Monday, March 30, 2009

Happy Birthday, Babe

Her maiden name was Bernadette Zawacki. We were the closest of friends in high school even though we went to different schools. Her family had moved to a house directly across the street from us in Dearborn Heights, Michigan as she went into her senior year so she was given permission to continue going to Fordson while I went to Riverside. Her family nickname was Babe and probably still is, for all I know. Her song was Van Morrison's Brown Eyed Girl and it still brings back those times whenever I hear it.

We came as close to hell raising as I've ever been ~ going to New York City together by ourselves the summer after graduation at 18 and 17 (my August birthday always made me the youngest in the class). Meeting up with young men on work/study programs at Ford and dating them although they were much older than us. And much more, probably tame compared to today's hell raising standards.

Babe got pregnant at 19 and married Bob Snook (or Shook,, I can't remember), the child's father, probably at her father and mother's demand, being first generation Polish and it being 1969 where liberal was a word we read in the papers but couldn't consider applying to our families or lives. I was in her wedding and seriously dating Erin's dad. Although Babe, Bob and newborn David lived very close, I saw her less and less. We had little in common at that point ~ she was staying home with a newborn and I wasn't empathetic. I'm sure at some point there was a falling out but I don't remember it now at all.

I've tried Classmates and various other searches to find her but to no avail. Her parents don't live there any longer and my mom moved from the neighborhood in 1975. So all I seem to hit are dead ends. If you have any suggestions for other ways to try to find her, I'd love to hear them.
It's beyond a long shot that she ~ or anyone who knows her ~ might read this blog entry but it's worth a try.

I miss Babe. I would love to make contact, to see how her life from 19 to 59 went. How David has grown, did she have other children, what she did for a career, is she still married to Bob or divorced, what about her parents and sisters. All the stuff of life that happens, as it happens while you're making other plans.

So happy birthday Babe. I hope it's been a great life for you and I hope you have a wonderful birthday today. Can you believe you're 59? Where the heck did all that time go?



Sunday, March 29, 2009

Turning a Corner

Our bathroom remodeling hit a new phase today. We went from demolition to construction. Whoo hooo! Eventually I'll post pictures but this is a big step. We took down the last of the ceiling, pulled up the last of the subflooring and began framing in the ceiling area where the new wall and door will be.

Working with Johnnie on projects is nice because, while I don't have the physical strength to do some of the tasks (not to mention the experience or construction knowledge), I am not just relegated to holding tools or snagging the discarded piece of plywood as it falls away from the saw. And, with my thumbs still recuperating from the inflammation, that weakens my hands so I'm a bit limited in what I can and cannot do as well. I get to do stuff. I put in all the subflooring screws among other things. I know, it probably doesn't sound like much but it was fun to actually contribute in a tangible way to the overall project.

I am also spending a great amount of time cleaning up sawdust and reorganizing tools so (a) we can find things when we need them (the royal we - mostly Johnnie is the one needing them) and (2) getting tools, scrap wood and whatever else out of the room or at least out of the way so we're not tripping over junk we don't need. Space to work is at a premium while we're working on this so moving crap out of the way is important. Johnnie tends to just walk over/around whatever is in his way rather than actually MOVE it so that it's not a trip hazard or plain inconvenient.

But it's nice that we're finally done with de-construction and can now commence on the construction phases. Deadlines are looming ~ Annie the painter returns on April 27th and the carpet needs to be down by then. Before the carpet goes down, the tile goes down and the bathroom needs to be finished. Hence the good feelings of getting into putting things up rather than tearing them down.

Pictures eventually!

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Conversation with Emily

I went to Erin and Mike's house early this morning (Saturday) to pick up Lucy to go to The Little Gym for our class together. Emily came out wearing a Disney princesses nightgown (she much prefers nightgowns over pajamas these days).

Me: Emily, what a pretty nightgown! You look like a princess!

