Where I used to live. Never thought much about that fence.

I was 28 when I bought the house I live in now.  Part of me feels it coming on: a self-deprecating litany about what would have done slightly differently, if I had a chance to do it all over.  Things flood my current mind about what I didn’t know enough about at the time (real estate, the economy, fiscal responsibility, myself) I’ll sum it up by saying: I simply had a lot of wrong ideas about a lot of things.  I think that’s fair.

The “what I know now that I wish I’d known then” list has the potential to be long, and I’m finding that method to be unproductive for current endeavors.  It also just stings, and is kind of mean to myself to think that way.  But, lots can change in six years.  Did I say lots? I meant Lots. Including my opinions on some house-related things.  For example, the color of my house and its perfunctory window shutters.  The house is red.  And, despite having gone 80-plus years shutterless, someone put blue shutters on it in the 1990s. My immediate thought was to paint those shutters white.  I did not appreciate my patriotically colored house. I thought a red house with white shutters was somehow classier.  I did not say this out loud, but just assumed it.

Something I did say out loud, however, was my feeling about the fence that surrounded some of the property.  That feeling was that it must go.  I even specified, when giving  directions to my house, that my friends would know it when they “saw the big ugly unwelcoming fence out front– then you’re there.”  I talked about how pretty a white picket fence would be– something that allowed all drivers-by to see my house without any obstructions to their view, something quaint that would encourage the clematis and the honeysuckle and the roses to climb– because I would have all of those things, you see. And I had, quite frankly, nothing to hide.  So why would I need a damn big ugly fence?  I couldn’t understand the thinking behind whichever previous owner had erected it.

If I’ve learned one thing about myself since I was about four years old, its that I was born with foot-in-mouth syndrome.  In keeping with this reoccurring theme, it wasn’t long before I began to realize what obvious, secondary, and tertiary purposes that damn big ugly fence served.  The only solution for chronic speak-too-sooners begins with a vague sense of self-awareness.  I soon realized that my house, three lots away from a traffic light on a busy street, enjoys a line of sitting traffic for about two hours each evening at quittin’ time. And drivers, who often suffer from the I-must-be-invisible-because-I’m-in-my-car condition, are not afraid to look directly into my living room at me when they have time to kill outside my home.  As time went on, I stopped squawking about the need for a white picket fence.

I don’t think I truly appreciated my property’s fence until the parts began to fall down and I started to see my neighbors more.  We all pretty much live on top of one another in my neighborhood. Not like in cities, but close enough for me to observe knowledge I don’t want, while I’m washing dishes and innocuously gazing out the window…wishing my monster truck friend next door would wear a belt…wishing he’d sell his monster truck that poofs smoke at my house…wishing for some distance, since no fence will ever be tall enough between us.

My life has become more public and more private all at once over the past year.  I thought about that statement a lot this evening before I typed it.  I wanted to make sure it was really correct, and I think it is. I think I’ll have the fence repaired around my house at some point. I don’t know when, because as any homeowner knows, there’s always something more pressing and more expensive vying for my attention to achieve that coveted place of next up. A broken furnace, a flooded basement, things that snap and break off that you never even thought of, like pulling a muscle you never thought you’d use.

I wouldn’t have believed the character-building cliff of madness I’d fall off after buying this house if you tried to tell me before it happened.  Either that or I would have said, no thanks, I’ll stay on the carousel and get off at the next stop, the next stop called gottabeeasier.  Might be hard to believe that I have only gratitude for all that I’ve been through. But you don’t need to believe it; I only need to know it. The chain of events that unfolded since 2006 are still being cataloged and analyzed in my mind, but I have figured out some of it. What to fight for, what to let go of, what to keep to myself, and what to share.

Posted in fun with homeownership, I willingly got myself into this | 3 Comments

Cape Cod 2012

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Original Peeps

In a 1993 episode of Seinfeld, Elaine briefly dates a man who unfortunately shares a first and last name with a serial killer, and part of the plot entails Elaine trying to convince him to change his first name.  When my sister was in high school, she attended a dance with a boy who, on paper, could have been mixed up with a teenager-murdering sanitarium-escaping embodiment of evil. I’m sure he was a nice boy, but his name is the only thing that stands out in my memory.  Names, like plot lines, get reused. What can you do?  Not much.  According to Wikipedia, my name is the single most popular name in the US from 1970-1984.  Hells bell’s, there I was, born EXACTLY in the middle of that popularity!  And if I EVER doubted for a moment that my parents weren’t totally hip, boy was I ever wrong.

If you’re over 25 years old, you’ve probably guessed that my first name is Jennifer.  Names are funny things; we don’t have any say in the matter, at least at first.  Being the fourth and final kid born to my parents, they opened up my name for discussion with my siblings.  I was told that “Molly” was a strong contender, until my sister weighed in and put Molly in its place along with things like duck meat, walnuts and the Yankees*.  So Jennifer it was, and it quickly became Jenny, partly as easy nickname; partly to differentiate me from the other Jennifers in my class as I entered school.

