Contractors in Chaos Getting Coffee

Our recent home renovations required a state of controlled chaos for about two months. During this time we saw a lot of contractors and served them a lot of coffee. We ignored the saying, ‘If you feed them, they will never leave,” and sometimes provided donuts. They have all left now, and left us with a safer, more comfortable, lovelier home.

Big changes to a small bathroom
Big changes to a small bathroom

We’ve not always been so fortunate with contractors. Back in PA, we experienced some stereotypical contractor-not-showing-up, contractor-not-calling-back, contractor-leaving-job-unfinished situations. Facing renovations here in Providence and having abundant free time, I resolved to manage the situation better. I asked family members and neighbors for referrals. I looked online for contractors with advanced credentials in their fields. We interviewed the contractors ahead of time rather than hiring them in desperation to fix problems that couldn’t be ignored any longer. Then we selected electrical, plumbing, flooring and painting contractors, and created a timetable for rewiring the house, installing new lighting, painting the living and dining rooms, and remodeling the first-floor powder room.

The contractors we hired were all competent, interested in their work, desirous of doing a good job, pleasant and efficient. There was one exception, a grumpy plumber, but the other workers sent by the same plumbing firm were good-natured.

Being retired, we could hang around the house most of the time while the contractors were working, so we were available for consultation whether they wanted us or not. We got to know some of them pretty well. They all seemed to approach their work with a can-do attitude and a sense of humor, and for the most part, so did we. A little humor – and seeing the funny side of things – helped us all to coexist during the many tiresome days of dusty, dirty, loud work. Here’s a look back at some of the more memorable exchanges.

Me, after hearing many loud sighs from the plumbing boss during his preliminary inspection: “How bad is it?”
Him: “It’s bad. But I’ve seen worse. Maybe a FEW worse.”

Me, after hearing many loud sighs from the head electrician on his crew’s third day of rewiring our house: “How bad is it?”
Him: “This house is in the top twenty of difficult houses that I have worked on since I started this business 15 years ago.”
Me: “You mean the top twenty percent?”
Him: “NO, the top TWENTY!”

Me, to the plumber’s answering service: Many important details about the upcoming installation of fixtures in the powder room.
Answering service to the plumber: “This lady wants you to call her.”

Me: Many helpful tips about how I think the new powder room floor should be installed.
Flooring installer, after listening politely to all of it: “I’ve installed a lot of floors before.” Then he set about laying the tiles with resolute good humor, despite having to contort his 6’4” frame into uncomfortable positions to fit into the very small room.

Me: A very logical explanation of how I want to replace an existing wall-mounted sink with a corner vanity.
Plumber: “You don’t want to do that.” Followed a bit later in the conversation by, “Why do you want to do that?” And still later by, “Do you really want to do that?” And lastly, by that most eloquent of non-verbal communications, “Sigh.”

Me, to the painting crew boss: “How about if you hang the mirror first and then we can see where to position the light above it?”
Him: “Mrs. O’Connell, what would we do without you?” Followed by much laughter from both Jeff and the painting crew.

The plumber: “How do you expect me to install THIS vanity on THIS floor that is NOT AT ALL LEVEL?”
Me: My best, most dramatic, highest-shoulder, with lifted palms and raised eyebrows, shrug.

I also overheard random comments and noises, including:

“Uh oh.” (I learned that it’s best to pretend not to have heard that.)

“Is it on? Is it on now? How about now? NOW?” (yelled about 200 times during rewiring, often accompanied by boots stomping up and down stairs.)

Frequent noise of a drill sounding like a moose with terrible gas, or a middle-schooler learning to play the saxophone.

“We have to cut another hole in the ceiling.” After hearing that, Jeff closed the door to his office and stayed in there for the rest of the day.

(VERY LOUD CRASH) “Ow!” “Are you ok?” “Yeah, I’m ok.” After hearing that, I carefully tiptoed downstairs to investigate. Everyone was ok, but there was collateral damage to an innocent bookcase, which they fixed later.

