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maura @ 2:46 pm

We did not travel for the late November holiday this year, for the first time in a very long time. Instead we stayed home, just the three of us (five with cats), and went out to a restaurant for the Big Dinner (just us, not the cats). The last time we went out to eat on this holiday I was just about 9 months pregnant, we didn’t want to travel just in case the kid was early (reader, he wasn’t). My family came to us that year and we ate a delicious meal out though I also remember feeling grumpy that I could only eat a little bit, since my tenant was by that point taking up So. Much. Room. This year heading out to visit family would have been complicated, with lots of scheduling challenges. Plus there are college applications to work on. Plus it’s just been such a busy fall, and the thought of spending hours on the NJ turnpike on the busiest travel weekend in the country was more than I could stomach.

So we stayed. It feels like an age since I’ve had 4 days off in a row, though I’m sure it’s only been since the end of the summer. My body and brain spent some time Thursday morning fighting against ingrained routines — if I’m not at work then surely I should be going to drop off compost on the way to karate? (Saturdays) Or putting in a load of wash and running a dust mop over the floor? (Sundays) Nope, neither of those. Finally finishing the two books I’ve taken far too long to read? Check. Working my way through the first of 4 big puzzles in the videogame I’m playing? Check. PJs til the afternoon, plus kitteh snugs? All the checks.

It’s so weird to be home for a long weekend in which many folks aren’t, especially in our mostly residential part of Brooklyn. Parking spaces are plentiful, and pedestrians few. Everything seems a little bit slower and with more space. It was lovely to have two full days in which to do things that are not weekend things, and to still have space and time for the weekend things. And it’s still the weekend!

This is the first November holiday in which we’ve stayed and are staying, and the last November holiday with a high schooler. I’m thinking a lot about routines and how they will change.

les tags: ,

climb the wall to make the sun rise in time

maura @ 5:10 pm

I can’t quite believe that we’ve lived in our current apartment for nearly 18 years. My family moved a lot while I was growing up and I’d never lived in the same apartment or house for more than 3 years before this place. It’s been a long time but it’s still strange — when I feel grumpy about having to recaulk the bathtub *again* (because didn’t I just do that?) (and why don’t I ever seem to get any better at it?), I keep having to remind myself that in the past we often moved out before our home needed any significant (or even insignificant) maintenance.

Through a combination of luck and not being on the first floor, plus a heaping helping of I like to clean and for the house to be clean, we’ve not had to deal with many bugs or other annoying critters in this apartment. We do get the occasional house centipede (ew, so many legs) or moth or these really tiny black beetles (when the weather gets warm), but that’s really about it. But that all changed this week when we had to deal with a weird ant invasion, sigh.

The creepiest thing is that it went from 0 to gross in seemingly no time at all. One night we went to bed and there were no ants, and the next morning we woke up to a hairball (yuck, but unfortunately not all that unusual) and lots of ants swarming it (extra-yuck, thanks cats!). Were the ants just lying in wait under the floorboards? Who knows!

There’s nothing more bracing than dealing with a hairball plus ants first thing in the morning on a weekday, boy howdy. Super glad I’m on sabbatical rn because at least I had time to help deal with it, as the cats were No Help At All as per usual. Ants move pretty fast, but we sprayed ’em with cleaning spray and wiped ’em all up as best we could.

The rest of that day we were definitely on ant High Alert, walking around the general living room area a few times to take care of any new arrivals or stragglers. It seemed like they were coming from the wall with a window that looks out onto our courtyard, and they were only in one part of the living room and hallway. But then the next day, though there were fewer ants overall, one got to the threshhold of the kitchen, yikes.

