And then there was summer

And so ends my first week of summer vacation. It was actually a short week, because even though I arrived a week ago yesterday, it didn’t feel like vacation right away. My departure was marked by several stressful events and issues. I was preparing my apartment for use by my brother at the same time I was ending the school year and packing up. Some end of year things didn’t go so well, the evening before I was to leave (when I had a million things to do) I was caught in a transportation nightmare, and on the morning of my departure I failed to make contact with the person I was to leave the keys to my apartment with. I was utterly frazzled. Then when I arrived, my neighbor told me about a number of issues with my drainage and fence (which he fixed!), someone had put dog crap in my trash and thrown it over my fence (yes!), and most importantly, my A/C didn’t work. I spent the night sweating and stressed.

The next day, the A/C situation was sorted out and I dealt with a few other issues along with preparing for a visit from North and Mr. North. This was a working visit and boy did we they work. A long list of “things that I worked around,” like the shower faucet lever falling off whilst water blasted in your face, were fixed and built and cut. Most fabulous, I am now the proud owner of several plants that were cut from the Norths’ garden. In the ground are daylillies, hostas, and tomatoes, and in containers are mint, chocolate mint, and basil. I later added lemon thyme and aloe, but those did not make the pictures, so their growth will not be charted. Or at least not from Day 1. Actually, I took these shots on Day 2. No one likes their picture taken while they they’re adjusting to a new home.

Herbs, looking herby.

Herbs, looking herby.

Tomato plants (no tomatoes yet).

Tomato plants (no tomatoes yet).

Hostas, lining the walk.

Hostas, lining the walk.

Daylillies, between the rocks I use to keep people from driving over my corner. They now have a new job.

Daylillies, between the rocks I use to keep people from driving over my corner. They now have a new job.

And after that whirlwind visit, I could sit back and relax. Except for three trips to Lowe’s, Target, and Ikea, trying to figure out a curtain situation. More on that another time. But really, I finally feel like summer is here, especially because I got in my second ballgame of the season, and even though it was a steambath, it was the greatest baseball game I have ever attended. The steaminess was because for the first time since I “moved” back here, we are having the kind of summer I remember: hot, humid, and sticky. But that’s OK, my air conditioning is in tip-top shape.

Towards a better Baltimore… for all

Part of this surreal week has been the fact that Baltimore is in everyone’s minds and on everyone’s lips. Seeing Wolf Blitzer and Geraldo and Prince talking about it: all weird and somewhat unbelievable. Time Magazine. Meet the Press. John Oliver. Mind boggling, somehow, for what feels like an overlooked small city in the shadow of great ones.

There have been some great, great articles* focusing on the longer standing issues in Baltimore which I have been glad to read. I read two this evening that inspired me to write something myself, and I hadn’t before because I haven’t been sure what to say. One is a first person account of someone like me, albeit with a family, who also loves the city and finds the life great and affordable…. for some people. The other is a NY Times piece about people who live in white neighborhoods in Baltimore and want to do something about the inequality and poverty, but aren’t sure what to do exactly. And that’s like me, too.

I should remind, again, that I live in an awesome, diverse neighborhood which isn’t gentrified and is made up mostly of working class people and middle class professionals. On one side of me lives a black adjunct professor and on the other, a white contractor. That is kind of it in a nutshell.

People often ask me why I would want to live in a place like Baltimore when it’s not a job or people who tie me there. They have seen the Wire or, lately, the news. And my answer has always been how charming it is, how great the people are, how cheap it is, and really, it is safe. For me.

I am like the people in both those articles. I feel incredibly upset and angry at the poverty and hopelessness in my midst. But now that the protests are over, I am not sure what to do about it. And like the author of the first article, I’m aware that a lot of my good, cheap living is actually because a portion of the city lives in grinding poverty.

This was further underlined this week by how far away most of us were from the protests and sometime violence that was happening in Mondawmin, Penn & North, and a few other spots. When I arrived last week, the first thing I noticed was that there were choppers everywhere. I mean, the noise was constant and you could see them in every direction. And the streets around the station were really dead. Very few people or cars compared to when I usually come in. But on the same days that action was happening in other areas, my neighbors were tending their lawns and washing their cars. It was kind of weird when you knew what was happening a few miles away.

