I had an alarming incident.

I have been very busy lately with holiday cheer and whatnot, but I have to take a few moments to share the story about the mysterious noise in my kitchen, before I forget the funny parts.

Foreshadow alert: It involves the last time I will yank the wires out of a heat sensor without calling the alarm company first.

It all started on a Saturday night. I was alone in the house and heard a buzzing noise. I tiptoed all around the kitchen, trying to find out where the noise was coming from, becoming increasingly concerned and eventually convinced the buzzing sounded exactly like a live wire that could at any moment make my house explode.

Except the kids weren’t home, so instead of springing for overtime for an electrician, I decided the most prudent course of action would be to turn on music so loud I couldn’t hear the buzzing anymore, and open a bottle of wine.

That did the trick. But the next morning, the noise was still there, and now I had a headache.

Circling the kitchen once again, I determined the buzzing must be coming from the heat sensor, so I pulled all the wires out. That left it dangling from the ceiling, and set off the alarm. “FIRE! FIRE! GET OUT OF THE HOUSE IMMEDIATELY!” shouted the alarm lady.

That didn’t help my headache one bit.

I hastily tapped in the code to make her SHUT UP, then phoned the fire department to assure them there was no fire at my house, hoping the firemen had by now forgotten last summer’s blackened catfish experiment gone awry.

And the buzzing continued. I finally summoned the electrician, who turned off all the electricity in the house, and when that didn’t stop the buzzing, opened a drawer next to the stove and produced a meat thermometer that was making the noise because its battery was low.

That cost me $100.

The electrician then tried to reassemble the heat sensor, but couldn’t because I had neglected to mark where any of the wires went. On the bright side, he pointed out, at least I hadn’t electrocuted myself.

My next call was to the alarm company, to have someone come and reattach the wires on the sensor. The woman who answered informed me the sensor would never have made a buzzing noise like that, and suggested I call next time before ripping it out of the ceiling, adding that since their system hadn’t been at  fault, the repairman’s trip would set me back $157.


Soon after, the repairman showed up, and I told him what had happened. He took a gander at the mangled sensor and asked if I had a service contract. I said yes, but acknowledged I knew it didn’t cover this particular problem. “Looks to me like that sensor just fell out of the ceiling on its own,” the repairman said. When I started to disagree, he winked.  “I’m the expert here, and it looks to me like it’s covered under your contract,” he insisted. Five minutes later it was fixed. Then he discovered the alarm wasn’t properly linked to the firehouse, so if I’d had a real fire, they wouldn’t have been notified. He fixed that (for free) too, and told me it was a good thing I’d taken that sensor apart, after all.

And just like that, I went from feeling like an idiot, to feeling happy and grateful for the kindness of strangers, and not in that creepy Blanche DuBois way, but for real.

Talk about your holiday cheer.

Things can turn around on a dime, can’t they, and you never know when it’s going to happen, or how. But it’s been my experience that it pretty much always does, eventually.

Just be patient.

And maybe think twice before you rip anything out of your ceiling.



My date with Billy Joel.

Last week, for the first time in ages, I was alone on a Saturday night.

I’d dropped my daughter off at a Bat Mitzvah, and my son was playing music at a friend’s house. Normally I would be having dinner with You Know Who You Are on a Saturday night, but You Know Who You Are had to attend a client’s charity event in New Jersey, and he realized that the only thing worse than paying an extra $400 to buy me a ticket, too, would be to sit next to me at the dinner and listen to me complain the whole time about how boring it was.

So I had the place to myself Saturday night, and I decided to make the most of it.

I lit some candles, opened a bottle of wine and ransacked the CD stack until I found a Billy Joel song that has been running through my head.

It’s called “I’ve Loved These Days,” and it plays like background music to the waves of memories that have been hammering me ever since I put my house on the market: Michael and me seeing the place for the first time at dusk and me sighing and saying, “It’s my dream house,” and Michael smiling and saying, “Then we’ll get it,” not realizing because of the darkness that it had been so neglected that the engineer’s report would label it “a handyman’s special”; Patrick, at age two, running around the kitchen in his little yellow fireman’s helmet, pointing to the oven and yelling “Fire!”, and us thinking it was so cute until we realized the oven actually was on fire; Michael buying a tent so we could have sleepovers in the backyard, but the kids getting scared of the crickets after fifteen minutes, so pitching the tent in the middle of the living room instead, and keeping it there for nine months until we had to make room for the Christmas tree.