With the cats we can’t really get an exterminator or ant poison, and a pal on twitter suggested baking soda as an alternative. J ran out to get three boxes and we started going along the wall of the apartment pushing a line of baking soda into the cracks and under the floorboards plus along the threshhold of the kitchen. We did all of this before checking online and I’m still not exactly sure what baking soda does to ants — while I didn’t do an exhaustive search it seemed like some folks were suggesting mixing powdered sugar with baking soda so they’d take it back to the nest and then their stomachs would explode? Which seems weird to me and possibly not true (though again, I didn’t follow up). Other folks suggested using cinnamon which disrupts their pheremone trail, but our living room wall is very long, that would take a lot of cinnamon (and baking soda is cheaper).

My attention to detail and ability to see irregularities are adjusted pretty high. That came in handy when I was an archaeologist and continues to do so when I need to copy edit something, but is perhaps less useful to me overall during an ant situtation. I’ve spent more time than I’d like to admit this week walking around the apartment looking for ants along the walls and floors, which is sort of distracting.

We are on day 5 now and things are much better, really we are just seeing a few each day and also some poor ant corpses occasionally. The teenager says it looks like we were spellcasting, what with the white powder along the perimiter of the living room and around the pillar in the kitchen. Hope these spells continue to ward off the ant menace.

les tags: ,

when the blanket is gone

maura @ 8:07 pm

Our washing machine broke yesterday. Happy New Year! As is to be expected it happened mid-wash, forcing me to rinse out each item of clothing (and towels, sigh) in the bathtub, wring them all out, hang them up on our drying rack, and point a small fan at them to speed drying time. Luckily I did two loads of wash the day before yesterday so we’re in a good place, laundry-wise, and should be able to make it through the week with very minimal handwashing should the repair not happen sooner.

Laundry can be complicated for apartment-dwellers. Since we’ve lived in NYC we’ve had close to the full range of washing and drying possibilities. In some of our apartments there was communal laundry in the basement or common space, sometimes coin-op and other times not. Other apartments had no laundry in the building, in which case we’d either take our clothes to a laundry service or wash them ourselves at a laundromat. The former sounds fancy and expensive but sometimes it was the best option if there wasn’t a laundromat close by; the latter is actually my preference, though, because sometimes laundry services lose a sock here and there (and sometimes it’s a favorite sock, extra sad). When we lived near Washington Square (in two different apartments) we used a laundromat on W. 4th St., and every year for the 4 yrs we lived there laundry day was inadvertently the same day as the pride parade which meant that we had to cross the parade route schlepping giant bags of clothes, duh for us.

Our current place has laundry in the actual apartment and we’re on our 2nd washer/drier since we moved in 16.5 yrs ago. This is definitely convenient, and was especially so when the kid was a baby and the pile of things to wash seemed neverending. But my preferred laundry management situation is actually communal laundry in the basement (as long as you don’t have to go outside to get to the basement as we did in one apartment). Communal laundry = communal maintenance, and also the failover scenario of the possibility to use another machine if one machine is broken. Yeah, it’s inconvenient to have to put on shoes to go to the basement, sure. But appliance repair is such a drag, especially given how complicated appliances are. Our machine is a super-fussy (and needlessly complicated) model that both washes and dries, which I feel makes it more complicated to repair, too (though I’m not an expert, so I could just be projecting).

Mostly I’m just grumpy to be going into this week with some of the laundry undone. I like cleaning, and I especially like laundry, one of my chores along with dishes and dusting. I like things to be neat and in order, and I also find it satisfying to clean because there’s a perceptible difference between the before and after: you start with a dirty pile of clothes and end up with clean and folded stacks, ready to be put away in drawers and closets. With so much uncertainty in the world I’ve found recently that I’ve gravitated even more to doing laundry, and it’s making me antsy not to do it.

les tags: ,

k is for the kid in her

maura @ 8:30 pm

Woah, what happened to the summer projects list? Blame the vacation, about which I’ll write more soon. It was very relaxing (yay!) and involved much more reading than writing.

