The longest night and the shortest day.

For many years now our little family has marked this day on the calendar with an open house party full of friends, family, food, music and cheer.

It has morphed over the years as our lives shifted from lots of little kids running around, to our daughters teen friends mostly hanging in the attic, to very adult cocktails and chat.

We started this celebration as a way to make something special for our daughter as we navigated holidays tied to religions that neither my husband nor I practiced.

He was raised Jewish and I was raised Catholic, so we have small Christmas tree and we light the menorah, but the Solstice party (with latkes and Christmas cookies) was what we cooked up as our tradition.

I always like throwing parties.

Planning a menu, stocking the bar, decorating the house, and playing hostess to myriad friends, acquaintances and colleagues makes me happy.

I enjoy laying out a buffet of chafing dishes filled with latkes, arancini, and spinach dip followed by the totally fun moment of lighting the canned heat.

Plotting out the perfect cheese board and artfully arranging crudités, spiced nuts, olives and crackers is a delight. Arranging tiers of Christmas cookies, chocolates and torrone (which only I eat), makes me merry.

For me, it’s deeply satisfying to share love and friendship through food, wine and conversation.

And of course any excuse to wear a cocktail dress and red lipstick is always welcome.

This year, because of the pandemic, we won’t host our Solstice Party but our little family will raise a glass to toast the longest night and know that we are moving again toward the sun.

Wishing you joy in what ever holiday(s) you celebrate in the winter season, and hope for a sunny tomorrow.

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A picture is worth a thousand words.

Some pictures tell thousands of stories.  

Yesterday I experienced a profound, overwhelming and visceral grief while visiting an outdoor art installation here in DC. 

Suzanne Brennan Firstenberg’s installation “In America How Could This Happen…” plants a small white flag for every person who has died of Covid-19 in the US.

Relatives can write names of loved ones on the flag, or Firstenberg will do it for you.

Walking this awful field in the twilight yesterday I cried and cried for people I never met and their families who I will never know. Flags of multiple family members who died are planted together. It is a devastating physical representation of the ongoing pandemic.

My husband and I stopped to thank the artist as she was diligently walking her installation, re-staking fallen flags and picking up trash that visitors have left. She was grateful that we stopped to visit. She shared how some of the people who have been denied the rituals of grieving are finding some solace by planting a flag and honoring all who died.

We thanked her again.

Art is one of the super powers of civilization. It has the ability to transcend, and to unify, and to speak even more than those thousand words about our humanity.

If you can, visit this art installation before November 30 and let the dead speak.

picture of number of dead from covid-19
The artist updates the number every morning

flag for Kenneth bridewellflag for Terry bridwell

grandpa norman

I remember the first time I felt like I was rich.

Standing in the check out line at the grocery store I realized I hadn’t mentally added everything up to make sure I stayed on budget, I just put what I wanted in the cart willy-nilly.

And I was shopping at Heinen’s, a “more expensive” Cleveland grocery that met a lot of our vegetarian needs cheaper than Whole Foods.

Heinen’s was the store my husband grew up with but I struggled with shopping there because they have a policy that you leave your cart in the store, take a number, and then drive up and they put your groceries in the car for you.

I’m sure this keeps the carts in good shape, helps the parking lot be less insane, and makes the elderly, infirm, pregnant and exhausted feel grateful, but I was none of those things.

I couldn’t wrap my mind around it and so I would carry all the bags to my car in one awkward, often painful trip to avoid making the workers wait on me.  

I carried my own bags for years from some misguided idea about solidarity mixed with guilt over being able to afford shop there in the first place. 

Over time I came to notice and understand my visceral reactions that make me feel “rich” or “poor”.

Wealth is relative and external comparisons are imprecise at best. I’ve written before about how comparisons are usually rigged to make us feel either inferior or superior, but feeling rich is different somehow.  

I am still frugal in a lot of ways and can pinch a penny until it pinches back, but buying whatever food I want still feels indulgent. It’s not like I’m buying caviar, truffles and $50 bottles of wine, rather it is the sensation of being able to choose food without restraint.

I feel rich, and privileged and happy walking through a farmers market knowing I can buy things because they are beautiful.