I’ve had nicknames over the years; most were fleeting and only made sense to a small group of friends for some short period of time…J-Roc (dubbed to me by my friend Erin, aka Easy E** freshmen year of college), Jen-nay (irritating Forrest Gump reference, really clever, circa 1995), Jennie (with a heart over the “i”; not what you think), and various plays on my last name, which would distract from the tight focus of this post.*** Also in high school, a boy who was marginally funny but hung out with boys who were actually funny, once tried to stick a new joke on me.  “Jen,” he declared before class one day, “I tellya. Jen! Aye Tail-ya! JEN! AYE TAIL YA!” For me, he always missed the mark, his timing was off, and his repetitious effort, however valiant, didn’t catch the attention of anyone listening. (Although I can still picture his bobbing head with each repeat. Sorry VJ.)

I’ve also tried, at times while I was a kid, to give myself a nickname.  I’ve seen this happen in books, on TV and in real life.  It never works.  And it usually backfires.  Which is why I’m not called Dita today.

My name has come up a lot lately. I’ve heard “You’re the third Jen I’ve met today!” more than a couple of times recently, to which I perfunctorily respond that I’m not a Jen, but the type of person who says that will have moved on by then, so it’s really only for my scorecard. I hate the name Jen.  Only thing that makes it worse is Jenn.  I have liked and held dear to me people who go by that derivative, and I’m happy that’s working for them, but it just doesn’t work for me.  SO I find it interesting when I introduce myself as Jenny, many people immediately change me to Jen.  Why?  That’s actually a different word, and it’s not what I said you should call me.

But my dad was the first to call me Peeps.  Peeps, sometimes Peepers. I’m not sure why he started calling me this, but I always figured it was because I was the youngest, and it just came out one day.  When it got to school, my friends probably assumed it was some sort of derivation of my last name and continued its use.  Now that I think about it, I’m pretty sure I’m the only kid who has a real nickname in my family. (And now this post will undoubtedly release some hidden resentments that go along with my “youngest sibling” advantages, like drinking orange juice at dinner time, or countless other things that would never have been allowed with The First Three.

I’m not clear on when the term peeps (as in my people, friends, gang, family, even parents) began being used in popular culture. Some sources say the mid-90s, and I won’t go in to who used it first, but it definitely became more popular among poseurs in the early 2000s, having crossed some line of common people acceptability.  And when I heard it, I cringed like hearing Mr. Rogers recite gangster rap.  Not only did it sound wrong, but it was me, my name, being all messed up and misused. But, like I learned from waitressing, it’s just something I have to let go of. Along with dumb comments and entitled fools who think they know what’s what. I shrug at these, and go back to my own business.  It’s Father’s Day weekend, and I’ll always be the original Peeps to my dad.  Love you Dad!

*Things my sister does not like.  I had to explain.

**Neither my doing or by my encouragement.

***That was funny!

Obvious omission corner:

Yes, I haven’t mentioned Marshmallow Peeps.  That’s because I don’t like them, and don’t really care about them.  We’ve never really crossed paths. They have their following, and I have mine.  HA!

Posted in childhood, Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Why people don’t necessarily mean it when they ask “What’s new?”

Sometimes I wonder how I got myself into a certain mess*.  I’ll look around at the circumstances: at people with whom I never thought I’d be associated, in a place, real or figurative, that I would not like to be, or, like a couple nights ago, surrounded by the darkness of my powerless home.  And I’ll go all David Byrne for an eye-blinking, head-scratching, stock-taking** moment of: How did I get here?

Yes, I paid my power bill. But you were wondering.  The thing is, I’m pretty good when it comes to owning up to my mistakes.  I’ve lost bills, paid things twice, forgot to tell a company I moved, overused, overspent, underestimated, and I thought “budget” was something that other people did until my 30s.  I’m not beating myself up by any means; it’s just the truth, and that truth is generally surprising and often mildly to moderately funny (much like the side effects of many TV-recommended solutions to life’s problems).

So when it comes to certain situations, I may not see clearly, or right away, who’s responsible. And duh, it’s because, like life, not everything is black or white.  Anyone who’s been following my life might agree that keeping the facts straight was easy at first: like catching one tennis ball at a time.  Cause and effect. Action and result.  Simple. But when the tennis balls began to come faster, it became harder to keep up.  Since I’m what you’d call a “math person***,” I’ll use a line graph to illustrate my point.  You’ll see that the tennis balls became somewhat overwhelming and uncatchable sometime in 2009.

just off the top of my head

But we haven’t got all day here, so back to Monday night. Some of you may know that I’ve been in the process of converting my single-family home into a two-family for quite some time.  That is only one layer in the proverbial onion of complication coinciding with the above deluge of tennis balls in my life, but an important layer at that. I’ll explain more on why some other time, but for now, what you need to know is****:

1. Part of the process includes adding a second utility meter to separate service between the old part of the home and what will be the new apartment.  It requires a big new double meter electrical panel to replace the single meter. In the world of electrical work, it’s more on the dangerous side of things, involving the utility company shutting off power from the pole, and lugging big heavy pieces of equipment and other Things Electricians Do.

