Homeowners Lament

I need a weekend to catch up.

I need a weekend to finish the dusting, vacuuming, and mopping.

I need to do the semi-annual window cleaning, which is really only necessary once in the spring and once in the fall. We regularly try to clean the windows in the patio doors where the dog strategically places nose prints all the time, but the rest of the windows don’t usually get any attention.

I need to clean out the refrigerator, since I am certain we are now growing penicillin in a couple of those plastic containers that started out holding leftover pasta, which I intended to take for lunch but never did.

I need to finish the rest of the laundry. But the problem with laundry is that even as you are finishing it there is more at the ready – just waiting to be washed, and mocking you.

I need to finish weeding all of the flower beds this spring. We don’t have that many of them, but we have a few spots that need a little attention and then a good mulching will keep them weed-free for a few weeks. Why doesn’t it keep them weed-free all summer?

I need to get to that sewing project that is waiting for me on the chair in the dining room. It’s going to be a lovely little gift for a baby who was born several months ago. It may have to be a first birthday present instead.

sunset over the lake

sunset over the lake

Because the weekend rolls around and I have a hair appointment, a friend to meet for coffee, errands to run that I can’t get to during the week, groceries to buy, a book to read that keeps calling my name, and a beautiful sunset to photograph during a twilight walk.

I need a weekend to catch up.  But it’s only Monday.

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Spring Into Action

Spring clothes, spring flowers, and spring cleaning.  Spring comes in fits and starts, and a few warm and sunny days are usually followed by others that are chilly and rainy. So we make the most of the clear weather and the onset of warm days brings a flurry of activity.

The first order of business was to get the car cleaned up inside and out. I am pretty careful about not leaving messes in the car, so usually a good vacuuming will suffice. This time, after a really bitter and snowy winter, it required a little spray carpet cleaner to loosen the caked up road salt on the floor mats. But less than an hour to get the carpet, upholstery, and windows clean, and a little time with the hose and brush at the car wash left the car looking and smelling pretty nice.

Then it was off with the snow tires and on with the summer tires. Even in this very wintery Western New York climate, lots of people don’t do this anymore. But snow tires let me go where I need to all winter long without worry, so it’s worth it. There have been years when the snow tires stay on until May, but not this year.

Spring also means the semi-annual wardrobe switcheroo. Houses that were built in the 1950’s never have enough closet space to hold a full twelve months of clothing at a time. Actually, our old house which was built in the 1920’s was even worse, so this house has been a step up.  I don’t have a lot of clothes, but working in an office requires a professional wardrobe and that requires some storage space. So twice each year I trade out the past seasons closet full for the coming seasons items. Things that no longer fit well or look past their prime are donated or tossed, and the rest is packed away for next fall. Honestly, I should be more ruthless during the weeding out, but I tend to hold onto things a little too long sometimes. Life would be much easier if I could just live in jeans and a tee shirt, but that’s not how it works. By the time the spring/summer items are hauled out and hung up, the closet feels fresher and lighter, and so does my mood.

DaffodilsWhipping the yard into shape takes several days. There’s an oak tree up the street that doesn’t lose its leaves until January, and a lot of those leaves wind up wedged around the back steps and underneath the shrubs. Spring raking is the first order of business, followed by some weeding to get rid of the dandelions that waste no time trying to sprout. The deer were especially hard on our plantings this winter, nibbling on almost all of our brand new flowering fothergilla. Not content to chomp on the dormant winter plants, the deer have also started to attack the newly sprouted daylilies and hostas. We purchased the large economy sized deer repellant spray this time.

As the daylight hours grow and winter loosens its icy grip, we look forward to the beginning of a fresh, new season. One of the most promising events so far: my yard-work jeans actually fit a little better this spring than they did last fall; and that is a big win for the wardrobe, the spring cleaning, and the spirit.

Buffalo’s Wright Stuff

Buffalo is a city filled with interesting architecture. The Darwin D. Martin House Complex may be the crown jewel in the treasure trove of sparkling gems for architectural fans and history buffs.