I fall in love with peppers and leeks and fresh dug carrots. I can spend an excessive amount of time choosing from 7 kinds of lettuces and heirloom tomatoes. I want the eggs from the organic, patchouli-smelling hippy that puts out pictures of his happy chickens, and olives from the man who spends 6 months of each year in Greece on his family farm. I want to sample and buy the expensive cheeses from the tiny boutique creamery run by two sisters.

Unfortunately my bougie love of shopping for food that inspires me has been completely wiped out during the COVID-19 safety measures. And thats more than ok, its outstanding. I would eat only frozen vegetables 😦 for the rest of my life if it meant no one else died from the virus. 

And I know how rich I am because I can stay home.

Now, as we continue to struggle with adapting to a reality shaped by SARS-CoV-2 (it’s real name by the way), I see more and more people expressing gratitude for health care workers and deep appreciation for the wage workers who keep the groceries running and deliver the take-out. 

It makes me hopeful that we will soon have open discussions about the historic and current systems that perpetuate marginalization, oppression and gross inequity in one of the wealthiest countries in the world. 

And I continue to wrestle with the ways that I want to communicate about these tough topics when folks are under profound levels of stress. Maybe that makes it an even better time?

Meanwhile, I stay home and walk around my neighborhood – masked and very distant! – taking pictures of whatever is in bloom to share with friends on Instagram, and remind myself there are many ways to feel rich.

 

When my daughter was younger, like many parents, we marked important days with a photo.

First day of school for every grade, first rock concert, plays, awards and music performances.

Beginnings and endings are the tidy bookends we use to mark time and make sense of all that messy stuff in the middle.

But now the milestones and moments zip by mostly unmarked.

Tomorrow my daughter and I will drive 10 hours to her college (Go Badgers!) to move her into her first apartment. A car full of kitchenware, clothes and few decorative items to be merged into a household with a couple of roommates.

For whatever reason this transition is landing a bit harder than move-in-day at the dorm.

The dog days of August always trigger a melancholy, nostalgic mix of sadness, excitement and fear that, for much of my youth, was sparked by the announcement of the fall schedule by network TV.

Summer ends, you get a new pair of jeans, school starts, and boom – there are new episodes of M.A.S.H and Happy Days to look forward to.

Somewhere between my first grade excitement of new pencils & crayons, and chucking everything in my locker into a trash can the last day of high school, a whole buncha life happened.

And now my kid somehow has gone from running away from me on the playground, to running away to college and never coming back.

Ok it’s not that bad.

But like I said, something about her moving into an apartment feels more permanent. As in her life is now permanently on a parallel track to the track her father and I are chugging down.

Now we are separate. As we should be.

And that’s another first.

I’ll be happy and sad, irritated and irritating, a helpful mom & a bossy pain in the ass before it’s all over. It’s how it always goes when we surf these transitions together, and we end up just fine.

Got a bag of potato chips, a package of Tim-Tams and an excellent Spotify playlist ready for the drive.

One of our favorite sing-a-long at the top of your voice road trip songs to start the trip.

**** postscript****

By the way- writing a blog post on an airplane at 1 am almost guarantees that you will forget to hit publish. The 10 hour drive is nearly done.

Today is my 20th wedding anniversary.

Mr. Man and I are apart this year because he’s attending a leadership program at Harvard Business School (yay!) and I’m preparing our house & life for our move to Montgomery, Alabama in one week (yikes!).

It’s actually better this way because I haven’t yet settled on an appropriate gift. For whatever reason I am bad at remembering dates and coming up with good gifts. It’s a flaw. Or maybe each relationship only has room for one person to be good at that stuff.

Anyway as I was trolling for gifts I came across some really idealized representations of love & marriage that got me to thinking.

Back in the 70’s there was a super popular comic strip call “Love is…” that featured naked, cherub-like adults and cute quotes like “Love is… giving him a lick of your ice cream.” There was no escaping the cuteness. They were in the newspaper, in books, on coffee mugs, t-shirts, posters, greeting cards, sheets and towels.  A modern version of the strip still runs with updated quotes like “Love is… not letting technology interrupt your leisure time.”

