The Joy of Upcycling

Post holiday ennui tends to kick in between- well, Thanksgiving and the end of the year, really. What most people suffer from in January,  I come down with in December. Part of the blessing/curse of being a trendsetter, I suppose.


Setting trends whilst battling ennui, head cold and limited resources

So! To get back into the swing of things, here's my Living Room Window Seat Recipe:

Ingredients: For the seat: discarded foam mattress topper, old expensive sheet for liner, expensive upholstery yardage, scissors, straight edge, marker, white packing tape, and some calm.



Faithful blogger folds said topper whilst employing straight edge, selfie stick and panache ALL AT THE SAME TIME

Cut the topper so as to replicate a foam seat of sorts, using the straight edge before the scissors so that the line is vaguely straight. Run the marker along the straight edge and cut. Next,  TAPE where ever possible so that the shape of topper fits perfectly albeit marginally. 


Yo, its a bit of upcycling.....


Cut a hearty length of some Barbara Barry for Baker (natch) fabric and then FOLD and tape all accordingly20151125_110022_resized_1



Prior to using the expensive upholstery fabric, take  the nice old sheet and wrap the taped foam concoction. THEN fold and tape as shown above.



Add a not regrettable pillow purchasing frenzy from Home Goods. And voila! Additional seating with a bunch of style.

un petit holiday hangohvaire

tgiving2015manifested itself with a tickle in the throat, striking Papa bear first on Thanksgiving itself and now your faithful blogger is also afflicted, obliged to nurse the turkey soup, tea and cold cure drinks while confronting bills to pay, piles to sort, laundry to fold and a novel to write. The roof is to be done between today’s posting and the next. It will be a two day affair, and a photographic extravaganza to be sure. Thursday’s dinner went over beautifully. The guests and family and friends were warm and the pets were exemplary. Note three dogs, all of whom were camera ready for the pre-meal group photo.

The Unbearable Strangeness of Seeing

The above photo is from Thanksgiving 2008, filled with the energy of Yes We Can. And then you catch glances of your self as seen through memory and time. It is a kaleidoscope of fragments keenly felt rather than duly noted with the cool eye of a dispassionate observer. In so many family photos, one would never imagine the sorrows and shadows of Miscommunication, yet one knows it happened. Didn't it? Or else one surely wouldn't feel that way, would one?

Thanksgiving 2006

    This is a nod to several Thanksgivings. My esteemed brother is always present and with various children coming and going, the loss of a parent and the addition of friends, your loyal blogger and loving spouse age before your very eyes, filled with turkeys, lobsters, hubris and wonder.                


Thanksgiving 2008


Thanksgiving away from the Big House 2012

Perhaps this is the ironic comedy of aging, or is it the regrettable inability to see a story from the other guy's perspective?

As we attempt not to cower, nor throw stones at glass houses, one struggles to imagine desperately pooling your resources to get on that boat to Greece, cell phone in saran wrap and child bundled up, grasping at your hand, as you bravely squeeze in among the others and pray no one drowns and just pray it will be okay when you reach the other side.

It's what the first celebrants of Thanksgiving went through. Albeit they didn't have cell phones. Or saran wrap. Or the internet. But I digress because here, in the Garden State, I blog and dabble as I muse over Thanksgiving's dinner and who will sit where.

Today's Brian Lehrer show, had callers describe their own families being denied asylum by the United States during the Nazi regime. Happily, a generation or two later, they made it to New York and are now listeners of public radio, living in the metropolitan area. 



Thanksgiving 2014, first course in Chelsea, second course on Sutton Place to follow

In 2010, we left our home, shamefully awkward (in the way that only the best British novelists can describe) because it had all gone awry. Through a series of happy accidents, phone calls, tenacity, paperwork and Grace, it has been restored to us, and I am overcome with gratitude and relief. All I can add is Thank You. Oh, and perhaps this year the spouse will sport a different color than blue. Just to shake things up a bit. Gobble, gobble.





The process

Blessings abound. In the face of current events am reminded how staggeringly lucky I am to be concerned with a porch in the suburbs rather than by- any myriad of tragedies. Breathtaking beauty  surrounds us. Look at the magnificent porch floor. Talk about your makeovers.

The porch before renovation

From this

Endless beginning of porch renovation

Masked man on a scaffold.

to this!

to this!

And from this....

And from this....


To THIS! oh yes indeed

Blessings abound.Now for the Autumnal Beauty Shots!

while the porch railing remains exactly where it is

watch the leaves change

from this

from this

to this

to this

Your loyal blogger

wrestling with high class problems

wrestling with high class problems

while the boys celebrate their differences


celebrating differences

Oh, I get it now…


Nice houses are for Moms who do the full domestic detail!