I was encouraged to see many white people at the protests, and I think most people in the better neighborhoods of Baltimore wish more could be done to make inner city daily lives more like ours. But there are few jobs. Schools are failing. Crime is high. What do you, in your nice life, do to help other than staying in the city and paying the ridiculously high taxes?

White people are wringing their hands in other ways, too. In my Twitter feed, the week was marked by white people arguing with each other on the best way to support the struggle. Should we break curfew? Is it unseemly to take a smiling selfie of yourself out after curfew and post it? Does that show the disparity in enforcement or just make you look like a tone-deaf asshole? What if a black leader tells you to? Should you stop patronizing restaurants that gave free food to police but not to poor schoolchildren who missed meals when schools were out? That pub did, no they didn’t, yes they did.

I don’t know the answers to the big questions, but I am encouraged that we are asking them and that so many people do see the issues and want to do something about them. Yes, there are idiots who don’t, but I think they are outnumbered. I love Baltimore even more after this week. I love the community on Twitter who feel the way I do and those who work much harder than I do to make it a better place. And, I of course love our badass state’s attorney. I tried to explain to someone at work about why I would love a place with such issues and all I could do was quote someone from an article I can no longer find who said something like, “we’re in a marriage and it’s not perfect. It’s not perfect. But I am uninterested in divorce.”



*despite the articles I mentioned being from national press, I must give huge, huge props to local reporters from the Sun, City Paper, and the local news stations who have been fearless, knowledgeable, insightful, and smart in their coverage.

Two years and counting (I made it through the snow edition)

It’s my housaversary! Two years ago today, I closed on this house and it’s still such a joy to me. It’s easy to remember the Ides of March and so when I saw it mentioned somewhere today, I instantly remembered sitting in the nondescript office park, signing a hundred forms late on a Friday afternoon. And before that, the difficult time we had getting the bank (the seller) to get it together to actually close. It was all worth it.

I’m on Spring Break, just as I was then, and here enjoying the house for two full weeks. I’m writing this at about the time I usually leave for the train back to NY on Sunday afternoons so it’s a particularly sweet feeling to still be here, relaxing. Last year, it snowed over break but this year that doesn’t seem likely. Still, it’s been quite the winter and the last two weekends before this one were pretty hairy.

Two weeks ago, there was an ice storm on the Sunday, leading to a two day long worryfest about how I would get home. Normally, I won’t drive at all in wintry mix, but I had to get to the station somehow. Somehow meant crawling along, gripping the wheel, and hoping for the best. I made it downtown alive, so I suppose the best did happen. But the whole weekend was ruined being stressed about the weather. Later that week there was a heavy snowstorm, so the ice on the ground melted and re-froze and then became covered with seven inches of snow. I couldn’t get anyone to shovel, and so I arrived on Friday near sunset and immediately set to trying to get through some of it with several different shovels. Oh, and parking on my street was a kind of nightmare. Not to mention, city services have been disturbed, so I have all kinds of stuff piling up.

But that is mostly a memory. This weekend there has been rain and wind, but the sun is out, the snow is gone, and it’s supposed to be beautiful this week. Good omen for year three, I hope, and at the very least, I think I will get to enjoy these next two weeks a little more. Maybe I’ll even get out to the deck to read the three (yes, three… I came with high hopes) books I brought with me. Thanks for sharing the last couple of years with me!

A tiny post about little houses

I need to declare that I do not live in a tiny house. That may seem strange but I have reasons. Many people reach me by googling for that, but it’s not tiny. It’s little. Otherwise I would have called the site that. And here’s the difference: tiny houses are chosen by people who want to downsize and live a minimalist life. Little houses are lived in by people who can’t afford big houses. Perhaps that’s too much a generalization, but it seems to be mostly true. I live in a small house because I don’t need a big house, but if I won the lottery, let’s face it, I’d probably live in a huge house. And I feel the need to make this distinction textually because I have now been contacted by two people in media looking to profile folks who live in tiny houses. Then I have to tell them that a. my house is larger than the criteria they have set or been assigned and b. I am really the opposite of those seeking tiny houses. In fact, my house is over twice the size of my apartment and I bought it desperately seeking more room. Room to spread out. Room for privacy. Rooms. Stairs. Laundry facilities that were my own. I keep my house pretty spare of possessions, but it’s because they all live in my New York cluttered existence, not because I set them all free. I wish I could live without them permanently, but I can’t. As I told one reporter, I don’t understand people who live in tiny houses. I live in a tiny apartment and would trade for their 3,000 sf palaces any day. That is to say, I don’t really get this trend and probably need to read these articles and watch these shows when they do come out.

