Friday, September 27, 2013

A Moving History

Granny's parents
Imagine a simpler world.  One in which there are no computers - or even televisions.  You get your local news from your neighbors and anything beyond that from the radio.  Your home has no refrigerator. It may or may not have electricity.  Most babies are born in the home.  Women have only had the right to vote for a couple of years.  Prohibition is in full swing.  It is the early 1920's. 

Almost 90 years ago my grandmother, Marie Wechsler, was born, in December 1923.  Her parents were Alta Carl Singer, Sr (born in 1891) and Ona Mae Ball Singer (born in 1884).  They both died in the early 60's before I was born so I never knew them but they had a large family.  Of their 10 children my Granny was #6. 

The world in 1923 was a happening place:
  • The first baseball game was played at Yankee Stadium
  • Women began to wear one piece swim suits
  • The world's first domestic refrigerator was sold in Sweden
  • Time Magazine published its first issue
  • Rin Tin Tin became the first canine movie star
  • King Tut's Tomb was discovered by Howard Carter
  • Houdini freed himself from a straight jacket while suspended upside down 40 feet over NYC
  • The whooping cough vaccine was developed (alas the polio vaccine was not yet around to help my grandmother who contracted polio when she was 9 months old.)
  • Hitler was in the rise in Germany sowing the seeds that would result in my grandmother's future husband going off to World War II with the Coast Guard in 1942 (this future husband having been born about a year and a half earlier across the river in Kentucky).  
  • Calvin Coolidge became the 30th US president after President William Harding died of apoplexy in August.  Coolidge gave the first presidential radio address 10 days before my grandmother's birth. 
  • The fun flapper fashions were sweeping the nation
Of the 13 famous people I found also born in 1923, only 3 are still alive (which is 23%, a quite symmetrically appropriate number).  Here's the list of Granny's more famous contemporaries and the years in which they passed away:

  • Estelle Getty (2008)
  • Jean Stapelton (2013)
  • Anne Baxter(1985)
  • Alan Shepard (1998)
  • Ed McMahon (2009)
  • Norman Mailer (2007)
  • Charlton Heston (2008)
  • Aaron Spelling (2006)
  • James Arness (2011)
  • Peter Lawford (1984)
  • Bob Barker, Henry Kissinger and Bob Dole, and my Granny are still kickin'
The young Lillian Marie Singer, affectionately called "Ree-Ree" or just "Ree," and her future husband, George Wechsler, my grandfather, grew up in the "Tri-state" area where Ohio, Kentucky and West Virginia come together around the Ohio River.  Granny was from Chesapeake, Ohio and Grandpa grew up in Cattlesburg, Kentucky.  Granny's dad had a hand in starting the local telephone and electricity companies and bought a big house up on the Ohio River.  When grandpa turned 18 there was a war on and he joined the Coast Guard.  He and Ree married in 1943 and had two baby boomer children, both sons, 14 months apart in 1946 and 1947. They were married for almost 60 years when my grandpa died in 2003.

They have 34 descendants and 2 more on the way:
  • 2 children
  • 9 grandchildren
  • 21 great-grandchildren (and 1 on the way) and,
  • 2 great-great grandchildren (and 1 on the way)
When my grandfather passed away in 2003, we moved Granny from Florida where they had lived for 31 years, home to Ohio to be near her siblings where she has lived for the past 10 years.  In addition to moving into a cute little 2 bedroom home, finding a church home where she taught Bible school, and the all important beauty parlor, Granny got busy attending the local dances with her sisters.  I could hear the swing dance music every time she emailed me about the goings on.  

These 10 Singer siblings started a tradition back in 1977 to have an annual summer family reunion.  In New Orleans that first year there were 23 family members in attendance.  In 2012, when they all gathered in Huntington, West Virginia there were 103.  They all come from the north and south and far east and west coasts now.  They have traveled to 24 cities in 14 states for these reunions since 1977, keeping in touch, having some fun and coming together to celebrate the living and commemorate the dead.  5 of the 10 siblings have passed away and 5 are still living. 
8 of the Singer siblings in Myrtle Beach in 2001

This past week my dad and my brother and I traveled to Ohio to move Granny out of her house and bring her back to Texas.  I'm not sure she was really down with that plan, the decisions were made kind of fast and pretty much for her, but she watched quietly and patiently as we moved through her home like little cyclones packing up her lifetime of treasures and memories into a 17 foot U-Haul.  She's going to stay with my parents while we search for her new home.  If anyone knows of any reasonably priced senior living options, please let us know.  She is, of course, on a small, fixed income.  My granny was a big part of my early childhood years before we moved to Texas when I was in the 7th grade, and I am looking froward to having her closer.  She is going to teach Zoe how to play her organ.  :)

Her 90th birthday is in December, and as chronicled in an earlier blog post, my family likes any excuse to party.  This is gonna be a big one.  