“Sheila?  Sheila!!  SHEILA!!!”  I ran downstairs expecting to see an electrician lying pale and still on the floor, smoke rising from his electrocuted body. Happily I saw instead a small flood, which I was able to mop up with old towels. It’s the first time in my life that I’ve been happy to see a flood in my house!

Despite all of this, or maybe because of it, the work was finished days before our Christmas Eve party, to which we had invited 21 family members and significant others. Everyone fit somehow into our little house, we enjoyed the time together, and I got to show people the new improvements. Among many nice comments about our remodeling was this one: “I love how you put the toilet paper holder above the radiator to keep the toilet paper warm.” We did have a lot of good ideas, but we didn’t think of that; it was pure serendipity. Also there are not many options for arranging things in a tiny 4 X 4 powder room! Or lavette, as they call it here.

More controlled chaos: cousins and friends on Christmas Eve
More controlled chaos: cousins and friends on Christmas Eve

Afterthought: It is distressing to see a bunch of holes cut in your walls and ceilings, as was necessary to replace all of our old knob-and-tube wiring. One morning, up early before any workers arrived, I noticed how some of the exposed cables formed graceful, almost dancer-like bends and loops. I took a few pictures. I felt better.

Dancing on the ceiling. And the walls.
Dancing on the ceiling. And the walls.

More Than One Way Home

A couple of weeks before the election, I ran out of tolerance for news about the presidential race.  We get two newspapers, The Providence Journal and The Wall Street Journal.  Both had plenty to say about it, the former with a liberal bent, the latter with a more conservative bias.  I could barely look at either of them any more.  Also, it seemed that Hillary Clinton would prevail, so I relaxed a bit.  What to do then, instead, while drinking my early morning coffee?

I started sketching.  I used to draw a lot as a kid, and I still doodle during meetings or other times when I have to sit still.  Starting around the end of October, I set aside an hour every morning to draw.  My hand is not very steady, so a lot of my drawings look kind of shaky and cartoonish.  (Hey, it worked for James Thurber!  He was old with failing eyesight when he drew some of his best loved cartoons.  His brilliant pictorial commentaries on the war between the sexes include the one below, titled simply, “Home”.)

James Thurber cartoon, "Home"
James Thurber cartoon, “Home”

I amused and distracted myself each morning by sketching Sophie’s cat, some imaginary furniture pieces, some abstract designs, a few flowers, my house.  Election day came.  At our polling place, Temple Beth-El, Jeff and I found very long lines, much disorganization, paper ballots (!) and only one ballot-counting machine.  But we were able to cast our votes.

Late that night, and the next day, I shared the disbelief, depression and dread of at least half our country to find that we had elected Trump, a man whose stated beliefs and documented personal behavior are abhorrent and dangerous.  Anything else I could say about this situation has been said, and said better, by someone else.  But I will share some of the things that are happening in Providence RI, my new home town, as a result of the election.

Our mayor Jorge Elorza has created a “One Providence” initiative and is crafting policies to address unfair deportations, racism, criminal justice, police-community relations, and the rights of women, all religious minorities, and the LGBTQ community.

Our state’s governor, Gina Raimondo, has promised to protect reproductive rights, maintain access to affordable health care, and protect Rhode Island families from anyone, any group or any policy that promotes divisiveness and anger.  She remains committed to leveling the playing field and providing economic opportunities for ALL Rhode Islanders.

RI State Representative Aaron Regunberg and others have helped organize the group “Resist Hate RI”, to bring people together in productive ways to work for a just society.  As of today there are more than eleven interest areas listed on their website which people can join to work on issues including gun violence, youth organizing, and alternate media.

An excellent letter by writer, editor and publicist Daniel Trafford of Warwick RI exhorts women to remember that progress is hard-won, there are many setbacks, and wars are not won or lost in a single battle. He names many trail-blazing women whose examples should inspire us.

