Archive | May, 2015

Remodeling My Bathroom Reminds Me of Our Catskills House: The House Which Always Changed

30 May

I am in the process of having a little half bath remodeled. The old pedestal sink is gone. The old linoleum tiles are gone. The distressed paint is gone. In their place are a new cabinet sink, ceramic tile floor and new paint. The process has taken three days. And the entire time it has been in progress, I have been going back into time to our home in the Catskills.

My grandparents bought the ‘big house’ in the early 1960s. The home had been divided into four little apartments. Three were rented out during the summers, and the owner stayed in the one that was slightly bigger. My grandparents bought the house with the intention of reuniting it into one home. It became a forever process.

It slowly took shape. First they stopped renting out two of the three other apartments. They took down the wall that separated the upstairs from the living room. We now had two rooms upstairs and another bathroom. Of course there was a kitchen along one wall as well!

The fireplace in the center of the living room.

The fireplace in the center of the living room.

Downstairs they removed the kitchen and teeny bathroom that had been built behind the fireplace. They left the room on, but made it part of the living room. The children loved to sleep back there on the trundle bed. It was also a great hiding place. And the fireplace is a magnificent stone edifice. We love it. Originally it was at the end of the house. But now it stands in the living room.

They opened the doorway between the two sections of the house. Putting in a pocket door to close the living room off in the winter. Each room of the house was slowly redone.

They built a garage, since they started spending the winters up there. At first there was just a flagstone patio that led from the kitchen door to the across to the garage. But eventually walls were put up to keep the snow from blowing. At first my grandfather just put up some old windows and plywood to keep the wind out. But eventually real walls were built and a roof put on and another door creating what we all called stone room.

The kitchen was remodeled and remodeled several times over the years by my grandparents and then my parents.

The fourth apartment was changed. The bedroom that originally belonged to the main house was reunited, and a true apartment was built. This was rented during the summer.

The upstairs was remodeled. The kitchen came out and two bedrooms were created. And when a dining room was built onto the downstairs kitchen, a large attic area was created. This empty storage space became a bone of contention between my grandparents. My grandmother wanted a dormer put in so the room could be used. My grandfather could not. This debate created one of my favorite Grandpa memories.

I was a senior in high school and I was explaining parapsychology to my European grandparents. I explain how some people believed they could foresee the future. My grandfather looked at me and said, “I can foresee the future.”

“Really,” I naively responded.

“Yes,” he said. “In two minutes your grandmother is going to be screaming.” He walked passed me into the kitchen, and said two words: “No Dormer!”

He was right, my grandmother started to scream.

And my grandfather and I started to laugh. It was a great example of my Grandpa’s sense of humor, as well as an indication of my grandparents’ house remodeling issues.

The screened porch.

The screened porch.

When my grandparents passed away, and the big house passed to my parents, more remodeling occurred. My parents redid the kitchen and modernized it. They added a screened in porch, which we love. I think we spend most of our time there! They put in French doors that lead from the porch into the dining area. And they created a master suite with a small en suite bathroom.

The difference from my grandparents’ experience is that my parents hired an architect to plan and oversea the work. This meant that work was actually done to code. And so as they worked they opened walls and replaced all the electric wiring and much of the plumbing.   They also remodeled the upstairs bathroom, adding a small dormer to enable to addition of a shower. I will never forget the first time I saw the little dormer area. I could not help but think of my Grandpa Nat and his glorious sense of humor.

All the remodeling did not just stay in the house. I have not even mention all the changes that were made on the small bungalow that sat behind the home.   My parents, siblings and I stayed there. And over time it also got another bedroom, a real living room and a redone kitchen. A screened in porch was also added, while we stayed there.

The outside also underwent many changes over the years.  With four acres, my grandfather and dad had a lot to work with, and they did.  We had gardens and vegetable gardens; sitting areas and patios; trees put in and tress removed.  New wells were dug  and landscaping redone.

Over a 50-year period “change” was the word, and remodeling was the main entertainment! But now it is complete. My siblings and I own the house. Although we work to keep it maintained, we have no remodeling planned in the near future!