Emily (pointing to the one in the middle): Yes. This one is Sweeping Beauty.

Me: Really, that's very cool.

Emily: Yes, Sweeping Beauty pwicked her fingew on the steewing wheel.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

A journey to Mecca

This past weekend we went to Cleveland to visit John's brother Ferd and his wife Mare. Ferd has his own home renovation business so we also were going to get Wedi board that we can't get here in our area. Wedi board is lightweight green board used in bathrooms and other moisture-rich environments because it's waterproof and very easy to work with. Why we can't find it in our area of Western New York is a bit of a mystery.

Anyway, before we even went to Ferd and Mare's house on Friday afternoon, we went to Marc's, also known to me as Bargain Mecca. Marc's (formerly Bernie Shulman's but that was years ago) is a combination grocery store, pharmacy/drug store and has a wonderful area of buy outs, close outs and stuff they've gathered from many chain stores. Some of it is definitely cheesy and cheap but if you search well, you can find all kinds of toys, Cleveland Indians and Browns shirts, Ohio State University sweats, kids clothes (for 50 cents apiece!), housewares, sox, tools, seasonal and holiday things (such as tacky Easter decorations, springtime paper plates and napkins - 2 for 99 cents whoo hoo), vinyl table cloths, picture frames ~ all sort of jumbled together. It can take me a couple hours to walk up and down the aisles slowly to inspect and check out all the great things. If possible, I try to make at least two trips to Marc's so I can (a) savor the experience and (2) really comb the place thoroughly for great bargains.

On this trip we purchased (I probably won't remember everything): a pair of Fiskars branch trimming scissors, a pair of slip-on tennis shoes for Emily ($2.99), six pair of sox for the two girls, two kid's activity packs (one Little Einsteins, one My Little Pony) $1.69, 1.5 liter of wine $8.99, rawhide chews and bones for the dogs, two disposable single-use cold packs ($1.88), travel sized toothpaste and cocoa butter lotion and a bunch of other things that we really, really could have lived without but were fun to discover anyway.

I love going to Marc's and it's become a joke among John's family that I really only come to Cleveland to go to Marc's and seeing them is just a side benefit. That's a tough one. I'll have to think about it!

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

A personal tribute to Eire

I'm three quarters Irish: Cheryl Elizabeth Cecilia Mahan. Grandparents: Connor, Daly, Mahan (originally McMahon) and Sauerbier (how my German grandmother ever joined up with this lot, I'll never know). Despite the tiny dose of German in me, I'm Irish through and through. We named our daughter Erin for goodness sakes and she has red curly hair, beautiful blue eyes and dimples. The very picture of a typical Irish lass.

We love Ireland and have been there three times. It's been a tough winter here and the pull of Ireland is very strong at this point. Aer Lingus (the Irish airlines) seems to have a fare sale about once a week to tease us and tempt us. So far we haven't given in to the siren call (yet) mostly because we're neck deep in the house renovations. Tomorrow's task for me is mold remediation. Lovely.

Anyway, as I yearn and pine to go back to Ireland this year, I thought I'd post some pictures from our 2007 trip so you can begin to understand the pull that the country has for us. We went again last year but took many fewer pictures on that trip.

Most of these pictures are from Doolin, a tiny town on the west coast of Ireland, gateway to the Aran Islands and about 10 kilometers from the Cliffs of Moher. It is a beautiful area, full of friendly people, sheep, cows and rocks. It is the beginning of The Burren, an area of million-year-old limestone rock that has been scraped almost clean of any vegetation from millennia of erosion. What vegetation does grow is scraggly and extremely hardy.

Hiking on The Burren - look at the tiny tufts of green clinging to the inhospitable rocks and the beautiful little flowers trying to survive in the stony soil.

