Goodbye to the Laden Jar

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Heading to Old Forge

I don't get too sentimental about objects or possessions. While my innate hatred of waste will keep me using the same dingy colander for 25 years or so (well, it still drains liquid, doesn't it?), I'm not one to hold onto something useless or that has seen its day. Even so, some things retain associations that are hard to forget, and makes letting them go just a little bit odd.

So, cars. Because of a confluence of events, we ended up buying two new cars within months of each other way back in 2001 and 2002. We don't do heavy driving, and haven't had great luck, so it's fair to say that we didn't necessarily expect that these two cars would carry our children from early grade school into adulthood. One of them, a peppy little red Mazda Protégé 5, went about 120,000 miles until last fall, when a combination of high mileage, extensive rust, and my new need to commute long, long distances meant I needed something with a little more of a competent body. But even so I was a little sad to see it go. My wife loved it, and I would always associate it with those wonderful summer evenings we used to spend at Red Oaks Swim Club.

Our big blue Nissan Xterra, though, had to make the move to Pennsylvania. I was a little concerned about the distance and the fact that it wanted to make a perpetual right turn, but we got it down here just fine. There was an extended process involved in getting it registered and plated in PA, but after three false starts we finally got the paperwork done and were ready to take it for its inspection. We expected a 13-year-old vehicle with 135,000 miles on it to possibly face some issues passing inspection, but we were hoping to get through another few months using it as the emergency backup. (Have I mentioned that we can walk pretty much everywhere in our town?)

I loved that Xterra. For a long time, not only was it the best driving vehicle I've ever owned, and the blue-est vehicle I've ever owned, but it was the most suited to our lifestyle. Super-heavy-duty roof racks, extra cargo space up top, a big hitch, running boards, four-wheel drive, lugs for hanging things from the ceiling in the back - it was the best biking/canoeing/camping vehicle ever. Despite not being the largest SUV by far, we could pack enough gear, clothes and kids to camp for a week (during which times we referred to it as "The Laden Jar"). I drove it to every bike path and canoe launch in the region. I spent countless hours waiting outside dance classes in it. As a car, my new Subaru has a lot of superior qualities (heated seats not being the least of those), but it will never be lived in like the Xterra was.

When the service guy called, I was prepared for moderately bad news, and had a number in my head that I was willing to spend to keep that unwieldy beast in my very, very narrow driveway for a few more months. He pretty much doubled that number, and all my sentimental attachment went right out the window. Only a fool would pay that much for an unladen laden jar.

We told the kids that the big blue truck is going to live at the service station, just as you would say a puppy has gone to live on the farm. Except in this case, it's true. While it wasn't worth six to eight months of new car payments for us to keep it going, the service station made us an offer. Turns out, it's about the same color as their building and business color, so they're going to fix it up, clean it up, toss their logo on the side and use it as a local shuttle car.

So goodbye, old Xterra.

Blow up that nest!

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I suppose there are gentler ways to introduce your children to adulthood. It wasn't that I wanted to leave their childhood home, the only home they'd ever known, taking away their rooms and the deeply comforting knowledge that they'd always have a place to come back to. (I mean that in theory, only; in reality, I want them to fend for themselves.) But an opportunity to remain employed came along, and off we went.

And I knew that at some point our enjoyment of the new empty nest would have to irritate them at least at some level. No longer tied to the school schedule, the ballet schedule, the Nutcracker rehearsal schedule, we could go out and do things. Sometimes on weeknights. And in our new town, there would actually be things to do. On weeknights! Imagine that.

But there was no sense in easing them into this, right? So why not pile it all on, and go to see one of their absolute favorite musical icons, without them (because there was no way to get them here), in a great intimate setting, on a school night? Okay, it was a little cruel that we never told them it was happening. At first, to be sure, it was about the whining. We knew there would be a deep desire to somehow get down to the City of Brotherly Love and take in the show, and we knew it was impossible, logistically and financially, to make that happen for both of them. There was a point at which we meant to say something about it, and then honestly we kept forgetting it was even coming up. So we announced it the way one announces all bad news these days: through a Facebook check-in. The reaction was about what we expected.

Screen Shot 2014-10-02 at 8.08.19 AM.pngAnyway, had a lovely evening at an interesting venue, Union Transfer. Former furniture forwarding warehouse in a section of the city I'd not visited before. I'll admit that their warning only to park in their lot, and not in any of the others that might be pretending to be their lot, gave me a bit of concern, but in the end the neighborhood was just fine and the venue was great. (Nicest bathrooms of any rock club, ever.) Room for 300-400 people, maybe there were 250 there to see Imelda May tear it up in Philadelphia on a Tuesday night. The crowd pretty much looked like us, which could either mean that kids these days don't know anything about good music, or that they've all got other things they have to do on a Tuesday night. We don't. It was kinda cool.

