and next week will get back to a regular posting schedule.

The Fairmont Empress at night. Great place for high tea!

Tales (and Travails) From a Move

The next time I get the bright idea to move cross-country, someone smack me, will you?

Don’t get me wrong. I am thrilled about the new house, and the residents of our new hometown are generous with information and assistance. Yesterday I mentioned in passing that I liked working in the garden in the cooler weather, but my hands were cold. Soon after, I was whisked off to the local nursery and introduced to proper gloves for keeping my hands warm and dry. A neighbor came by with introductions and homemade cookies. I’ve even joined the board of a local arts organization!

We just can’t quite seem to finalize the move. We decided to ship the car, which is a great idea in theory. Trouble is, more than a week later, the durn thing is still in Houston, waiting for enough cards to fill the load. Our delivery date keeps getting pushed out. First, the 26th, then the 30th, now the 31st. Hubby called to yell at them and reported that “They seem to be used to people calling and yelling at them.” If the delivery gets any later, it will start to disrupt other plans — between a family visit, Passover, and other travel, our schedule is starting to feel like a house of cards.

Hubby, trooper that he is, is back in Houston supervising the move. Packers arrived yesterday, a luxury for which I am deeply grateful. I’ve done a lot of packing over the years, and this is the first time in my life that someone else is doing it. All went smoothly, but then I got a phone call: “Good thing I have low blood pressure,” he said.

This is not the way I like our conversations to begin.

The moving company blithely informed us that there wouldn’t be a van in town to take our stuff today. Instead, they are loading it on a local truck and taking it to storage temporarily. So far, they have insisted that this will only cause a one-day delay in the delivery of our stuff. We’ll see.

I haven’t even gone into the constant changes to our plans that has caused us to blow the fare on two plane tickets, plus hubby’s return flight on another. Or written about my scary drive the other night with the rental car on unfamiliar roads in the rain. Or life in a house with minimal furniture and supplies…have I mentioned how much I miss my microwave? So far I’ve managed to scorch all the leftovers I’ve heated up because I’m still figuring out the electric stove.

Routines have changed. I don’t know the names of the trees and plants in my yard (though the kind woman who helped me with gloves rattled off a few names for me to get me started). We’ve said goodbye to restaurants we loved, where people knew us, and are getting acquainted with new ones. We said so long to good friends, though I hope they will come visit! When I fall asleep at night, I hear unfamiliar noises — the other night it was a roaring wind that reminded me, not so pleasantly, of Hurricane Ike. Truth is, change, even happy change that we choose and embrace, requires adjustment, and it feels stressful at times.

Look, I know that in the scheme of things, I don’t have problems. I get to live where I choose. I have to keep a camera nearby at all times because of the many photo ops that present themselves during the day. I get to do the work I love, even though I have yet to make a profit as a writer. I have a hubby I can trust with many things, packing being one of them. My life is incredible. In the wise words of Alcoholics Anonymous, as well as my late father-in-law, “This too shall pass.”

Just promise me, if I announce at some point that I want to move again, that you’ll whup me up the side of my head. And if I didn’t need another reminder, here’s a photo from sunrise a couple of days ago:

Springtime Sunrise

The Big, Brown, Beloved Box

I know that clearing clutter is good for one’s soul. In fact, I’ve never shied away from cleaning out a drawer or a bookshelf or anything else that feels overly crowded. That said, though, living in a house where everything is tidy and put away doesn’t feel natural, either. All I have asked of my family is to keep things down to a dull roar. These days, though, we’re trying to sell a house, so the dishes are put away, the pillows are fluffed, and my workspace is organized such that I can gather my work and put it away on short notice.

Milkweed: Food for Monarchs Migrating to Mexico

As people come and poke their heads into my closets (something I don’t like to think much about), they come away with their judgments. Mostly, they don’t like the front of the house, which has little “curb appeal.” We have a flat roof, and some time ago I started calling the house my “big brown box.” When I first saw it, I was a little put off, too, so I understand, though I liked the inside. When hubby first saw the house, he thought the staircase butted up against the front door. It doesn’t, but I have had my own experiences of mentally expanding, shrinking, or otherwise distorting a house’s actual appearance.

We put in other offers on other homes, but they all fell through. In the meantime, the price of the big brown box had gone down, and hubby said, “Let’s go see it again.” This time he was hooked. I suspect that this house is working its magic again even now, on some prospective buyer who needs to see what else is available before realizing that this house is the right one.

Time for a Snack!

Come inside. Come into the sunroom, where we eat our breakfast and lunch, and where hubby works. The windows look out onto the garden, which is currently filled with lettuces, spinach, broccoli, and Swiss chard in a variety of colors. In the summer, butterflies, bees, and birds find food and sustenance from growing vegetables and native plants, most of which survived a horrific drought this past summer. A neighbor cat, though not particularly friendly, likes to hide in the garden to shade himself, peeking out at the world from underneath the tomatoes. He doesn’t let me pet him, though we do have conversations from time to time from a distance. A squirrel sits on the top of the fence, clutching a cherry tomato in its paws. A friend tells me how I can get rid of the squirrels, but I laugh with delight; there is plenty of food to share.

