Tag Archives: home

A Tidy Kitchen Will Break Your Heart


A tidy kitchen.

“Just.  Wash. The. Godforsaken. POTS.”

That’s what I was growling under my breath tonight as I clung to the edge of the kitchen sink and tried not to pass out from the bleach fumes.  See, G is a chemist by training and he thinks that there’s NOTHING that bleach can’t fix.  Especially pots and pans.  He–being both a chemist and a MAN–refuses to just pick up the f’ing scrub brush and scrub the pot.  Instead, he leaves this morning’s waffle batter bowl sitting in the sink with equal parts bleach and water until the concoction eats through the stuck on stuff.  And my last nerve.

This makes me NUTS.  Just wash the pots and be done with it!!!!  His bleach fetish is also why most of my tshirts have a little line of bleached out dots right across the belly, where I’ve leaned up against the sink too soon after he’s “done the dishes.”

Is it just me or is your blood pressure up too?  GAH!!!!

So I finished up all the dishes once my eyes could focus from the fumes.  Done and done–ten minutes and NO DAMAGE to anyone’s respiratory system.  But the fumes did remind me of a story and a lesson I learned about 10 years ago this summer.

A few weeks after Richard and I bought this house and moved in together, my sister called me.  “So how’s it going?” she asked.

“It’s great…except there are a couple of things that are hard to adjust to after a few years on my own.”

She thought I was talking about manstink, but I assured her we had separate bathrooms.

“No, it’s the fact that he NEVER shuts the kitchen cabinets!  Or drawers!  He’ll walk into a perfectly clean kitchen to make a cup of coffee and leave the cabinet door hanging open, the spoon drawer sticking out, a sticky spoon NEXT TO the sink, and the creamer on the counter!”

My sister hooted.  Turns out her husband does the same thing and it makes her crazy too.

For months, Richard walked through the kitchen doing his thing and I walked right behind him tidying up.  (Which, if you’ve been in my house since I had kids….is no longer my practice.)

Then he got sick.  And he went to Baltimore for treatments.  I went up there on his heels for the first week but I had to come home eventually.

One morning, I walked into the kitchen to get something for breakfast and there wasn’t a thing out of place.  Except him.  The cabinets were fine, but he wasn’t.  I sank to the floor, right there in front of that clean sink, and sobbed until the dogs got worried and started to lick me.

A tidy kitchen will break your heart.

Sharing a life with someone takes compromise.  Sharing a home with other people is hard.  It’s messy.

Wonderfully, wonderfully messy.

And that’s not just the bleach fumes talking.


Kids In the Hall

After we got the kids to bed tonight, I came into the den to discover that the carpet was covered in a colorful blanket of tiny paper slivers that Carlos had cut from a junk mail circular.  No big deal–I had given him the safety scissors and the flyer before I walked out to take a call from my friend, Rachel.  It’s just that in the 30 minutes I was occupied….yeah, those of you with kids are laughing right now, right?  What could go wrong??  

He hadn’t cut his hair or the sofa or the dog’s tail.  But he had sliced up the program from Vivi’s theater camp performance, a stack of yellow Post It notes, a bag that had held some leftover chips from Willy’s, a few other pieces of mail, and one very special list that he unearthed from the back of my desk drawer.  

When G came in and found me standing there in the middle of the paper flurry, transfixed by the piece of white paper that I held in my hand, he asked, “Did he cut up something important?”  I considered his question.  “Not important.  Just…old.”  

Here’s what remains:



I wrote this list in 2004, when Richard and I bought this house together.  I lived here by myself for a couple of months before he moved back to Georgia, so while I was getting the place habitable, I jotted down ideas for every room.  I found the notepad a few years ago and stuck it in the back of the desk drawer.  There are still some good ideas on there but they don’t exactly fit my current living situation.  I like the note about getting pictures from Helen–I wanted to surprise Richard with some family snapshots from his childhood in our first home.  But a gray and white paint scheme with window pane checks and black and white picture frame collage?  These were the ramblings of a woman who had:

A.  HGTV Poisoning

B.  An irrational belief in the power of painter’s tape

C.  No children

D.  No idea what a Magic Eraser was, much less why a homeowner might need one

Here’s how that hallway turned out.  It’s still yellow, still dark, still got the scratches on the doors.  There’s one door covered in butterfly stickers.  One door with a warning sign Vivi drew of all the things that aren’t allowed in a baby nursery (sharp things, chokies, balloons, gum, etc).  There’s the bathroom door with a big hook lock on the outside that G installed after Carlos plugged up the toilet so bad that we had to replace the whole thing (it was a kid’s vitamin bottle).  There’s the door to the room with the big bed where we all piled up together on Sunday morning.  Where Carlos bounces then puts his hands on his hips and declares, “Dis not a trampoline.  Dis a BED!”  There’s the traveling trunk that belonged to my great-grandparents. That’s what Carlos leaned against when he was first learning to stand.  Above the trunk hangs a Matisse poster that I bought in London on my first big adventure.  Vivi used it to learn her colors.  