Remembrance of things past

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The morning light when it's in your face really shows your age.We've moved. Downsized. Empty-nested. All at once. Of necessity and by design, since we moved into a narrow rowhouse from the turn of that other century, many things that had followed us relentlessly, like puppies or perhaps more like bedbugs, had to be left behind. This included furniture we never loved nor wanted, supposed "heirlooms" that had simply once belonged to some aunt that were cheap furniture even when purchased and were mostly useless even in our old house, which had some room for nonsense. The new house can brook no nonsense.

But not all sentimentality can be surrendered, and so there's this thing. This window. It came from the house I grew up in, in Scotia. Actually a perfectly ordinary window for its time, in a pretty ordinary house that was built somewhere around 1910, if I recall correctly. It was at the landing where the stairs curved. When I was growing up, ours was a two-family house; our apartment was downstairs, and "the lady upstairs," as we always referred to her, lived, well, upstairs. And this window let colored light into the stairwell, and made the old gray house look a little bit more colorful from outside.

Later on, when I was around 10 or 11, my parents bought the house and set out on a very long project of converting it back to a one-family. Once that happened, and we finally moved our bedrooms upstairs, I would pass this window every time I went up or down the stairs. When the house was empty, that little curve in the (extremely steep) stairs was one of my favorite places to just sit, with this window open, looking out at the day and letting the breeze in, or letting its colored light fall on the pages of whatever I was reading. (It's my belief that the center pane was originally a color, too, possibly blue. But at this remove, I've seen so many other of these windows, with colored, clear and frosted center panes, that I honestly can't tell you what it really was.)

At some point, in one of her endless renovations to the house, my mother decided this window had to be replaced, but she had the foresight to ask me if I was interested in it. My wife had a mirror put in the middle and gave it to me as a gift, and it hung in our house in East Greenbush for most of the 23 years that we lived there. And when I saw the perfect little half-bath in our new house, with a brick wall and a heavy dose of morning light, I knew the old window from Scotia simply had to find a new home here in Phoenixville.

So even in this current mood of blowing up everything and letting go of the past, some of the more important parts still have to stay with us.

My super-urban life

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Yes, I'm gonna have to update the banner to reflect the reality of life in our little city (excuse me, Pennsylvanians, my little boro), but there's no point in changing my URL after all these years, so this one will stand for now.

But the reality is a complete change from our previous car-centric life, where absolutely NO tasks could be comfortably accomplished without getting in the car (even the Stewart's wasn't a comfortable walk). This morning, we walked a bag of donation clothes down the street to the church donation box, then went around the block to the coffee shop (whose proceeds support a community for the developmentally disabled), where we sat on a bench and enjoyed watching all the runners and cyclists and walkers and dogs going by. Then we went down to the Phoenixville Farmer's Market (unfortunately seasonal, not year-round like Troy's), picked up everything under the sun, enjoyed some great music, and wandered back with our goods.

Kinda great.

A Fine How Do You Do

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Main Street PhoenixvilleOn our first night back together in our new town, exhausted from moving, we strolled down to the ice cream shop. An incredibly perfect summer evening, and it's a stroll of almost two blocks. We sat out on the bench on Main Street, with a steady stream of happy people going in and out of the shop, families gathered around enjoying ice cream, little kids experiencing their first cones.

A beautiful little girl walks by with her father. She can walk and talk, but only has a few words. She stops in front of us to show Lee her pretty dress. Then she points to her sparkly pink shoes. Then she shows us her several pigtails, done in pretty pink rubber bands. Her father is patiently asking her to come along, but she's enjoying showing off. Finally she is ready to go, but before she can go, she insists on giving each of us a goodbye hug.

And so that's how we were welcomed to our new town.

Blobfest

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rebekah_blobfest_BsWu3HbIEAASHLs.jpgSo, here's the thing about our pending new hometown of Phoenixville, PA: the movie "The Blob" was largely filmed there and in the surrounding areas. Doc Hallen's house is still there. So is the Colonial Theater, from which the teens run screaming from a monster feature when the blob consumes the projectionist and oozes through the louvers and into the theater. Let's face it, "The Blob" would probably be forgotten had it not starred a youngish (27, playing 17) Steve McQueen. It is not one of the finest movies of all time. And the fact that it featured Phoenixville could have remained nothing more than an interesting bit of local trivia, just as with the filming of scenes around Albany and Schenectady in recent years.