I’m reading the newspapers again after my little self-indulgent break.  There is much there that horrifies me, but also much that inspires.  People have awakened, communities are coming together, and we understand now that we must never stop fighting for a fair, safe, inclusive society that lifts up and supports all people. I’m still sketching a bit too.  I’ll end on a lighter note, an animated drawing of my house set to the music of “More Than One Way Home” by Keb’ Mo’.


Coaxing Plants – and People – to Grow

Impressionistic view of a perennial border at RWP Botanical Center

Shortly after we moved to Providence RI, my sister-in-law Karen sent me a flyer announcing a photography contest running throughout the summer at the Roger Williams Park Botanical Center.  Jeff and I visited the park early on a warm, humid Sunday morning in August, with me thinking that I’d wander around the garden a bit and plan what I might snap and submit for judging.  The Botanical Center was closed until 11:00 a.m. (so much for my planning skills), but as we were looking through the fence we met Master Gardener and park volunteer Holly R.

Holly’s big smile and friendly manner drew us in, and we chatted through the fence about soil, climate, invasive plants, and the often-frustrating challenge of coaxing plants to grow where and how you want them to grow.  We were charmed  by Holly’s enthusiasm for gardening in general and for this garden in particular.  Despite our previous pledges to each other to not make commitments right away in our new town, we both agreed to come to the Botanical Center the following Thursday to join the “Green Team” volunteers for a morning of orientation and garden maintenance.  Thursday dawned bright and hot, and we packed our trowels, gloves and kneeling pads, threw some shovels in the back of Jeff’s truck, and drove to the garden.  The gardening group that day comprised Holly and a few other Master Gardeners, some non-credentialed backyard gardeners like Jeff and me, and some individuals and helpers from the RI Perspectives program, an organization which helps differently-abled young adults find ways to contribute to community life.

We learned how to identify and dispatch the dreaded Pokeweed.  We discussed the grave importance of carefully extracting the roots of any weed whenever humanly possible rather than just yanking it out to make things look neat.  We touched on the art of pruning, a task that is restricted to the Master Gardeners, for good reason.  Then we fanned out across the garden, each of us picking an area to weed.

A greenhouse beckons
A greenhouse beckons

Over the weeks the Thursday Green Team has evolved and specialized a bit, with volunteers gaining more confidence in identifying weeds.  We’ve learned that the term “weed” can include a garden plant that has popped up in the wrong place.  (This is a tough concept to internalize; it’s hard to pull up a lone pretty flower blooming amongst a swath of boring green groundcover.)  The RI Perspectives group has taken over the large ornamental pots and urns, filling them with colorful late-summer-into-fall flowers and foliage plants.  New volunteers have joined the group, and we’ve become quite a convivial bunch.  Holly circulates among us, joking, cheerleading, and instructing as needed.

Jeff has been a very dedicated volunteer, not missing a single Thursday morning.  I have not been as consistent or productive a worker, having been troubled lately with some pesky arthritis pain in my knees and hands.  About the photography contest: I did submit several photographs.  I didn’t win any of the prizes, but I loved roaming around with my camera in the perennial gardens and greenhouses of this beautiful place that feels a little like my own garden now.

Point and counterpoint
Point and counterpoint

More about Roger Williams Park: The Botanical Center is a very small part of this unique and wonderful urban oasis, nicknamed “The People’s Park”.  Roger Williams Park also has a zoo, a Victorian-style carousel, an extensive network of walking paths, quaint footbridges spanning small lakes, manicured grounds perfect for concerts and picnicking, a museum of natural history, a planetarium, several historic buildings, and many artistically significant sculptures.  The original land bequest was given by the great-great-great-granddaughter of Roger Williams, founder of Rhode Island and champion of the separation of church and state.  The Rhode Island Foundation is leading a $10 million campaign to preserve and enhance the park.

More of my photographs from the Botanical Center

Illumination at the Lighting Showroom

Light imitates art.
Light imitates art.

So we bought this old house in Providence, as you know already if you have been reading this blog.  It’s in fairly good shape: quite comfortable inside, has a new kitchen, central air conditioning, and acceptable plumbing.  There is ample opportunity, however, for updating some of the rooms to make them a bit brighter and more appealing.

