The Alchemist

The Alchemist

We read aloud because we enjoy it.  Our reading streak is just over 3 years old; my boys and I want to see just how long we can keep it alive.  We also read aloud because it’s one way to keep the three of us close to each other and to give us a point of connection each day.  Lots of other reasons why we read aloud, but with this book, we add a new one to the list:  We read aloud for homework.

My middle schooler’s summer reading assignment is “The Alchemist” by Paulo Coelho.

The kid is a strong reader.  He can power through big fat books in a day or two.  His reading comprehension is good.  His grasp of subtleties not bad.  His ability is recall minute details is down right impressive.  But he’s real picky about what he’s willing to read on his own time.  For the past two years, his favorite genre has been the very popular “everything is bad” dystopian novels.

“The Alchemist” most definitely does not fit in his “like-to-read” category.  Just watching his face as he read the blurb, I knew he was going to struggle with the assignment.  A month into summer, I realized he was avoiding it altogether.  I figured, if left alone, he’d make himself miserable and botch the assignment by rushing through it at the last minute.  I decided to intervene by reading his assignment aloud.  He could follow up by reading and annotating on his own after we first worked through the book together.

I can’t quite decide how I feel about this book.  I thought the term “personal legend” was corny.  I don’t agree with the theme “when you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you achieve it.”  But I do like the story of how the shepherd boy pursued his dream, even in the face of hardships and setbacks.  I also liked the part where the crystal merchant tells why he chose not to pursue his personal legend.  I thought the twist at the end of the book clever.

Like it or not, I am glad we read this book aloud.  Think my boy would have been frustrated had he tackled it solo from the get go.  Instead, we took our time reading it aloud.  Stopped to look at maps.  Discussed how some of our discomfort with the style could be because the author comes from a different culture from us.  We still can’t quite agree with what the real treasure was.  But tell you what, my boy picked up the book today and started reading it for himself – with still a full month before the end of the summer.  Mission accomplished for me.

Ultimate Craft Room

Ultimate Craft Room

Does creating the Ultimate Craft Room count as crafting?
Here’s my latest project & new favorite space in our crazy big house:
The Craft Room.
Val’s NEW Corner.
Sewing Room.
I’ve been dreaming of “A Room of Her Own” forever.
Just wanted a place to
Store all the crafty crap I’ve accumulated over the years.
I’ve carved out multiple versions of my dream space.
Was the envy of quite a few NYC friends when I allocated an entire closet in our apartment for crafting supplies.
Got to be the talk of the neighborhood (for a split second) when I opened my shop,
Unfortunately, less than a year later,
Met with a little misfortune which resulted in closing down said shop.
Grappled with frustration and depression and then
A teeny tiny space.
But also bright and cheery and 
Still plenty big enough for laughs and lessons with friends and students.
Then out of the blue,
A sparkling fresh opportunity.
Much as we loved NYC,
We packed it all up and moved to Charlotte, NC.
A totally new life.
A completely different rhythm.
Of course, 
Homesick for NYC.
For excitement, options and just plain everyday weirdness all around.
 But the new life is darn good too.
The most obvious trade up is space.
Which brings us back to The Ultimate Craft Room.
 More commonly known as a “bonus room.”
An unheard of luxury in NYC.
One ginormous room over a three car garage.
If that wasn’t enough,
a doorway leading to a second biggish room
(just begging to be turned into a sewing room).
Items to change:
Funky concentric circle paint job
(I like it as a kid craft but not on my walls).
Nasty pee smelling carpets.
Dark wobbly fans.
Floors first.
Floor guys ripped all the smelly carpets out of house.
They made for a big pile of steamy stink on my driveway.
So grateful when they hauled it all away.
Love the sleek ebony finish on the new hardwood floor.
 I should have waited til after painting to unpack.
But I figured painting around stuff was no worse than painting around piles of boxes.
 A huge thank you to Omar & his fabulous painting crew!
What a change, huh?
 A plethora of built in shelves.
Interesting little nooks and recesses.
Sloped ceilings.
Pretty white trimmed windows.
A neutral warm grey color.
The perfect blank canvas
Where I can get making again.
 Love, love, LOVE my new space.
Is this
Is this not…
The Ultimate Craft Room?
Surburban Closet Bling

