Personal

We have become… them.

When Martin and I bought our first house, almost 20 years ago, it was love at first sight.

The realtor unlocked the door and I sprinted up the stairs, shouting with joy — extinguishing any chance of price negotiation.

And I brainwashed Martin to accept this 1890s white elephant, despite faulty wiring, water damage, cracked plaster, and (as we learned at home inspection) a roof without flashing, and a furnace that — if used — might burn down the house.

That first morning, however, Martin and I weren’t merely stunned by the repairs, but by the general state of the house. It was a mess: dishes piled in the sink and mounds of dirty clothes in every bedroom. A catcher’s mask, chest protector and leg guards scattered in a bathroom suggested a player urgently needed the toilet. But the discarded gear looked days old.

As we wandered around and absorbed it all, the family dog — plagued by a nervous bladder — trailed us, pausing to squat in each room.

“How do people live like this?” I asked Martin.

“No idea,” he replied. Not only had the owners failed to tidy up for potential buyers, they obviously resided in a perpetual state of clutter.

“Well, they do have five kids,” the realtor remarked blandly.

“Even so,” Martin said, as he waded through knee-deep oak leaves, which had killed the lawn after years of neglect.

We couldn’t conceive that capable, able-bodied adults would abandon all semblance of order. Why didn’t they patch the ceiling? Or fix the leaky pipes?

And what kind of useless, heathen children were they raising?

Clearly, they weren’t right in the head.

We renovated the house, enlisting family and friends to assist with the demo and prep work. Outdoors, we restored order and reclaimed the yard, filling a full-sized dumpster with twigs and tree limbs.

The master bedroom, down to the lath

 

 

Prying up carpet staples in the hall, with Dad

Within a few months, the house was habitable and we lived there for three, fun-filled, party-fueled years. But eventually we moved on.

Over the years, I’ve thought about the former owners of that house, and wondered about their neglect and lackluster care.

Fast forward 20 years and I no longer wonder. All of my questions have been answered.

Recently, Martin and I stood ankle-deep in toys, gazing at the yard which resembled a graveyard for garden tools. We were knocking around the topic of home repairs. This discussion always starts and ends the same: We need new siding, and should buy new windows, which would necessitate more insulation (and God knows what else), and if we’re ripping out walls, we should install central AC, and don’t forget the ancient kitchen, not to mention our master bathroom… but we can’t afford all that, so why are we having this conversation anyway?

“You know… that we’ve become them,” I said. “Those people with the kids, who owned our first house and let the place fall apart and become a pigsty. We couldn’t figure them out. But now we ARE them!”

Martin looked resigned, admitting that he’d already reached that conclusion.

A month ago, my mom stumbled on a listing of our first home. It has changed hands a few times, and undergone progressive upgrades and renovations. Presently, it is picture-perfect.

The living and dining rooms

We scrolled through the photos, marveling at improvements that others would miss — heating where there hadn’t been any, using vintage radiators that matched the rest.

The baseball gear bathroom, which had no heat and was always shabby.

The kitchen layout was the same, but it looked divine. I’m sure that the owners would cringe with revulsion if they saw the state of their home 20 years ago.

Here’s a photo of a sitting room, when we closed on the house.

We removed the grim paneling, and ripped out the carpeting throughout the house. When I snapped the photo below, we had moved in, but were still renovating — hence the missing window moldings.

(Side note: I mentioned this particular floor-to-ceiling window in a February post, in reference to Corrie, who’d deliver her Border Collie stare when we watched TV and feigned fatigue.)

Our renovation was a vast improvement.

But another owner took a cataclysmic leap in the quality of upgrades and decor. Here’s that same room today.

“You know, we could do this!” Martin said, scrolling through pictures of our old house transformed. “If we’re tearing out the siding and walls, I think we should move the kitchen to the other side of the house, and build out a new mudroom, and then put a living room where the kitchen was before…”

Move the kitchen? Sure, that sounds realistic and affordable.

Personally, I’d take a kitchen and bathroom upgrade, and new siding. Some day.

