The macro and the micro

There’s been a lot written and talked about regarding housing and real estate lately. Since most of us live somewhere, most of us have some sort of stake in “the housing market”, whether as renters or mortgage-holders. (Perhaps some of you out there are really homeowners — I only know one or two people who really are.)

Well, after thinking about it for years, starting and chickening out twice, and trying to figure out what the heck the “right” thing to do really was, A. and I found the house we wanted to live in about 11 months ago. 10 months ago we moved in. The part of me that reads WAAAAY too many financial websites wonders if we did the right thing. Housing prices have fallen since then, so maybe we could’ve gotten a better deal. But on the other hand, financing has gotten harder to secure, even with really really good credit ratings. A’s recent job changes might actually matter now, as opposed to being pretty much a non-issue when we bought this house. The interest rate is a little higher. Etc.

But the part of me that actually lives in this house knows that we made exactly the right choice. I love it. And moreover, I love the community I live in.

I was raised in a town that had a post office, a tavern, a general store and two churches. While they were all walking distance, nothing else was. The nearest grocery store was 17 miles away (over a mountain pass — for real). The nearest gas station was 5. Let’s not discuss how far it was to the nearest Starbucks.

I am absolutely gobsmacked and enamoured of how much I can walk to in this town. This is an incomplete list, but here are some things that Grey (2 years old) and I (nearly 9 months pregnant) can and have walked to: the library, post office, town hall/voting center, playground, elementary school, our bank, a used book store, ice cream stand, a live theater, a bicycle store, a learning toys store, Grey’s dance studio, Dunkin’ Donuts, Honeydew Donuts, independent bakeries, grocery store, Walgreens, 3 salons, farm stand, massage studios (multiple), 2 sushi restaurants, Indian restaurant, innumerable Italian restaurants, liquor store, billiards hall, our chiropractor, used sporting goods store, 3 different medical specialties (hoping never to need the hematology and oncology clinic, thanks), and lots of other things.

This morning I wanted to get an eye exam. I have yet to be impressed by an independent optometrist, so I decided that at least Pearl Vision would be professional and not obnoxious. So I walked there (less than a mile). On my way, I stopped at the bookstore to buy a book in case I had to wait long for an exam. On the way back I stopped at a local bakery and bought a delicious bagel and some snackies. I stopped by the farm stand to see what they sold (mostly flowers and decorations — no produce sadly).

This was entirely plausible for me, even in my gravid condition.

How COOL is that?

And that’s not all that’s neat about our location. A longish walk (too far for toddlers) the other direction is the Middlesex Fells reservation and the Stone Zoo. Oh yeah, and we’re less than a mile from I93 and maybe 2 miles from I95.

There’s a carillon that plays on the hour in the town commons. Every time I hear it, I think what a cool place this is to live.

And just to add a topping to my conviction that I’m living where I want to, this is what greeted me this morning as I began my walk. These pictures is taken in front of our house:

Gobble gobble!
Gobble gobble!

Why don't you come inside and join me for dinner?
Why don't you come inside and join me for dinner?

There’s always room for P-I-E

None of us were feeling all that well yesterday. Grey was Mr. Melty McPants. A. and I took turns taking naps and collapsing in heaps and generally being the grownup responsible.

We looked at the idea of doing the grocery shopping for the week and roundly rejected it. But then the question arose: what do we feed the gamers on Monday?

I looked in my heart and found the answer. Pie. Ever and always, pie.

I haven’t made chicken pot pie for the gamers in many moons, despite the fact it’s a perennial favorite. It’s also a pain in the heinie.

First, the pasty starter. Our recipe couldn’t be simpler. Salt (1 tablespoon), Crisco (3 scant cups) and flour (5 cups). Must be very cold to be workable. I made that before I collapsed for my nap and stuck it in the freezer.