I have some quotes drawn from the last 14 months of my life that I’d like to see in a new “It’s gettin real up in here” series.

Love is…

  • ….taking the phone call even though you know it’s bad news.
  • ….living apart for 6 months so one of you can take their dream job.
  • … holding your friends hand in the ICU.
  • … putting your pet down when they can no longer enjoy their life.
  • … helping your child take a leap into adulthood.
  • … knowing a couple of bad days doesn’t make a bad life.
  • … when you keep on keepin’ on.

The 70’s also gave us the book & movie “Love Story” which sold everyone the nonsense that “Love means never having to say you’re sorry”.

Wrong.

Love means, among other things, saying you’re sorry, and trying harder, and knowing when to let it slide and when to call BS. And mostly, love means not giving up on love because love really is the raison d’etre.

I was forced to buy a new wallet recently. I don’t invest much in accessories like wallets, handbags, phone cases and such so this doesn’t happen very often. I think this might be the fourth or fifth wallet I’ve owned in my lifetime. All my previous wallets has slots for school photos. Which I sort of miss.

Cleaning out the old wallet, which had considerably more nooks and crannies than the new one, I found something my mother gave me back in 1991.

My mom was a religious person, a person of faith, and a big believer in miracles. Back in 1991, the year before my dad was diagnosed with the cancer that would kill him a year later, I was in a place of flux.

When I was laid off from the theatre I worked at for years, I took a job as a temp for a publisher. Within months I was hired full-time and was making more money than I had ever made  in theatre. I think the salary was a whopping $18,000.

Seeing as this was thousands of dollars more than I earned in theatre, I actually paid down my looming debt and felt “rich”. I had savings for the first time in my life and still managed to act and direct  at night. The stamina of youth + coffee.

In 1991 I was weighing the decision to return to a theatre position full-time, which I ultimately did. Sitting at my moms kitchen table obviously moaning about money worries and trying to decide between what was safe and what was authentic, she pulled out a piece of paper and wrote me a note.

It said “Pay to the Order of Amanda T. Shaffer. Paid in Full. The Law of Abundance.” She dated it, had me sign it and told me to carry it in my wallet always.

I don’t know if her talisman worked but the next year I met Mr. Man who became my friend and husband, and the years following the abundance flowed – I founded a theatre, bought a house, had a child and continued to find interesting, fulfilling work in and out of theatre for the next 25 years.

There were many dips in the road, losing my dad in 1992, and then mom in 2001. Followed by the death of my brother, my husbands grandparents, and my father-in-law. But the abundance and richness of my life has never dimmed. And I am grateful.

Sunday was the anniversary of my mom’s death and I am still vaguely surprised by it every year. So I was happy to find the tattered paper talisman she gifted me with – dated on what would be my daughters birthday eight years in the future – and put it in my new wallet.

Where I will carry it always.

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Feeling a bit like a tumbleweed tossed around by life at the moment. Family and friends, a wedding and a funeral, rituals and milestones that mark time.

Being equal parts over committed (my own fault), and under participating (+ feeling guilty), makes it hard to stay present.

The other day I said to a frantic faculty member “surely you can gift yourself 30 minutes to start writing your white paper. Set a timer.” She took the suggestion and churned out a page of writing.

So today I gift myself with 10 minutes to write a blog post.

Today is Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, and it always makes me think of Norman, my husbands grandfather. I only knew him for about 6 years before he died, but very much loved him and his forceful personality. A raconteur of the first water, equally kind and caustic, friendly and demanding, I was new enough to the family to enjoy his flaws and find his quirks charming.

My husband and I went to dinner with Norman at least once a month and then more often after his wife died. Eventually I started cooking meals for him at our house or his. I made him meat dishes that he loved, even though we are vegetarian and I wasn’t exactly sure what I was doing, and of course sweets.

My favorite was the Crowned Apple Cake that I made him for Rosh Hashanah. It looked so dramatic and was so dense with apples, it made for a sweet New Year and a happy memory.

L’shanah tovah to those who celebrate.

