Languishing To-Do Lists

Weekends are never long enough. (Is that a chorus of ‘amens’ I hear out there?) Not just for fun and relaxation but for getting life things done. If you’re a homeowner with yard maintenance to add to the to-do list, the issue of not enough time is even larger. Especially in summer. My monster hedge grows like crazy and currently, there is a corner of my property choked with weeds including thistle plants as tall as my pear trees. Plus there’s the lawn in addition to the needs inside my shabby house. Some tasks have languished on my ‘list’ for years.

This summer’s drought has at least meant a reprieve from mowing my lawn much. I haven’t yanked on that starter cord in about a month. Yesterday I did tackle the hedge for about an hour but finished only a quarter of it. And inside, also for the first time in a month, I vacuumed up some robust clusters of dust bunnies. No drought to blame for that neglect. I even cleared a few things out of the garage. AND managed to go kayaking and swimming. Today is Sunday and I’m taking rare guidance from the bible and mostly resting and writing this. The hedge will wait.

Before – from the archives. It’s taller now.

To be clear, I don’t have the neat-and-clean standards of many of my friends and neighbors who have immaculate lawns, clear kitchen counters, neatly filed (plus likely paid) bills and nary a dust-bunny in sight. That’s never been my style or my forte. Of course, in my corner of Connecticut many have housecleaners and lawn people or no longer (if they ever did) have jobs. That’s not my life this go-round; I have neither time nor enough money to spend on keeping things looking that good. I like to think that when the day comes and I can reclaim my time every day of the year (retirement — where are you?) then my house will be more orderly, my bookshelves, cupboards, basement and garage purged and neat, flaking ceilings repaired and painted. There’s so much to do around here, always. And it’s just me to do it. So if you come for a visit, please don’t judge me.

After – from the archives. I haven’t gotten this far yet!

Particularly if someone hasn’t been to my house before, I judge myself in anticipation of their judgement. I’ll usually do some kind of tidy-up, wash the kitchen floor and definitely clean the bathroom. I imagine my visitors seeing the wasted potential here in this darling cape on a generous corner plot. How great the hardwood floors would be if only they were refinished, how a fresh coat of paint in the kitchen would really brighten things up. The windows need refurbishing or maybe replacing (I’m attached to my old wooden sash windows, some need propping up and all are drafty as hell) and it would be so easy to put a second bathroom in. I imagine my visitors thinking about what flower beds they’d plant, what trees they’d trim or maybe even cut down. (gulp! not the trees!) I know this is nutty thinking and not fair to my dear friends who love me and my home.

All of those improvements would be great and I’d like to do them – except for cutting down the trees. But I will leave most of this to the next owner. Even if that’s Molly, when she hits the big time. (She adores this house and I can feel her heart sink every time I mention leaving.) But other than taking care of the basics, it’s unlikely to be me. Has anyone filled their oil tank lately??? Or ordered firewood for that matter? (can you say ‘gouging’?) $$$

Did I mention that even after living here for more than 20 years I still have a mortgage now pretty close to what it was originally? Yes, I have lived here for a long time so that’s a little crazy. But I still have a house and if you have followed this blog or know some of my story, you will understand why I am proud of that. So come visit, sit on my porch where the breeze is lovely. I’ll make you a drink or a cup of tea – just don’t judge or I’ll put you to work! ­čÖé

Cold Nights in Old Houses

As I was falling asleep last night, the patched-up cast-iron furnace in our 1930s Cape, kicked on with a burp and a heave. We crank the thermostat right down when we go to bed, preferring the cold for sleeping. Besides, oil’s expensive and we try to be energy conservative. But temperatures dropped so low last night, even the radiators in our bedrooms got hot. I was reminded of frigid winters at Machamux.

Tom on a wintry walk with two 'roomers'.
Tom on a wintry walk with two ‘roomers’.

Machamux was Tom’s rambling, leaking, old house across from a rocky little beach on the Long Island Sound. I landed there in early summer of 1987. Back in the States after almost 4 years of living in Kyoto, I had no idea where to go or what to do next with my life.┬áMy friend Laurie told me that Tom, her Dad, a 70-something but ageless and charming man, rented rooms and might just have one available for me. ┬áTom, Machamux and everyone in that ramshackle house, were just what I needed for my American re-entry. Settled in my ┬ároom, I felt┬áhome.

Now there’s a fat book’s worth of Machamux stories to tell, almost all remarkably joyful and hilarious ones, but this is just a memory of the warmest-cold house I ever lived in. The house was drafty as a wrecked ship so mostly we hung around in the living room and kitchen area where the wood stove was always stoked as were our glasses at cocktail hour, beginning promptly at 5. Tom drank martinis with pimento olives. As ‘roomers’ and visitors wandered in, newspapers were shoved aside on the saggy couch to make space. Laughter and good cheer warmed the room and we took turns standing near the wood stove, letting our backs heat up rather than turn away from the usually lively banter. We took our time going up to bed, knowing our rooms, would likely be cold enough for our breath to be visible. But when it got really, really cold, like it did here last night, the baseboards running along the perimeter of our rooms hissed and gurgled, emitting rare heat with cozy old-house smells. That felt luxurious.

I met R at Machamux back in 1987 – his room was at the top of the house. That’s one of the stories I have to tell another time — about a love that got lost — then found again. And together now, so many years later, we savor our shared history of two old drafty houses made warm by love, fire and sometimes reluctantly, very old furnaces.

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