Home: Part Two

Home is a topic which is much on my mind these days. As Pictorama readers know I now spend part of each month in New Jersey, near where I grew up, with my mom helping out there now that she is in failing health.

I have always had a cat-like desire for routine and part of that is being nestled in the same place as much as possible, with my things around me for comfort. Even as a small child my mother would comment on my determination to make a space mine and settle into it.

Sunrise from the apartment in Manhattan.

As I have gotten older that also means Kim and the cats most of all – home is where the heart is after all. While I have enjoyed some of the work travel I have done, being uprooted from them and home has always been done a bit grudgingly.

Therefore, a new paradigm that pulls me out of my usual and sends me off to Jersey periodically has been a bit painful really. Although now over the past year I have pressed that into a sort of pattern as well it is somewhat less jarring. It is always hard for me to gather myself to leave on a Sunday night when I just want to stay curled up on my couch. I have my great indulgence which is the ride I take in each direction, comfort Aussie Shepard on my lap for pets, which allows me the luxury of travel on my own schedule.

Cookie when she helped me with the Christmas card recently.

I keep a suitcase lightly packed, but mostly I have clothing, toiletries and running apparel there. Like me, my laptop has to be disconnected on one end and reinstalled on the other. On the other side of the trip is mom’s little Cape Cod house, a bedroom for me which the cats there only cede to me with great reluctance. I gave everyone a peek at Peaches in last week’s post which can be found here.

To be frank, mom’s cats are not enamored of me as a group. Beau, an enormous pitch black cat, allows me to pet him, but mom’s other rescues are skittish and generally not for petting which is disappointing. (I recently wrote about Stormy, cat of mystery, here.) I miss Cookie and Blackie’s affection when I am gone.

Milty and Peaches enjoying the open door last summer.

My morning routine there is to have coffee with mom very early, 5:30 or 6:00, before heading out for a run if weather permits. I schedule myself this way because early morning is the best time with her as she starts the day. I make a large pot of coffee in a percolator identical to the one in New York and which all of mom’s caretakers is now enamored. Mom can no longer drink it, but appreciates the smell as it perks. I make a good pot of coffee.

Wooded running path in Monmouth County.

I generally keep my run to around 4-5 miles in New Jersey. I run more slowly there – lots to look at and also I jog slowly over many types of terrain. Although the majority of my run is through a sort of sidewalk suburban heaven, through neighborhoods and sports fields, I also run through a heavily wooded area, over wood chip paths, over tree roots and past the occasional deer. People nod and say hello in New Jersey, unlike in Manhattan where you never much do that, but dogs here are more likely to lunge for me than jaded city pups. I see endless bunnies and chipmunks abound, cats watch me from porches and dogs bark at me from behind fences and windows. There’s even a rooster on my route although I have not heard him in awhile.

While stretching outside upon my return I take an inventory of the outside of the house and anything that seems amiss or needs attention. It is remarkable to me that one day you can look at the front steps and realize that the railing needs paint and is starting to fall apart at the bottom, that gutters need attention or the driveway has a sag. Recently I realized that there was a huge air leak under the front door despite a storm door in place.

Mom’s house in the snow.

Mom’s is a track house built in the 1950’s – identical ones probably dotted the neighborhood at the time although her prime location near three schools, endless sports fields and small shopping area, has converted most of the lots to considerably larger homes. Her house, originally quite small, had an addition of a main bedroom, bath and an area bumped out to enlarge the kitchen. It now has four bedrooms, two in the dormer upstairs, and three and a half bathrooms. As it nears its seventh decade I can see that maintaining it is difficult, but more attainable than the houses of more than a hundred years that appeal to me aesthetically.

As an apartment dweller for my entire adult life, the actual reality of home ownership has been a rude awakening as I take over some of the responsibilities for mom’s house. Mike the yard guy, the rat exterminator, David who paints, Fitzroy who does odd jobs, Larry who helps with the computer – mom holds the reins still on all of it but slowly I am starting to engage.

Upstairs room where I work.