But instead, there is Blobfest, an enthusiastic celebration of this and other B movies. It commences with "The Run Out" -- costumed participants pay for the privilege of running screaming from the theater in advance of the blob. There is a Tin Foil Hat parade, a costume contest (which Mothra and his companions, shown above, won this year), and a Fire Extinguisher Drill Team Parade. There are vendors, antique cars, and double features of "The Blob" and other movies like "Mothra" or "King Kong Vs. Godzilla." There is a lot of fun.

So we spent the weekend at Blobfest, and visiting the farmer's market, checking out where to put in our canoes, finding the best coffee places, and chatting with local residents. There were dozens of cyclists out on the roads and paths, there were flotillas of kayaks, there were all kinds of people just out enjoying almost perfect days.

Titular Quandary

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newhouse.pngSo here's the thing. When I started this occasional series of rants back in 2002 (!), the title was a play on "My So-Called Life" and a statement of life in a near-the-city suburb, not quite urban, not quite suburban. Other than a pleasant neighborhood close to a little lake, it was life in an unwalkable world, a land without sidewalks. We were just blocks from the school, but our kids had to get on buses. Milk, groceries, the post office, they all required getting into a car. Most of our social life took place across the river, or up it, in Albany or Troy.

But that's changing, and soon. We're moving to a town that is essentially Bedford Falls, moving from a corner lot colonial with a two-car garage to a downtown rowhouse a block from the main street. We'll be a short walk from the library, the park, the post office. We'll be three minutes' walk from the little historic movie house and a slew of sidewalk cafés. Minutes from the bike path. And not so far from a major city that can't seem to get enough of its pretzels.

Decidedly, utterly urban. Perhaps even super-urban. My Super-Urban Life?

O the things you will do!

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212 Hall StreetIn terms of things that need doing, life has reached a maximum. With all the events that come with the end of a school year anyway, add all the things that come with senior year. With all the family events that normally come around this time of year, add in a couple more special events. Work has been insanely busy, and then there's the small matter of buying a house, picking up stakes and moving.

If you've never experienced a "hot" real estate market (and if you've only lived in the Capital District, you have not), let me explain what it's like. A house that you might like comes on the market. Five minutes later, you get a note from your realtor asking if you want to see it that day; if you see it and like it and decide to invest hundreds of thousands of dollars based on a 10-minute review and some shaky iPhone pictures, then you'd better be prepared to make an offer that night, because the sellers are reviewing the offers first thing in the morning. If you need some extra time, well, you can just look elsewhere. If you want to make the sale contingent on selling your own house, well, perhaps something along the lines of a garden shed would suit you better. And those 27 perfectly acceptable houses taunting you on Zillow? They're all under contract. You need to wait for something else to be listed, and don't get far from your phone.

So that's what it is, just a whirlwind. Found a place that I desperately loved (and could afford) on Monday, scrambled to put in an offer (while also paying attention to an important meeting, mind you) on Tuesday, got beat out by a cash offer on Wednesday. (By the way, anyone with cash is suspect, in my mind, and should be thoroughly investigated.) Had all day Wednesday to experience the mixture of let-down and relief, got the same call on Thursday, checked out a place that didn't quite work but that we loved anyway, and had to put in a bid Friday night for a Saturday decision.

And while we're doing all that, we have to fit in the final (final!) dance recital, prom, a string of honors events, the graduation itself, and I'm sure I'm forgetting something. Oh, yeah: work. Lots and lots of work.

Nevertheless, despite the fact that we'll be giving up a lot, in terms of both space and personal history (not to mention the fact we largely rebuilt this house ourselves), we're both very excited about the chance to move on. If we're going to be empty nesters, why not be empty nesters in a gorgeous little community that people seem to love living in, within steps of a nicely vibrant downtown?

And as a special snub to the Capital District, I'll note that no matter what house we end up with in our new town, the Wegman's will be about four miles away.

bedroomceiling.jpgSo, this is what's happening now. In fact, it's what's been happening pretty much every weekend since the year began, and the year is slipping away quickly. First, I work like a dog at a new job that I love but have to put substantial effort into. It's a pleasure to do something that matters again, but it does up the game when you're giving advice that people are actually listening to. I do this far away from home. Then I look at the weather forecast for Thursday or, more often, Friday to see what natural disaster is going to prevent my return home, or, just as bad, interfere with my return to work the next week. Wishes for a mild winter went unanswered. The Philly area gets flummoxed by even a couple of inches of snow, and it got way more than that many, many times this winter. (Only the great humor of the Phoenixville Office of Emergency Management's wonderful, useful, human alerts -- and just try to imagine a humorous public safety agency in New York -- helped me get through it.). Then, I drive 250 miles home, which takes under five hours except when it takes six (and getting back down takes four -- there's a quantum effect going on, to be certain). I arrive in the nick of time for whatever event we have planned for that night, sleep, get up early the next morning and start beating up the house some more. Mix in mandatory social events (no less pleasant for being mandatory, mind you), fall into exhausted but not restful sleep, get up and drive back to Pennsylvania. Lather, rinse, repeat.