10 minutes is up! (not my cake below, but same recipe)

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I wish I had a truth mirror. I would hold it up in front of my clients so they could magically see what others see.

One of my biggest frustrations with my (usually women) clients is their inability to recognize and own their unique talents, abilities, skills and knowledge. I witness time and again the automatic downgrading of skills because if its easy for them then it must not be that hard, right?

Some of this is modesty and style, some of it is living in a culture that treats women who own their accomplishments as “pushy” and “braggy.” And I think a massive chunk is related to the fact that we spend so, so much time reflecting on what is wrong with us that we never get around to what is right.

Ask someone to list all the ways they need to improve, and the list is long.

Ask someone to list all the ways they excel and often its … crickets.

We do this in our personal lives when we name bits and pieces we like (“I have good hair and pretty hands”), but don’t find much to recommend about the whole package. I’m guilty of this one myself, see above hair and hands.

It’s hard to listen to people underrate and diminish their skills, especially skills that I don’t have and couldn’t begin to master. BUT its totally satisfying to witness them finally understanding and owning their value.

The frustration I struggle with every time is that I want them to get there more quickly. I know I can’t hurry anyone’s learning, and the magic truth mirror only works if you are ready look in it, but a girl can dream.

“Mirror, Mirror in my hand,

Who’s got the maddest skills in the land?”

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We all have moments that take the stuffing out of us and make us question our worth. When in full command of rational thinking these are moments that build character. Occasionally an experience requires distance to reduce the sting so you can learn from the mistake. Other times all you can do is acknowledge and wallow in your failure.

The last few days have found me staring failure in the face as I attempted to create darts and hem a dress for my daughter. The dress, issued by the school to every girl in the symphony, needs to fit many sizes of bodies so it fits no one well.

My petite size daughter with her generous bustline was issued a dress that fits exactly that one part of her body. Everywhere else the dress needs to be taken in and up and every other damn thing.

I have always failed at being a “crafty mom”. I can’t sew, knit, crochet, quilt, draw, paint, sculpt or do any craft of any kind. My talent is strictly limited to coloring in coloring books and using a Spirograph. I have no imagination for Halloween costumes, or gift making or any other clever, useful, transformative skill.

The acres of black polyester made my headache with anxiety. I could taste the copper tang of failure in my mouth as I spent thirty minutes threading the damn sewing machine I bought in desperation at Target just before closing on Monday night. I then read the directions four times before I gave up for the night with nary a stitch stitched.

Last night I fully embraced my imminent failure, and armed with double stick tape, StitchWitchery, and safety pins I attacked the dress. I spent 90 minutes measuring, pinning, re-measuring, re-pinning, taping and ironing.

It is done. I have fulfilled my maternal duty. The dress looks lumpy and a little lopsided but it’s short enough and she won’t trip while carrying her double-bass.

Bring on the next failure.

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Every once in a while I wake up with a migraine so bad it gives me black eyes. Like my nose caught a softball. Or a fist.

That’s today.

Pain killers, dark rooms, sleeping it off – the only thing that actually works is waiting it out. The migraine either goes away or retreats to a point I where I can function until it does.

A while back, before I discovered it was connected to my migraines, I wrote about this experience. In light of the discussion around the violence suffered by Janay Rice by her husband Ray, I am re-posting what happened to me when I had a black eye.

Does the current awareness of how to empathize and assist battered women translate into action? I’ll let you know if anyone comments on my shiner or looks askance at my explanation.

I haven’t watched the video of Rice knocking Janay unconscious. I have seen men hit women, and each other, in person and it’s horrifying enough to stick in my memory without a video refresher.


BLACK EYE March 12, 2012
I have a black eye.

I woke up the other morning with a shiner like I caught a softball with my nose. No trauma, no injury, no logical explanation. I went to see an internist who had no idea what it was, who sent me to an ophthalmologist who had no idea what it was.

After extensive questioning they could tell me what it wasn’t – it wasn’t a sinus infection, an “allergy shiner”, or related to vision, optic nerve or glaucoma. Nor was it related to any vitamins or medicine I take. They also asked if there was any domestic violence in my home. There is no violence in my home and I told them so, but I also said I appreciated that they asked.