The call of the blag has grown louder the past few days, so here I am to finish out the list. These are the less exciting projects, I have to warn you. But in the interest of completeness (and of keeping myself to the tasks by making them public)…

3. Ebay the old Legos
We’ve used ebay off and for years to get rid of old stuff, especially technology stuff which tends to fetch a decent price. Most of our stuff slated for removal from the apartment goes to our annual stoop sale and, thanks to my new vow never to bring stuff back into the apartment once it goes out to the stoop, off to Goodwill on the same day if it hasn’t sold. Stoop sales are easy but don’t usually net us much unless we have something biggish to sell, like a bike or a tape deck. Ebay is kind of a pain — all of that taking pictures and describing the items and setting the prices and mailing things out — so we tend to use it only if it seems like we’ll make decent money.

Legos are different from most of our other stuff. Gus has some sets that he really likes, but has never been the biggest lego fan (which still somewhat surprises me). Because I am a packrat and because I bought some legos as late as college (like the nerd I am), there are a bunch of my old sets that Gus doesn’t want. And it turns out that they’re actually worth some ca$h, too. So, ebay it is. And maybe I’ll share my loot with the kid. Maybe.

4. Clothes shopping
I hate clothes shopping, as I’ve often complained. I could bore you with the details about why, but Mimi Smartypants says it so much better so I won’t.

But the time has come: my wardrobe is in dire straits and I’m looking even frumpier than usual, even given the generous librarian frumpiness allowance. With summer Fridays kicking in I won’t have my usual excuse, which is that I can’t shop on the weekends because it would be so unfair to take time away from Jonathan and Gus on the weekend when I only see them for a few hours a day during the week.

This Friday we work, because of the July 4th holiday, but next Friday I’m off to the shops. It’ll be Friday the 13th, think that’s a bad idea?

And I’m thinking of bribing myself to clothes shop by dangling a prize: if I go shopping and end up adding a few more work outfits to my stash, I can treat myself to a new pair of sneakers. My favorite sneaker shop in the Village closed last year so I’m thinking of springing for the extra $30 to make my very own custom Sambas. What do you think?

Screen shot 2012-06-16 at 7.16.48 PM

5. Sew a new phone cozy
This one’s easy because it’s almost done! I’ve chosen the fabric and sewn the pouch already, so only the most labor-intensive parts remain: sewing on the ribbon edging. The old sock I’ve been using for a phone cozy is long LONG past its prime, and since I broke out the sewing machine a couple of weeks ago to convert some long-sleeved t-shirts into short-sleeved for Gus, I thought I’d get started on a new cozy too. This would be a good project for watching a movie or something similar as hand sewing’s not really a 100% of yr brain task.

6. Umm…
I swear there was a 6, but now I can’t for the life of it remember what it was. Blag more, probably — I’m long overdue for post on the library blag I write for and the games network folks have a plan for more blagging, too. So let’s call it blagging, deal?

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tucky says

maura @ 4:25 pm

When we first moved to NYC we lived in Manhattan. Coming straight here from Chicago we couldn’t quite believe how expensive the rents were. But we wanted to be able to walk everywhere so it never even occurred to us to live in Brooklyn or somewhere else. High rents + paltry grad student stipends = roommates, so we teamed up with two friends from college to find a place. I still laugh when I think of the reasonably-sized 3BR with exposed brick that we rejected because it was a 4th floor walkup and on a street in Soho that seemed dodgy at the time and is now so posh we can’t even afford to walk down it.

In retrospect we did get lucky and ended up in a 3BR duplex on Elizabeth St. between Houston and Prince with all the mod cons: laundry in the basement, a dishwasher (critical with 4 people), and air conditioning. Of course there were some small annoyances about that place, when is there ever not? During San Gennaro the neighborhood was insanely crowded and the sidewalks were gross the next day. But really there wasn’t much to complain about: the location was fantastic. The old Knitting Factory was right around the corner and we could walk to almost anyplace we ever wanted to go. It was literally ages before I rode the subway north of 14th St.