Here are a few fun pictures from the move:
Granny at dinner with her two sons and grandson
Granny caught vacuuming when I told her to sit and rest
Granny with me and my Uncle at a church going away party
Granny and her sister Ona Mae and brother in law Jack at a 121 year old drug store soda fountain for lunch
In my grandpa's rocking chair
Lillian Marie, age 18 (this actually hangs in my guest room)

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Home Improvement is Hard

I moved into my house in September 1998, almost 13 years ago to the day. Ariel (the currently 25 year old) was in 5th grade and Lacey (20 this year) was starting Kinder. Being 5 years apart this was the only time they were ever in the same school at the same time. We loved that this school was a mile up the road from the house. Zoe was born 4 years later in 2002.

The kids grew up and we made so many memories here...and pretty much trashed the place by 2007.  If you take 2 busy career professional work-a-holics and mix them with three rambunctios young daughters, none of whom besides me are inclined in any way towards cleaning up after themselves or home improvement, your castle falls into disrepair (if your income is where ours was at the time).  

Seriously though, with only so many hours in the day, something in our lives had to give, and for us, it was the house. We prioritized all the fun things we wanted to do along with work and school over keeping up with the needs of the mansion. I'm not saying I didn't try to keep up with the routine housework.  I did that, but anything beyond basic cleaning - and laundry, always with the laundry- fell by the wayside. (I did hire a housekeeper three years ago who comes twice a month and it's the best thing I ever did. I don't usually wish to go back and do things differently, but in this case I should have hired help after Zoe was born. It was just too much. I thought I couldn't afford it at the time but I should have figured that out). 

In 2007 things started to change in our lives. Ariel was in college and Lacey starting high school. My husband and I separated and there was talk of selling the house and moving, but none of the girls were in favor of that plan. I brought in a realtor and she told me that we "had a lot of work to do" if we were serious about selling. Since we were already maxed out with "a lot of work to do" elsewhere, we did not sell. 

I didn't really look forward to continuing to live in a 4,400 square foot house after the divorce. Lacey was a junior in high school and would be college bound soon, after which it would just be me and Zoe. 

Which brings us to today: Zoe, me, a long haired cat named Atlas and a 44 gallon aquarium (fish totally count as pets) living in a 6 bedroom house. 

Well, let's back up to 2010, when I found my life settling down a little and took a good, long look around the house. This is what I saw (and what the realtor had seen in 2008):

Outside:  the grass was dying, the sprinkler system was shot, the bushes were wildly overgrown, the hottub-spa was not working and termites had eaten its wood cover, the concrete surfaces were nearly gray and the garage was bursting with junk and functioning as a breeding ground for scary creatures like spiders and mice and snakes. 

Inside: the carpet was stained beyond  another shampooing and very worn, the floor tile was cracked and had never matched from room to room, the walls were a display of 12 years of dirty little hands, the countertops were scratched and peeling Formica and the window blinds were broken and faded. 

I wish I had before pictures. 

I started in the garage, moved on to the spa (which cost me a freaking fortune) and then on to the sprinkler system and power washing the concrete. I had to hire 3 different lawn companies before I found a good one and that project is still a work in progress. I was forced into unexpectedly painting the downstairs not according to my home improvememt schedule after the upstairs air conditioner decided to leak through the ceiling down to the floor below (can you say $$$$$$?!)  The downstairs carpet and tile were next along with new countertops. I got a great referral for wood blinds on the internet and installed them. My long coveted wood flooring was laid in the upstairs loft last week. 

It's been almost 3 years and I'm exhausted (and cash poor) and, get this: I hired people to do at least half of this stuff!  That takes time and coordination, but, dear God, how do people do these things themselves?!  I mean I can plant a tree but installing tile, heat pumps and digging up sprinkler heads is not my idea of a good time or appropriate use of effort.  And then there's the disruptions to everyday life!  And the dust! The combination of dust and cat hair in my house has had my allergies on full speed for the last 18 months. 

But every time I finish a big project, I just add another to the list. For example after re-caulking the bathroom shower I decided that the master bath needed a major overhaul. It's huge and has tons of wasted space. And it needs a window. I need a really well-recommended contractor for that! 