2. I thought this had happened three Thursdays ago. Why?  Because Electrician Dude told me he was doing it then.  What he did not follow up with was the actual truth.

3. I’m often the last to know what’s actually going on in the construction progress at my house.  My landscaper who lives nearby and has nothing to do with electrical work but has a penchant for showing up at odd times to weigh in on things unrelated to landscaping probably knew what was happening before I did.

4. Electrician Dude gets a low D for his Time Estimation grade. (Yeah I’ve started grading people, watch out.) Not only did he say to me at 6:45 pm, “Hi! [surprised to see me] I thought I’d have this done before you got home!” [Because he knows where I’ll be when?]

5. To T make O a O long L story A short, T my E my electricity was off until almost 11pm that night. Because Electrician Dude was about seven hours off in how long the process would take him, and apparently doing major electrical jobs in the dark is less than ideal. Despite the two helpers holding flashlights, and the headlights from his truck shining on the front of my house.

Yeah it wasn’t the end of the world.  I became a little “righteous consumer” around 9:45, asking if I could have a “realistic timeline for when the power would be back on since [they] said 15 min more three hours ago” because I had some amazing zucchini pasta leftover concoction in the fridge and dinnertime was beginning to overlap with bedtime (two things I’ve made great strides in separating).  But the hunger wasn’t squelching my fears that electrical work completed in the dark of 10pm was akin to performing surgery in the back of a school bus, running late.

What’s even more entertaining is that the work is still not finished, although Electrician Dude tends to take a long hiatus after every obvious appearance, and I’ve already had two people tell me the work appears to have been done incorrectly.  Not to mention my poor house is now certainly the laughing stock of the neighborhood, having been defaced by a 90 degree PVC conduit stapled smack across the front of its facade.

I paid extra for the "did it myself with my eyes closed" look

Can a house look embarrassed? Yes, yes it can.

Yes, I’m taking all the necessary steps to do all of what a responsible person would do in this situation. And I think, as the purple shading in my graph clearly shows, I handle these life farts***** better now than I used to.  So the Team and I lit some candles, made a couple phone calls, and thought about how different things were since the last time the power was out.  Well, I did most of the thinking.  Grace worried about the noises outside, and possible fire hazards, while Levi carried around his baby lamb, smiling incessantly and stretching often.

*Mess: probably not the best word; too broad.  Overused. A fine mess–the best kind)

**I wasn’t sure before I wrote this if I had ever taken stock. While I’ve undoubtedly spent time reflecting on my life for both constructive and stupid reasons, the parody part of my brain can’t help but think of ransacking the store room, stealing provisions from Olsen’s Mercantile, plundering and pillaging in the face of fear, stockpiling comfort food the way Connecticutians (A Word) do before a snowstorm, while shouting things like “Batten down the Hatches!” and “Hunker Down!” because we think we should.  That and stealing soup.  Who took my stock?!

***Complete lie.

****It’s at this point in writing that I’m already fearing the breakdown of my original point.  I can see this entry has become reminiscent of me attempting to tell a joke at the dinner table when I was little.  At this point I’ve lost some or all of my audience but my mother is still listening and patiently waiting for me to get to some point.  Thanks, Mom.

*****I just Googled this phrase, and I don’t see it.  Saw a lot of other scary things I don’t click on, so I don’t suggest it.  But I think it’s pretty accurate.  Life farts are little things that stink to varying degrees, and sometimes the best thing to do is wait them out. Because I don’t need to say it, but they too shall pass.

Posted in ADDJennystyle, fun with homeownership, I willingly got myself into this | 3 Comments

Meet the Team

Alright. When I decided I wanted to begin writing in a somewhat public way, and put effort into a blog, I talked with some close friends about what I would write. Throughout all the changes and struggles I’ve been through in the past few years, one positive constant has been my dogs.

At times, it’s bothered me that, when so many other obvious things were wrong in my life, it seemed that asking about the dogs was the only point of conversation those around me could come up with, without, I don’t know upsetting me (or so my crazy head concluded). When bloggish talk came up, more than one well-meaning person said, why don’t you blog about your dogs?  And I replied with some litany of wishy washy reasons why it was too obvious, would be boring to others, commonplace in my existence, not interesting enough… But one of the few things I do know about writing that I keep coming back to is, you write what you know.  And as evidenced by my to-date track record of inconsistent entries and notalltointerestinganyway topics, I realized, why the hell aren’t I writing about Grace and Levi?!  Despite the fact that blogging is arguably one of the most self-indulgent activities one can do, Grace and Levi are amazing creatures who should be shared with others. 