We lived on the 3rd floor (I think) and at first there was a big empty lot on the south side of Houston between Mott and Elizabeth. Our apartment had a greenhouse-style window at the back of the living room where we put the TV, stereo, and video games, so we spent lots of time looking out of those windows. Just across Houston St. was a building with an enormous painted advertisement for Tuck-It-Away storage. It looked kind of like this:


That crazy squirrel used to completely crack me up: his cart reads “u store it, u lock it, u keep key.” We never knew Tuck-It-Away’s location was because there wasn’t an address on the ad (this isn’t the actual billboard from Houston St., it’s a similar ad that’s apparently in Harlem). I couldn’t imagine where in Manhattan there would even be space for a building devoted entirely to storage.

We lived on Elizabeth for two years and sometime in the second year construction started on a huge apartment building on that empty lot just north of us. It was a sad sad day when the building rose high enough that we could no longer sit on our sofa and see Tucky and his cart encouraging us to store our stuff. The structure with Tucky painted on it was itself next to an empty lot, and later still (I think after we’d left Elizabeth St.) yet another new building went up on that lot, and Tucky was gone.

This past academic year I’ve been doing fieldwork for my research project at City College up in northern Manhattan. I hadn’t thought about Tucky in years, probably almost a decade. But as the photo shows there’s a big Tuck-It-Away facility on Broadway and 131st St. The 1 train does a curious thing and pops aboveground at 116th St., heading back underground by 137th St. where I get off to go to City College. One day as I was getting myself together before my stop I looked out the window and there it was, in all of it’s orange glory: the home of Tucky. And now I know.

Photo by Julia Manzerova

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all the news that’s fit to print

maura @ 10:29 pm

OMG you guys, the silo house is in the New York Times this week! You remember my slight obsession with the silo house, don’t you?

I kind of can’t believe it’s still on the market, but it might need some work or something (though the price has gone *up* a bit, weirdly [actually the price went down a smidge]). The photos in the Times make it look much nicer even than the original photos. Look at that beautiful old stove oven! And a wood burning fireplace stove, of course. Swoon.

But after further consideration it is really much too far away to be practical. Google says 2 hrs 45 mins right now when I’m sure there’s no traffic at all, which is about 45 mins too long, I think. Plus I can’t see how we could go often with the cats — they don’t really travel well. And like we have the funds for an extra house, anyway. Phew, dodged a bullet there!

(P.S. Don’t tell me if you buy it, I don’t want to know. Unless you invite us to come visit, of course!)

(EDITED to correct some errors — see strikeouts above)

les tags: ,

clean and sparkly

maura @ 10:37 pm

The bathroom is finished! Well, that’s a tiny exaggeration: it’s about 99% done. The contractor has to come back on Monday and install the shower rod and do a couple of other minor things. But we’re almost there. It’s very, very pretty — I know this is awful, but I almost hate to turn it over to Gus and the cats now. Maybe they should use the other bathroom and Jonathan and I can use the new one.

Today we spent most of the afternoon cleaning and other final renovationy stuff — Jonathan painted the back of the door and put grout sealer on the floor and shower walls. I’m completely pooped, but it’s really nice to have all of the renovation dust gone and the house (mostly) back to normal. Gah, why is renovating such a dusty business? The tops of the ceiling fan blades were a horror.

I was going to be all super crazy cleantastic and vacuum the books, but I couldn’t figure out how to do it. I must be deficient — we have a real vacuum and a little handheld thing.* Each has multiple attachments and I tried a couple but just couldn’t make it work any better than a dust rag.

* I find it equal measures fun and sort of offensive that our handheld vacuum is bright yellow. Fun because yay! fun colors are fun! But offensive because I suspect that the manufacturers made it yellow to try to attract the male market: “if it’s yellow, it’s like a tool, and guys like tools!”