My little bathroom is not such a big deal as a house. But it did bring back the wonder of the house that always changed.

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Shopping at the New Jersey Clothing Factories Led to a Life of Power Shopping

26 May

My sister and I can be power shoppers. We can go to a sales rack in most stores and find something wonderful. Others are sometimes amazed by our accurate determination of what would look good even when it is on the hanger. It is a talent we inherited from our Mom, the queen of power shoppers.

When we grew up in New Jersey, there were no true outlet stores or factory outlet stores to be exact. But there were major clothing factories nearby. And as a perk to New Jersey teachers, several times each year, the teachers were presented special cards that allowed them to shop in the factory stores. These stores were usually reserved for employees and were filled with items that were not quite perfect.

For my sister and I, it was like magic shopping at the factories with our Mom. Our two favorites were Trousers Up and Evan Picone.

These expeditions were a women event only. Dad and my brother would stay home. My sister, Mom and I would venture out on our journey to the New Jersey highway system. This was a major event. My Mom hated to drive on the highway. Due to a childhood accident, she was blind in one eye. So to take us out to the factories was a big deal. And we knew it. We were instructed to help find the right streets.

We would spend hours out there going from one factory to another and stocking up on clothes. I loved when we returned home and told our Dad how much money we saved him. His response was always the same, “I don’t care how much you three saved. I want to know how much you spent!” We never told him that number, we gave that responsibility to Mom.

My all time favorite memory was shopping for my trousseau. My Mom was a traditionalist. I was getting married and I needed to have new clothes for my honeymoon and my life. I especially needed a special outfit to wear to travel the morning after I married.

My sister, mom and I were on a mission that day. And it was a day I will never forget. I can still see some of the clothing that was purchased even today, over 35 years later. I remember the dusty blue short overalls from Trousers Up. And I remember the electric blue and white striped top with blue skirt my Mom purchased for me to wear on the plane. It was a knit Evan Picone outfit.

To be honest I kept it for years, until my daughter forced me to clean the closets one day. She informed me that I would never fit into that outfit again, and someone else could wear it. She had no emotional attachment to it, but I did. However, she was right. So about 5 years ago, I finally parted with my honeymoon ensemble.

By the time my sister married, five years later, the factory shopping expeditions were no longer available. Factory outlets were opened to shopping for everyone. And my sister had a favorite outlet, Harve Bernard. I owned two suits by this wonderful company, but my sister could live in this outlet. (My daughter made me get rid of these suits as well. They also hung in my closet for many years.)

Do you like these jackets?

Do you like these jackets?

I can still hear my Mom telling us to try something on. “Try it on,” she would say, as we shook our head looking at an item on the hanger. “You don’t know what it will look like until you put it on. You never know. It might look wonderful!”

And often it did. We learned to always try it on. A sentiment we taught to our daughters.

Why is it that some of the most important experiences between a mother and daughter and even granddaughter occur while shopping? I think because so many lessons are shared during these moments:

Always treat people with respect in the dressing room and at in the store.

Hang up your clothes after you try them on. (Cleaning as you go along makes the chore easier.)

Encourage the people you are with, but be honest on how they look.

Don’t buy something you will never wear, (do not waste money).

Never buy shoes that hurt, if your feet hurt your whole body hurts.

I loved shopping with my Mom. And in later years, I loved shopping with my daughter. And the best times were shopping with my Mom, my sister, and our two girls as well as our niece. We had many shopping bonding times. During our times shopping, we passed along our important lessons.

It's a mother's job to hold the purchases.

It’s a mother’s job to hold the purchases.

But the love of shopping is not just important on my side of the family. My sister in law and I, along with our daughters, also had wonderful times on girl weekends.   My daughter and I would drive to St. Louis to be with my sister in law and niece. We would have a great time shopping, going out to eat and visiting. Even though my daughter could not be there, I went to St. Louis to go bridal gown shopping with them. My niece now has her own daughter. I look forward to shopping with her one day as well!