We have been lucky enough to stay in the same Irish cottage, Ballyreen*, owned by an Irish American lady who works in Geneva Switzerland when she's not at home in Doolin. It's a wonderfully cozy two bedroom cottage half a kilometer from its nearest neighbor and beyond the cottage is the Atlantic Ocean and beyond that, the United States. Remote but so peaceful and there are so many stars out at night that you cannot believe the sky could be so crowded with them. It is complete bliss to sit in the combination living room kitchen at night, warming your toes by the peat fire and sipping a glass of red wine.

Ballyreen Cottage, Doolin
The light gray material in the foreground is the stone wall on which the camera was perched.

The view out the front door of Ballyreen cottage and the neighbors across the road

The grazing density in the pastures throughout The Burren is very light (in other words, few cows in lots of space) because there just isn't much grass covering the rocks beneath so the cows need generous amount of land for grazing.

Stone fences, single lane roads with lots of twists and turns where the locals drive about 60-80 kilometers (40-60 mph), hell bent around the curves. Dogs, chickens and cats laze or graze in the middle of roads that are little more than old cart paths.

This is a typical two-direction secondary road and that's a Ford Focus. I sucked my teeth down my throat and grabbed for the oh shit handle frequently as Johnnie drove us around, imitating the locals' driving style and enjoying the challenge of driving and shifting from the right hand driver's seat. I drove a couple times but preferred to navigate with the help of our GPS Jill.

This is Johnnie in front of our favorite pub, McDermotts. Even a town as small as Doolin had several pubs and we tried them all. Lunch became a pint of Smithwick's usually with fish and chips (Smithwick's is most appropriately pronounced Smidicks). And then usually we took a nap.

We were in Doolin for Easter in 2007 and had gone to the grocery store on Saturday knowing that most stores probably wouldn't be open on Easter Sunday. So we grilled chicken burgers and then made green beans and sweet potato wedges togo with them. We discovered we had forgotten to buy an onion until after the stores were closed (the nearest food store of any size is in Lisdoonvarna, about 10 km away). So we asked Patsy McDermott if we could buy an onion. "Makin Easter dinner, are ya?" she asked. John nodded yes that we were. She turned to the bartender and said, "Ah, just give 'im an onion, willya?" (I know you can't hear this in Patsy's Irish lilt that is playing in my head and I wish you could.)

So we went home and dined on sumptious chicken burgers complete with Patsy's onion. No Easter ham or lamb ever tasted as good.
Sheep family near the Inisheer lighthouse

We took the day ferry over to the most populated and closest of the Aran Islands, Inisheer (spelled Inis Oirr in Gaelic, the primary language in the west of Ireland). We had a small map and ended up hiking more than seven miles over dirt and gravel paths. Where there weren't any paths, we went up and over the stone fences cross lots until we came to another path. We were headed to the lighthouse and when we got there, discovered that it was not open to the public. Grrrr. This foursome of sheep darted out from one of the stone pastures, raced ahead of us then halted in unison as if someone had issued a command and turned around to look at us. We obliged by taking pictures. What a perfect Irish moment.

*If anyone is looking for a wonderful Irish vacation/retreat, please let me know in your comment and I'll be glad to put you in touch with Maryann, Ballyreen's owner. She lets the cottage by the week and it's more than just a slice of heaven.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Curb Shopping

Also called curb crawling, dumpster diving, trash trawling. It's one of the things I enjoy about spring, summer and fall as neighbors far and wide clean out their stuff. There is a strong custom around here to put things out to the curb for trash pickup (we're lucky in that our town will pick up most anything you put down there - old appliances, construction debris, furniture, dead televisions and even old tires) and have it taken away by someone who is deliberately or serendipitously cruising around looking for cast off bargains.

We also look for cut down hardwood trees to help fill Erin and Mike's woodpile. There are lots of locust trees around here -- the wood is incredibly heavy and hard but the trees themselves are little more than way overgrown weeds. The wood is great for their wood burning stove.