Surburban Closet Bling

Finally getting to the fun stuff in our big ol’ house.
How I love closets.
Twenty years of NYC living…
Means twenty years of constantly paring down and 
Figuring out how to fit the rest into a few small closets.
But it’s a whole new game now that we’re in Charlotte.
And boy-oh-boy am I enjoying this part of it.
Got closets galore here.
We’ve scrubbed them out.
Souped a few up.
I’m now amusing myself by naming each of them as I unpack.
My master bedroom closet is my “safe room.”
Set my clothes in order.
Placed a colorful upholstered stool in the corner.
Set up a vignette of favorite little treasures and mementos.
Tucked my lavender sachets into the drawers.
A calm and quiet corner.
The first room in the house to smell right to me.
In the past few weeks of construction chaos,
this was where I retreated to when I needed a moment.
An honest-to-goodness real pantry.
Here’s where my OCD comes in handy.
Compulsively sort, group and line things up all the time.
A clean, organized space that makes me smile each time I walk in.
Linen closet.
Is the urge to refold those sheets
 a little too obsessive?
Other closets in the house include:
Holiday closet.
Framed artwork and photos closet.
Upstairs cleaning supplies closet.
House slippers and guest coat closet.
Shoe closet.
Pool toys and gardening supplies closet.
 And if that wasn’t enough…
We converted our littler boy’s massive walk-in closet
into a writing nook for him.
In NYC, this would have been premium real estate and staged as an entire bedroom.
Much of our house is still sitting empty.
Our Manhattan household was swallowed up in one gulp by the new house.
Washer still broken.
Dishwasher still reeks (can’t wait to get it replaced).
Fridge issues still unresolved.
But floors are done.
Painters finished.
And closets.
The closets.
As a friend aptly described it:
It’s Suburban Closet Bling.
Grosser than Gross

Grosser than Gross

Remember those “What’s grosser than gross” jokes?
I loved them as a kid.
Couldn’t get enough of them.
Told the same ones over and over again.
Cracked up uproariously every single time too.
These days I’m living out a funky version of “What’s grosser than gross.”
And I’m not finding it particularly entertaining.
Remember Day 1 in our
Grit and hairs left scattered in kitchen and bathroom drawers.
At least a month’s worth of 2 big dogs’ poo all over the back yard.
Even more disgusting.
On Day 2:
I opened the dishwasher…
To discover a wet stink and foul brown gunk.
Gagging and dry heaving,
I scooped out the sludge.
Poured bleach into the dishwasher.
Ran it with extra heat.
Multiple times.
Still couldn’t get the stink out.
Added “dishwasher” to the “replace” list.
On Day 7:
We discovered the source of the increasing stench in the house.
I’d turned the AC down a bit.
The warmer temperatures and passage of time allowed for the 
Dog urine stains in ALL the carpets to resurface.
Replacing all carpeting became a necessity.
Towards the end Week 2:
Filled the tub with hot water.
What came out was a mass of floaty black jelly stuff.
Imagine a whole bathtub worth of miso soup with extra seaweed.
That’s how I found the hot water heater had failed.
Don’t want to judge others.
Trying hard to just move forward.
After all,
It’s our house now.
“There’s a new sheriff in town, boys!”
I still believe in this house’s potential.
The lot.
The location.
Checking off the long “to do” list one item at a time.
Reassuring myself that these “Grosser than gross” moments will surely come to an end.
Won’t they?
Then the appointment with the refrigerator repair man on Friday.
he taught me to unscrew and unplug the fancy bottom produce drawers.
Oh Yuck!
What’s grosser than gross?
What’s grosser than THAT?
How many years worth of filth congealed on the bottom of the fridge?
The repair man looked at me.
I looked at him.
He handed me a putty knife.
Got on my hands and knees and started scraping.
A mass of sticky unidentifiable crap with mold growing on top.
An open container of ketchup.
String cheese.
And even a knife with peanut butter on it for crying out loud.
Foul and disgusting is an understatement.
What’s grosser than gross, folks?
And how many more of these moments to go before this house
Finally feels (and smells) like it’s mine?
Boxes and Boxes and Boxes

Boxes and Boxes and Boxes

The good news:
We are finally in our new house.
We’re quite thrilled about this.
But also completely exhausted.
Because the “bad” news (for me, anyway)
is the endless unpacking and setting up.
 To make things interesting,
we’re also dealing with…
The entire interior of the house being repainted.
The painting crew fell behind schedule.
They started our three week paint job the day our boxes and furniture were dumped into the house.
First a rusted out hot water tank.
Then a pricey replacement.
Followed by a gas leak.
Which resulted in our gas being shut off for a week & change.
 Lots of inspections.
And cold showers all around.
Almost cried when we got hot water back last night.
Brand new washer failing the day after installation.
There’s something up with the fridge too.
I’m thinking it’s not supposed to be generating a funky lighter fluid smell…
I’m sure by tomorrow morning,
something else will be broken.
Is this what home ownership is about?
I’m really tired.
Grateful to every person helping to make this big old house into our new home.
Floor guys.
Paint guys.
 Lawn guys
Pest guys.
But I’m also impatiently anticipating the day everyone packs it up and goes.
The first day we can just live here.
In the meantime,
I’m meeting with all those guys everyday.
Also trying to stay out of way of the painters
While still unpacking box after box after endless box.