Growing up with a father who was an architect, all five of his children learned a few things about architecture in our formative years, and you can’t learn anything about architecture unless you know who Frank Lloyd Wright was. Dad was a fan of Frank Lloyd Wright – a huge fan. Frank Lloyd Wright received many accolades during his lifetime, and even more since his death in 1959. Whether you love his Prairie style or think his buildings were just far-fetched, you simply must recognize that he was a visionary.

Frank Lloyd Wright believed strongly in “organic” architecture. He felt that the inside of a building should be easily connected or accessible to the outside – that the two were very closely related to one another and should be treated almost as partners when it comes to design. Having studied under Louis Sullivan in Chicago, Wright also subscribed to the “form follows function” principle of modern architecture. While these theories may seem commonplace today, they were astounding in the early 1900’s. Those were the days when each room was compartmentalized for a specific purpose – the library housed books, the dining room was only for dining, and so on. Wright threw those notions out the window. He called it “breaking the box.” The irony is that many of his homes appear, on the surface, to be very boxy. He loved long horizontal lines, feeling that the homes he designed that way would appear as if they were growing out of the earth.

Wright was fairly young and not well known outside of Chicago when he was hired by Darwin D. Martin, a well-to-do executive with the Larkin soap company, to build a home in Buffalo. Actually, Martin hired Wright to build a trial home first – a home for Martin’s sister and her family. That house, called the Barton House, is just north of the main house. Apparently the trial worked since Wright was hired to design the rest of the Martin complex.

The complex takes up an acre and a half in the lovely Parkside neighborhood of Buffalo, just a stone’s throw from Delaware Park and the Buffalo Zoo. Both the neighborhood and the park were laid out by Frederick Law Olmsted. Nestled among the Victorian, Tudor, and Queen Anne homes nearby, the Prairie style Martin House stands out as special and unique. I’m certain it did when it was completed in 1905, and it still does today.

The Darwin D. Martin House in Buffalo, designed by Frank Lloyd Wright

The Darwin D. Martin House in Buffalo, designed by Frank Lloyd Wright

Our first visit to the Martin House eight years ago was on a whim. We had been in Buffalo for something else, and had some time to kill. So we drove over to the Martin House just to see what it looked like. It happened to be closed to tours that day, but we stood on the sidewalk taking photos and talking about it when an older man approached us and asked us if we wanted any information about the house. It turns out he was a docent who lived in the neighborhood. He not only answered our questions, he “snuck” us inside for a quick peek. We got only as far as the reception room, with its magnificent sunburst fireplace, but we did get a glimpse of the rest of the massive home beyond. Ever since then, I have wanted to go back.

Since that first visit, the Martin House Restoration Corporation has been able to restore much of the homes former grandeur. The pergola and carriage house, which had been torn down years before due to extreme decay, have been reconstructed with the same attention to detail that the originals received when Wright was alive. The Gardeners Cottage, which was lovingly cared for as a private home for decades, has been sold back to the Martin House complex. Even some of the original Wright-designed furnishings inside are in their original locations. There is still much work to do, but it has come a very long way.

If you have seen Fallingwater, perhaps the best known of the Wright-designed homes, you should also see the Darwin Martin House. Built thirty years apart, the two are strikingly different. Yet Wright’s attention to detail and focus on the “organic” are evident in both. Fallingwater is a masterpiece built over a running brook in the woods. It was a summer home for the Kauffmann (department store) family of Pittsburgh. Its isolated spot in the woods allows it to not only blend into its surroundings, but also to stand out as a work of art. But having visited Fallingwater twice, I will tell you that both times I came away feeling that it is much more sculptural than homey. The Martin House is much more homey, even within the confines of Wright’s sculptural genius.

Darwin Martin lost his fortune during the Great Depression, and died in 1935. His family was not able to maintain the home and moved away, leaving it vacant for many years. When a Buffalo architect purchased it in 1954, Frank Lloyd Wright wrote to the man and thanked him for taking care of his “opus.” The Martin House stands today as a testimony to the dozens of people who cared enough to maintain and restore this architectural gem in Buffalo.

We took my mother on our most recent visit to the Martin House. She had never been before, and during my father’s lifetime it was never open to the public. When we left, mom said, “Your father would have loved this.” I know she was right.