Ohhhhh. That means happy nice, cooking cleaning and not complaining, right? Oh. Golly, gee and we live in an age where all that was so twentieth century, wasn’t it…. Domestic details are tricky when one is working out of the home base and is no longer hiding under the umbrella of a punishing dawn-dusk commute.
Add to this a very nearly house broken puppy- and I know it’s not his fault and thank god we’ve come away from the nose-in-it techniques of our parents, but still. There are nicer things to do than cleaning up  a beloved puppy’s #@!$% off the living room rug. But perhaps that’s too much information…

This post, on a more sober note is dedicated to navigating the murky waters of climbing out of one’s own#@!$% cesspool. It requires a printer-scanner/fax device, reams of paper, patience and the understanding one has to continue re-submitting again and again. One must make peace with filling out the forms. Not unlike the trailblazers who refused to take no for an answer. Except there’s less creative energy.  It also requires a large bottle of the pet stain cleaner Resolve, some clean rags, water, vineager, baking soda and a vaccum. And forgiveness. More towards the  two legged creatures than the four legged ones. The four legged ones are always logical. I have yet to witness anything they’ve done that I wouldn’t have done were I  a four legged creature too.

The power of forgiveness is so hard to harness. Particularly when one feels oneself to be the aggrieved party.

I should like to be submerged in the cool waters of humility, but nothing weird with a dominatrix or folks in masks or anything. Just a cucumber or citrus fruit mask please, like viscose wherein the aches and pains and hurt feelings gently dissipate, and my beloved spouse presses the “Reset” button in a way that only he can.

the quality of mercy is not strained

       And when you’re sitting in the comfy chair at a new Starbucks, munching on a cake pop waiting for your WordPress teacher and a strange wandering man politely asks for help, what do you do? We always have a choice. He had just been released from St. Barnabas he said. He needed a lift to the next town over he said. He’d been playing soccer with his sons and somehow got hurt. He’d been put in St. Barnabas for a few days. He wore the requisite bracelets to back up his story. I said his sons wouldn’t just leave him there. He said they were busy. They had things to do.  He was staying his mother. His father had died three weeks ago and his mother had Alzheimers. He was in madras shorts with preppy sneakers to make the playing soccer story stick. He’d been an attorney. He graduated from Seton Hall. His ex-wife worked at Merrill Lynch in Short Hills. My teacher was due to arrive at any moment. This was my first class, and I had a perfect parking space.

        It was pouring rain and I found it difficult to believe a hospital would just send him out into it, thus. He said they’d given him bus fare and now he needed a ride home. What he needed was someone who cared for him to come and get him. I asked if we could call his ex-wife. We did. As soon as I handed him the phone, he asked her about several houses that were on the market. I said, “tell her where you are. Ask for a lift.” She had hung up by the time he got to that part of the call.

         There were a couple of times when I was a strange wandering person. My mother in her last years almost made a living from it. There are times when all one needs is kindness. Alas, we called his brother who was not home, and I left him a voice mail asking that he call the Starbucks in question when he received the message. My teacher arrived and another woman picked up the conversation. It turned out not only were all of the above parts of the puzzle, but that he had been in rehab (it was unclear whether he’d just made a run for it), had been living with friends in Newark who were no longer available, did not have a wallet or a phone, and preferred (strongly) that the police not be called-

          The reason for the above ramble is that it turned out this guy was homeless- which can happen so much faster than one would think. This blog started as a simple accounting of fixing up the house. But the reality is we were out on our asses in so many ways and essentially (just like my grandmother Cheerio’s family lore) left in the night, with – at least metaphorically- not much more than the clothes on our backs. Now after five years, we are back, still struggling, but god help us, less clueless and certainly one would hope, more compassionate, too.

         It was the police who came and got Andy. They seemed to treat him with some gentleness. I hope they cared enough to take him to his mother’s. During my WordPress lesson, Andy’s brother called. I was in the ladies’ room at the time. He didn’t leave a message.

Not much to report alas


Eight weeks ago I posted a photo very much like the one to the left.

The difference is that this photo has a dumpster that is much more full. It pains me to say that is the only difference.

More news will be reported as it occurs. This is your faithful blogger, writing to you from the other grey gardens, somewhere in new jersey.

and they call it puppy love

20151003_145506Began to write all kinds of gnarling gnashing of teeth post filled with angst and dram, but prefer warm fuzzies so can only offer the demise of this summer’s footwear and be so very grateful for everyone being okay and loved ones who know they are such. Cryptic, but there we are. Go Jets!

The porch before renovation

this picture requires no caption


“It’s all fun and games until some one gets married or pregnant,” a dear friend observed. Looking at this photo is a reminder that for all the whimsy, optimism and cans of groovy paint, if one doesn’t come to some kind of satisfactory arrangement with the loan service provider, its all for naught, ain’t it?  The following is a list of players in this story:

Countrywide Mortgage

Old Merchants Bank





Making Home Affordable

Freddie Mae and Freddie Mac



There are many websites and blogs and countless stories of heartbreak and loss, which I won’t go into, because if I did, this post would never be published!

So that brings me to The Urban League.

As mentioned in my previous installment, a gentleman named Charles at the Urban League of Union County counseled and advised me through numerous applications and reapplications for a Mortgage Modification which I mistakenly believed was unattainable. Last week, Ocwen- the service provider for Wells Fargo- who ironically has my checking account as well as my mortgage- offered me a Trial Modification according to the Hamp2 guidelines. Which should be all very well and dandy, shouldn’t it?