For a while my cousin’s daughter was in college at Washington University in St. Louis. Of course we would pick her up for a dining and shopping treat.

And it is a treat. Sometimes we do not even buy anything. We just browse. We try on. We examine the newest styles. We guess the prices on expensive looking items. My young cousin likes shoes and boots. So we would always tried to browse through a shoe store. With all of these women I have shared laughter and joy as we shopped.

As well as excitement when we find a special treasure: a dress or shoes we were not expecting to find, but there they were calling one of our names; a bargain that cannot be passed by. These bring out the ‘power’ shopper in us.

Take me to a sales rack in any store and I will have a wonderful time. I do not care if I do not find anything for me. My sister just told me about a power shopping she had with her sister in law, who needed a certain color brown slacks. My sister led her to the sales rack in Bloomingdales. And there among the many items were the perfect pants, on sale and special sale and then 40 percent off!

What more could a shopper desire?

My daughter is now engaged. As we plan the wedding, we have discussed the wedding gown shopping experience. She wants her aunts and cousins to come with us if they can. Who better to tell her the truth and share the joy? The most glorious of shopping experiences!

Shopping at the factory outlets on the New Jersey highways brought my sister, Mom and I laughter and fun. But it also led us to a life of power shopping and a lifetime of memories with our daughters, sisters, sisters-in-law and nieces, along with many moments of joy.

Happily Playing Stickball In the Middle of the Street

21 May

Today’s Moms tell their children constantly, “Don’t play in the street.” But where I grew up in North Bergen, New Jersey, in the 1950s, 60s and early 70s, we almost always played in the streets. It is not that our Moms said, “Go play in the street.” It was more, “Get outside and play!” And the street was the place to go.

It was a common event to see a group of children racing the bases in a heated game of stickball, running in the street. We often had ten or more involved in the game.

On our block, 78th Street between Boulevard East and Park Avenue, we had an upward battle to our game as we lived on a hill. So playing stickball was even more difficult. Hitting the ball and running uphill was a challenge. But we had fun.

I cannot tell you how many windows were broken over the years, but I remember at least two. When a window was smashed, we all went running. Eventually the truth came out.

But I can tell you that our mothers never told us to get out of the street. It was the cars that had to be careful, not the children. People expected the streets to be teeming with activity.

Stickball was played with a broomstick and a pink rubber ball (Spaulding High Flyer, my brother says), or whatever ball happened to be available. We had designated bases that changed each day we played depending on who parked where. A certain car, a telephone pole, a manhole cover, all of these could be named designated bases.

But besides stickball, the street was also the site of football, hide and seek, hopscotch, and any other game that needs a space to run.

I have to say that my favorite ‘street’ story of all concerns my brother. I know he was in high school, because he was already tall. He grew to about six feet. And that is what caused his problem. If he had been shorter, he probably would not have been hurt.

We were playing in the street My brother and his friend were playing football.  Tossing a ball back and forth across the street, in the street on the sidewalk.  But not just tossing, throwing it hard.   My brother caught the ball and turn to run, unbeknownst to him, a volkswagen had parked right where he turned to run.  Usually that car went into the garage, but this time it just was on the sidewalk.

My brother says, “So Jack throws me the ball and I spin to run, never expecting a car to be in the driveway and slam right into the car. Volkswagen’s at that time had a rain guard over the door that was steel. I hit my lip right into this and it split. Spilling lots of blood and needing two stitches.”

There was blood; lots of blood. I have since learned, as a parent, that the face bleeds much more that any part of the body. And my brother’s face was filled with blood, as was the street and the Volkswagen.

Luckily that day a parent was home. I do not say this sarcastically. We would come home from school by ourselves. Make a snack by ourselves and go out to play by ourselves. It was the same way for almost all the kids on the block.

Many other accidents occurred over the years.   I remember many of them, like when my brother’s friend got his hand caught in between a bunch of nails on a piece of wood.  Yes he did. It was a weird accident. My parents took him to the hospital, as his parents were not home.  He was holding the wood on his lap all the way and into the emergency room.