Gah, books collect so much dust. So. Much. Dust. I am still sneezing, even hours later! Which is making me think about doing another book purge. I feel kind of guilty about bringing some of my weird, semi-out-of-date archaeology books to the public library to drop them off, but I’m not sure what to do with them otherwise. But really, I work in a library, why do I need so many books in my house, too?

les tags: , ,

saturday morning writing

maura @ 8:46 pm

When Gus was doing karate last spring I was really good about writing during his class. But then he decided to stop and I fell off the wagon. Now he’s doing fencing on Saturday mornings and I am having a hard time getting back into the swing of it.

There’s a lot going on these days.

Last week there was weird sideways hail which, only 2 weeks after the tornado, seems a bit apocalyptic, even for the most agnostic of agnostics (= me).

Work is fun but busier than ever — my course has tripled+ in size (which is good!) and I’m at the beginning or in the midst of a couple of big projects. Next week is Open Access Week so we are prepping a bunch of events (with stickers!). My research project is back in full effect and it’s absolutely fascinating but also exhausting. (I wrote about it at one of my other blags.)

Our bathroom renovation starts on Monday. We decided to go ahead with it after all — the floor tiles are thrashed and coming up all over the place and the faucets are all leaky and the whole shebang is 24 years old and wasn’t ever the best work, anyway. So there are huge boxes all over the apartment with toilet parts, sink parts, etc. It’s a little chaotic. Of course the cats love it — the fat lazy one has decided that the boxed bathtub is his own personal fainting couch and he spends all day lazing on it. Hopefully the cardboard kitty playland will make up for the temporary displacement of their litterbox.

I’ve also been kind of obsessed with this crazy little silo house upstate recently (it started with that house + land in Vermont). Maybe it’s the fall, the real fall, finally here after so much summer, and with good smells of woodsmoke and crunchy apples and pumpkin spice donuts at Tim Horton’s.

And we finally finished catching up with Mad Men! Just in time for the season finale.

les tags: , ,

power force motion drive

maura @ 5:12 pm

You know, I try to be a good hippie: hanging our clothes to dry, intermittent composting, buying most clothes secondhand, etc. I’m not the biggest fan of capitalism — the older I get, the more global income inequality bothers me. I’ve sort of flirted with doing The Compact from time to time, and since I don’t enjoy shopping all that much it’s usually not too hard not to buy much anyway.

But consumerism sometimes gets the best of me, and this week has been a particularly stark example. We’ve been planning to redo our bathrooms for a while now, at least one but perhaps both. About 9 yrs ago we got the kitchen redone, and I guess I’d been using that as a guide when I thought about how much a renovation should cost rather than doing any research on actual prices (yes, I am a librarian, why do you ask?). So I had a number in my head before we asked a contractor to come give us an estimate. And it turns out that number was really, really wrong.

At first I was disappointed at the cost, which seems so out of proportion to the size of the room (though of course I realize that plumbing, tiling, etc., is lots of work). But last week was busy so I didn’t have time to give it much more thought. Except that today, I realized that I *had* been thinking about it, just not overtly. Then I was disappointed in myself, both for being so disappointed and for my resulting compensatory behavior.

Let me explain.

I kind of have a thing for sneakers, particularly those of a certain brand. I feel guilty about this for all the usual reasons: consumerism, sweatshops, susceptibility to advertiser manipulation, etc. But I remember the royal blue Samoas with chartreuse stripes that I had in 6th grade: they’re like my Ur sneakers, and I am powerless in nostalgia’s grip. (And lest I paint too bad a picture of myself I should mention that my last 2 pairs [one for summer and one for winter] lasted about 7 yrs, so I do try to get the most out of them that I can).

So every so often I surf on over to the Adidas website and take a look at what they’ve got. Customization is huge right now, if you hadn’t noticed, and they’re no different: you can pick a sneaker type and create your very own, from a limited color palette. The other night I used the sneakermaker to make these:

I didn’t order any of these — they’re $115!!! — but still, it was kind of a time suck to create them and I’m not getting any of that time back, either. And since royal blue + chartreuse aren’t color options I can’t live out my sneaker dreams.