So why do I call it a little house? Because it feels little. It is very compact and while not exactly open plan, all the rooms blend and it feels like a square with a few panels in the middle. Any room can get light from all sides of the house. So it’s little in feel. I don’t mean to say it’s large, either. But it’s not a tiny house.

Please enjoy your tiny houses, downsizers! And start some blogs, because the media is looking for you.

And you may find yourself in another part of the world

Oh hey, I’m still alive! Nothing terribly exciting has happened since my last post and I have made zero improvements, I believe. But I wanted to post about two disparate things. The second one will probably appear later this week.

Now that my non-update is out of the way, more about my playlists than you ever wanted to know. Because what I really felt like talking about was transitions. I got back to NY late tonight after a particularly tough journey, what with the weather we’re having on the east coast and particularly today in the mid-Atlantic. It was a long day and I was pondering transitions because I spent my morning shoveling out my car, as well as its space, my walk, and my stairs. It took an hour and a half but it felt like three. And then I got back and I was sitting on the subway with some very NY people and it was just… weird. All in one day. But I have some rituals to get me back in the groove of my “regular” life of work and apartment living and carlessness. I don’t need any ritual when I transition to Baltimore at all, because who needs help transitioning to vacation? But I do count the three large bodies of water over which the train passes in Maryland, which are all rivers feeding into the Chesapeake Bay. Each one gets me happier.

But on the way back, I have to slowly adjust to letting go of relaxation time and also being in New York. So I have a playlist, of course, and my playlist is mostly Talking Heads. Talking Heads are a quintessential NY band, which is part of it, but David Byrne actually grew up in Baltimore County, so I like to think he made this journey I make all the time, as well. More than that, though, is the essence of Talking Heads’ music which always feels awkward and nervous and out of place, which is often how I feel at that moment, coming back.

I start with this song, Sax and Violins. I turn it on just as the train pulls out of the station in Newark, which is about ten minutes away. Notice that the rhythm of the song is just like a slow moving train, which Amtrak always is at this point. It also has some thoughts on the idea of going home and New York. I will admit, it has served this purpose for me since 1991 when it came out. It’s a gentle, soothing song, but still has a sense of “where am I going exactly?” As it gets towards the end of the song, you can see the NY skyline from the train, especially the Freedom Tower.

If I’m on the left side of the train looking at New Jersey, I resist the urge to put on another song by them called Swamp. Oh ha ha.

Sometimes the train will speed up at this point, which is when I shift to Crosseyed and Painless which is very manic and energetic. There is something very frantic and on the edge about the song, but it really gets me in the mode to get off the train and get moving through hundreds of people. And it just feels like New York, cool and a little crazy.

A lot of the time, the train will stop or slow and then I have time for another song, and I go with another from the same album, Once in A Lifetime. If you’re not familiar, that’s the one where the guy seems to wake up in someone else’s life. The title of this post comes from there. So that works great.

This was a groundbreaking video at the time and I still find it mesmerizing. Plus, when I realize I have to face the real world again, I look a lot like David Byrne right here.

Once I’m at the station, well, I just pick the most energetic song there is. If you have walked through Penn Station, you’ll know why this is. Here was tonight’s pick, and it is a frequent choice. The mellow intro is great for going up the stairs and trying to stay calm on an escalator in a tube, mashed against several other people and their luggage. I try to time my exit into the concourse for 1:14. Just try to get in my way while this is in my ears!

Lately, I have added another track to my list. If the timing works and the subway comes right away, I get the calm but wistful song that comes right after Goon Squad on the album while I am sitting (hopefully) in the subway car. That ends midway through my ride, though, so now I like to play Genesis’ The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway, because, well, I live off Broadway, and the song is about a subway graffiti artist. It’s set in New York by a band not from NY because of the energy and life of the city. It reminds me of the really unique and exciting things about NYC. It makes me feel more excited about being back.

So there you have it. A music post, something I haven’t done in a long time.