Isn’t it ironic that when you leap over an enormous hurdle with a loved one,  you’re presented with a new challenge? How do you leap over the next one, together as a team? Look at all those great duets: Fred and Ginger, Lucy and Desi, Dino and Jerry, Simon and Garfunkel- None of them last.

Folks who are so brave and so amazing when times are tough can be so petty and arrogant and rude and generally hateful as things start coming together.

My Dad would say, it’s a conundrum.


But we are different now. Our trials and tribulations have changed us. I hope. So, if we’ve  made this huge circle back, to the scene of the crime, as it were, how do we play this hand so as to come out happy and strong and living comfortably in our kick ass big ass house?

The building department closed us down last week when the barter to repair the porch began.


The IRS wants serious money if we’re going to seriously put that difficulty behind us.


We need a new roof.  It’s such a lot of dough to come up with in such a short amount of time.

When my husband paints the ceiling of our youngest son’s bedroom, it all flakes off and falls upon the floor.

The ominous warning, “More tears are shed from answered prayers than-” But we are changed, aren’t we? Please, God. Tell me I won’t just throw up my hands in tears. Let me find the moxie to take no prisoners and get current with this debt.  Let me steer my ship back to the novel I was writing not two months ago and finish it. And do it justice, Lord. And  please Lord, give me the grace to lighten up a little. Amen.

The only fitting Post Script is that in an effort to continue my march towards gracious living nirvana, I knocked over a can of blue paint on the white broadloom of our youngest son’s soon-to-be bedroom.

The pigment is very- well, durable is a fine word. After scrubbing followed by the Rug Doctor for several hours, the spouse removed the broadloom, and guess what?



The floor is also very blue on the original wood floor now, too.

But there’s no use crying over spilt paint. So, on a brighter note, behold oldest daughter applying silver leaf  to my bath tub. Very nice, very nice indeed. Subtle perfection she calls it. Such a class act.


In Jesus Class, we must leave our cell phones on the table

Thus spake the newest addition of my household, a beguiling Chinese girl, whom I shall call Ana. She is attending a local parochial school, and unsurprisingly, Religion, or as she calls it, Jesus Class, is a requirement. And as utterly miraculous as Jesus undoubtedly would have have found the iPhone, in Life as in Jesus Class, there comes a point where you have to leave it on the table.
Many months have passed since I sat in the parking lot of the acupuncturist and listened to the message inquiring whether our home was still available. Two women, thoughtful and kind, had seen it when it was on the market and I really didn’t know whether it had been foreclosed upon or not.  We were moving on and putting it behind us. My husband referred to it as “the worst mistake I have ever made” and all I knew was the humiliating blow to my exuberant egotism which believed that there was no reason that our lives at that house would not work.

You get what you deserve. You don’t deserve what happened to you. Life is unfair. Karma is a bitch. What goes around comes around. Bad things happen to good people. Did you think if everyone else was required to do such and such a thing, that somehow you would be exempt? You’re pretty entitled, aren’t you.

I called Ocwen, asked to whom I might direct the women interested in the house. I was fed the extraordinary rigmarole that defined my relationship with this particular service provider.

“These women would like to buy the house.”

“Oh no, Ocwen cannot sell it to them.”

“Well, are you going to foreclose, or aren’t you? It’s been seven years.”

“Oh no. This is an attempt to collect a debt and the call will be recorded for monitoring purposes-”

Random acts of kindness occur sometimes when meeting someone, and you share stories of your lives, and exchange ideas and information. As a hoity-toity white woman (’cause I know that’s how I come across) it never occurred to me that there was help for our predicament.

That help came in the form of the Urban League of Elizabeth.  And that lovely woman inquiring about the house, with clarity of purpose told me. “There’s a man there named Charles. I think you should meet him.”

Today we are entering the Trial Modification. There have been countless applications, and paperwork, thicker than what used to be the Manhattan Yellow Pages. And embarrassment, because people like us don’t have things like this happen. When life and your own ineptitude at managing and anticipating it endeavors to kick you in the ribs like so many others- but not the people you know. Because my dear, these things don’t happen to people like us. It’s just not done.

At least that’s what I’d been led to believe. The night we met Charles, he said to me. “I know you feel alone, but you’re not. There are 40,000 people just like you. In Union County alone.” Countless applications for modifications, endless submissions of every kind of bank statement, utility bill, and more submissions had been for naught.  In the fifth year following the Intent to Foreclose notices, and the third short sale of our home that had gone into contract and then simply fell though, we walked away. After meeting Charles, with his help, I began to put the paperwork together again. We were turned down another two or three times, but he talked us through it and we kept resubmitting and we moved back home. We have poured every last centime into patching the house back together and this morning, Charles led the conversation with Ocwen wherein I accepted the terms of the Trial Period of the Modification.

It may not be the end. But it is certainly the end of the beginning.