We have plenty of windows, but could use some better interior lighting.  We thought we’d start by getting a new chandelier for the dining room, and also add some recessed lights and a ceiling fixture to the living room.  This should give us a lovely layering of light throughout the downstairs.  Our electrician agrees, and can install these lights for us, but after inspecting the house he gave us the bad news that he needs to replace our overloaded breaker box and much of our wiring.  Although we had hoped to hear that our wiring is safe, efficient and ready for any kind of demand, the news was not entirely unexpected.  (Kind of like how I always hope my doctor will say, “You are in great shape, and you can eat ice cream more and exercise less.”  And he actually says, “You should get a colonoscopy.”)

Since we have to get that electrical stuff done, we figured we’d go ahead and replace all of the lighting fixtures throughout the house that we don’t like, i.e., most of them.  We went to the lighting showroom with a list of the rooms that we want to transform into clean, well-lighted places.  Our very helpful sales rep, Mark, let us wander around the showroom gazing up at lights for a while.  Then he listened patiently to our rambling and not-always-coinciding descriptions of the types of lighting fixtures we like, explained about LED vs. incandescent lighting, and brought out catalogs for the three of us to page through.

For our foyer, Jeff and I both liked a pendant light from Hinkley called “Mondrian”.  It’s interesting but not too dramatic, a composition of clear and semi-opaque glass rectangles and squares fitted into a metal box frame.  Here’s an advertising photo of a hipster couple lounging under two Mondrian lights.

Extreme coolness
Extreme coolness

I jotted down the name, and we continued looking at other options.  After a while Jeff said, “I think I like that Mandarin light the best.”  I said, “It’s Mondrian.”  Mark said, “Do you want me to look up the model number for the Mandarin light?”  I said, “Yes, but it’s Mondrian, not Mandarin.”  Jeff said, “I thought it was Mandarin.”  Mark said, “Yeah, it’s Mandarin, like the chicken.”  I said, “No, it’s M O N D R I A N, you know, like Piet Mondrian, the artist?”  Blank stares.  “C’mon guys, Mondrian, the painter who did those abstract paintings with colorful rectangles and squares.”  More blank stares.  I searched using my phone and brought up a couple of images to show them.  Jeff said, “Oh yeah, that looks familiar.”  Mark shook his head, and called out to another sales rep, “Hey Billy, come over here and look at this.”  Then, “You ever see anything like this, what’s it, not Mandarin but something else?”  I said, “It’s Mondrian.”  “Nope, never seen anything like that,” Billy replied after looking at the images displayed on my phone.  “But we don’t get out much around here!”

Piet Mondrian, Composition with Large Red Plane, Yellow, Black, Gray and Blue
Piet Mondrian: Composition with Large Red Plane, Yellow, Black, Gray and Blue

We had a good laugh, then finished selecting the rest of our lights.  As we were getting ready to leave, Mark said, “You guys are funny.  You should come here more often.  And I learned something about art today!”  As we were driving home, Jeff said, “That Monderan light is going to look great in our foyer.”  And I, ever the straight man, said, “It’s Mondrian.”

Our current chandelier: shabby chic or just shabby?
Our current chandelier: shabby chic or just shabby?

Driving Myself Crazy in Providence

Which way do I go?
Which way do I go?

I have no sense of direction.  After I’ve lived in a place for a few years, I’ll have a mental map of routes from my home to various places.  But if I make a wrong turn on the way or come upon a construction detour or a closed bridge, all is lost.  And so am I.

Given my lack of navigation skill and my scant experience with city driving, I was nervous to sally forth by car into Providence after we moved here.  My Honda CRV sat idly in the driveway of our new home, collecting pollen and leaves and getting bonked by acorns.  “We live in a walkable neighborhood,” I told myself.  “Who needs to drive?”  I have no sense of direction, but I do have a sense of when it’s time to get going.  So after a few weeks of denial, I started assigning myself small car trips to force myself out of the driveway and onto the road.