Oh! I also exchange my car keys from my pocket with the Metrocard from my purse. I do the reverse when I reach Baltimore. I could do that any time, but I am all about the rituals.

The inability to imagine anything else

Tonight is my last night in the house for the summer and it’s been the longest stretch I’ve ever been here, a full 30 days. In June and July I had to go home about every two weeks for jury duty, dental appointments, and personal commitments. In August I tried hard to not need to go home for anything and it’s really paid off in feeling integrated with this space and really feeling a sense of being away. So much so, that I titled this post what I really feel right now. Try as I might, it’s hard to picture my regular life of living in Manhattan, working every day, and coming here on weekends. That’s been a great thing, for the most part, but I know it will make my adjustment more difficult. But there we are.

It’s been an amazing summer and I did manage to accomplish many of my goals. I cooked more than I have ever cooked before, and real, wholesome, interesting meals. I think I’ve also eaten better than I’ve eaten in years. I’m hoping I can keep that up during the school year but I am so exhausted at the end of the day, I’m not sure I’ll be able to. I did get downtown, and finally visited the Jewish Museum of Maryland, which is in the old Jewish neighborhood slightly east of downtown. I also went to Canton for the first time and I attended more baseball games in one season than I ever have. I think it was something like six or seven. The Orioles lost every game I attended except the one I left early because it was in a rain delay. And yet, they still have the 3rd best record in baseball, which should tell you something about my luck. More importantly, I did these things with many friends, both new ones and dear ones, and that’s one of my favorite things about summer: seeing people I don’t get a chance to see and meeting people who I only know online. It was wonderful.

I also got many things done around the house. I did get an estimate on the basement but decided to put that off till next year. I had a series of professionals come out to look at the side of the house where there are several bricks askew and some cracks. They think it’s nothing serious but the mason may yet discover something. He’s coming in September when I won’t be here. Either way, it’s going to cost me an arm and a leg. Houses tend to cost you many limbs.

Rather than putting up curtains in the back, I’ve decided to plant trees (it took me nearly two years to decide not to put in a parking pad or garage). I’m still getting estimates on that.

In decor, I did finally get a duvet cover for my bedroom, and even though it doesn’t work exactly with the chair that is there, it works with everything else and I really adore it. One day, maybe I’ll even take a picture. I also put a TV in the bedroom, which I hadn’t meant to do (that TV was supposed to go back to NY when I got the bigger one for the living room) but it’s worked out well. I did get accent rugs for the guest room and don’t think they are perfect, but one day you have visitors coming and something says “good enough” rather than “perfect” and you take it. I have my standard strategy in place where if I see something better later, I’ll just replace it.

I also was able to get the coffee table refinished. Well, not refinished, because that was like an $800 prospect, but repaired and spruced up. It just arrived today and that was a struggle. It has literally been in their hands for two months and I had to tell them I was going to be away for a couple of weeks after this to get them to deliver it. But it looks great and they told me it was one of the coolest pieces to come through their shop. Maybe they just didn’t want to let it go. But my $20 Ikea coffee table has been relegated to the basement so it can hold up the dehumidifier and the water can drip drip drip downwards into the sump pump. I had been emptying the tank about twice a day, which gets old, and is impossible when I’m not here. I just set this up, obviously, so I am really hoping nothing goes wrong while I’m gone. I considered setting up a camera down there, just for peace of mind, but there’s not much I could do to fix it if something did go awry. So I am just crossing a lot of fingers.

But I have set them up in other places. That’s because people have been dumping things on my property and I’d like to catch someone. So now I have one pointed at my back yard and the back part of the side yard, and one pointed at the front part of the side yard in addition to the front one I’ve had to see if my lawn needs mowing or my snow needs shoveling. There are still blind spots because of trees and window angles, but it’s better than nothing. And, it’s kind of hypnotizing to watch, especially when you hear something and don’t want to go look out the window to see what it is. It should be interesting when I’m not here, too.

Besides baseball and seeing friends and doing a grant and cooking, I also got to the weekly farmers market where this week I sadly told my favorite farmers and food purveyors that I wouldn’t be back till next year. It was great really getting to know them and be known by them. I did once get to the big farmers market downtown which is huge and an event but it is on early Sunday mornings and the parking is a nightmare which is why I only did it once. It’s right next to the diner from the movie Diner, which was cool (the diner was moved there after the movie) because I hadn’t known it and just recognized it.