I must admit that we have done our share of curb shopping over the past few years, especially in finding great outdoor toys for Lucy and Emily. We've found perfectly good Step 2, Fisher Price and Little Tykes things including a complete kitchen for playing outdoors, a slide, an adjustable basketball hoop, two-children cars (not the motorized kind), a picnic table, dolly strollers and a jungle gym climbing thing that locks together and stands about three to four feet tall.

What deals! If we had paid for them we'd have spent upwards of $750 but got them for free or virtually free (we did pay our neighbors $40 for the climbing thing). Johnnie found an entire metal swing set at the curb two summers ago. We're hoping the girls are old enough this summer for it to be put up so they can play on it.

Johnnie once found a console television on the curb, came back and loaded it up. He fixed it for 25 cents by wiring a new plug on the electrical cord. He used it for years until we combined our households and had an excess of televisions.

A charity I work with used to hold rummage sales and I loved having the opportunity to find things for the girls before the bounty was set out for the public to buy. We bought a Tuggy tugboat that our son-in-law Mike fills each summer with ice cold water from their well so the girls can play in and around it to cool off.

In a former life when we lived in Minnesota, I furnished a cabin we had along Lake Pepin (part of the Mississippi River) almost completely with things I found at garage sales and along curbs. It really does bear out the saying that one person's junk is another person's treasure.

So I'm already scanning the piles at the curb as I drive, waiting for perfectly good cast offs to appear. I guess it's another version of recycle, repair and reuse, huh?

Thursday, March 12, 2009


We get up early on weekdays. With Johnnie's school bus driving schedule, he needs to be clocking in by about 6:20 am to get the high school kids delivered on time. Backing that schedule up, our first alarm goes off at 4:46 am. It's a radio that comes on and the volume increases quickly to ear-splitting levels. I have a remote control and have perfected the skill of rolling over, picking up the remote and aiming it accurately at the radio to reduce the volume without really awakening.

We have also learned how to sleep through that alarm with no problem.
So we added a travel alarm that sits on my nightstand and another on Johnnie's side of the bed at staggered times. We shortly discovered that both of them only ring for about a minute. We can withstand that, also no problem. So we have added a couple others including Bob from Brookstone which has a quiet beep but a rather penetrating purple glow about it that will jar me (sometimes) from sleep, if I'm not snoozing with my head aimed away from the clock. Hmmmmm.

Early in the school year when we're a bit more motivated and more rested, we seem to hear the alarms and get up more easily. By this time of the school year though, we start to have a problem. We can successfully sleep through all the alarms. A couple weeks ago, Johnnie lept out of bed at about
5:30 and started rushing around to get ready in time to get to work.

Clearly we needed more help. I saw the TimeSmart (tm) clock advertised in an email from Brookstone that has dual alarms and it also escalates its volume until you slap the darn thing. Each alarm goes for 20 minutes. Even we can't sleep through that. So we bought it and it's working well for us. We have it set so that the first alarm goes off at 5:05 am and the second goes off at 5:2
5 am so if we somehow can sleep through the first 20 minutes of annoying beeping, we get another 20 minutes from the second alarm. We're still sleeping in the guest room while we continue to demolish the bathroom but so far the new alarm is working great. This bedroom is smaller and the acoustics are different but we have hope for our eventual transition back into our bedroom. And the dogs have figured out that when they hear the annoying beeps that we will finally get up. So it's working.

On weekends we work hard to not get up with alarm clocks at all.

Conversations with Emily

Scene: sitting in the parking lot at BJ's waiting for Erin and Lucy to come out.

Emily: Why are we in the parking lot?

Me: We're waiting for Mommy and Lucy to come out.

repeat the above three times
Emily: Do you see Mommy and Lucy? (she can see out her window as well as I can)
Me: No, they're not coming yet.

Emily: Yes they are.

Me, looking: I don't see them.

Emily: They're up there. (pointing to the slate gray sky, no clouds in sight; also no Mommy and Lucy)
Me: looking: Where?
Emily: Right there, up in the sky.
Me: continuing to look: What are they doing?