So I blasted the Billy Joel song and listened to it over and over until I was embarrassed the neighbors would hear.

Of course, most of the song has nothing to do with my life. Michael and I did not “drown our doubts in dry Champagne,” for example, or “soothe our souls with fine cocaine.” There were no silken robes.

There was cabernet, however, and a string of pearls. And a foreign car.

But mostly, just days and days and days that I loved.

Billy Joel wrote this song about settling down and renouncing excess, then went on to divorce three times, do multiple stints in rehab and build a $20 million house in the Hamptons, so I can’t go too far with the analogy. But I do understand the powerful poignancy of happy memories when you’re on the brink of a loss.

I also understand that if it hurts that much to lose something, you were awfully fortunate to have had it in the first place.

And I’m not talking about the cabernet.

There’s another part of Saturday evening that involved a mysterious noise in the kitchen, but I’ll save that story for next time.

Right now there’s a song I want to listen to. Again.


A very expensive dentist appointment.

I’ve not yet gotten the hang of housecleaning, now that the babysitter is gone. But hopefully yesterday will be the last time I put my daughter’s camera in the washing machine the morning after she goes to a Katy Perry concert and gets to dance onstage with Katy at Madison Square Garden.

Not that she has any pictures to show for it.

I know you’re supposed to check pockets before you put clothes in the washer. In fact, I have learned about all kinds of interesting activities Patrick has engaged in, just by shaking out his pants in the laundry room. But yesterday I was in a hurry, so I stopped by Kim’s room, scooped up a pile of clothes on her floor, and tossed them in the machine.

I was rushing because I had to get my dog to his dentist appointment.

I know. For years, the babysitter would come back from Dylan’s annual exam with packet of heartworm pills and a warning from the vet that my dog’s teeth had a dangerous degree of plaque. “Ooooh, Dylan forgot to floss!” we’d joke. “Better get him to the dentist or all his teeth will fall out!”

Except now I don’t have a babysitter, so I had to take Dylan to the vet myself, and he made it sound like Dylan’s teeth really were going to fall out. I was already feeling guilty that in the nine years I’ve had a dog, I’d never met the vet before, so I scheduled a dentist appointment, being sure to initial the part of the agreement that said the vet had to call for my approval before they did any surgery on Dylan’s mouth while the dog was under anesthesia.

Then I went home, emptied the washing machine and discovered that the pocket of my daughter’s wet jacket contained her Blackberry and her camera.

Suddenly my dog’s gingivitis didn’t seem like such an emergency.

I grabbed my blow dryer and trained it on the Blackberry, which miraculously sprang back to life. The camera, however, was most sincerely dead.

While I was frantically blow-drying the devices, I missed the call from the vet saying Dylan had a lump on his gum that was probably nothing, but since I hadn’t answered the phone, they’d just go ahead and check it out.

And just like that, the price of my dog’s dentist appointment jumped to $1000, plus a new camera. And, possibly, my daughter’s not speaking to me for a week, though that would have its compensations since she’s thirteen.

Of course, you can’t put a price on a dog you love. But I think I would love Dylan just as much if he was short a few teeth.


Karma and cocktails: a potent combination

Vesper Martini

Image via Wikipedia

A few weeks back, you may recall, I invited the priest from my church over for tea. Shortly after she left, my realtor got a call from someone who wanted to make an offer on my house. The next day, a house I’ve always loved went on the market.

Coincidence? Hmmm.

But things on the real estate front have stalled since then, so I’m having an open house today. After cleaning and de-cluttering, I thought I’d give karma a little kick by helping out at the church clothing sale again. Did I really believe spending a couple of hours sorting through other people’s cast-offs would nudge Anyone into making something happen for me, real estate-wise?