I’ll admit to having and often using the GPS app on my phone – it’s an essential tool for an involuntary wanderer like me – but since I wanted to learn my way around Providence, I made a point of rarely consulting my little electronic best friend.  Besides, the GPS just delivers you to your destination; it doesn’t help you find a parking place once you get there.  If only life were like the movies, where you pull up to the museum, train station or busy nightclub and glide into a big parking space right in front!

One of my first Providence car trips was to a yoga studio a few miles away.  I have to weave through a hubbub of street construction, but I eventually find the building.  Then I look for a place to park.  Here’s a spot on Congdon Street!  Oh no, that sign says no parking between 8 and 10 a.m.  Ok, I’ll park here on Benefit Street.  Nope, one-hour parking only.  How about farther up on Benefit where there’s no sign?  Maybe, but the only car on the block is booted, so maybe not.  Free three-hour parking on Meeting Street, great!  But then I’ll have to walk four blocks down, and later up, a very steep hill.  I circle back to North Main, squeeze past all the traffic cones and flaggers, and find a two-hour metered space a couple of blocks from the studio.  At this point I really need some yoga.  And a drink.

As time has passed I’ve driven more, reached all my destinations, and found places to park.  I’ve been able to relax a bit and take note of my surroundings.  The first thing I noticed was: a lot of other drivers just like me!  People frowning in concentration, gripping the steering wheel tightly, craning their necks to look for street signs, one-way signs and stop signs, ready to slam on the brakes for cyclists, runners, pedestrians, and Pokemon Go players.  Stop signs are particularly cagey; one might be hiding behind a shrub or tree, leaning toward the ground, or lurking on the LEFT side of the road.  Street signs are often missing.  Which doesn’t actually matter all that much because streets change names at will.  Upton becomes Doyle, Goldsmith becomes Wriston, Abbott becomes Larch.  (Or “The Larch”, as either Jeff or I will announce dramatically every time we pass it.  That’s hysterically funny to any Monty Python fan in the car.  And really annoying to any other unfortunate person in the car.)

Many of the street names on the East Side are uplifting or even inspiring.  We have a street named after the “Father of Geometry”, Euclid.  And a street named for Magellan, the great explorer who died while looking for the Spice Islands.  I prefer to think about the “great explorer” part of that rather than the “died while looking” part.  We have Neighbors Lane, Benefit and Benevolent Streets, Angell and Hope.

Now that I feel more comfortable driving around Providence, I sometimes turn on my GPS to see where it will take me.  The other day it said, “Use the right lanes to turn left onto North Main Street.”  I turned off the GPS and found my own way home.

Salad Day

Edible flowers from City Farm in Providence, RI

Some Saturday mornings we walk to the Hope Street Farmers Market in Lippitt Park.  It’s a longish walk from our house, about a mile, but we enjoy looking at the houses along the way, noting paint colors and landscaping ideas that we might try someday on our own home.  As we near the park we are swept up in a stream of walkers, bicyclists, and families with babies in strollers and dogs on leashes.  Many of the dogs sport colorful bandannas, and most of the adults carry reusable fabric tote bags, as they head purposefully toward the market.

First we pass the artisan booths lining the sidewalk on the street side of the park; I try to resist the attractions of beachy bohemian jewelry, ocean-themed prints, blue and green pottery.  Then we reach the tantalizing display of farmer and food artisan booths.  On the market’s web site I counted 47 food vendors!  Some of the best names: Fully Rooted, Humble Pie, The Local Catch.

Cool names aside, my favorite vendor is City Farm.  Staffed by tanned, busily efficient yet pleasant young men, the City Farm booth overflows with bagged greens of both exotic and familiar varieties, an array of dewy fresh vegetables, and sometimes berries.  A fellow shopper and waiter-in-line told me that she likes to shop there because they are a great organization and she supports their mission.  I researched City Farm later and learned that they are part of the Southside Community Land Trust, a group that helps people grow food and provides the necessary access to land, resources and education.  City Farm grows tons of organic produce in a small urban space in South Providence.  (Yes, literal tons.)  They host gardening workshops for adults and field trips for school groups, and they give away food to local soup kitchens and food pantries.