Emily: Flying in a V formation. (giggling)
Where the heck did she hear about flying in V formations?

Scene: Erin and Lucy have arrived and are in the van ready to go. Erin motions to me to roll down the window. We get our next stop straight, roll up windows and off we go.

Emily: Why was the window down?
Me: Why do you think? (attempting to get her to think on her own)
Emily: I don't know (we hear this a lot)
Me: I was talking to Mommy.

Emily: Talking to Mommy? Why?

Me, trying to come up with a three-year-old appropriate answer while driving and mind already on something else: Um, well...

Emily: Because Mommy is your friend.

Me: You're right, she's my friend.

Monday, March 9, 2009

A new tool for every project

One of Johnnie's favorite teasing lines to me is, "You can never have enough clamps." Seriously. He must have three or four dozen clamps of various sizes lined up in the basement for his projects. They definitely come in handy in all their permutations but holy cow.

With every project, it seems that we (using the royal we here, definitely not me) need at least one new tool. Moving dry wall sheets? Let's get a handle gizzie for moving the dry wall. (Those are actually quite handy and make it easier for one person to move an 8 x 4 sheet of dry wall or plywood by themselves so I can see the utility of them.)

We were at Home Depot (also known as Mecca or Nirvana) on Saturday and darned if we didn't come home with a new Ryobi trim saw kit. It's a lightweight saw for cutting door trim and other smaller lighter wood pieces and I have to admit that it's pretty nifty. I know he doesn't have this exact type of saw but he has multiple saws of varying sizes for projects. I didn't realize we needed this one for the bathroom renovation project. Apparently we do.

I'm sure there's a feminine equivalent to purchasing new tools for every project but I don't necessarily practice that. Maybe it's buying a new dress for a special occasion. I dunno.

Johnnie came home with his Ryobi and I bought a fragrant pink hyacinth that has been making the house smell wonderfully like spring. That's tool enough for me, at least for now.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Robins and roadkill

... ducks, geese, lightning and weeds! There aren't a few of my favorite things but they are some of the early harbingers of spring. I take heart from each of them ~ more this year than usual, it seems. Last night we were watching The Secret Life of Bees when a flash illuminated the room. Thinking it was a utility vehicle or something, John jumped up. Before he could get across the room to look outside, we heard a rumble of thunder. How amazing! We hadn't considered the idea that it could be a flash of lightning.

As we have been driving around lately, there has been a marked increase in the number of skunks, raccoons and woodchucks with their entrails decorating the pavement. Not attractive but definitely another sign that springtime is on its way. I've also seen many geese formations (covey? pride? bunch?) flying north in the past few days. Welcome back! We just saw some ducks checking out a large puddle on someone's lawn.

Looking into the ravine behind and beside our house, the skunk cabbages are beginning to send up pale green shoots. Every spring I watch them overtake the soggy brown undergrowth and carpet the ravine in a rainbow of greens. Of course the dandelions and weeds are already hard at work establishing their territory for the summer season that seems to be on its way.

About the only thing I haven't seen yet is worms but it is still fairly early in March. Once they arrive, then you know spring is truly around the corner. However, I'm figuring they must be active, maybe still in the ground rather than on the sidewalks and driveways, since robins tend to snack on them. I've always liked worms. In the third grade, I helped the boys on the playground find worms and then chase the other girls with them. The few times I've been fishing, I have had no problem baiting my hook. And dissecting them in high school and college was fascinating but then I am always interested in how bodies, human and otherwise, work and look on the inside.

The creeping project

Our home remodeling project(s) continue to creep ever larger. Annie the wonder painter was here this past week and painted our bedroom. It looks beautiful. We have ordered new carpeting for the living room, family room and now our bedroom ("hey, while we have this emptied, we should really carpet it as we planned 15 years ago."). While I took Lucy to The Little Gym yesterday morning for our class, Johnnie started thinking about the master bathroom which we have been mightily dissatisfied with for many years. It's small and we end up knocking elbows if we're both at the sink at the same time. If someone is on the toilet and the other person is getting in and out of the shower at the same time, there's a significant sacrifice of personal space. Not complaining, just saying.