There was one grandma who lived on the block, and she was often the one to wipe away the blood and check to make sure the injured child would survive. She was there the day my sister’s front teeth were knocked out and took care of my sister till my Mom got home. We had some adult supervision. But with so many children on the block, any parent who was home took care of any issues that occurred…issues sometimes being arguments or sometimes being injuries! No one ever argued if a parent disciplined someone else’s children or took care of them.

But I digress. One this day, our parents were home. And my brother was taken to the emergency room at North Hudson Hospital. I was not there, but I have heard that the conversation went something like this:

“How did you get hurt?” The doctor asks.

“I ran into a car,” my brother responds.

“You mean a car ran into you. You got hit by a car,” the doctor says.

“NO, I mean I ran into a car playing stickball,” my brother was honest. “The car was parked. The car did not hit me. I hit the car.”

The doctor then had to laugh. I believe he even said something like, I have never had to stitch a kid who hit a car before.

My brother was fine. He had to get stitches in his face. But that was nothing new for him. He had had stitches before from when he played Superman off the front stoop when we lived on Third Avenue in North Bergen, and another time when a wooden train piece hit him in the head.

He came home with a great story to tell. We all heard about the doctor who thought he got hit by a car!

The next day my brother was back at playing stick ball and other games in the street. Games did not end because of one minor injury. We continued to happily play stickball in the middle of the street for years.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stickball

My Rebounder Caused Concern And Created A New Exercise Routine

12 May

For my 60th birthday, I wanted a rebounder. These little trampolines are supposed to be excellent for exercising. And I wanted something new to add to my ever-expanding exercise routines. If I get bored, I might stop my daily exercises and I need to continue exercising. It is good for my health and for my life!

I found the rebounder at a local Target. It came in pieces that needed to be put together. I will tell you now that putting together a rebounder is exercise in itself, and somewhat dangerous!!! There were all sorts of warnings about getting your fingers caught in the springs. That would really hurt!

My husband works on the rebounder.  My son was there helping as well.

My husband works on the rebounder. My son was there helping as well.

I was lucky, my husband and son agreed to put my rebounder together. But it was not an easy process. There were moments of extreme agitation and aggravation.   I had to help at several points. But for me, the most interesting and amusing part was listening to my son and husband as they put the rebounder together.

“Dad, I do not think it is a good idea for Mom to use this.”

“Yea, I am a bit worried myself.”

“I think she might fall and break something. She might hit her head on the ceiling or the floor.”

“I know, but she wants it, so what can we do?”

“Hey,” I interrupted their conversation flow, “I am standing right here. I hear you!” Not that it mattered to them, as they continued, worrying about how I would actually use the rebounder.

I finally said in frustration, “I am not going to just jump on it! I am going to start slow! I will do it correctly.”

It took a good 45 minutes for them to complete the task of putting it together. Pulling those springs and getting them in place took power and the three of us working as one. We successfully completed this complicated job. After it was finished, they put the rebounder in the basement for me, where I have a treadmill and other exercise equipment.

They did it! My rebounder is together.

They did it! My rebounder is together.

I did not get on it in front of them. They had me so crazed with their worries. I waited for a friend, who has a rebounder, to come over and teach me some of the moves to use on it.

At first it was really difficult. If I finished rebounding for two minutes, I felt successful. The first two weeks I used it, my legs felt like jelly when I got off. Walking up the basement stairs took effort!

Since the start, I have been using it at least twice a day. I use it as part of my kitten feeding routine. It started as kind of a joke. I have to feed our new kitten in the basement so that our older cat does not eat the kitten food.   I thought I would try out the rebounder when I went down to feed the cat. I did this several days in a row.

On Day five, I decided I did not need to use the rebounder, I would just feed the kitten and go upstairs. It did not work out that way. Once I started up the stairs, the kitten bounded up the stairs as well.   She was not going to eat if I was not there.

I went back downstairs and started rebounding, while the kitten went back to her food. The routine was now mandated. Instead of Rome burning while Nero fiddled, my kitten eats while I rebound.