Then, chop up 2 onions and fry them in 1/2 cup butter, while browning a bunch of chicken (3 cups?) in olive oil and rosemary. For the record, few things smell better than onions frying in butter. Add 1/2 cup flour to the onion/butter mix, 1 teaspoon salt and enough pepper to look right. (My husband winces whenever he watches me cook. This is the man who exploded in rage at the pie starter recipe because it calls for three “scant” cups Crisco. I quote: “Scant cup? Scant cup!? What the hell, I can’t do a scant cup! I took analytical chemistry!” He also, for the record, modified my pie starter recipe to read 1 tablespoon salt instead of 3 teaspoons since they’re equivalent and “You’re more likely to make a measuring error if you have to repeat the action three times. Learned that one in analytical chemistry, too.”)

Once the mixture is just right, add in 4 cups chicken broth and 1 cup milk. Let bubble for a little while. Add in the chicken and, uh, appropriate amounts of frozen corn and frozen carrots. (Maybe 2 cups each?)

Let that bubble on the stove while you roll out the bottom pie crusts. I used my two favorite pie pans, the “Pi” pan I got this year for Christmas and a pretty pie pan a friend gave me at Mocksgiving a few years back. They’re both bigger than my regular glass pie pans. (I have about 7 pie pans, but hold firmly that I need them all, thankyouverymuch.)

Pie in preparation
Pie in preparation

Divide the stuffing between the two shells, and cover them with a top crust. This filling will not settle, so the pie will be as full as it is now. Also, please note that since this filling is gooey you can’t redo a top crust if you mess it up.

You can freeze pot pies, or cook them straight away, or refridgerate for a day or two. Cooking time changes dramatically depending on which of those you choose, from over an hour if they’re frozen to about half an hour if they’re not. Watch the crust — it’ll tell you when it’s done.

Theoretically the pie is supposed to sit for 20 minutes to gel. I’ve rarely been patient enough for this step.

Extremely exciting information! Or not.

Yesterday I left work at 5 to pick up my son. I’m really bad about actually leaving work at 5, but Kimmie’s daycare is much less accommodating than regular daycare re: pickup times. (And also a half hour drive away.) He was the last kid there. At 5:30. How do other parents do it?!?!?

Anyway, I got home and started dinner. I had a Plan. I may not be able to make friends for Grey at daycare, but I can set things up and facilitate things so he does have friends. (I remember this being a consolation — Jasmine wouldn’t acknowledge my existence at school but at least I had someone to play with after school.) So when A. got home I kept an eye out the front window. And when our neighbor boy (let’s give him the pseudonym of Jefferson) got home we gave them 10 minutes to get settled in and then went over to see if they wanted to play and have dinner with us.

Jefferson and Grey are going to be good friends. Jefferson is about 8 months younger, but he’s highly verbal. The two of them did pretty well sharing (for a pair of 2 year olds). There was riotous laughter and the two year old version of jokes. (Mostly this involves saying funny sounds and words like “Poo poo caca”.) Jefferson brought down the house by announcing, in response to the question “What does Daddy do” (he’s an architect), “I have a screwdriver.”

So the boys got to play together for an hour, and we got to get to know our neighbors a little better and established that we’d all be comfortable with one set of parents watching the kids, which opens the doors to playdates and sleepovers and periodically actually going out to eat etc.

The reason this is such a big deal to me is because it’s really hard for me. I simply do not know how to be a good neighbor, and I do not know how to facilitate my son making friends. I’m trying to figure it out as I go and it makes me really nervous. I would almost call it a social anxiety — I haven’t asked someone if they wanted to come over and play for 20 years. (And when I did, two decades ago, as often as not they said no.) But I did it! And it was fun! And hopefully we’ll do it again!

Then after that, I went and read Robin McKinley’s new book in the bathtub. Ah, bliss.

Then neither A. nor I could fall asleep, despite it being like 2 hours past our bedtime. I am a sleepy, sleepy girl this morning. (And Grey was a bit of a crankosaur.)