College, Career, and Happiness

Are you happy? One of my nieces asked this simple and provocative question online recently and it made me stop and think. Her question was in relation to career goals and the pursuit of a college degree. My answer to her post was brief, but here’s my real answer…

I sincerely enjoy the type of work I do. Being in communications means that there is always something fresh on the horizon, and the explosion of social media has made communication processes much more interesting and challenging. There is no shortage of information, and no way to slow down the flow. Some days this is a welcome challenge and other days it is an overwhelming disaster that screams “you are burning out faster than you know!” It occasionally feels as though the workload is daring me to fail. Luckily, I am an extremely competitive person. So daring me to fail is almost a guarantee of success. Almost. One of the major problems with my work life right now is that technology has elevated expectations to the point where it is impossible to meet them. That includes my own expectations for myself. Just because we can all move information from place to place in a heartbeat does not mean we should, and does not mean it’s done in the best possible way. Faster does not equal better.

The nature of my work has changed over the years and I’m okay with that. But no one loves every aspect of their chosen profession and, without going into detail online, the honest reality is that my career is stalled. Therein lies the career “happiness” problem which is quite definitely linked to the college degree issue.

Reading the news, circa 1983

Reading the news, circa 1983

Because I never completed a bachelor’s degree I am shut out of some job opportunities. The reasons for my not getting this degree are numerous:

  1. I was a party-girl during my first year in college and almost flunked out. Yes, it’s true. My straight-A-high-school-self went more than a little crazy when I left home for the first time and at the age of 18 I was immature and irresponsible.
  2. My parents declined to pay for my partying lifestyle and brought me home. I attended community college, which was a great experience and I did get an associate’s degree.
  3. By then I was working full-time in a job that I loved, which led me to a career in radio news.
  4. I was a decent reporter and became an okay news director, and did not need that bachelor’s degree to do it.
  5. When our children were young, the news business no longer suited my lifestyle. To put myself on a more regular schedule, I took a job at a small non-profit as communications director and fell in love with the work, the people, and the role. I never looked back.

Throughout all of these changes, I never needed a bachelor’s degree to get ahead. The reality is that for the small town where we live I earn a decent living without it. But not having it absolutely does make a difference. Even though I have always tried to bring professionalism and integrity to the workplace, some places will simply not consider me because I lack a bachelor’s degree. In some cases, I have found myself competing with people who have a master’s degree.

While lunching with a friend the other day she said, “You should just do it!” She is absolutely right, I should just do it. The only thing really standing in my way right now is money, because we are working very hard to keep daughter #2 in college so that she can pursue her own career and life aspirations. We want our kids to be launched properly and then whatever they choose to do with the rest of their lives is entirely up to them. Fortunately, they have not made the mistakes I made. They can find enough of their own.

So my advice to anyone thinking about going to college is: Just DO it. Do it early, and quickly, and on a tight budget if you have to, and squeeze all of the learning and fun and experimentation (legally, that is) out of it that you can. Try new things. Dabble in different types of course work. Try out new extracurricular groups. Taste new foods. Play new sports. Travel. Enjoy it. But DO IT! The rest of your life will absolutely be easier if you have a degree. If you are not cut out for college, then find some trade school or apprenticeship program to enhance your skills. But DO IT and finish it and move on. Because there are other things you are going to want to do in your life. You may want to go in a completely different direction later and that’s okay. I know many people who have degrees in some field of study that do not match their professional lives. 30 years ago you could get by without a four year diploma, but that is not the case anymore and having a degree – in anything – is essential.

But here is the rest of my answer on the happiness continuum, and this is very important. We should never, ever, ever allow our happiness to be dictated solely by our work lives.

I have fabulous, supportive people around me. My family and friends mean the world to me and they make me feel happy every day. I volunteer for some terrific causes and that makes me feel productive and useful and happy. I try to work on some creative thing every day just to demonstrate that I still can, and that makes me very happy.

So, for me at this point, work is where I go to earn a living that allows me to pursue other things that make me happy. Many of us become defined by our careers when, in reality, we are so much more than that. For what it’s worth and if you care to take any advice from a mid-50’s woman with a boatload of experience here it is: get a degree because it will open more doors for you, find something productive or creative to do with your time, and surround yourself with great people. Happiness is where you make it.