Destroying your house for fun and profit

So the attic project has begun in earnest. It’s a very strange feeling when you leave the house with your attic entirely habitable – the way it was when I first started writing the offer in my head as I walked up those attic stairs for the first time. Then when you come back, the dumpster is half full and the rooms are, in fact, no longer habitable.

Every week night since April 5th we’ve gone up to our attic to watch the progress of the demolition. Walls have come down. Ceilings. Floors have been uncovered and removed. New doors, hidden behind drywall and paint, have been exposed halfway through narrow crawl-spaces. The weird & alien corpse of a HAM radio antenna peaked out from between eaves. Long-hidden girlie mags from the ’50s have seen the light of day for the first time in sixty years. Mysteriously, an abandoned nest was found shocking far into the infrastucture of the house – next to the only inadequate heat vent on the floor.

Having the work done on the third floor has been nice in that it’s not too disruptive to daily life. Other than the gigantic dumpster in the driveway (the envy of the neighborhood), there’s little impact on the rest of the house. The poor cats are getting to spend quality time in the basement during the day. (I feel heartless, moving them from their optimally warm and cushy day time nap locations to the cold cold basement.)

Adam and I have done much of the work to prepare. The selection of tiles feels like a great personal accomplishment. I am granted many gifts in life – taste is not primary among them.

I’m extremely proud of myself that for ONCE I did a good job of taking “before” pictures of the project – possibly due to the 3 or so months that it would be starting “soon”. If you’d like to follow the photographic progress of the project, keep your eyes on this album!

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Parenting without kids

Ready to go!

On Saturday, I drove the familiar route to Logan airport. I go there all the time. I pick up visitors. I travel for work, or for fun. It’s a rare month that I don’t mentally try to figure out whether I want arrivals or departures. (Well, I’m arriving at the airport, but departing later, and oh I’m parking and is it Terminal B?) This time, though, I had Thane with me. And only one suitcase. We did all the line-standing together, and all too soon he was heading down the gangway with a veritable pack of unaccompanied minors. I sat in the warm sun with a collection of other parents sending their kids to Seattle for the April vacation week, talking about parenting, the difference between Seattle & Boston, and the independence of our children.

My gigantic eldest son

I did not leave the airport after the last glint of wing had fled the glooming sky. I stood unmoored in the center of the vast high ceilings of Concourse D – eyes on the escalators. Not much later, Adam and Grey showed up. Grey is getting so old and tall and big. He was not much for sentimentality in the eyes of the watching public, so a quick hug later I went to retrieve my car. I came home to an empty house and strapped on my shoes for a run before the weather turned bitter. (Good news – I ran the whole way. Bad news – my pace is terrible. Unsurprising news – my legs are SO SORE today!)

Adam came home not long after, and we cleaned the house, marveling that it might actually _stay clean_ for a WHOLE WEEK! The kids are off with different grandparents (Thane is with my folks, Grey is with Adam’s mom) for the April vacation week, and we are… on our own.

I write great blog posts in my head while I run. The success rate of actually getting them down on paper is rather less than 100% though. During that run, I thought about how hard it is to know whether you’re doing a good job parenting. So much of who and how your kids are is up to them. That gets even more true the older they grow. I found myself wishing that we were as thoughtful and organized about setting goals and seeing if we were meeting them in parenting as we are in, say, work. What would my objectives for parenting look like right now? Long term? How would my performance be rated?

One of my greatest objectives as a parent is to raise children who do not need me (but hopefully will still want me around). I want children fitted to earn their livings, of good integrity, with wide skills and self-sufficiency. I want to raise children who see clearly what it is that needs to be done, and have the insight, strength and knowledge to do it. Tragically, the way to accomplish this as a parent is not to “try harder” but to be wiser about what you say and do. I’m working on that. It made me feel hopeful, watching my sons courageously venture off alone, that a good start has been made.

Lucky to be married to this handsome guy!