Of course I didn’t.

But did I do it anyway, just in case?

Of course I did.

The last time I worked at the clothing sale was very rewarding (yawn), but this time it was fun, too, despite the fact that they stuck me in the shoe department. I even socialized a bit (I know!) and it turns out those church volunteers are not at all the kind of people I assumed they were.

I already knew one of the volunteers, Sally, because I invited her over after she moved to my block a couple of years ago. To my surprise, I discovered in quick succession that Sally the dedicated church volunteer is A) a Democrat, and B) a discerning cocktail drinker, two qualities I appreciate in people who come to my house. My newfound respect was cemented when Sally accused people who invite you to cocktail parties, but only serve beer and wine, of false advertising. “There’s nothing wrong with beer or wine,” she sniffed, “but beer and wine are not cocktails.”

That Sally is my kind of Episcopalian.

So I went to sort shoes with an open mind, and while I can’t vouch for the political leanings or drinking habits of the other women at the church, they were relaxed and funny, not uptight and judgmental like you might think church people would be.

(No offense if you’re uptight and judgmental.)

My open house starts in 45 minutes, so I have to wrap it up. I’ll let you know next week whether my clothing sale detail did anything to tip the real estate scales.

If not, that’s okay. I found a gorgeous pair of navy Ferragamo flats at the clothing sale that I happen to know I can get for cheap, since I priced them, and that will still be there tomorrow, since I hid them under a cushion in the Sunday school room.

Sometimes, you have to make your own luck.


Strangers in my house

Will this be the last time I set out pots of red chrysanthemums on my front porch?

It will be if I sell my house soon. I’m having an open house this Sunday, so from 2 to 4 you’ll find me in my neighbor Annie’s kitchen, spying from her window at the looky-loos who pull into my driveway.

Or don’t. It’s not the smartest time of year to hold an open house.

My poor realtor. It’s taken me six months to get comfortable with the idea of a pack of strangers from the city tramping through my living room, but those strangers will more likely be driving around upstate gawking at leaves this weekend than checking out open houses. Suckers. I can see gorgeous fall foliage right outside the wall of windows here in my tastefully renovated 1924 Dutch colonial.

Want to buy it?

If you do, you probably have little kids. Most of the people who’ve liked my house are parents of pre-schoolers. That’s because the house has a big, beautiful backyard, and it’s near the duck pond and the reservoir. The (fully finished — new carpet!) basement has a nice room with big windows and a bathroom. I’m sure people with little kids check out the basement and think, “Wow, what a great place for an exercise room.”

That’s what Michael and I thought, too, and there used to be a treadmill in it.

Not anymore. Now there’s just a teenager.

It’s a good deal all around: Patrick has his privacy, and I can’t smell his old socks and three-day-old cheeseburgers. What I can smell, through vents in the family room, is cigarette smoke, which has been useful on more than one occasion.

The house also has an alarm system with a very handy setting: a beeper goes off if a toddler tries to go outside when no one’s looking.

It’s equally handy if a teenager tries to sneak out when everyone’s sleeping.

Yes, there’s lots to like about my house, but you never know what kind of people will show up to see it.

I hope whoever buys my house will love it as much as I do. I hope they have little children who will giggle as ducks paddle over to them when they toss bread in the duck pond. I hope they have pony rides for packs of squealing kindergartners at birthday parties in the backyard. I hope those adorable children grow up to be teenagers who find the shortcut home from beer parties at the reservoir, and slip in through the basement door without realizing that their parents discovered the tape they put over the button that sets off the alarm.

I hope they fix the garbage disposal, but shhh, don’t tell them it’s broken.

I guess more than anything I hope the people who buy my house appreciate all the things that make it special.

If they do, I might just throw in the minivan.


Anyone want a minivan?

There are currently three cars in my driveway, and only one driver in the family. It’s time to get rid of a car. But which one?

Not the BMW, which reminds me of the first luxury car Michael and I bought, a black Infiniti. We loved that car. I had never owned a nice car before. Michael had a leased Jaguar when he ran a company with his cousin before we were married, but he had to give it back when it turned out his cousin was a crook. So technically the Infiniti was the first nice car Michael owned, too, since it wasn’t paid for from questionable business accounts like the one that funded his cousin’s three-week safari in Africa.