In the short term, I’d settle for less clutter…

…And fewer rug-dwelling potato chips and cookie crumbs, stuck to the bottom of my socks.

Cat People

I’ve always considered myself a horse and dog person.

Not a cat person. Or a kid person, either.

Yet we have 3 kids and 5 cats.

Better than 5 kids and 3 cats, I guess.

Still, Maisie ranks above the cat population. So do the horses. (Please, don’t ask me to rank the kids.)

I could have lived a cat-free existence, were it not for the farm. With a barn and grain and sloppy horses, they are a necessity.

But I didn’t feel much affection or affinity for them until Mel and Frog came around. They changed my views.

Many years ago, after Old Kitty — an ancient, skeletal feline conveyance — finally keeled over, Martin and I realized that our supply was running low. With only Drippy, a lazy, drooling cat, we contacted a crazy cat lady and agreed to take two kittens.

We selected Tippy, a tiger-tabby with a tail dipped generously in White-Out. For color contrast, we chose his scrawny littermate named “Cool,” a Creamsicle orange-and-vanilla kitten with runny eyes.

Frog was an afterthought — a spare heir — scooped up last minute.

It was fall 2004. I’ll never forget, because my father had just been diagnosed with dementia. And I was emotionally wrung out…. hence my willingness to deposit a third kitten into our cardboard box.

Frog, Tippy and Mel (formerly “Cool”), two years later

Fast forward a few years. Tippy, unfortunately, disappeared around 2007; I believe he fell victim to local wildlife. (All three cats display a visceral aversion to cars, but roam to hunt.)

For more than a decade, Frog lived a relatively normal existence, even as our cat colony grew. She proved a top mouser and all was harmonious until a young upstart — Toulouse — rose in the ranks, and toppled the monarchy.

Mel (formerly Cool) gave Toulouse little thought. But the black panther intimidated Frog and last year, she was driven into exile. Her condition declined and she might’ve perished had she not snuck back into the kingdom.

The solution? Frog lives underground, in 5-foot-deep hole in the paddock: all that remains of the old outhouse. It sounds undignified but the dwelling suits her. It’s heavily-fortified by horse fencing, wire mesh and hot-wire. Coyote proof. And the broken wood cover allows her entry and protection from the weather. She is quite content and is the only feline who dispatches with mice on command.

As for Mel? Most of the time, he lives up to his “mellow” moniker, but he also reminds me of our old dog, Corrie.

While Maisie is the typical hardwired, workaholic Border Collie, she isn’t as nutty about walks as her predecessor. When Martin and I bought our first house — an old Victorian in Rockville with floor-to-ceiling windows — Corrie would stare us down after work. We’d collapse on the couch to veg out and Corrie would gaze fixedly through the wavy glass, her eyes boring into us, saying, “Hey! You’re not going to sit there, are you? After being gone all day? Hey! Get up, get up, get up, get up, get up, get up, get up, get up, get up….

It was impossible to ignore.

Mel has inherited Corrie’s commitment to the daily perambulation. He’s always enjoyed walking and will abandon food for a stroll, but as he’s matured, he has become more insistent about the daily routine. There are evenings when Maisie is snoozing in bed, while Mel sits at attention by the mudroom door…. staring. Waiting to walk.

In a calendar year, I’d wager that he misses 15 walks, tops. He more consistent than the postal service.

On these winter evenings, as we walk up the drive bathed in moonlight, or stumble along in the dark, Maisie jogs ahead, bouncing and barking. Meanwhile, Mel trots reliably behind us, pausing to purr and hurl himself into the grass for a roll. We are so accustomed to him, it’s odd when he’s missing.

Maisie is now 11 years old and Mel and Frog are 13. I hate to say that they are slowing down, but the signs are there. Nowadays, as we head home in the dark, I pause to call Mel to catch up. He’s not a cellar-dweller like his sister, the spare heir. And I don’t want him to become coyote bait.

I wait for him to catch up.

I guess that makes me a cat person.

With Drippy, Mel and Corrie, 2005

 

A cat and kid person.