And of course, I did read quite a bit and watch marathons on Netflix and Amazon Prime. Lastly, I had a short but wonderful vacation in New England. Normally, it would have also been a relief from the weather here, but after late July, it’s been an unusually cool summer season, with temps in the 70’s and low 80’s and low humidity. I haven’t turned on the air conditioning all month! It’s actually a bit sticky now but I don’t want to ruin my record on the very last day.

Which takes me back to the fact that I should be folding up the three loads of laundry I did today, packing, and cleaning up. See you next summer, Baltimore life!

Summer’s here and the time is right for driving in the street

Happy 1st birthday… to my car! I remembered this date but I didn’t have to because my dealer called me this morning and woke me up out of a sound sleep. Before you break out the tiny violins that I was forced to get up at 9:15, a time when you may have very well been arriving at your desk, please know that I was up till 2am last night because Crazy Storm 2000 was rolling through and kept cracking out booming thunder and torturing me with dimming lights. And then I still had to get up at 7am to take out the trash because, well, I did not want to get hailed upon while doing it. So then I went back to sleep and here we are.

But it’s been a great year for me and the Sweet Tea Mobile and it’s summer again, which is awesome. I celebrated by finally plugging in the dehumidifier and preparing to scrub mold off my basement walls after the last flood. Also, by staying indoors and cranking up the AC because it was 97 degrees yesterday. Vacation is glamourous. Today I went out, though, to get some new pots and pans at Target in anticipation of doing some actual cooking this summer. So I can tell you that one year later, my car has 1,890 miles on it. That is such a minuscule number that I hesitated before putting a comma in it. It’s a little bit crazy, I know. Last month, I engaged the anti-lock brakes for the first time when someone getting off the JFX cut me off on my way to the train station. It sounded like the entire bottom of my car was scraping the pavement. Ouch. Other car update: due to the previously mentioned torrential downpour, my car is actually clean for the first time in months. Sitting in a garage just makes for a filthy exterior. It is fabulous to see it looking so great. Yes, I could wash it, but now I don’t have to!

I was thinking today in the Towson Place parking lot that there is another skill you need to have to survive in a car-oriented area: walking through parking lots. You can’t walk in the center because then cars behind you have to creep. You can’t walk too close to either line of cars because then they pull out without seeing you. This is not something I deal with in New York. But shopping in the middle of a weekday is such a pleasure. Summer!

So, what are my plans for this summer?

Read lots of books
Watch lots of shows I missed
Go downtown more
Cook more

I also have a grant so that work is a definite. As is jury duty in New York.

As for the house:

Put some kind of covering on the French doors (I bought something from Ikea but it has to be hacked a bit).
Get accent rugs for the guest room.
Refinish the coffee table (my real coffee table is here!)
Get some decor for everywhere in the house.
Get an estimate on finishing the basement.
I have a real contender for duvet cover for the master bedroom. I may actually be able to photograph this room and post it, woot!

Happy summer!

What it means to be alarmed

I wrote this on Sunday night, May 4th but didn’t post until today, because I didn’t want to announce to the world that my door was unlocked. But a guy came today while I was away and fixed it, and it was such an easy job that he did it for free. He said it took five minutes. Of course, he told me about another issue I have that he said will take $700 to fix. So there’s that.

What a crazy weekend. I kind of need a weekend to recover from my weekend. I do not mean this in a good way, but it wasn’t horrible, either. Just frustrating and exhausting.

You may have heard about the wall collapse this week in Baltimore, by which I mean to demonstrate that it rained really, really hard. So when I got there on Friday, I was not shocked, but very dismayed, to find my basement flooded. Now, it has never flooded before, but there is a sump pump, so I imagined it was possible. But the water was nowhere near the sump pump, rather it pooled in the very center of the basement, a few mm high, and, of course, enveloping several cardboard boxes I had stupidly placed there.

On North’s advice, I bought a mop on Saturday evening. The most absorbent mop that Lowe’s sells. And I proceeded to spend an hour sopping up two bucketfuls of gross dirty water. I felt somewhat mollified. But the place still smelled like water had been standing in an unventilated room for several days. So I opened the side door to let in some air. I have to say that it’s been over a year since I opened this door. I sometimes forget it exists. And in that time, I guess it warped or something, so that first off, the alarm sensor popped off and went flying. And second, once I had the door open, it would not close again. The lock no longer lined up with the strike plate. So, it’s a Saturday night, the next day is Sunday, and the day after that I will not be there. For five days.