But it’s Friday! And my birthday party is tomorrow! (I turn 30 on the 23rd. Yeah, I know. It’s simultaneously hard to believe I’m that old and hard to believe I’m only that old.) And I’m gonna dress up and see my friends and have chocolate and maybe they’ll sing Happy Birthday and embarrass me. And Grey starts dance tomorrow.

I’m really enjoying myself these days — a sure sign that the times are about to change.

Weekend review

These are the days that, in the future, I will look back on as golden. I’m pretty sure I’ll forget the petty annoyances and frustrations and remember the golden times. Memory is a wonderful thing that way.

Saturday was Stoneham Town Day! This is definitely the sort of even that is perfect for a new family with a young child moving to town. Most of the organizations in town had booths there — from the cub scout troup to the “Friends of the Fells” to the candidates vying for election in the primary tomorrow. There was a Kiddy Korner with a big bouncy house, some very tame carnival rides (appropriate for 2 year olds). There was cotton candy and slushies and local talent performing near the gazebo. There were many free give aways and raffles. It was both fun and useful to me. Notably, I got to corner and spend significant time talking to the other candidate running in the Democratic primary, whom I decided I preferred. (Note to voters: if you do not want the government run by the same old good old boys, quit electing people who claim they can get you more pork because they “know people” up on the hill. Kthxbye.) Grey had a fantastic time. He loved the big slide. He loved the bouncy house (he went in three times!) He loved the little airplane ride. He loved the balloons he got. And best of all? It’s 3 blocks to our house so we didn’t need to carry anything and just walked home when he got tired. In fact, people were parking on the street almost right up to our house for the event, so we COULDN’T have driven any closer in if we’d wanted to! I’m really liking our house and really liking Stoneham.

After that, I had a massage. I think I’ve finally found a local massage therapist who works for me — good combination of convenient (once again walking distance!), correctly priced and good at what she does. Mmmmm massage….

Sunday was church. I’m realizing that church is much easier for me to go to in some ways now. With Grey being Full! Of! Energy! we’re often looking for things to do with him during the day. It’s hard to stay home with him all day long. (This will not improve come winter… ugh.) Anyway, in addition to being a wonderful place for us, church is a good activity for him too. This Sunday he went out to Sunday School no problemo — running ahead and leading the pack, actually. I’m seeing all my dire predictions of the last decade come true. Anytime there was some kid cutely speaking out of turn during word for children, or making funny faces, or volunteering irrelevant information I knew in my heart of hearts that eventually it would be MY child doing that. And oh! It begins!

Sunday afternoon was dedicated to detrashing the cars. Seriously, people. When you have a toddler and an hour daily commute, it is very very hard to keep your car in any shape that reasonable adults would consider acceptable. But I removed the trash, vaccuumed the car, organized the toy (his first action of the morning involved dumping all the toys OUT of the nice boxes I had them in — les sigh), and installed the new big boy car seats — the booster+ seats. I also put him to the side, since pretty soon we’ll need to put the infant car seat on the other side. And I dusted the interior of the car and cleaned the inside of the windshield. For the record? This is hard to do 8 months pregnant.

We also did a gigantic avalanche worth of clothes. There was the regular tsnunami of dirty laundry, and in addition a good 3 – 4 loads of baby clothes, blankets, diapers, bibs and toys that needed to be washed. Most of them got washed, dried, folded, carted upstairs and put away in the beautiful baby’s room (which I think is almost ready for it’s formal unveiling pictures!)

And there were some truly wonderful moments. Grey has reached that stage where he can break my heart unexpectedly with an overabundance of love. He did it twice yesterday. We were driving to church and listening to some Gospel bluegrass (seriously, if it weren’t for my positions on, you know, the issues, I could totally pass as Christian Conservative). Grey asked if these were Jesus songs (a taxonomic distinction that interests him greatly) and I said they were. Then he said, “Jesus songs jump in my heart.” There are like 4000 ways you could interpret that, but he said it so earnestly and happily that, I don’t know, it just made me rejoice. (Of course, I teared up like three times on my way to church so obviously some pregnancy hormones were involved.) Then at night, as we were watching our family “Muppet Show” and eating cookies that Grey and daddy made together, Grey turned to me and told me, “Mommy, I love you very very much.” No preamble. Not in response to anything. He knows more or less what it means — at least as much as any of us.