Last Saturday I noticed a few paper boxes of small flower blooms among the vegetables at City Farm.  As I was paying for my greens, I asked the handsome young farmer, “What would I do with the flowers; put them in a salad?”  He flashed an irresistible grin and said, “You could use them in a salad, or you could garnish things with them, or maybe strew them over your bed.  Anything really!”

I brought the flowers home.  I took a picture of them.  I pondered the possibilities.  That night I strewed them over … our salad.  Gather ye rosebuds while ye may.  After that, make a really good salad!

You’ve Got Milk

My milk box from Munroe Dairy
My milk box from Munroe Dairy

Jeff announced our first delivery from Munroe Dairy as he carried in the crate: “You’ve got milk!”  We’d gotten milk, also yogurt, butter and eggs, spinach pies, chicken salad and English muffins.  Nicely chilled and well-wrapped, the items were delivered to our back door early Monday morning and placed inside an insulated metal milk box decorated with a stenciled cow on the front.

Home dairy delivery seems like a throwback to a bygone era when moms were likely to be at home, milk came in glass bottles, and dairy products were good for you.  But it makes just as much sense today.  No one has time to, or wants to, go to the grocery store.  Glass bottles keep the milk icy cold, and can be returned, sterilized and refilled many times.  Dairy products get a bad rap these days, but most of us aren’t going to give up cheese, butter, yogurt and ice cream.

The milk delivery service from Munroe Dairy, like many other experiences I’ve had since moving to Providence RI, has a friendly vibe.  Our milkman Sean comes every Monday to deliver our order, which we can place any time up to midnight the night before.  I get nice little text messages from Sean (“Hi, this is your milkman Sean … ”) reminding me to place my order.  If I don’t feel like calling in my order or submitting it online, I can text Sean a list of what I want.  The little Customer Preferences form I received with my welcome packet includes the question, “Do you have any hobbies or interests?”  Ok, that’s a bit much – I don’t anticipate getting together with my milkman to jam on the ukulele or shop for shoes – but I appreciate the sentiment.

I have another milk story from last week.  Sophie and I went to the Avon Theater on Thayer Street to see “Hunt for the Wilderpeople”.  Like all my favorite movie theaters, the Avon sells coffee.  (They also sell cough drops!  Brilliant.)  Back to the coffee: the man taking tickets in the lobby noticed that I was pouring a cup of coffee from the self-serve thermos and asked me if I’d like milk or cream.  When I said, “Yes, milk please,” he replied, “I was afraid of that. We just ran out of milk!”  He called up to the manager, who came down the stairs from his office and said, “Go ahead into the theater and find a seat. I’ll be back in five minutes with some milk.”  The manager walked down the block to a convenience store and returned with milk and cream, then headed into the theater to find me.

Actually, I’m not that fond of milk.  I’ll pour a little over my cereal, and add a bit to my coffee, but otherwise I never touch the stuff.  It’s so bland, so white, so … milky!  But how nice it is to see people going out of their way to get it for me, as if being attentive, kind and considerate were just part of a day’s work.  Got milk?  I sure do, and it’s never tasted so good.


Remodeling Blues

My very blue bathroom
My very blue bathroom

Our ‘new’ old house in Providence RI has a very blue bathroom.  I never planned to have a bathroom with blue fixtures, but the color scheme is familiar.  Growing up in the 50’s and 60’s, I spent time in blue, green, pink and even red bathrooms at the homes of friends and relatives.  Although my family’s home had beige bathrooms, my mom decorated with cheerful colors in other parts of the house.  I remember orange shag carpeting in our family room, leaf-green trellis patterned wallpaper in the hall, and climbing strawberry vines on the dinette walls and seat cushions.