So I never got to the ideas on that list.  Maybe the hall didn’t need that much work; maybe it will get some real attention one day.  We have made one “improvement.”  I called in a muralist who expressed his own vision on the wall beside the bathroom door.  I think he really captured the cacophony of modern life rendered against the clean lines of the mid-century modern aesthetic.  He’s a real up and comer.  



Even Magic Eraser couldn’t clean it off, so I guess it will be there for a while.

Moving On

After Richard died and left our house to me in his will, many people assumed that I would be selling it.  As one friend put it, “It will be easier for you to move on with your life if you’re not still in this place.”

I didn’t want to give up our house.  Yes, it was too big for just me.  Yes, it was a lot to maintain on my own.  Yes, every corner and crook held a memory of our time together there.  But I didn’t want to give up my house.  One blazing hot July afternoon, I came home to an HVAC unit that had been struck by lightning, a green pool, and a leak in the basement.  I stomped around cussing and pouring chemicals and mopping and panicking.  I didn’t want to let myself start crying because I wasn’t sure how I would stop.  I remember glaring up at the brick face of the house as I turned the hose on and shaking my fist at it.  To be so huge, it was hugely empty–just me and three dachshunds.  That night, as I watched the Atlanta news and ate my dinner all alone in the den, the anchor introduced a story about kids who needed to be adopted.  Three siblings who hoped to stay together.  It’s hard to find a house with that much empty space–but I had one.  A part of my wretched heart opened up at that story because it dawned on me that maybe the house would give me options down the road that I wouldn’t have otherwise.  Like any gift, my house held possibilities.


One of the dearest things about Richard’s gift to me is that he knew how much owning a home meant to me.  He had grown up with a home–his parents lived in the same house from the time he was in elementary school until after he was out of college.  He loved the little yellow house so much that he was furious when the next owners cut down “his” azaleas.  My childhood memories were scattered over several places–the trailer in Greenville, the brown house in Hollonville, the old plantation house, the tin-roofed house on the Circle.  By the time I was an adult, neither my mom nor my dad lived in a place where I had ever had a room of my own.  I didn’t have a childhood home to go back to.  Fartbuster and I had bought a house together, but it never felt like a place to put down roots.  I didn’t know any of my neighbors there…or my husband, for that matter.  When we divorced, I felt like I was being forced into the decision to sell.  I rented two more places on my own before Richard and I bought our house.  After he left it to me, I had a place I would never have to leave unless it was my choice.  So I chose to stay.

Within five years, all the bedrooms were full with three siblings.  Not those sweet kids from the evening news–my kids.  Yesterday, two of them and I were playing in the backyard when I witnessed something that taught me a new lesson about moving on.

The very idea of “moving on” is an illusion.  We put together our lives not by moving away from the past, but by integrating the past into the present and the future, regardless of where we might be.

bluebirdI’ve told the story before about the bluebird who appeared at our backyard wedding (A Tuesday Kind of Miracle).  Well, yesterday, as I sat in the sun and watched Vivi and Carlos playing in her wagon, a pair of bluebirds flitted out of the forsythia bushes on the far side of  the yard.  I thought I was seeing things.  One perched on the fence down by the river–in the exact spot where the wedding bluebird had sat almost nine years ago.  As I was marveling at the beauty of the bluebird–and the memory I associate with them–Carlos caught my eye and chirped, “Hello, Mommy!”  Time collapsed in my backyard as my son stood in the same place Richard and I had stood to say our vows, and called me by my new name.  Mommy.

If I had sold this house and moved in to a new place, I would have missed that moment.  I would have missed seeing my Now blend so seamlessly with my Then.  As I sat there being happy, it dawned on me that that is what HOME is–being somewhere long enough that stories have time to come back around.

One Full Summer

summer pool partyThere’s a moment in every pool party at our house when I find myself alone in the kitchen for some reason.  Maybe it’s to fetch a trash bag, or a cold bottle of wine or to light the candles on a birthday cake.  I take a second to look out the kitchen window and say “thank you” to Richard for picking out this house and for giving it to me.

He was a summer kind of person.  He loved water of any kind–ocean, river, creek, hose, rain, pool.  We were looking at another house in this neighborhood when we happened to drive past this one for sale.  “Why isn’t that one on our list of possibles?” he asked.  I figured it was out of the price range I was searching.  Richard turned the car around and drove by again, slowly.  “I think that house is on the river…”  The wheels were already turning in his head and here I sit almost 10 years later, looking out over the river that flows through the backyard.  Once he figured out there was water nearby, buying this house was a done deal.

