Cozy Cottage

The grass is always greener, right? Whenever I have a new student over, or when Elihu has a classmate or two here (as he did today) I hear a lot of exclamations made about how ‘cool’ this place is. Usually by the end of the visit the kids are saying how they want a place like this too. Even some highbrow downtown types – their moms or dads – have cooed a little when walking in. And we’re essentially talking a two-room house here. Really. It ain’t big. But it sure is cozy, and especially at this time of year. So while the grass may seem greener to those that visit, I am so happy to say that Elihu and I find the grass of our own back yard a most inviting green and covet no other’s.

May I take you on a quick tour through our house? If it’s too tedious for you, move down a few paragraphs – I have a domestic tip to share later on… For the rest, here we go: You walk in through the kitchen, and were it not for my having moved the kitchen table to the left against the wall, the door would have bumped into it. But you’d forgive that when you find yourself looking out over a frozen Saratoga Lake and Vermont hills beyond. The tiny room you’re in now has pale, apple green walls, white ceramic pulls and counters, a wood floor (well, it’s laminate, but looks pretty darn good in spite of itself), a Brady Bunch era double stove in harvest gold. A small island table which I made myself divides the already tiny room, but quickly becomes the go-to destination for anyone who visits.

Our one hallway is painted a deep, colonial red and leads to the living room, which is a generous space with a raised hearth fireplace of white marble at the far end, my beloved Eames knockoff lounge chair in the far right corner, a large chocolate brown couch against the right hand wall and a picture window to the left. Flanking the window are a harpsichord on the right and a grand piano on the left, and at this time of the year, our Christmas tree stands between them, obscuring the view. The long walls are a deep gold, the short ones dark brown. There’s a small foyer to the left of the piano – it leads out to our seldom used but attractive screen porch. (My dream is to frame this in and make a dining room so we can enjoy both company and the view at the same time! A wood stove in the corner and a bank of window seats, the vision is held fast in my mind…)

We also have two bedrooms and a bath tucked away through a tiny hallway off the living room’s right wall. Just enough room for us two. And downstairs we have again the footprint of the house! A storage room, my office, my treadmill (yes, I do use it, thank you) and a music room again with another fireplace. We have our drum set, Wurlitzer, amps and such there. The addition of overhead can lights on dimmer switches last year has transformed this room from crappy basement to ‘ooooh’…. No acoustic privacy yet, but one day…

So. That’s our joint. Small, tidy and functional. And it is something I am grateful for any number of times in a day. When I remember the duress under which I came here, the agony of the process and the pain that lingered, it’s hard to believe how I feel now. Invigorated, inspired, comfortable, thankful. And even the significance of this day is interesting to me; it is my first wedding anniversary on which I’m no longer married. Twelve twelve it is, and I’m finally free. After a long trip, I’m finally home.

“It’s so cozy”, I’ll hear Elihu say quietly to himself as he checks on the progress of our narcissus bulbs or admires the tree (when you live alone you tend to talk to no one in particular rather routinely). I agree. And this year the house has taken on a particularly cozy feeling, even without the benefit of snow. I think our low, Achromatopsia-friendly light levels might have something do to with it. Generally our place is warmly lit. Some – like my mother – might complain the place needs more wattage in general, and while see her point, I also see the gentle intimacy that softer lighting imbues, and although maybe not the best for reading the instructions on a rc helicopter manual, it is the best light for just sitting on the couch and hanging out. In order to help my child look more comfortably out of the picture windows, I’ve put up a tinted cling film. Sometimes, at the right time of day, it can look like a storm is coming (when it’s not), an unintended side effect I personally like a lot. And hey, if I want to read, I crank up the three way lamp. Not a big deal.

But this season there’s an additional mood-creating use of light which we only just thought of a few days ago. And dear readers, I encourage you all to try this yourselves, it will instantly ‘up’ the charm and elegance of your tree. ?? What device can do all that? A lamp dimmer switch. Fifteen bucks at Lowe’s and you’re on your way. I have combined my dimmer switch with a big fat on/off button on the floor. So I merely tap my toe to produce the most warmly lit tree…. The resulting lower-wattage bulbs not only allow one to see the ornaments themselves so much clearer, but the lights take on a more natural, more flame-like quality. Words don’t describe it well enough. All I can say is that if you’re using those ubiquitous tiny white lights, try out this lamp dimmer thingee and see if you don’t say ‘ahh’ when you first get it just right. And, you’re welcome. It’s the very least I can do!