Fast forward to yesterday. Our building’s stoop sale is coming up which means I’m thinking about tables again. Our current table is old. We bought it in 1996 and it’s just a standard pine table so by now it’s full of nicks and scratches, many courtesy of baby Gus’s exuberant silverware drumming days. We’ve been flirting with this one table at Ikea for about 2 yrs now but I keep thinking I don’t like it. It’s heavy, it’s light-colored wood, and what I really want is a mid-century number with leaves that slide out from underneath the table top.

But with a kid + 2 cats now is not the time to invest in expensive furniture, so yesterday I made us go to Ikea to check to see if there were any new tables, just in case we could get one in time to sell the old one at the stoop sale. Well, we ended up getting that table we always look at, and I guess I’ve made my peace with it. We also got 4 black chairs in 4 different styles, a quirky twist that Jonathan talked me into. And some throw pillows and a new duvet and a lampshade to replace one the cats knocked over and a nightlight for Gus and a couple of other small things.

It’s taken me until yesterday evening to realize that I’ve bought (or thought about buying) all this stuff because I’m disappointed about the bathroom, disappointed that I’m not going to get a shiny new pedestal sink and black-and-white tile floor. This realization hasn’t cheered me up at all, I have to say. I guess it’s good to be self-reflective, but the only real takeaway I can come up with is that capitalism makes me feel bad.

(Woah, how did I end up with 2 bummer posts in a row? Next time I promise to write something more uplifting!)

les tags: , , , ,

all this pushing and shoving

maura @ 10:46 pm

WARNING: this post is about cats. Even though the internet is made of cats*, I don’t spend a lot of time writing about ours. But tonight that’s all going to change, so if cats aren’t yr bag you might want to come back next time. I promise never to talk about cats for 2 posts in a row, scout’s honor.

* Link not entirely safe for work, just so’s you know.

We have had a bit of cat drama around here recently. Kind of an escalation, if you will, of bad behavior.

So, a little while back we started to have some issues with pooping outside the box. And the thing about that is that it’s not at all like thinking outside the box. It’s much much MUCH smellier and (potentially) more inconvenient.

At first it was just the one cat, and it was happening in the bathtub. So we started filling the tub with a few inches of water. There was one hilarious incident with a jump and a surprised “meow!” and then it stopped for a while. And then it started again, except on the floor. And then the other, stupider cat was like, “hey, this is fun for me, too!”

I looked on the internets, where all the crazy cat people live. Advice is, as you may imagine, plentiful, though never exactly what you want to hear. Why no, we are actually NOT going to have 3 litterboxes for 2 (smallish) cats in our 2 bedroom apartment, why would you think that?

Finally this week we took the main offender to the vet. (And his poop, too, because what’s more fun than collecting cat poop in a container in the freezer?) She doesn’t know what’s wrong but gave us some antibiotics to try. Wrestling the meds into the cat is taking us back: it’s just about as much fun as it was to try to get Gus to take antibiotics when he was a toddler. We finally resorted to vanilla ice cream for Gus, even for breakfast, but not sure what this cat would like since he’s not a fan of canned food.

The weirdest thing is this: the other cat has been totally, completely FREAKED OUT since the pooper came back from the vet. It must be the smell of the antibiotics, but I’ve never seen anything like it. He’ll walk over to the pooper, take a sniff, then hiss mightily and run away to hide! It’s a very weird feline showdown thing. The pooper is unfazed, and in some ways seems to be enjoying the freedom — the other cat is usually dominant when it comes to food and preferred spots for hanging out.

Hopefully the antibiotics will fix everything right up, because I have to admit that this is getting a little old. I like the cats, really I do, but I am tired of the shenanigans!

(That’s my instant make-Gus-giggle statement these days: he can’t get enough of my old-lady complaints about being tired of the shenanigans.)

les tags: ,