He was so excited about owning a pool that he took a pair of swim trunks to the lawyer’s office (well, he left them in the car while we signed the papers!).  We bought the house in late October of 2003.  Even though the pool was a mite chilly by then, he dove in about an hour after closing.   As I was laughing at his freezing ass, he made a vow to get in the pool every month of the year, at least once.  And he did it.  November, December, January, February–he did a cannonball off the diving board then made a hasty retreat out the nearest side, straight into the hot tub.  March, he swam to the shallow end.  April and May, he swam a couple of lengths.

Then came June.  He hadn’t been feeling well for a month, no energy and a bad cough, but the doctor blamed it on bronchitis.  His legs were covered in bruises but he attributed them to skiing in March, yard work in April, house work in May.  It never dawned on us that they weren’t going away.  One June morning, he dove into the pool as I watched from the kitchen window.  He swam to the shallow end then stopped to lean against the wall instead of doing an underwater turn and swimming right back.  He eventually swam to the deep end, pulled himself out and lay down on the diving board in the sun.  All while I watched from the kitchen window.  Never guessing.

By June 30th, he was diagnosed with leukemia.  By July 1st, he was on a plane back to Baltimore, this time to Johns Hopkins.  After all that excitement, Richard didn’t get to enjoy a full summer with a pool.  So I try to keep it filled with people as a way of showing appreciation for the simple gift of being able to spend a day in the water.  And I pause at that kitchen window to say thank you to the person who gave me and my family this joyful home.

“Have you thought about what you want to do with the house?”

882452_10200322608460867_1820283952_oThis is an essay I wrote last summer for my Leukemia/Lymphoma Society website.  It’s been stomach bug weekend at our house…so not much time for writing.  Today, Carlos got stuck under the side table in the living room and started yelling “Tuck!  Tuck!”  I thought he was saying “stuck” but he was trying to get this truck.  He loves that toy, probably because it has old fashioned rusty metal and sharp corners.  Enjoy!  

“Have you thought about what you want to do with the house?”

That’s the question Richard asked me, one snowy day in the end of February 2005. We were sitting by the window of his room in the Sidney Kimmel Cancer Center. Outside, the low gray sky was filled with huge snowflakes, cartoonish in their size and pure white color. The kind of snow that makes a Georgia girl stare. Richard was writing his last will and testament. His mother was there, relaying changes to the lawyer, and I was trying to stay out of it. But he looked up at me and asked, “Have you thought about what you want to do with the house?” I couldn’t say anything. I couldn’t find words.

Of course I had thought about what I wanted to do with the house. We had made lots of plans. I wanted to see the azaleas that we had planted spring back from that severe pruning he had given them in May. I wanted to find a rug that fit the dining room because the one we bought at that auction was two inches too long. I wanted to take out that cherry tree that was crowding the hemlock, even though it bothered my heart to cut down a cherry tree. I wanted to sit on the deck together, covered in sweat and dirt and contentment and look out over what we had made of this house. I wanted to get rid of that fruit wallpaper in the kitchen. I wanted, I wanted, I wanted.

I had spent nine months watching leukemia take Richard from me—cell by cell, ounce by ounce. He was leaving. Now it wanted my home, too? Did I want to keep our house and rattle around in the memories? Did I want to sell it and start over somewhere else? Did I want to decide now with him or decide later…alone?

He waited for my answer. I fluttered my hands around and made a choking kind of sound when I tried to say all the words and none of the words. I don’t even remember if I made a sentence. He understood what I meant. I’m not sure I knew what I meant, but he got it.

Richard and I stood on that too-big Persian rug with its Tree of Life motif when we married in the backyard of our home. The azaleas bloomed a few weeks after he died. He had been right—the pruning made them flourish. Months later, my brother cut down the cherry tree while I hid inside the house and the hemlock thrives now that it has more room to grow. I sit on the deck sometimes and remember and it is sweet.

Now the wallpaper has fallen! G and I have spent a couple of weeks working on the kitchen—stripping the walls, patching, spackling, scrubbing. The other day, some magic people arrived in a big truck and swapped out the countertops, put in a sleek cook top and installed a sink that gleams. After they left, that question popped into my head and has been dogging me for days—“Have you thought about what you want to do with the house?”

I certainly never thought, on that snowy and empty day, that I would do THIS with the house. I hadn’t thought that every bedroom would be filled with sleeping kids. I hadn’t thought that the living room would look like a Fisher Price showroom after an attack by Godzilla. I hadn’t thought about how the downstairs is perfect for a teenager suite. I hadn’t thought about a gingko for the backyard, but G gave me one for my 40th birthday. I hadn’t thought I would have a son born on a silent, snowy morning.

Richard gave me many gifts, but the dearest one is my home. It was our home, then it was my home, now it is my family’s home. His picture is in the living room. Shells he picked up on the beach in Panama when he was a boy line the bathroom window. G found a gizmo when we were working in the kitchen and we figured out that it was a wonton dumpling press and it must have belonged to Richard, who could make a mean pot sticker. Carlos has discovered Richard’s old Tonka fire truck. He flips it upside down and spins the wheels around and around.  Around and around and around.