Hadley and Drippy, 2009

Irish leftovers

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Last week’s blog post covered highlights from our Irish adventure. So what’s left?

Odds and ends.

Like the moment of gastronomic nirvana, when I stumbled on a cheesemonger peddling his wares in Kenmare.

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Time out: It’s possible that the term cheesemonger, and fishmonger and other mongers have gone the way of the Dodo bird. But this might be my only opportunity to ever use cheesemonger, so I’m running with it. Okay, time in.

Cheese is my one, true Kryptonite, my Achilles’ heel. I am powerless around cheese. If you apply the litmus test of questions that define addiction, I fit the profile.

“Do you eat cheese alone?” Sure. “Do you eat it in excess?” Absolutely. “Do you eat cheese to forget your problems?” Doesn’t everyone?

Decisions, decisions. I spent several minutes drooling over options. The cheesemonger was very kind; he offered samples to taste, even a smidge of his top-tier products. I bought several wedges and a 1/2 wheel — at a fraction of the price typically charged at home. One cheese choice was quite pungent. I stashed my stuff in the trunk, but within an hour, my haul had stunk-up the entire car.

Aside from the delectable cheese display above, I should also point out my constant travel companion: Ugly Backpack — that dingy, gray sack strapped over my shoulders. Ugly Backpack is a story in itself, and probably warrants a separate post. But suffice to say, it is proof-positive that Ralph Lauren’s Polo line includes some hideous looking merchandise. That said, Ugly Backpack is practical as hell; it has logged more airline miles than all of you readers, combined. The 4 of you.

Seriously, Ugly Backpack has visited 5 continents, and countless countries.

Here it is on a trip to Paris, 12 years ago:

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And before that, in Romania:

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Its travel log predates digital photography. (And based on these photos, that purple polar fleece is a real globe-trotter as well.)

Now I’m totally off-topic. Forget the cheese and Ugly Backpack. On to Kilkenny, which should have just been an overnight stay. But we were awarded a bonus day, thanks to Frog — shorthand for frozen fog — which hit London, and grounded hundreds of flights, including ours from Dublin. We couldn’t rebook until the next day, so we kicked around Kilkenny. And checked out Kilkenny Castle.

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We toured the place, both inside and out.

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As everywhere else, simply brimming with tourists…

Our hotel was a stone’s throw away from the castle. (Hadley, don’t touch my laptop.)

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Admittedly, our fabulous trip wasn’t all sunshine and roses.

In our travels, several items were lost, including Cayden’s retainer. We searched every pocket of every bag, and contacted the hotels where we’d stayed, to no avail. Retainer replacement adds a big line-item to our vacation budget.

The missing mouth wear was a touchy subject until Martin broke the ice on our journey home. While we gained a spare vacation day, with it, came a 5-hour layover at Heathrow. We killed time wandering the concourse, eating, shopping, eating some more, shopping some more, until finally, we slumped in a row of airport seats and gazed at the digital departure board.

The kids didn’t want to slump and sit; they wanted to explore. But Martin and I were too tired to shlep our bulging carry-on bags and plod in pursuit. So we let them go. Alone. In Heathrow. One of the busiest airports in the world.

Cayden and Brynn were first to venture out, and as they slipped among the moving mass of bodies and luggage, Martin shouted, “Hey! Don’t lose your sister like you lost your retainer!”

That was worth a laugh, even as the kids were swallowed by a stream of travelers — some striding purposely to their gates, other wandering aimlessly between stores, parents dragging resistant, wailing toddlers, and solitary souls sprinting desperately to distant gates.

I got a little anxious when boarding time approached and we were still two kids down. But they turned up. (So did the retainer, according to hotel staff, but the news came when were home… after we’d ordered a new one.)

But hey, we left the States with 3 kids and we returned with 3 kids. And a bit of laundry.

Not too bad!

The questions is: Will there be another trip next year? An Irish five-peat? Are plans in the works for Sheepfest 2018?

As President Trump has taught me, anything is possible.

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