This has been an odd experience for me, to say the least. It has also been hard on my husband to know that strangers think he hit me. Even though he doesn’t know them and isn’t with me every moment, he knows the world has judged him.

The eye looks nasty, and even after careful application of makeup, it is clearly visible. Reactions have been interesting. Some glance at my face and look away. Some stare fixedly. Some see the black eye and then give me a once over. What people are clearly doing is creating a story about how I got a black eye. Yet no one looked me in the eye or asked me how I got it.

Why wouldn’t anyone say anything? I am sure the majority of look-away-quickly people assumed my husband hit me. Some of the long stares were probably looking to see if I had work done. Some of the once-over folks were clearly judging me as someone who “allows themselves to be hit”.

While I would have been appalled at the assumption I would also have been pleased if any stranger (or the mild acquaintances like the women at my gym) had asked about my eye or even said “I hope you are OK.” But so far there has been four days of silence.

I remember when my sister was living with her (physically and mentally) abusive husband. Knowing how he treated her, and being profoundly upset by it, I once talked to people at the local domestic violence shelter and found out what to say and how to say it.

“You do not deserve this. It is not your fault. He does not have the right to hurt you or make you feel bad. I will help you if you chose to leave.”

It took almost fifteen years for her to separate from him. She left and went back to him a dozen times, and I have no idea what her situation is now.

I started to wonder what I would say if I saw someone with a black eye. Now. In my current crunchy, suburban life where things like that are not supposed to happen. But they do. We know women (and some men) are physically and emotionally abused everyday. The statistics are awful – One in four women and one in nine men are physically abused by an intimate partner during their lives.

We need to ask ourselves tough questions. ‘What would I say and how would I say it?’ And ‘When is it my responsibility to say something?’ Or more importantly, why isn’t it everyone’s business to end domestic violence?

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This weekend I had to tell my husband that I don’t like James Brown. We decided to go to a movie the other night and he proposed the bio-pic “Get On Up” and I said something along the lines of “You can go to that one by yourself!”

It’s not like I was hiding the fact that I didn’t like James Brown, the topic just hadn’t come up in the 20 years we’ve been together. He was shocked.

Funk is one constant in the fluid musical landscape of my life. A thread that connects everyone from Sly to P-Funk, to Gap Band to Cameo and Prince. But the Godfather of Soul never did it for me.

Usually my husband and I share many of the same eclectic musical tastes diverging around the likes of Kraftwerk (him) and The Roaches (me). And up to the James Brown reveal we only had one other serious musical bone of contention – I can’t stand to listen to Bob Dylan.

I love Bob Dylan songs as long as someone else is singing them, I just can’t listen to Dylan sing more than three songs in a row. After the third song his signature sing-song whine sounds absurd and I start to laugh.

My family very kindly listens to Dylan albums when I am out of the house, for which I am grateful. I don’t want to ruin their enjoyment just because I can’t appreciate the vocal stylings of “the poet laureate of rock and roll.”

After “Get On Up” was proposed the other night I countered with “The Hundred Foot Journey.” This got me a counter offer of “X-Men” or “Guardians of the Galaxy”.  All three of us want to see “Boyhood”, but since the kid had other plans we opted for the popcorn movie.

I’m usually a big fan of sci-fi, action hero, gratuitous, stylized violence in the name of conquering evil but this story was unnecessarily complex as well as trite and unbelievable even in the world of sci-fi fantasy, so it was a dud. My husband tolerates some sci-fi for me but isn’t a big fan, so by the end of the movie he was both bored and irritated.

I used the opportunity to equated his complaints about futuristic, gobbledygook (Nebula, tool of the evil Kree Ronan!) with my lack of appreciation for Dylan. It’s just a matter of taste.

Here’s a song (and a Band) we both agree on musically. And a great movie too.

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I came very late to the habit of going to the salon. For 30 years I wore my hair very long (and usually pinned up in a bun). For 15 of those years I dyed my hair various shades of bottle blonde.