I am generally there on workdays so my return home is usually followed by a quick breakfast and then to my “office” upstairs in one of those bedrooms. I try to have a proper lunch time when I am with mom (my friend Suzanne often picks me up and we hit a great restaurant called Tavalo’s for the best sandwiches I know) and I attempt to end my day no later than 6:00 at least for meetings. During times of duress, the same friend will offer up a glass of Prosecco with cheese and crackers at the end of the day, bringing it upstairs if I don’t surface.

It amazes me that our apartment in Manhattan is so much quieter than mom’s house. While there is a roster of caregivers coming and going throughout the day and night, it is more the folks tending to the house’s needs and a litany of visiting docs which makes the small house feel like Grand Central station at rush hour. (I have written previously about mom and her caregivers in a post that can be found here.)

And then, before I know it, time to pack back up and head home to Deitch Studio. Much like at the beginning of my trip, there is a tug to stay here too, the gravitational pull of staying where I am, but now at home in both places.

Home: Part One

Pam’s Pictorama Post: Looks like I am bringing this year in with another pair of personal posts – for those of you who are in it for the toys and the photos (and even a new soup recipe there is great interest in), I promise a backlog of those in the beginning of the New Year.

Meanwhile, a fact I don’t think I ever shared with Pictorama readers is that home renovation television is near and dear to my heart. I began watching it before the pandemic, finding it comforting to see on the hotel televisions in various locations. During Covid however I began to watch it at more devotedly. At the height of the pandemic, working frenzied endless days and nights from our one room apartment, it was a source of comfort and one of the few escapes from a beleaguered day-to-day of Zoom meetings and ambulance sirens here in New York City.

View from Deitch Studio which is our window onto the world.

I enjoyed the soothing transformation of unloved homes into cozy interiors to house new families. I especially liked the cottages to be found in the south. Low entry points for purchase are like catnip to those of us paying a premium for our tiny foothold in Manhattan and two bedroom would be a luxury indeed. I am a sucker for a cute little houses built in the teens or twenties and would fantasize about owning one, while knowing I have no interest in moving to Texas or Mississippi.

Over time I realized that I don’t necessarily especially like the renovations which become repetitive. I would often think I would have kept more of the original charm of the home intact – the incessant knocking down of walls is odd to me. (Do I want everyone to see my untidy kitchen all of the time?) Although watching those shows has meant that when I have on occasion needed to make renovation decisions in our apartment (see the post for the great kitchen renovation of 2019 here) or my mom’s house, I pretty much know what is out there and what I like – and therefore of course what I do not.

Our renovated kitchen in fall of 2019.

However, my passion is touring the old houses while people “decide” which house they will purchase. I like those house tours – seeing worn, but well-loved homes that have sheltered many lives and families over decades, as many as a hundred years or more, of habitation. There is something about that continuity that I find very comforting even with them a bit down at the heels and in need of new attention.

During and after! Anasty bit of home renovation we did during the pandemic. The process of installing a wall of bookcases.
Kim doing some settling into those (now beloved and toy filled) bookshelves.

While I have an appreciation for those shows where homes that were completely trashed are rescued, sometimes requiring taking them down to the studs, I prefer houses with longer history with hopes that it will be maintained. My favored channel morphed into some versions with houses dating up to hundreds of years back, and although I didn’t need to see the renovation (sensitive although it always is); I want the history and occasionally seeing the guts of the house – stone basements and foundations, odd wells, fascinating attics with many angles, and strange back stairwells. One wildly enthusiastic young couple just shows you three very inexpensive, beautiful old houses in different parts of the country for sale and points out the wonderful features of each, a porch, a gorgeous stairwell, built-in craftsman sideboards and the like. That is stripping down the home show to its core for me.

510 East 85th Street was my home for many years before Deitch Studio.

Oddly somehow watching several years of these shows has slowly cured me of the itch to own an old home. While I do love to see them, digesting everything that can go wrong with a house that is a hundred years old, let alone more, has had a sobering effect on me to the extent I consider home ownership.

My practical side has overtaken the romance and I know that I am not quite up to that challenge should it present itself – which is unlikely. As I start to help my mom care for her home I am learning a lot about the reality of home ownership and tomorrow’s post will tackle that, for those of you who are game and willing to indulge me, as we ring in the New Year.

And for those of you who made it to the end of the post, I will also share that the photo at the top of the post is the house I grew up in, as it was when we sold it in 2016.