There are many advantages to this April break scheme, but one of the excellent ones is that it gives Adam and I time to be together. You know, like a pair of people who married each other because they dig spending time together! Last night, we celebrated by going out to a “fancy fancy” restaurant – the Meritage in Boston. We got ready in a leisurely and unhurried way. We didn’t worry about what time to get home. It was crazy!

This was food. It was delicious.

Today, I confess to playing hookie from church. Sorry! Adam brought me coffee & the paper in bed, and we looked through all the things that were happening to see what we wanted to do. We began with brunch at a local diner. (Named, inventively, “My Diner“.) It played a lovely contrast to our fancy dinner last night. (Don’t judge all the eating out this week – it’s effectively “half priced restaurant week” for us.)

Possibly my favorite of the Eschers, showing none of his trademarks

Then we drove in to Boston to the Museum of Fine Arts to see the MC Escher exhibit and Phantasmorgia display. We read every word on every display piece in three different exhibits (we also checked out the revival jewelry exhibit). We LOVE going to museums together, but it’s a hard thing to do while contending with different attention spans. This lingering was a great pleasure.

Almost as great as watching Adam eat a pickled grape, which was a study in expressions.

He made this face every time he ate one
I got video for another grape
Profile pic, right here
Despite this face, he ate them all

We have similar plans for the rest of the week. Maybe some board games with friends. Checking out the new restaurant in town. Staying in Cambridge. Craziness!

I am coming to think, though, that as nice as this is as a vacation I already miss my little boys and the energy and vibrance they bring to our lives. We are all the better for practicing our independence. But I’m so glad that there are years yet before they leave me. I miss my sons!

My boys

Running towards danger

I rarely repost old posts, but as we come up to Marathon weekend again, I can’t help but think of that day five years ago. Sometimes you may not guess who around you is a hero. Caitlin is to me, many times over.

My Truant Pen

During Monday’s Marathon bombings, my friend Caitlin Rivet was working as a volunteer EMT at the Boston Marathon. I’ve known Caitlin since she was about 12. I taught her and her churchmates in Sunday School, youth group and confirmation. We’ve been close ever since, even as she moved into adulthood.

At church this morning, Caitlin was there. Her face has a strip of abrasions from shattered glass from the explosion, and she shies away from talking about her Monday. It’s too close, and too hard to put in words. But she wrote this narrative about her day, and gave me permission to share it.

When the marathon was just a fun sports event. When the marathon was just a fun sports event.

4.15.13 – A Reflection

The Boston Marathon is one of the world’s premier sporting events. This year it was marred by two bombs that were detonated close to the finish line. During a time when most marathoners…

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Stoneham Election April 3, 2018 follow up – what I meant by “bankrupt”

In my post on my choices for the upcoming 2018 election (which you can read here) I said the following:

More seriously, she [Caroline Colarusso] has bankrupted our water and sewer system to the point where all our rainy day funds are gone, and you will see a 29% increase in your next bill. That’s an average of $75 a quarter this coming year PLUS we have no money in the rainy day fund now. Caroline led the charge, sending out flyers for the Water and Sewer policy that ran through the savings we’d put aside. She wants to bankrupt our trash system in the same way. (Mark your calendars for the Town Hall Meeting Monday, May 7, where we need to show up and fight this fiscally irresponsible plan.)

Caroline asked to meet with me this weekend, taking umbrage with much of what I wrote, but in particular this section. “There’s $692k in the account! That’s not bankrupt!” She asked how I could justify that statement. Since she’s proposing we make this exact mistake again, in the upcoming trash fee discussion, I thought it was worth discussing at more length.

Question: How can you have money in an account and still be bankrupt?
Answer: When your expenses exceed the amount of money you have to pay for them.

There are three possible amounts of money we should have in our water and sewer reserve fund. Some recommend 10% of costs. Some recommend 15%. Our current stated target is 3 months worth of operating expenses. In 2014, the town had 2.24 million in the reserve fund (3 months). Today we have 692k in the reserve fund (~6%). If a 30% rate increase had not been approved for the next bill you will get, dear taxpayer, that sum would be $0, or negative. Zero percent. The difference was the initiative led by Caroline to drain our reserves for a temporary rate cut.