Fast-forward to 2016, past my previous suburban home in Bethlehem PA with its quiet beige and pale gray bathrooms.  I now own a bathroom with two blue sinks, a large blue corner tub, and blue wallpaper with a tiny red and green flower print.  A merciful previous owner tiled the floor and two of the walls with shiny white ceramic, painted the window, door and baseboards white, and hung white Roman shades.  Other than that, all is blue.

Not just any blue, either.  According to our plumber Angelo, this is “Regency Blue”, a color used by American Standard in the 40’s and 50’s.  Angelo was here last week to solve some plumbing problems, probably the first of many such visits.  When he walked into the bathroom he said, “Wow, look at this!”  He told us the color name, and said that he still sees some of it around the neighborhood.  “You used to be able to get the matching Regency Blue toilet, but unfortunately you can’t get those any more.”  So unfortunate, I thought.

Before moving into the house, Jeff and I commented to each other a few times, “That blue bathroom has to go.”  We continued feeling that way for the first few days we were in the house.  Then we started saying things like, “It’s really kind of quirky.”  And, “The blue is pretty, especially with the white tile and trim.”  And, “That wallpaper actually works in this bathroom.”

I did some research on vintage blue bathrooms.  Here’s an image from a 1957 American Standard catalog showing a Regency Blue bathroom, featuring the unfortunately now-unavailable matching blue toilet in the foreground.

1957 Regency Blue bathroom
1957 Regency Blue bathroom

Five years later, the 1962 American Standard catalog shows Regency Blue fixtures complemented with purple accessories, to prove that it “harmonizes with almost any color!”

1962 Regency Blue bathroom
1962 Regency Blue bathroom

Harmony or discord?  I think I prefer my blue surrounded by clean bright white.

However, the lady shown in the advertisement below is having a lot of fun in her blue Cinderella tub, so maybe yellow and pink are the accessory colors to pick.  Or maybe she’s just happy that the day’s housework is finished and the casserole is in the oven.

Cinderella tub advertisement
Cinderella tub advertisement

I’m not sure yet what the future holds for my blue bathroom.  Its vintage look has charmed me, and my attitude about tearing out and replacing things is changing.  My friend Sandy G told me, “If someone GAVE me a NEW house, for free, I would sell it and buy an old house with character.”  Another friend, Ellen J, who has lived in and renovated many old houses, sums it up nicely, “An old house is like a person.  You don’t necessarily want to impose your will on it.  Let it speak to you.”  Wise words.  I am listening.

Stuff Happens in Providence RI

Empty sunroom before furniture arrives
Empty sunroom, early on our move-in day

We woke early on our move-in day, deflated the inflatable mattress we’d been sleeping on, and waited inside the empty house.   The big orange moving van rumbled up the street a little after 8:00.  Happy to see it, we also felt nervous about whether all of our furniture and boxes would fit into this house.  And the garage.  And the basement.  And the yard, if necessary.

The guys came up the walk after parking the van, with large bearded Wayne in the lead, followed by the even larger Joe and the short, stocky impassive Murphy.  They tramped around the house for a few minutes, noting all the rooms, stairs, passageways, and odd twists and turns.  Then Wayne asked me to call the police.  “The police!”, I thought, wondering if it is a crime to have a doorway that is only six feet high, as is the one at the outer entrance to our kitchen.  “The police?” I said.  Wayne told us that his van had knocked down a low-hanging tree branch a few blocks up our street, and he would rather we report the incident than have the police arrive and arrest him for leaving the scene of a broken branch.

I found the non-emergency police number and called.  A man answered, “Providence Police,” gave his operator number and said “What’s the problem?”  After I explained, he said “You on Everett?”  I said yes, and he said, “Yeah, that was reported at 8:20, and a cable was knocked down too.  National Grid is already out there working on it.”

“Oh no,” I said timidly.  “Is there anything we should do?”  To which he replied, “Nah, stuff happens!”  And then, “Hey, where are you moving from?”