For the past three months, I feed my kitten twice each day and so twice each day I use my rebounder. Now I  rebound about 10 minutes each session. It gives me about 1500 steps for my UP, so I win doubly!

I have started watching rebounding exercises online to learn new routines. I take my time and modify the routines to make them fit my exercise level. The voices of my son and husband are still in the back of my mind, so I make sure I do not do anything that might throw me off balance, or cause me to fall. However, even though my rebounder caused concern for my husband and son, it created a new outlet for exercising for me. One that I really enjoy!

http://www.shape.com/fitness/cardio/fat-blasting-rebounding-routine

Remembering My Mother In Law With a Manicure and Pedicure

6 May

On May 12, I am going to get a manicure and a pedicure. I do this once a month. But on May 12 it will be a special event. My husband’s mother, Lee, would have been 90 years old on this date. She died when she was only 59.

Before I met my mother-in-law, I did not know anyone who went for weekly manicures. But Lee did. Each week she got her hair put in to a French knot and had bright red polish put on her nails. She had beautiful hands and nails.

I was a nail biter. The only time I ever had a manicure was the week before my wedding and on my wedding day, in an effort to stop me from this awful habit. It worked to a degree. And Lee encouraged it. She would occasionally take me for a manicure when we were in town visiting.

When she was in her last months, the lovely woman who had done her hair and nails for so long, would come to the hospital once a week to wash her hair and do her nails. She told me that as long as she could, she would help Lee feel beautiful. She did this for the last three months of Lee’s illness. What an angel!

My mother in law died so young because she was a smoker.  Lung cancer destroyed her and impacted my husband. Last year, when my husband and I were both 59, my husband was in a state of mild anxiety all year. I did not realize how much his age was weighing on him until we both turned 60. “We made it,” he told me. “We made it past 59.”

So on May 12, my mother-in-law’s 90 birthday, I will get a manicure and pedicure. It is not an unusual occurrence. I go every other week to have a manicure and I go monthly for a pedicure. But this time, when I am 60, I feel it is important to celebrate her 90th birthday and Mothers’ Day in a way that will connect me to her.

My daughter used to model bridal gowns. This was one of her favorite mani/pedis.

My daughter used to model bridal gowns. This was one of her favorite mani/pedis.

Having a manicure is a way to remember Lee. I took my daughter for her first manicure when she was seven.  She is named for her grandmother, so I thought she should experience a manicure at a younger age! We put a tiara on her head and made her feel special. She loved to go. When she was a teen, she often wanted purple polish or even different colors on every other nail.

She modeled wedding gowns while in high school, and would get demure polish then. To this day, my daughter still loves to get a manicure, but no bright reds for her now! She is into the more quiet French tips, where clear polish is put on the nail beds and only white or pale pink is put on the tips.

When my mother would come to visit me, I always took her out for a manicure. My mother never took the time for this pampering when she was home. She did all her manicures by herself. She only went to a salon twice a year, when she visited me. She loved going, but felt with her arthritis, it was not worth it. However, whenever she went she felt great! To me it was a gift I could give to my Mom.

But for me, a manicure was a must. I have been going to the same person, Mary,  for over 25 years. I was one of her first clients. And when she moved into her own store, Old Town Hair and Nails, in Lenexa, KS, I followed along. She has polished the nails of my Mom, my daughter and even my sister, who I recently took to the salon.

One of my more colorful mani/pedi.

One of my more colorful mani/pedi.

The pampering of a manicure was something I learned from Lee. Twice a month, I sit with a woman who has basically shared my life with me. We talk, we have silent times, we visit. I do not answer the phone, (unless it is my children). I chose a color to fit my mood. Sometimes I chose a pink or a coral. Other times I am bold with a blue! Other times, I have sparkling tips put over the basic color. And some times, I have one nail on each hand polished slightly differently.

I am not sure if Lee would have liked all these variations. She liked the same color every week — the same bright red.

But it does not matter. This May, a few days after Mothers’ Day, I will be remembering my husband’s mother with a manicure and pedicure. And in my heart wishing her a happy 90th birthday.