We started some significant upgrades to the house we've lived in for two decades a couple of years back, not really knowing at that time that we'd be selling it. Thank goodness, or there'd be no hope of getting everything done that really needs to be done to sell a house. Even as it is, we can't do it all ourselves, so we're relying on our secret weapon, my 74-year-old mother, a tireless Tasmanian devil of home repair. She routinely does more in a day than I could in two, and has managed not only to paint all the things I was never going to get around to painting, but replaced three windows, put up wallpaper, and of course helped me with the unbelievably disastrous task of replacing the ceramic tile in the kitchen. There have been times when we've contemplated fire as an option.

One of the last things to get done was yet another of the many, many tasks that I never got around to while we lived in the house because a) we would have to totally vacate a room in order to do it, and we didn't have the room to do that, and b) it would be a colossal pain in the ass. I have never been wrong in estimating that second part, and replacing the ceiling tiles in our bedroom was every bit of a colossal pain in the ass. Mostly so because it shouldn't have been necessary. The old tiles were in fine shape and a coat of paint would have made them look nice, but they were falling down at odd angles in odd places, and there didn't seem to be any way to tuck them back up. Sometimes a well-placed hidden tack can do miracles with ceiling tile, but this was not to be the case, as there seemed to be nothing to tack the sagging seams to. When the old tile came down, we found the reason -- whoever had done this job had not bothered to space the standards where the seams would be. So all the standards had to be pulled down and put where they belonged. Just one of those things that never ends with this house.

Some of the other things, we won't talk about. I'd like someone to buy this house.

One or two things I know about her

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  • It may be that Zillow lies. It tells me houses have just come on the market, and when I go to actually look at them they're already gone. This is discouraging, because I would totally have bought that house.
  • In Pennsylvania, the shirtless douchebags start driving shirtless much earlier in the season, pumping out a much worse type of music. This may be the downside to a warmer spring.
  • The worst part of moving is having to break up with my hairstylist. I've been with her for more than 20 years. I feel like I'm cheating. It's even worse, really, because every time I've gotten my hair cut it's been by someone different, so it's like I'm slutting around on her.
  • The move south means I get to experience something akin to those people who move to Australia and get summer twice in a row: I get to have spring allergies twice in rapid succession. The dogwoods and magnolias are already in bloom down here in greater Philly. (After all, why do you think they call it "greater"?) And so's a lot of other stuff with pollen. Then it'll all die down and I'll go back north and experience it anew in three weeks.
  • While I do get to experience the commercial genetic superiority of a Wegman's, which all of Albany is clamoring for, there is no such thing as a Stewart's down here, and no local equivalent. The best I can hope for is a Wawa, whose new stores are all clean and presentable and have decent bathrooms. But seriously, it's embarrassing just to say its name.
  • I can't say that I'll necessarily miss living in a place where I can kill a mosquito, hatched from the April warmth, in my bathroom on the same morning that I then had to go out and scrape a significant amount of ice off my car. I'm fairly sure that's a sign of something.
  • This whole thing about no self-serve gas in New Jersey: I don't care that it's 20-30 cents a gallon cheaper, AND someone pumps it for you. I think those of us who can remember full serve have a romantic memory of rolling over the gas station's bell hose and having Chip come running out to serve you, filling 'er up while cleaning the windshield and checking your oil (in a hot engine), and making change with a smile. The current reality is sitting in line and waiting while one overworked immigrant plods from car to car, putting your credit card into a very sketchy card reader, starting the pump and then walking off to tend to 10 other cars, leaving you to sit for seven minutes after your tank is full before he gets back to you to hand you your card. The whole process takes a minimum of three times as long as pumping it yourself does, and makes you feel like you're exploiting undocumented labor in the process.

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Recent Comments

  • Carl: Somewhat ironically, I don't even like Stewart's ice cream. Being read more
  • jericwrites: Oh, I know your pain in re losing Stewart's . read more
  • https://www.google.com/accounts/o8/id?id=AItOawnbc0CdHGMr3Y96DjbxMQ7P50ZIumxwiSw: Interesting info. My mother is 87 and I just came read more
  • jericwrites: I feel the same way about group riding, and that's read more
  • Carl: I agree, I used the bike path around Albany primarily read more
  • jericwrites: In New York, I was pretty openly disdainful of the read more
  • Carl: Thanks . . . I figured you'd know how it read more
  • jericwrites: I know EXACTLY how this all feels . . . read more
  • Carl: I didn't do super well with HALF an empty nest. read more
  • jericwrites: This is my first year in many of NOT having read more

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