I also want to stain the back patio concrete and possibly screen it in. New carpet is needed in the 5 upstairs bedrooms (at which point 4,400 square feet of new flooring will be complete!). The upstairs still needs to be painted and at Home Depot yesterday I saw some gorgeous crown moulding I'd love to have.... 

My long term plan is to stay in the house until Zoe graduates from high school in 7 years. In a perfect world I'll sell the house that summer. And then, who knows?  If I have my health, I'll be embarking on a chapter of my life where I dont have to be accountable to anyone. I could do anything. Go anywhere. 

I'll probably just move downtown. Cool stuff is happening there. :)

Saturday, September 14, 2013

A Problem with Pumpkins

Trophies my kids have won in Halloween costume contests
There's a general consensus among the people who know me that I've got a problem with Halloween decor. I've got tons of stuff, and I can't stop buying more.  Every year I say I'm going to stop.

Every time my senses are assaulted by large quantities of orange in Target or Walgreens or Cracker Barrel (oh, Cracker Barrel) I swear I'll keep myself under control.  But I don't. 

This scene makes my heart beat a little faster than normal....

Be still my heart....
I've enlisted my children as intervention agents, but they have no real power over me.

My house is large, but it gets pretty well crowded with stuff when the time comes to decorate. There's really no more room. I'm thinking about removing large items, like maybe furniture.

I take "paid days off" from work to decorate.  It takes about 4 days and I like to get it all done by October 1.  It's a lot of work and I want it all out as long as possible to get the most enjoyment out of it!

There are about 15 boxes in my storage room.  I hate bringing them all downstairs (except for the exercise I get doing it) but I adore unpacking everything and decorating.

Every year I find something I forgot I had.  A couple of years I've discovered that I just bought something that I already had.  Oops.   

It's not all my fault though.  People tell me I'm out of control with the Halloween stuff, and then they buy me presents!  Here is one of my favorites.  :)
Will you have some red or white? 
This year I have to go to Ohio the week before the first weekend in October, and I'm having hardwood floors installed in my library loft just before that, so I'm going to be a little behind in getting everything ready by my annual Halloween party on October 18th.  I'm really excited this year because I've got out of town guests planning to fly in just for the party!  I'm getting quite the reputation. 

Expect a blog post soon on my favorite decorations, and my favorite kid's costumes, and other favorite pictures like the one below.
I can't believe my cat is not black. 
I guess that's enough for now, though!  Boo! 

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Just a Stuffed Rabbit

All kids have that favorite object they carry around and sleep with, whether it's a doll, a blankie, or a little toy car.  My oldest daughter, Ariel, (now age 25), had a series of "dolls" that she was feverishly attached to at certain points during her toddler-hood. I vividly remember "Baby," a sweet little stuffed pillow-doll, which she carried til it fell apart.  We tried to substitute a "Baby" replacement, but it didn't catch on, and she quickly became attached to "Tissie," an unfortunately ugly plastic baby-doll that I saw last summer in her Florida apartment.

Lacey and "Striped Pillow"

My middle daughter, Lacey, was given a little travel sized pillow by my grandmother when she was about 2 1/2  years old.  It was aptly named "Pillow" (inexplicably shortened to "Pinot" at some point).  I'm not sure where "Pinot" is now, but I have no doubt that Lacey does.  The last time I saw it - which was only a year or so ago - it was reduced to scraps of the original that she was keeping inside another larger pillow case.  "Pinot" has been somewhat replaced, however, by "Christopher Blink" a bear that I just saw this past weekend tucked into Lacey's bed at Texas State University for their junior year.

So, after 2 kids, and their "attachment objects," I was relatively familiar with how it goes with these things.  But then came "Bramble," Zoe's magical stuffed rabbit.  

Bramble has been with us for 7 years, but last week we noticed that he was not tucked under Zoe's arm in her "first day of school" picture - like he naturally had been in the last 6 "first day" pictures from Kinder through 5th grade. This kind of makes me sad, but also somewhat relieved. 
Zoe and Bram: K-5th grades

This is the story of  Bramble:  He was born in a toy factory and shipped to New York City where he lived for an unknown period of time on the shelves with other toys.  When it was time for him to go, his mommy "wished" for him (his mommy being Zoe, my youngest, now 11).  I then visited New York City and "found" him in a store.  That store was Hallmark.  (Of all the places I would go when in New York City, Hallmark is not at the top of the list. But, apparently, Bramble called for me.) 

I came to be visiting New York City at this perfect, magical time to celebrate my 40th birthday and Ariel's 18th birthday.  We were enjoying a "girl's vacation" with my mom and sister --without the younger kids.  I had asked Zoe, who was 3 at the time, what she would like me to bring her back from New York and she said, famously and historically in our family lore: "a Beanie Bunny."