So many things need work, the outside of my house just doesn’t match the inside. It’s always my great hope that when people visit, the inside will redeem the outside. It takes money to keep a property up. Mowed just once last year. Chose to take a trip instead. Lots of upkeep, limited resources. We’ll make it to the greenery one day. But for now, it’s all about home and hearth. This will be Elihu’s very first Christmas in New York. And what a perfect time to be here at home, we two, in our very cozy cottage.

Ho Ho, Huh?

In our four years here we haven’t kept a lot of holiday traditions; each year has been slightly different – and in fact this year is the very first Christmas for which Elihu will actually be here with me. Each year we try to make that important visit with Santa, and to watch him light the town tree, and each year we grow narcissus bulbs. That’s about it. Yeah, we get a tree, but never even do that the same way twice. Last year we cut one from a field and ended up modifying it a bit; I drilled holes in the trunk and stuck in branches to fill it out… (you can see pics of that tree under December 2011 in the archives to the right). Some things remain simple and routine, yet each year we’re met with a nice surprise or two that continues to make a believer of me.

When we arrived home this afternoon we found a Christmas tree leaning against our kitchen door. Huh? I just love that first moment after such a discovery… our jaws drop, we look at each other, then our mouths close and turn to smiles… And while it may be offensive to some, yes, some hearty expletives are uttered too (Elihu is skilled at this, he knows exactly when and when not to, and when he does, gotta say, he’s right on). So holy crap and hot damn, we have ourselves a tree. Although we don’t keep too many rigid traditions, I will admit to being a late starter at Christmastime, and I really like it that way. (Remember please that the three wise men didn’t even get to the manger – and give their gifts – until January 6th – Epiphany, ya know? And much of the Christian world correctly recognizes this day as the big one.) Plus, I’m kind of a control freak. I like to choose a tree. It’s kind of a big deal. I take pride in having my home reflect my own aesthetic choices, and the size and shape of a Christmas tree is a pretty big one – plus it’s one which comes only once a year. So ironically, in this holy moment of true giving, my less-than holy self is having a tiny tantrum.

How can I be like this for long? Elihu and I both know that somewhere out there is a person who is so excited for us, who couldn’t wait to bring us this gift, whose whole day was uplifted at the thought, who is right now happily wondering what we are saying and thinking at the surprise. And this makes us laugh. How can we not honor that and be just as joyful? After some preparations, we get the tree inside, and my able nine year old adjusts the bottom as I hold it straight (just love that my kid can finally help out like this – he does too.) We stand back. Hmm. It’s short and stout. It’s not quite the shape or size we would have chosen, but we note that it’s a good tree for a country cottage. We also remind ourselves that a tree hadn’t even been in our budget this year. It smells so nice. We thank the tree for giving her life to us, and we promise to love her and dress her up beautifully. We take a moment and just admire the real, living tree before us. Wow. Christmastime indeed.

We put the clues together and we assess who might have done this. I have an idea, and yes, it’s becoming more evident. After a trip next door to tell Grandma and Grandpa our news (this is too good for the telephone) we pick up the phone and call our suspect. We have her on speaker, and she’s good…  She brightly exclaims that we’ve been ‘elved’! – and tells us that she too had been elved last year when she came home from work to find the pole at her driveway wrapped in Christmas lights… I listen carefully to her voice. Yes, she’s good. And I like that she is, cuz way down deep she’s got me believing. Course the kid’s here too, so she’s gonna do her best, but damn, I really do believe her. It makes such sense, ya know?

Ho Ho Ho! We’ve been elved!

Some December Pics

Marching Band in front of Saratoga Springs Town Hall
Elihu, finally without glasses
Elihu loves the tuba. Has since he was 3. Just a couple more years...
The marching band's on break
Elihu follows the band on Broadway
Santa tells Elihu about the geese he sees from his sleigh
Santa, checking the children's holiday spirit
The field where we cut down our tree
We two, with our newly cut tree behind
Our Christmas tree.