Stuff happens?  Where are you moving from??  Not the response I expected, but a very welcome one.  “Bethlehem PA,” I said.  “Bethlehem,” he replied.  “I was there once, years ago.  What brings you to Rhode Island?”

We chatted a bit, with him filling me in on various Providence and Rhode Island events, including Waterfire, the Seafood Festival, the Kite Festival, the Hot Air Balloon Festival.  “There is so much to do here in the summer,” he said.  “I hope the rest of your move goes well.  Welcome to Providence!”

After I hung up, we all breathed a sigh of relief that there would be no repercussions for the damage sustained to limb.  The rest of the move-in went well.  Murphy even made a joke toward the end, something about a second truck on the way bringing the rest of our things.

Stuff happens, indeed.  It’s good to know that kindness and reasonableness also happen.  By the way, all of our furniture and boxes did fit into the house, garage and basement.  Just barely.

Empty living room
Living room
Empty office upstairs
Upstairs office

Welcome Home

Housewarming gifts
Housewarming gifts

The busiest day of the year for real estate closings is June 30th, and we were lucky to get the last available appointment slot at the title company, 8:00 a.m.  Jeff and I took seats across the table from the seller of the home and her realtor, and the title attorney sat at the head of the table with a stack of papers and a pile of pens.  Our realtor, the always-cheerful David Hasslinger, arrived a few minutes later and sat next to me.  He put his phone and a suspiciously gifty-looking black box on the table.  “Keychain,” I thought, having been through real estate closings before.

We signed and initialed papers for about twenty minutes, then were congratulated by all on purchasing a new home.  Our “new” home is actually a very old house on the East Side of Providence.  The seller’s big smile indicated that she would not miss the joys of owning an old house.  “I love the neighborhood,” was her comment.

David slid the black box over to me and said “Open it.”  I lifted the lid and found something to hold our keys: not a keychain, but a beautiful art glass bowl, created by David himself!  This is Providence, after all, so it’s not surprising that our realtor is also a glass artist.  (A little backstory: David came to RI to get an MFA degree at RISD, married a Rhode Island gal, and stayed, eventually entering a career in real estate).  The bowl is stunning, its delightfully irregular whirled edges forming a container for bronze-colored liquid light.  On the bottom is David’s signature and a little message to us.

Signed by the artist!
Signed by the artist!

We drove to our new house and carried in the essentials that we brought with us for the weekend: an inflatable mattress, four folding chairs and a coffeepot.  We gave Jeff’s parents the all-clear to come over to see the inside of the house for the first time.  It was a beautiful, blue-sky Rhode Island summer morning, so we set the chairs outside and sat on the deck chatting for a bit.  Joan had noticed that the garage floor was covered in leaves and dirt, and said “I want to do something – let me sweep the garage”.  Against our protests, she found a broom and set to work.  Joe found a rake and joined her.  My parents-in-law love to help their kids, and don’t like to sit around when there is work to do – even now at the ages of 85 and 90!  Here is a photo of Joe raking our garage.

Always working!
Always working!

David stopped by a bit later to check on us.  He asked Joe to take a picture of him presenting Jeff and me with the glass bowl, and showed Joe how to use the camera on his iPad.  After much laughter and many retakes, a satisfactory photo was obtained.  With Jeff saying, as he always does, “I AM smiling”.

I hereby present you ...
I hereby present you …

We met our neighbors Amy and Clay that afternoon when they popped across the back yard to say hello and welcome.

Sophie biked over in the evening, and brought us a housewarming gift of two RI-themed mugs from one of my favorite shops, Frog and Toad on Hope Street.

The next morning Jeff walked to Eastside Mart to buy a newspaper.  Paul, the owner of this not-typical convenience store, said “Nothing here is expired; everything is fresh!  Here’s my card.  Welcome to the neighborhood!”

Before heading back to PA for the final round of packing, we sat a few minutes on our folding chairs in the shade, listening to the call and response of a pair of robins in the big oak tree beside our deck.  We felt welcome, and home.