That’s just one room. Throughout, natural light abounds in this cheerful home. While living here, I have traveled the world, seeing the wonders of Costa Rica, France, The Netherlands, Switzerland, Canada, and more — and at the end of every trip, no matter how beautiful, I couldn’t wait to get back to this place. It is cozy, large enough to be comfortable, but not overwhelming. Love has lived here: love of spouse, love of work, love of life. Here we have grieved losses, but we have also felt immense joy.

We learned about ourselves here. At 51, I realized that I love to garden, and I was delighted that even in this time of my life, I can still make such new discoveries about myself. Hubby wrote plays, and I wrote books. We walked to museums and to events at nearby Rice University. We enjoyed neighborhood restaurants where, in the midst of a large city, the waitstaff actually remembers who we are. We watched proudly as hubby’s children became full-fledged adults, now living on their own.

The people who lived here before us stayed for about forty years and raised their family. When I came inside the house, I could feel thick, happy memories in the walls. I still feel them, and we have added our own.

We leave because something else calls to us, a new phase of life in another place. We won’t miss Houston’s heat or traffic. We long to live among mountains and to be able to walk to the store, the movie theater, our favorite restaurants. There are many reasons to leave, fewer to stay. We will leave some close friends behind and family, and there is sadness in that. And we will leave this home, our big brown box, our treasure.

I am always cautious about spirituality vs. superstition, trying to straddle the line between faith and foolishness. I don’t expect God to provide me a good parking spot or make me a best-selling author. This week, though, I have had the nagging feeling that there’s something I need to do here before the house will sell, and that’s a feeling I always pay attention to. I’m not sure what that something is, but one thing I know to do is to say “thank you” to this big brown box for being the sanctuary I have longed for home to be. If I can do nothing else, I can be grateful for every moment I have spent here, and I hope that the next people who live here will feel the same.

Here’s the listing, with photos, of the big brown box! If you know anyone in the Houston area who’s looking…



Holiday (House) Shopping

I was going to write a definitive piece about Black Friday and the holiday shopping insanity, but I found myself chasing another butterfly this morning. Several other bloggers have already done a fine job. Besides, being Jewish, I tend to just stay out of the malls in December, preferring instead to hide under my bed until mid-January, when the returns and post-holiday sales have passed. I am also guessing that someone willing to pepper spray other shoppers probably doesn’t read this blog.

I’ve never liked to shop. I get overwhelmed when I go into stores. If I can buy something that I need online, more the better. And this month I am in the midst of one of the most stress-inducing forms of shopping known to man: house buying.

We have found, and fallen in love with, a house in our new home town. The size is right, the layout is perfect, and it offers drop-dead gorgeous views of water in two directions. Sitting in it, we watch ships go by. Clouds shift and change by the minute. For two people who work from home, having a view is a major plus. Right now hubby works in a sun room that overlooks my garden, and he likes to watch the squirrels, butterflies, bees, and birds flitting around. We eat breakfast and lunch in this room, and we never tire of nature’s exuberance that is always on display.

While I can’t pretend to speak for all women (I hate to shop, after all), I guess that many of us want our nest to be just right. Home is our sanctuary, a place where we can create happy memories to echo beyond our generation into the future. In our homes, we create traditions, we kiss hurts, we laugh, we cry, we sing, and sometimes we do all of that in a ten-minute period! We hang photographs of smiling faces and dream of grandchildren. I love having my own home, painting it with colors I like, and not having to worry about doing something that displeases the landlord. Home is where the heart is, indeed.

Unless, of course, you’re buying a house. After the initial thrill of seeing it for the first time, we have to start kicking its tires. We review and inspect. We mentally arrange our furniture in the rooms while critically eyeing the slope of a floor. We balance our longing for the future life we’ve already imagined with the cold reality of whether or not the repairs are worth the cost.

I’ve always loved old homes, and this is my blessing and curse. Old homes have character and stories in their walls. In the home I live in now, I felt from the time I first stepped into it that it had been a happy one. A young family moved into it, and the children grew up and left home. After years of marriage, the husband succumbed to cancer, and his widow sold it to us, passing along more than 40 years of history to us. I still feel this family in the walls of the house, as though their joy left a permanent imprint.

Yet an old home must have “good bones.” Inspections have revealed some issues with the “new” house that look more like osteoporosis to me. We are hoping for the best, but this morning I knew when I woke that my head must balance my heart. My business sense kicked in, and I made requests to our realtor that may break the deal. It felt right, and I felt empowered. In my younger days, I often let love talk me into bad decisions, and I am grateful not to do that anymore. Self-love and self-respect have replaced need, and I knew that I could let the house go, if that is what is best. Thank God these gray hairs are good for something!

If the deal does fall through, the part of me that already imagined living there will hurt — but I have been around long enough to know that if this one doesn’t work, we will find another. At worst, we will rent a home for a while until we find one that works. In the meantime, though, we will have each other, our family photos, our memories, and our dreams…and that is home enough.

As I read this, maybe it’s more about holiday shopping than I realized. We can apply the same principles: are we willing to compromise our values to get a certain item for a certain price? Do we operate from need or self-respect? Are we willing to walk away from a purchase if that’s the right thing to do, regardless of what emotional attachment we may have? And finally, what is truly important to us? Is it a “thing” that creates the joy in our lives, or is it the experience of being together, of loving each other, wherever that is, that matters?