So we're now thinking that we'll get the bathroom at least somewhat improved while we have the opportunity and before the new carpet goes down. The sad part is that part of the painting that Annie did last week will probably need to be done. And in the midst of working on the bathroom, we'll also be shuffling living room and family room furniture around to accommodate more painting and carpet installation. Chaos reigns and probably will for quite a while. I'll take 'before' pictures today so I can show the progress and improvement when it's done.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

More random things

It really is my intent to put up new posts more than once a week but this past week has been a blur of stuff - including some real live work (whoo hooo). I'll try to do better this coming week.

Hand therapy

The problem I've been having with my thumbs is called basal joint arthritis and I have it in both thumbs. I first discovered its debilitating effects was in trying to paint the bathroom and bedroom. My hands would ache and throb at the end of the day. I knew it was arthritis, in fact I'm surprised I've escaped the family curse for so long. But I didn't think I could do anything about it.

Talked with a woman getting coffee who had just had surgery for the same problem and I set about getting mine taken care of. I had cortisone shots in January (quite painful but worth
it) and then I torqued my left thumb helping Erin take Lucy's crib apart a couple weeks afterwards. Now I'm embarking on physical therapy. The therapist first made me a couple lovely splints that I am to wear when I need to protect my thumbs or when they hurt. Nice, huh?

Actually the splints help a lot and I find that I miss them when I'm not wearing them. I'll start therapy Monday as my first appointment was for making the splints. I hope the therapy helps and I can have more cortisone shots in April but just knowing I can get help and that it is at least a solvable condition makes it nice. I don't want to start getting physically compromised by age so early!

Welcome back, Robin!

I finally saw a robin today. Yeay. I shouted as we were driving and Johnnie almost wrecked the car (joking here). I'm so excited. We've been seeing geese and ducks around for the past couple weeks and more than one friend has reported seeing a robin but until I see one myself, it just isn' real. There's plenty of winter left ~ we generally get at least one more rousing snowfall in March but at least there is hope. I don't care if these are robins that are hardier than most or that may never have left. It's a robin, it means spring is almost here and I'll take it at face value.

House in chaos

We had an interior decorator come over the other day. Believe me, we are NOT the type of people who use an interior decorator often. We had a woman help us with wallpaper for the kitchen and dining room years ago but otherwise just go on our merry way. But this time, we needed help picking out carpet color, wall colors and advising us on chair colors. Since the birds have departed, we have room in our living room and need more furniture. We're also getting rid of our 50 year old piano. It's in great shape but again, no one in the family wants it and it's never played so I want it gone. I don't need it sitting in the living room to remind me that I took lessons for six years.

So the decorator came over and helped us with colors. Annie the painter arrives tomorrow morning to paint our bedroom and closet. So we spent most of Saturday afternoon and evening taking our bedroom apart. The fun of doing this (NOT) is just about half of the fun we'll have disassembling the family room and living room. Those two rooms are next. But we want to get the painting done before the carpet goes down.

Now that the bedrom is empty, we may even carpet that while everything is out of there. We ripped out the ugly brown shag in that room the night we closed on this house in 1993, fully intending to put carpet back down someday. We've had large area rugs in there since then but as much fun as ripping a bedroom apart and sleeping in the guest room is, I doubt we'll do it again willingly any time soon.

So we slept in the smallish* guest room last night along withh the two dogs. Very clubby. With the prospect of staying in there for a couple weeks if we decide to order and do carpeting while it's empty. What fun.

*The guest room is probably a decent size but it has a king sized bed in it, a large plant and a big dresser. Add two 50 pound dogs and now it's over-the-top cozy.