The color started as a poorly controlled impulse. Once when one sister was dying the other sister’s hair blonde in the kitchen, I scooped some of the left over goop from bowl and pulled it through my hair in a streak. It wasn’t long before my whole head was blonde.

Because it was so long, and I was dying it myself over the bathtub, it wasn’t long before multiple shades were apparent. At the time it was vaguely Madonna-esque, now I think now they call it ombre. Looks a lot different when its deliberate.

Ten years ago I decided to cut my hair. I can’t remember the reason why, now but something must have prompted it. Now I go to an “Aveda Experience Salon” for cut, curl, color and whatever else my stylist thinks is a good idea. Who am I to argue?

Sitting in the salon chair with my eyes closed the other day, listening to the sounds of high heels clacking and dozens of voices rising and falling, I thought about the difference between this and the sounds of my mother’s beauty parlor.

Until I was an adult my mom went to the beauty parlor once a week to get her hair washed and “done”. This was a Saturday ritual that started with a 7 am trip to the West Side Market, a stop at Zannoni’s Italian Imports for whatever, and Mazonne & Sons for bread. And then Patsy’s Beauty Parlor.

Patsy’s was a store front shop with two chairs, 4 drying chairs and lots of hairspray. Instead of the thumping bass of my Aveda experience, Patsy’s sound scape consisted of WGAR Country radio, the whine of dryer hoods and middle-aged women, smoking and bitching about their good-for-nuthin, kids/husbands/neighbor. The smell was Benson & Hedges diluted only by industrial strength Aqua Net.

I’m sure those Beauty Parlor sounds and smells still exist somewhere, along with the pink foam sleep bonnet my mother wore at night to protect her complicated basket weave of a hairdo.

Often when I think of my mother – it is mother’s day after all – I fall into a rambly comparison of her life to mine. Middle class daily life versus childhood memories of her poverty class daily life at my same age. An attempt I guess to further understand who I am by trying to understand who she was.

Sometime after I was out of high school my mom stopped going to Patsy and switched to the JC Penny salon at the mall. The basket weave was replaced by a layered bob that took a bit of work with a curling iron to fluff it up.

She never told me why she decided to change her style. Lost to time like my own reason to cut my hair. Another twisty thread for me to pick at when I turn my kaleidoscope on memories of my mother.

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Despite my feminist sensibilities I’ve never been able to suppress the anxiety of being judged and found wanting when it comes to “homemaking”.

A little Martha Stewart shaped devil sits on my right shoulder pointing out the crumbs in the silverware drawer and the cobwebs in the chandelier. My deficiency is glaringly apparent in the lack of top-dressing on the house plants and fresh liner paper in the linen closet.

The house plant anxiety famously manifested itself the day before our wedding when re-potting the plants became the number one priority before the rehearsal dinner. Talk about displaced anxiety.

I think part of the problem is that I’m not a good house cleaner, but I am a dynamite straightener. So we get behind on the cleaning until we need a full-out cleaning blitz. And the only legitimate reason for a cleaning blitz is house guests.

Parties only require you clean the first floor, but house guests mean the whole megillah.

My daughter reminds me regularly that no one cares or notices the “flaws” in our house. Her friends think we have the cleanest house they have ever seen that has a teenager living in it. While I don’t clean for teenagers, I do change the table-cloth because even they don’t want cat hair in their food.

Intellectually I know that I’m taking a big bite out of that Enjoli sandwich thinking my house should be as clean as if I didn’t have a full-time job, but I can’t help it. Clean house, good cook, sparkling conversationalist is some kinda propaganda I have yet to recover from.

The good news is once the doorbell rings I can completely relax into a good time. I have no problem leaving the dishes in the sink and having another glass of wine. Maybe we need to have guests more often so there is no time to clean.

Hmm.

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Being  a homeowner is one of the most overrated experiences I can think of. Part of the great American Scam to buy buy buy. Because what else do you do once you’ve bought a home but start the Sisyphean task of fixing all the broken bits on what is now your former “dream house?” That means contractors if you have the money, or Home Depot if you are like the rest of us unfortunates.

My husband and I posses very few of the actual skills necessary for DIY other than the ability to read directions and the hubris to think “How hard can it be?