Driving around in the Infiniti made us feel special and magical and maybe a little smug, which karma didn’t like, evidently.

One night Michael went to buy a pack of cigarettes. He didn’t smoke very often because he felt it wasn’t worth the nagging, but we’d had a stressful, long flight with two little children that day and he felt he really, really needed a smoke. So much so that at 11 PM he drove to a pub in town, left the car running and ran in to get cigarettes. When he emerged from the bar minutes later, he discovered the car had been stolen. You can imagine my reaction upon waking up at midnight to find Michael arriving home in a police car to sheepishly explain that his nicotine habit had cost us our car.

A few days later, we got a call from the New York City police: They had picked up someone in the Bronx who didn’t look like he should be driving an Infiniti. The car now smelled foul, was littered with fast food containers and had a big rock sitting on the passenger seat, which the police explained had likely been used to smash the windshields of other cars, in the interest of stealing things. Or injuring people.

Poof, the magic of the Infinti was gone.

At least Michael never smoked again.

But my BMW still feels a little magical, and drives great in the snow, so that one’s a keeper.

There’s also the Toyota Corolla that my mother gave me after she had to give up her license. It’s a peppy little vehicle and fun to drive, and will be perfect for Patrick if he ever decides that being able to drive is worth sitting through driver’s ed for. (His sister has warned me not to bother passing the car down to her when she’s 16, as its roll-down windows are “too much work.”)

Which leaves the minivan. It’s a 2006 Odyssey with less than 30,000 miles on it, since it was the car the babysitter just drove around town for carpools. I really like the car. The navigation lady is nice, and the DVD system was a lifesaver when the kids were little. But now I don’t have a babysitter, we haven’t used the DVD system since the kids got addicted to iPods, and owning a car that fits seven teenagers means means seven drop-offs at 11 p.m. when I’d really rather be home watching reruns of Two and a Half Men.

Plus, I have twice sideswiped stationary objects while driving it, so the door has scratches.

Want it? I’m selling it for $17,000, but for you, I’ll make it $16,000.


I realize that still leaves two cars and one driver, but a backup vehicle really comes in handy. You never know when chipmunks will make a nest in an engine, or a car will need gas when it’s raining out and you don’t want to get your hair frizzy, or pay for full service at the gas station.

So very soon, I will drive the minivan for the last time.

Bye, navigation lady.

A funny thing happened on the way to the clothing sale.

You know I love a bargain, and you know I love clothes. But until today, I had never volunteered at my church’s annual clothing sale, an event renowned for bargains and clothes. Today I dove in, and my days of making excuses — or sending the babysitter in my place — are over.

My main reason for avoiding volunteering is that I don’t like getting bossed around by other people for free. But you can’t expect to be in charge of other volunteers if you have no idea what you’re doing, no matter how bossy you are. You have to start somewhere, and it’s not at the top.

At least in church, you know who the real Boss is, and He isn’t going to complain about how you fold the sweaters.

Anyway, it was high time I started volunteering. Lately I’ve been focusing on me, me, me: finding a job, selling my house, writing a blog about myself. I needed to go somewhere where other people could focus on me, too.

Today we sorted through bags of donated clothing, and things went well. I was gently informed that you don’t toss items into the “send to Goodwill” pile just because they’re wrinkled or you think they’re ugly, but even when I made mistakes, everyone was nice.

Goodwill donation bin at a Safeway store

Image via Wikipedia

Church is good that way.

I needed a shot of karma. If I am not going to try harder to look for a job, I figured, I’d better get the universe working on it. Sure enough, one woman quietly gave me the email of someone in town who’ll be a great resource for my job hunt. I guess when you don’t help with the clothing sale for 16 years then suddenly show up on at 10:30 on a Tuesday morning, people know something’s up.

Karma probably doesn’t work that quickly, of course, so I’ll have more afternoons free to help out. I’m looking forward to it.