My son is full of joy and he loves me. My husband is full of cookies and he loves me. What more could I possibly ask?

Connect the Dots

When I graduated from college, my parents came out to New England for the first time since they dropped me off as a freshman. Much to my surprise, my grandfather and godfather also accepted my invitations. It was the first time my grandfather had flown in like 30 years. He was 80 at that point.

After graduation, we wandered around New England for a few days. I remember a breakfast in which I shocked my godfather by paying for it (in sort of an “I’m not a kid anymore and get to be in on the fighting over the check” move on my part.) That same breakfast, a woman at an adjoining table asked if we were part of a history club. I love my family for that.

We also stopped in this Northern Massachusetts mill town, and had a ball doing the whole museum thing. I remember my grampa on a scooter listening intently to a discussion of 19th century work practices. We all really enjoyed it, and my godfather had a brief obsession with fabric factories in the period.

My company recently moved to a Northern Massachusetts mill town (NMMT) — into a mill building no less. While I’ve thought desultorily a few times about that trip, I never buckled down and thought. I figured that the tours had taken place in Lowell — I didn’t remember the name of the town from the visit, but Lowell is sort of NMMT central. (Isn’t it strange, on a side note, when you visit some random place and then find yourself living there much later? It’s a sort of surreality of perception.)

Well. My parents are going to be here soon soon soon! And by here I mean my office. I gave them the address and told them my chances of getting to leave before 5:30 were quite slimmish. So they decided that if they were early, they’d go revisit that museum.

You know, the one we visited four years ago?

The one that is two blocks away?

Which, in my working here for four months, I had never realized was the same one?

You know it’s cold when…

…they shut down an ice factory because the ice cracks when stored below -15F.
…New Englanders close down schools across the state because diesel fuel is coagulating in buses, causes pickups to be unreliable
…the ocean freezes
…authorities ask people to conserve energy the way they do during summer heat waves
…AAA reports a record number of people calling because their cars won’t start — beating the previous record set earlier this week by over a thousand
…meteorologists say this isn’t the coldest New England has ever gotten, and refer back to the last ice age for correlation

But you know it’s New England when
…everyone who has tickets will still be at this weekend’s Patriot’s game

Commencing vermiculture endeavors

That’s right, we’re gonna grow worms! We just ordered a Can-o-Worms, which is an innovative setup where the worms always migrate up through various trays, so you can take the lower trays, which are mostly good vermicompost [dirt] without having to manually seperate out the wormies. It also has a spigot for “worm tea” which can replace most liquid fertilizers. We also ordered 2 pounds of Eisenia fetida, also known as red worms. We are very excited.

There are many reasons for pursuing vermiculture (or vermicide, depending on how good we are at it). It is an excellent source of high quality soil for gardens and house plants. It is ecologically beneficial — not only do we remove our food and many paper scraps from landfills, we also do not need to purchase nitrogen fertlizers, which I have learned are a petrochemical product. It can even be economically beneficial, if one paid for garbage by the pound, or frequently had to purchase potting soil and/or fertlizers.

But let’s be honest here. There’s one reason we’re setting up this worm bin.

We really want to. We think it will be fun. It’s one more great hobby!!!! I’m so psyched! It’ll be like having 2500 new little friends! I’ve wanted a worm bin since I saw my uncle’s when I was 14. I used to earn pocket money by helping people “harvest” worms from the football practice field behind our house when I was 8. I *like* worms. So prepared to read a lot about this for a while!

And then there’s the indisputable fact that “vermiculture” is a cool word, as is “vermicide”. Heh heh.