In the course of our sightseeing I found this really cute little soft baby doll - not a "beanie" per se, but it had that kind of stuffing that feels like little beans. I found it in FAO Schwartz.  I thought it was perfect.  That night on the phone, I told Zoe of my find.  She was appreciative, but dissatisfied.  "Thanks mommy," she said, "but I really need a beanie bunny." 

The next day was our last day in NYC and as many mothers before me would inexplicably understand, I just had to find the right souvenir to bring home.  For some reason, this led me to happen to walk by, and enter, a Hallmark store in NYC - and there Bramble sat on a shelf, waiting for me, perfectly - a beanie, and a bunny.  Of course I had no idea at the time that Bramble, Corduroy-like, was waiting for me.

I thought he was just a stuffed rabbit. 

That was in 2006. Bramble is what was known in those days as an over sized-beanie.  You probably remember the beanie baby craze.  My older 2 daughters went through a relatively short-lived craze phase for the beanies.  This may have been what led to 3 year old Zoe asking for a "beanie."

Or maybe it was Bramble, calling. 

I'm not sure when Bramble became more than a stuffed rabbit.  I mean, I know he was magical all along, but I don't know exactly when he revealed himself to us. It was more than likely in the car on the daycare commute that I first heard him speak.  But I remember without a doubt the day I knew how awful things would be if we lost him - because we lost him in 2008.

Zoe came home from a trip to Canyon Lake with her granddad and Bramble was no where to be found.  No one knew when he was last seen. Zoe was inconsolable. I called the condos at the lake to see if he was left behind, and all the places they had been.  I  didn't really have any faith that we'd find him but finally, at about 8:30 pm I hit pay dirt on the phone at Adobe Verde, a restaurant in Gruene.  This is how that phone call went:

Me:  "Um, hi, my daughter was in today for lunch and she may have left her little stuffed rabbit behind at the table."
Hostess:  "Where did they sit?"
Me:  "I'm not really sure, I think a table in the back in a corner, could you look? She really misses him and I'd really appreciate it if you could look."
Hostess (after being gone for quite some time): "Hello, you still there?  Yeah, it's here."
Me:  "Really?!  OMG - are you sure?  What does he look like?"
Hostess: "Well, he's the only stuffed rabbit I found on the floor under a table back in a corner."
Me: "I'm on my way.

When we got to the restaurant about 40 minutes later, before they would produce him the staff made me "identify" Bramble and asked if he would "come when I called him" or "answer to his name."  Fun stuff.

The Best Money I Ever Spent
About a month later Zoe left him in a department store and we rushed back about 30 minutes later and miraculously found him again under a clothes rack where he was, in Zoe's words, "patiently waiting for us to come and get him." I immediately drove to PetsMart and bought him a pet tag with my cell phone number on it.

Bramble's had many adventures over the course of Zoe's childhood.  He studied and became a teacher, got married and had kids, learned to drive and got a car.  Now he's semi-retired (at the age of 7), teaches part-time and has parties during the day while we are gone to work and school. He's crazy for the holidays like we are, and has an outfit for every one. He likes to go to Chili's for his birthday, and for Zoe to blow out his candles "with" him.  
Bramble loves Holiday, like we do
Bramble and Zoe learned many lessons together. Whenever Zoe was upset or didn't understand something difficult, Bramble would "talk" her though it.  And since Zoe is his mom, when he misbehaves, she has to deal with it.  So when he didn't want to go to bed at bedtime, said his first bad word, or didn't clean up his mess, Zoe has to talk to him about it and decide the consequences. Bramble's seen and done it all - gotten bad grades at school, been bullied at daycare, was discriminated against at work (being a "rabbit" as opposed to a "human"), and partied too late with his friends.  I try to help - but after all, I'm only the grandma.  ;p

Bramble no longer has beans.  They disappeared during one of the many operations done on him to repair damage (one time my parents' dogs ate his eyes  - the HORROR!).  He's also been through the washing machine at least 50 times, and Zoe and I steadfastly insist that he is not the "cesspool of germs" he's accused of being when he joins us at the table for family gatherings. 

So, it looks like, in his retirement, Bramble will probably be spending more time at home.  After all these years afraid to lose him, I'm ready for this.  In case we really ever did lose Bramble, we had collected a few "back-up Brambles" over the years, and clearly, as the picture below shows, unless we were going to be willing to run him over with the car and wash him a gazillion times, a "back-up was never gonna fly.
Bramble and "Back-Up Bramble"
You can explore Bramble's history and follow him on Facebook here.