Monday, December 22, 2008


This year was one of transition for me. My husband was laid off from his job of 23 years last December, and I was laid off from mine of 24 years in August. He had always wanted to move back to Pennsylvania, where he was born and grew up, and I was more than glad to leave California. That is not to say that I don't love California - I lived there since I was five and got to know and love the subtle signs of the seasons there. But the economy there was not good, and I longed to go someplace where external trappings were not so important.

So, less than a week after my last day of work we had cleared out the townhome and gotten it ready to rent, got my car on a trailer behind Steve's truck with both packed with computers and other things we didn't trust to the movers, and were on the road across the country with no place to live and no jobs secured. Actually, he had had a series of very promising interviews, but no job offer yet.

We rented an extended stay apartment in Bucks County, north of Philadelphia, and Steve started his new job in September. I started seriously looking for a job, and ended up with two offers. I took the one that was closer, with fewer responsibilities and with less pay. We found a house to rent about two miles from each of our jobs, and moved at the beginning of October.

At the end of October, I started my new job in a hospital less than three miles from where we are living, which makes a nice commute. The hospital buildings surround "healing gardens" and the office I'm in looks out to one of the gardens.

The house we are renting is in the historic part of Langhorne, an historic borough about two miles from each of our jobs. The city was founded in 1680 at the crossing of two Indian paths, which are the current Maple Street and Bellevue Street. Our house was built in 1920, so it is one of the newer homes. Many of the houses have historic plaques with the date they were built. Homes go back to the 1800's, 1700's and a few from the 1600's. The architectural styles vary from stone colonials to Victorian, Edwardian and many others.

Ours is a Dutch Colonial, which means it is shaped like a barn, and is white with dark green trim. It is two stories, with an attic and a basement. Neither is finished, but they are good for storage. There are three bedrooms and a bath upstairs, and another bedroom and bath, the living room, dining room, kitchen, and an office downstairs. The closet space is limited, but we got an armoire to put in our bedroom so that I could unpack my clothes. We have a huge front yard with four large trees on the edges.

We had weather almost up to 70 degrees last week and today it is 17 for the high. We've had snow, sleet, freezing rain, wind and sunshine. The autumn leaves were beautiful, but are all gone now. We put out 35 bags of leaves last week, and still have maybe 10 bags to fill still.

Matilda, my cat, is quite happy. She has three beds to choose from, and lots of places to hide. She can sit by the front door and look out to keep track of what's going on outside. She got used to sleeping in her carrier when we drove across country. So that makes things easier at night. In fact, she will come and sit in front of us when she's ready for bed.

The borough of Langhorne is small, but very tight-knit. There is a coffee-house a block away that we walked to for breakfast on the weekends, but when the sidewalks are icy, we drive. They had a harvest festival, a scarecrow contest, and a tree-lighting ceremony with Dickensian carolers, free hot cider and chocolate. All of the houses are decorated for whatever the season is.

I absolutely love being here, where they don't regard trees as objects to be pruned into submission, and open space as a challenge for developers. When we came it was still summer, and the trees were lush and green and the air was thick and humid. Then autumn came with the breathtaking array of colors on the trees and carpeting the ground. And now, winter with its own austere beauty. The trees are stripped to their bones and the landscape seems to be in black and white only.

Bucks County, Pennsylvania is beautiful, historic, I feel close to nature, and I experience changes in weather and seasons. I feel happily at home.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Remembrances of Things Past

I have been going through boxes that I have had in storage in preparation for our move. It is an exploration of the detritus of the lives of my family.

After my father died, I got the boxes that he had kept. That was when I discovered the sentimentality of that side of my family. My father had kept all of the report cards, drawings, and greeting cards that he had ever gotten. He had a box from when his mother died, and had kept it untouched. I found that she had saved all of the cards, letters, and wedding invitations that she had received. And she had kept the papers from her mother: the cards, flowers, notes from throughout her lifetime. Three generations of mementos.

And this did not include the various job applications, copies of tax reports, and other personal business paperwork my Dad had kept, the social security and medicare notices, the bank statements, and calendars that my Grandma kept, or the paperwork my Great-Grandma kept.

Then I opened one of my own boxes: I found bundles of greeting cards, letters sorted by writer, journals spanning thirty years, and cancelled checks and personal business papers dating back to the eighties. The sentimentality had carried over to a fourth generation.

The difficult thing about going through this process is that you see glimpses of parts of your relatives' lives that you were unaware of. There are names that are familiar, probably relations of one kind or another. And it is too late to really learn about them. I kept some of my Grandma's letters, and some of my father's papers to explore at a later date. My hope is to put together something for my sisters so that we can all feel a little closer to those loved ones who have gone on.

It left me wondering if it is better to make sure that I do not leave such a task for someone after I am gone, or is it better to leave some kind of record for them to explore and perhaps discover something about me that they did not know.

Monday, June 30, 2008

Ned in the First Reader

My husband is a NASCAR fan, so by default I have also become one. Steve's cousin works for Kevin Harvick's pit crew, so we root for him to do well. This weekend we were listening to the commentary on the practice sessions for the race. One commentator said that if Kevin Harvick didn't practice he would end up "looking like Ned in the First Reader".

It was a phrase I had never heard before, so of course I had to research it. I had heard it as "Ned, the first reiver" so my initial web search turned up The Reivers by William Faulkner. Ned is one of the characters and is determined for a certain horse to win a race. Seemed appropriate, though it didn't illuminate the meaning of the phrase. But I was impressed that the commentator made an obscure literary reference. I figured that being a Southern writer, perhaps his works were more well known than I thought.

When you type something into Yahoo Search, it comes up with suggestions for words or phrases to complete what you're typing. One of the suggestions was "Ned the first reader." I did that search and found two things quickly. One, a lot of people also want to know what "Ned in the first reader" means. Two, coaches and sports commentators are very fond of using that phrase.

A little more research revealed that it was referring to The First Reader, most likely by McGuffey but perhaps one of the many others. It is a little difficult to determine what Ned was like from the simplistic stories and pictures in the first readers I found. There were people who reminisced about what the phrase meant to them or their parents. They say either that Ned was foolish and things always turned out poorly for him, or that he was messy and slovenly.

Friday, June 27, 2008

To change or not to change

There is a time and place for everything, or so I would like to think. I tell myself that my life has been stable, placid and unchanging. I lived in the same apartment for nearly 20 years, and have worked at the same place for 25 years. Yet not everything has been the same.

There have been trips to Italy, England, Scotland, India and Egypt. I had a long time roommate who relocated, so that I could make the space at home my own. Neighbors came and went, from neutral, to horrendous and finally to pleasant and friendly. And then within the last two years my life turned upside down.

It all started when I joined an on-line match service. I met and married my husband, and moved from the apartment that I had finally made into a cozy nest ... into a bachelor's townhome with a nineteen year-old step-son. From tranquility to chaos.

My husband had worked for his company for 25 years as well: a recipe for stability, yes? Within a short time, there were layoffs at his firm, and then reorganization at mine. With change being dictated to us, we decided to take advantage of it. So now we are planning to uproot and move cross-country.

He is looking for a job in the mid-Atlantic region, and I am waiting until he finds one to search for my position. Then it will be time to madly pack and discard and prepare to move us, his son, and a crotchety cat from here to there. Wherever "there" might be. A new and different world awaits.