I checked Angie’s List but couldn’t find a handyperson who would come on a Sunday and so I closed the door as far as it would go and repaired the sensor and put it back up. I watched it carefully over the next day and the alarm system never registered an event where the door was open. So at least if the door was open, it didn’t look open, and the sensors lined up so that if someone did open it, I could leave the alarm set and it would go off. Or so I thought.

In the meantime, I spent an hour putting together a piece from Ikea which was (shocking!) impossible to figure out. When I finally had it done and folded it into position, the hinges snapped and broke. It was a fabulous evening.

Sunday afternoon, I locked up, turned on the alarm, and headed for the train station. When I arrived, I had a few minutes so I checked my phone and there were six emails with varying degrees of headers about “Pending Alarms” and “ALARM” and “Break-In” and “Law Enforcement Dispatched”. I nearly had a panic attack in the middle of Penn Station. I managed to get the app open and shut off the alarm and then I called them to Un-Dispatch Law Enforcement. I mean, maybe someone had broken in but more likely, the wind had blown the door a little and separated the sensors. But every time I called, I’d get disconnected three seconds after they had established my identity. And then they called the train.

I ran down to the track, still on the phone, and reached someone. But she said my password was wrong so she couldn’t give me any information or stop the police from coming. I got disconnected and called back. I tried several more of my usual passwords but none worked. Finally, while on the train and settled into a seat, I reached someone and the first passcode had been correct! Maybe the first person misheard me but really, if your password is one digit off and you have a frantic woman saying, “please don’t send the police to my house and I am about to get on a train and lose the connection,” couldn’t you do something?

So I am on the train and I have walked through three cars because the train is PACKED and I am frantically trying to get the woman to cancel the police and I am sitting in the first seat I see and the conductor comes over and starts yelling at me that it is the quiet car. So, besides everything else, I am THAT PERSON shouting into their cellphone, oblivious that it is the quiet car. I went to the next car and they called off the police.

Later I discovered that the very first email they had sent had a link to do all this without the code. Ugh.

In the meantime, my alarm is off, my door is open, and a blaring alarm probably irritated my entire neighborhood for ten minutes. On the plus side, it should be easy to get the repairman in.

Update on May 13th:
The door is fixed, the sensor on the door was deactivated so that I could turn the alarm back on, a new sensor is on its way, my next door neighbors turned out to have been away and so never heard a thing, the item has been returned to Ikea, and I had another weekend, including my first Orioles game of the season. Phew.

“I just wanted some more of that in my life”

Recently, I read an interview with the author of a blog about Park Slope, who moved away from New York and one of the things she said really resonated with me. It was this:

There honestly was not one moment that put me over the edge. But I did find, the older I was getting, the less patient I became with the everyday “battlefield” that is life in NYC. And then I would go visit other cities like L.A. and see that everything was so darn pleasant and easy there, and I just wanted some more of that in my life.

I am not a big fan of LA but other than that, that’s exactly how I feel. Life in NY is hard, really hard. But you either don’t notice it or you don’t care until you are older. Or maybe it’s that the good things stop outweighing the grind. Or maybe it just wears you down and you’re done. Either way, the lifestyle that I loved at 25 and 35 is just not appealing now. Once you live somewhere where no one is walking overhead at 3 in the morning and you can just go to one store for everything and load it all in your car and drive right to your door, where you actually have a place to put it all, New York seems less and less like a place you want to be. Not everyone feels this way, of course, but sometimes as you get older, you feel too tired for daily living to be so hard.

None of this is to say I’m moving. I love my job. But I have come to think of New York as a place I visit on weekdays. I am like a commuter with a long, twice a week, commute and a pied-a-terre.

Speaking of the place from where I commute, The Sun published an article/photo essay about my neighborhood last week, and it did well at highlighting the things I love about it: the charming houses, the family/grown-up nature of it (as pointed out earlier, I am no longer young, and I can’t live in Hipstertown), the peace and quiet, the charming main street with the great shops and restaurants, the laid back vibe, and the sense that something great is happening here, which it is. It is awesome to be here.