That “How hard can it be?” is the banana peel under the heel of good intentions. It’s why, even though I rail at the previous DIY owners of our house for their ineptitude and cheapness, I don’t curse them to a fiery hell.

I can’t remember why we fell in love with this house but we did and here we are. Nine years of fun – props to Mr. Man for figuring out the grout on YouTube last weekend – means endless blog fodder.

For instance, discovering that they didn’t bother to insulate the side porch turned into half-bath led to an amusing incident with burst pipes our first winter in the house. Trying to hang a fruit basket in the kitchen led to the entertaining discovery that plaster walls had been replaced with paneling! Over studs! Without insulation! Hahahahahah.

Our latest droll episode was discovering that the reason why we don’t have enough hot water for three people to shower comfortably is not that the water heater is worn-out, but that it’s actually apartment rather than house size.

In their defense the previous owners probably chose the cheapest water heater at Home Depot. Unfortunately, size does matter in this case. The water heater replacement will be a relatively easy, and cheap, fix that will improve our lives immediately.

Meanwhile, until we replace the water heater Mr. Lee “Scratch ” Perry will be playing in my head while I shower.

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My husband and I have a mixed marriage when it comes to our attitudes about our books.

I tend to only want to buy new books when I have already read it and want to own it, its a favorite author, or my daughter asks for it.

My husband will buy a new book at the drop of a hat. He takes risks on authors he’s heard of in passing, or based on reviews, or even browsing. I have a hard time buying a completely unknown book unless its used.  I don’t begrudge a penny spent on any book, new or used, I’m just pointing our the difference in our acquisition habits.

Now I’ve discovered we have differing views and habits about the library as well.

When I was a kid summer was all about riding my bike to the library and checking out the maximum number of books at once and reading until my vision went blurry. A particular childhood bliss impossible to recapture.

I racked up a lot of fines in those days with little money to pay them. I remember getting my sister to check out books for me when my card was blocked and then ultimately, I am ashamed to admit, posing as my twin and getting a second library card. My card used my childhood nickname, “Amy”, so I got a new one posing as my sister “Amanda”. I probably still owe on some of those books.

Even though our house is overflowing with books, both purchased and from the library, my husband and I rarely read the same ones. We recommend authors to each other which are regularly, if politely, ignored.

For example he will read biographies, which don’t hold my interest beyond the photos. I can only remember finishing two so far, “The Life of Johnson” (assigned) and Diane Rehm’s “Finding my Voice” (don’t remember why).

So while he can’t quite get into Octavia Butler or Plato, I have yet to enjoy Melville.

Currently, on his recommendation, I’m reading (and enjoying) the Nick Hornby book Ten Years in the Tub: A Decade of Soaking in Great Books. There is quote that nicely sums up the underpinnings of our booky household for all three of us –

“All the books we own, both read and unread, are the fullest expression of self we have at our disposal … With each passing year, and with each whimsical purchase, our libraries become more and more able to articulate who we are, whether we read the books or not.”

We are our books and our books are us. 17707873

What brought the mixed marriage of our “book personalities” into sharp focus for me was an argument we had recently about library books. The Hornby book I mentioned is from the library. He checked it out, finished reading it, and now I am reading it.

And then it came due before I was finished. I told him to renew it, but he wanted to return it in case someone else is waiting for it.

Now that I can renew with the click of my phone app, as opposed to the old in-person system of my misspent youth, I regularly renew books up to the five renewal limit if I am still using them. And then I pay the fee if they are late.

I think of it as rental. Five cents a day is worth every penny for me to finish a book I haven’t yet decided to buy.

Mr. Man’s attitude is that the due date is a social compact with the library, so you should return your materials. He thinks I’m wrong to see the fees as rental. I say I’m helping the library buy more books with my fines. I see no harm in my practice. Which makes him indignant.

I confess this may be a case for a higher moral authority. Does Judge John Hodgman make house calls? Can he be objective about this kind of mixed marriage? Maybe the Head Librarian of the Library of Congress can weigh in?

Meanwhile, I think I’ll pay my library fines before they freeze my card…

Old books