’t go back to bed but rather, took a tour of the entire second floor of my house. I went into my office and sat in my chair for a while. I wandered across the hall to the spare bedroom and for a grand finale; I entered his bedroom and spun around before paying my respects at his supine body.

“Seriously, I don’t know how you did any of that in the dark without killing yourself in the process.” He said as he concluded his tale. “It was really impressive. Frightening, but impressive.”

While I would love to tell you that the story has been wildly exaggerated for dramatic purposes, I know he’s telling the truth. I have a vague memory of needing to use the bathroom and then being in his room…I’m just glad I didn’t confuse the latter with the former. That would not have ended well.

“Oh no, you made it into the bathroom just fine,” he assured me. “As for everything else, I don’t know what you were doing. You just kept saying you were looking for something.”

“Did I tell you what I was looking for?” I asked.

“Yeah…you said you needed to find a pillow.”

I should have checked the trashcan.

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September 2016 column Michiana House & Home Magazine: Act Now

towels         I ordered a set of bath towels and ended up with a stalker. I’m not joking. I was young. I was newly married and I was trying to establish my credit at a time when companies did not issue Visas to anyone breathing oxygen.

And so…I ordered the towels: Four bath towels, four hand towels, eight washcloths and two fingertip towels (I am not totally sure what that is.) There was also a set of swan shaped salt-and-pepper shakers that were included as a bonus “free” gift as a thank you for your order. Naturally this was all available for the low, low price of (say it with me) $19.99 plus shipping and handling. I can’t remember the final total now, but I was expected to cough up four monthly payments of $6 and change.

But then, I couldn’t get rid of these people! Every day my mailbox was full of their catalogues, postcards and not-to-be-missed offers that I literally had to move out of the state in order to escape. Sometimes I got multiple, but uniquely different catalogues in the same day’s delivery. It was nuts.

I won’t mention the company’s name because I appreciate their special brand of capitalism, but after a while their persistence was a little creepy. The copy on their mailings addressed me by name and referred to my previous purchase as if it were the single greatest coup since Jefferson bought Louisiana! It was bath towels. Cheaply made, fall-apart-in-the-washing-machine-after-ten-showers bath towels! I had to wonder how they would react if I actually became a repeat customer. I had a feeling they would become so giddy with appreciation that they might decide to move in with me!

I really don’t know what possesses a company you have never heard of to send out one random catalogue or post card in hopes that you bite on whatever they are selling. And if you are crazy enough to put down some hard earned money on their unique products, then you have a friend for life. Not only that but they tell their friends about you and they all send you their publications in hopes of finding out just how gullible you are.

For 20 years, I managed to elude them. I had to buy a new house nearly a thousand miles away and enter the witness protection program, but I didn’t hear from them at all. To be honest, I thought the company along with their inexpensive home décor had long gone out of business, but then one night…I saw a commercial for them on television. Television! They’re baaaaaaccck!

I held my breath until the commercial was over, but I no longer feel completely safe. I’m starting to see their ads creeping into my local weekly circular and a few mailings addressed to “occupant.” I am not taking any chances. I refuse to take their bait, or even let them know that they are swimming in the right pond. They may have gotten me once hook, line and sinker, but I am not going to let them reel me in again.

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August 2016 Column Michiana House & Home Magazine: The Approaching Storm

storm-door        When I bought the storm door, I should have known there were going to be problems. After the closet door debacle, the Christmas tree light fiasco and an assortment of other home improvement nightmares, you would think I would learn. What can I say? I’m a hopeless optimist.

Things got off to an auspicious start with an intense “discussion” involving the saleswoman and the door’s advertised price. When I didn’t get anywhere with her, I broached the subject with the cashier which led to a staff meeting between two more associates, the store manager and the previously mentioned woman in the door department. A half hour later, my door was ordered and I made my way out to the parking lot…accidentally leaving behind over $50 in change that took two days to get back.

Two weeks later, the door arrived and I went to pick it up. That’s when I discovered the box was wider than my trunk by two inches. I called everyone I could think of who might have a truck and who could come and help me but it was Friday night and no one was home so I finally decided to throw money at the problem and have it delivered. I would tell you about the complicated paperwork involved in what seemed to be a simple solution to the problem, but suffice to say, it would turn Gone With the Wind into a short subject and I don’t have that level of time.

Over the next twelve hours, my husband kept insisting that before we could install the new door, we would have to modify the existing framing in order to make it fit. Now, I love the man but he makes me nervous when he tries to modify anything beyond a noun. He has a long-standing history of making mountains out of molehills and failing to measure twice and cut once so it’s no surprise that it took two days for him to buy the wrong board three times, nail it to the door jam, fill in the cracks with wood putty, sand it and paint it to match the rest of the frame. The manufacturer of the door claimed the whole thing could be installed in 45 minutes. (Dear Andersen, we should all have your level of faith.)

However, the door is now in place and for the most part, there is little left to do. Oh I still have to take back the $50 handle I was told to buy because the door didn’t come with one. (They lied.) And there is a small one-and-a-half inch space between the jam and the storm door, which is big enough to let in every bug and rodent in America, but my husband doesn’t seem overly concerned. We simply have to buy one small thing to adjust it. He swears this is no big deal but the Vegas odds makers disagree. I sense the storm isn’t over and you may want to place your bets.

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July Column Michiana House & Home Magazine: My Firework

sandy        The earliest memory I have of my Aunt Sandy is set against the backdrop of a Fourth of July family cookout we had at her Irvington home. I was very young, between four and five at the most, but I distinctly remember the event. As my brother and I played Frisbee in the backyard, my aunt burst out of the back yard, clapped her hands together and asked, “Can we get a three-handed game going here?”

This amazed me for two reasons. 1.) It was the first time I remember an adult actually wanting to play with me, and 2.) I was unaware that my aunt even knew how to toss a Frisbee!

Eventually I would learn that my Aunt Sandy, who was as colorful as a firework knew how to do a lot more than that. She had an independent spirit and over the years, she taught me how to crochet, cross-stitch, make a meat loaf and a sure fire way for keeping rabbits out of my garden. She was a glass-half-full type who always found something to compliment whenever she stopped by for a visit, she told the best stories and although she was a very active adult, she always knew how to be in the moment.

Although she was not the kind of person for idle chitchat, whenever I called her, she always made a little bit of time for me. More often than not, I was calling to read her a draft of one of my columns for MHH. Whenever I wrote about my mom, dad or grandparents, especially if it were an over-embellished re-telling of a factual event, I worried that I might go too far and I wanted her to sign off on it, so to speak.

As soon as I began reading the copy, she’d start laughing. She had a great laugh. It was deep, throaty and genuine and I knew if she laughed, I must have hit a home run. She was my biggest fan and these columns would not be the same without her.

Not long ago, I received a call from my cousin telling me that my aunt had passed. Evidently she’d been ill for most of the year, but didn’t want anyone to worry about her. I saw her for the last time at my house in February. She walked into the living room, praised my housekeeping skills, laughed at my cookbook collection (even though I don’t cook) and asked if I was working on a new column.

“Always,” I told her.

“Good,” she said. “I love the way you write.”

She certainly did and as part of her final arrangements, she requested that I deliver her eulogy. It was a command performance that I couldn’t refuse and yet, it was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do. The words were easy, of course it’s always easy to talk about someone you love…the hard part is realizing they are no longer there to bounce things off of or tell you when you got it right.

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