Perhaps you think it’s not important to have this money set aside in the reserve fund, but please note that this is the money that is used to pay for water main breaks. We have had numerous such breaks in the past years, and it would be surprising if we went for a long time without having more. If all of a sudden North Street is flooded, do you want to hear that we have no money set aside to fix it? What if it’s a sewer main, spilling literal crap into our streets?

There was not enough money in the bank this quarter to pay our bills without either using the very last drops of our reserve fund, or raising rates. If we completely wiped out our reserve fund this quarter, those big rate increases would still come next quarter. And we’d be hosting bake sales to pay for water main breaks.

I’d love to direct you to the links on the Town of Stoneham website that include all the agendas and supporting details on this. By law, those documents are required to be available. However, despite the fact I could have sworn they were available previously, they are no longer there. I had to ask Selectman Anthony Wilson to help me find the information. I’m attaching my sources to this post, and invite correction or (better yet) for correct data to be posted to the town website by the appropriate authorities.

Water and Sewer projections from 2017 (which are very close to actuals)
Water and Sewer retained earnings (reserve fund)
Slides showing how the previous rate cut impacted our reserve

Water and Sewer was clearly bankrupt because without a 30% increase, there was not enough money to pay the bills. And Caroline is advocating that we do it again, this time with our trash services. Let’s at least be smart enough to learn from our mistakes.

My heart is filled with longing

A month ago, I wrote that winter had lasted forever. There have been several forevers in the interim, and still there are shoulder-high snowbanks, and just today flakes flew across the street in front of us, like a veil of winter. You can’t walk along the sidewalks. You can’t really go hiking. The world seems to close in on itself. I’m sick of every single room in my house. (Which – hey! April 3 is THE DATE for demo to begin on the attic project! We have a backup plan of if the snow is still so heavy we can’t park on the street.)

The last two weeks or so, my brain has started playing some tricks on me. As I walk through my day to day, my mind will flash a quick scene in front of me. There’s that stretch of Hwy 16 in New Hampshire near Ossippee where a lazy river runs under a steel bridge with an expansiveness of space and time my busy life can barely imagine. The beeches, with their course green and gold leaves, in the campgrounds of White Lake and Covered Bridge, flicker in a remembered sunlight. The vast fields of milkweed, in the shadow of Mt. Whittier. The loon on the lake. The mists settling across marshes at sunset near Tamworth on 25. The crackle of the fire, springing sparks up to a warm night sky.

The Loons

These visions come unbidden. Some of these things I can’t even believe I remember. Many of the scenes that show up are ones from the road – and I’m almost always going about 55 through those zones, after 3 hours of driving. How can my memory so perfectly lay out not just the field, but the shape of the milkweed across it. The shadows on the east side of Whittier. The music on the radio. The warmth of the air. I do not think I could have voluntarily pulled that image – that memory – from my mind. But without summoning it, there it is.

I think I find these even more precious when I discovered they are not universal. I know and love some folks with aphantasia. Not everyone can close their eyes and be back in a moment they loved, or see from afar the fields and forests where their heart lives.

I wonder what my subconscious is telling me? It feels like a hopeful message. “Wait”, it seems to say, “This too will pass. It will not be winter forever. There is such a thing as summer, and you will know it again.” In these moments, my heart is filled with longing for what I saw – but also for hope. I will see it again. Soon. This summer. In two months, I’ll be wending my way up Hwy 16, past the lazy river and milkweed fields once more. Be patient.

There is another gift in this. It is remarkable to discover what treasures your mind has stored up for you, all unknown to you. I did not stare hard at those moments, willing them to remain in my memory forever. They just passed past my eyes and stuck there, like gold in the bottom of a pan. How many beautiful moments lurk behind my eyes, waiting until I need comfort or consolation to appear? When my eyes darken with age and my limbs will no longer take me to the woods, will these all be waiting for me? A treasure trove of beauty I didn’t even know I was remembering?

I hope so. And I look forward, with joy, to adding to that trove again this summer.

Beeches in the setting sun