So, without further ado, meet the team!

the fact that he's stepping on her ear is telling in and of itself.

Posted in dogs, Grace & Levi, Uncategorized | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

back to that place, on padded paper

Mr. Baldwin would stand on his head while we wrote, or use the two tables at the front of the room as props for yoga poses.  It was 1993, and I was a sophomore in high school.  I felt something different, looking back I can say it was a shy confidence: new haircut, new boyfriend, new class, new outlook on high school…all around being lowest on one less totem pole.

No one said much while Mr. Baldwin did his yoga moves.  I’m sure there were some snickers at first, but I remembered thinking how unremarkable we made it. He told us to write about something, and to keep going until he told us to stop. We followed directions, and he stood on his head and waited.

I was organized that fall with a new black binder full of loose leaf paper especially for English class. Freshman year of high school was an obvious clean slate, but sophomore English began my writing life. I can’t honestly say I have that much to show for it, I mean seriously, for someone who thinks and talks about writing this much, you’d be left wondering what does she actually do with all my free time?  (Besides incorrectly shifting grammatical positions. And leaving sentence fragments here and there.)

Despite my years of being interested in writing that followed sophomore English, I’ve been inconsistent at best, at doing it, at least for an audience, which is the type of writing that matters most to me, because most of the rest is brain matter that is good to get out and leave behind. (Preferably where others can’t see it.) But before Peter Elbow or Ann Lamott, or Natalie Goldberg, Mr. Baldwin taught me about free writing, which became the basis for so much of my creative energy.

so this weekend, I’m going back to that black binder, to remember what I first felt and saw there before my eyes, that was me.

who knew what would come out?

Posted in memory | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

unfinished business: some background

The story of Penelope Bruce

This summer at Cape Cod, several people in my family attended a flea market in Sandwich. For those of us who participate, my family consists of seasoned flea market-goers, both in the sense that we are adequately intrigued and unimpressed as deemed appropriate. This particular event is on the small side, and occurs weekly throughout the summer months. It offers a somewhat typical mix of antiques, jewelry, car parts, weak coffee in Styrofoam cups, books, and other collectibles ranging from the unique to the insipid — after all, one man’s treasure is another man’s “what the hell is this?”

Engaging in activities such as this with a group usually finds me on my own less than five minutes within arriving.  I always notice this, and have occasionally wondered about it. Whether it be shopping, touring a museum, apple-picking; visiting a used car lot, brewery, or snack bar, I can’t help but wind up on my own as others pair or group off.  (Insert romantic dream-like answer to this unspoken question here, which manifests itself into my soul mate and life-strolling partner, despite actively searching for him or not.) And so I found my pace: examining beaded necklaces, Depression glass and signs; passing by rifle paraphernalia, turning my nose up at overpriced lunch boxes, and stopping to greet each friendly dog in attendance (except Pugs, sorry).

I passed by my mom and my aunt once or twice, discussed the location of the best donuts with my dad, and saw my brother and sister-in-law a couple rows away during the course of the morning.  I could only get myself half interested, not finding much that inspired me, only going back to buy a couple items out of slight boredom. It was towards the end of the last row when my Aunt Kathy approached me with a treasure.

“I will buy you this if you promise to finish it.”

Here’s what I know, mixed with what I’ve gathered: Someone, who I think was a girl, set out to write a book.  She began with a blank Composition book, gave her work a title (Gifted Girl) decided on an outline of at least seventeen chapters, with corresponding illustrations. As was customary, (until when?) she was planning on listing her illustrations just after the table of contents, along with a caption (or quotation, as she wrote it).  The handwriting is not something you would not see in any type of American school, at any level. It resembles the model cursive that hung above the blackboard in every grade I attended before high school. Four chapters are written in the composition book, although I have no way of knowing if the last one is complete. The rest of the book is empty, except for two pages: one “Serena’s Love Scenes– Final” and the other is a sketch of a Colonial house among trees, underneath which it reads “Our Home / firstname lastname ’40”  Now. I am fairly positive the first name is Dorothy. The last name, however, is up for debate. Howes? More on that later.

So, in honor of my Aunt Kathy’s birthday (yesterday) I decided it was time to begin this project. I took some photographs of the book, began to think about how I could use this format to do it (as much as I can) justice, and maybe find out who wrote the beginning of Gifted Girl.  I will begin typing her first four chapters soon, and will welcome any creative input to help give Penny some direction and new life.

Posted in flea markets, Gifted Girl | Tagged | 2 Comments