Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Winter thoughts

I'm breaking one of my rules for blogging and commenting. I don't post stuff I write when I'm beat from one of my periodic insomnia cycles, and I don't post stuff I write when I have a headache.

But today I have a nasty pounding sinus headache and I'm posting anyway, not because there's anything terribly Deep to say but because this year is weird and so are my winter thoughts.

As a kid I'd say it could not get hot enough for me. That changed a couple decades ago, probably by means of my aging metabolism, but I still was not a Winter Person.

That may be changing. As years of attempts to get the kids attracted to the idea of moving to even a liberal, artsy southern area, have failed, our focus is changing. We're thinking on establishing ourselves back in NJ again, not at all soon, but in time.

When we lived there for 4 years I could NOT WAIT to be back in the south. This past summer seems to have dealt a death blow to my love of summer.

Obviously this past summer was emotionally hard, but the heat was so brutal that I'm not sure I wouldn't have turned against summer anyway after that one. Blazing heat, all day, every day, every errand and outing bracketed by having the life force sucked out of me by a searing hot car, a trek across broiling asphalt, and back again.

Winter has set in and has been as weirdly extreme as summer was. Ordinarily we get snow flurries maybe once every couple years. Snows like last February's are once-in-20-year things. This year we've had flurries with minor dusting three frikkin' times, including my birthday. The picture above is from the first one when it was still a novelty. I haven't bothered taking pictures since.

And in between - true set-in cold, cold that kept the little bit of snow accumulation around in crevices and shady patches for days. Winter Lite for a lot of climes, but nothing that life here is designed for. Cold barn of a house. Lots of static electric shocks, one of my least favorite things.

And I don't care. I like the winter. I think I could get rather into living somewhat farther north. Not way up, not to get buried for weeks and deal with snow in May. But someplace where a nice stretch of winter can stop my feeling that I should be accomplishing this or that. Weather that makes itself the dominant force of the day so that I forget the past and ignore the future and think only about layering, getting supplies in, and hunkering in my reading chair till dinner. I've never lost nostalgia for our wonderful Victorian NJ house, and feel like, if we could have the right house, comfortable, away from traffic noise, set up just the right way for our life, I could love the seasons.

There's a very good, but painful, novel called Deerskin, by Robin McKinley, about a woman cruelly abused and her hibernation-like healing through a long protective winter that cocoons her until she's ready to come back to life and kick some ass. There I am.

It's more of a current thought than a decision, and I know that processing this past year is a part of that and will keep moving forward. But as our future family life shifts north, it would certainly be useful if my feeling that winter can be a friend hung on. This year, it's my friend.

Monday, January 10, 2011

No, actually I loathe the open floorplan.

Awhile back, Larry and I started watching HGTV at lunchtime, when there wasn't anything cool on the History/Discovery/Nat Geo channels -- or at least, when those had reruns of reruns.

It was a nice escape and it sort of fed my home-voyeurism. I love glimpsing other peoples' houses. Another show on Discovery called It Takes a Thief -- where real former thieves broke into real peoples' homes, with the owners' consent, to show their security weaknesses -- was a lot of fun for the same reason.

So we'd chill with our sandwiches in front of Househunters. On this show, they take real people who are househunting and show us 3 of the places they consider, then follow them through on their final choice.

I figured from the start that home product-purveyors are heavily invested in the network and have an agenda : "Make the viewer want to remodel, redecorate, buy stuff!" That's above-board enough to be OK by me.

But I, really, innocently, thought that this message would be subtly imbedded in a wide variety of home styles. You know, the something-for-everyone thing.

At some point, the dreary sameness of the houses, of the hunters, and of the whole blasted thing began to show. Not long after that, it became distressingly obvious that the show exists not to push products, but to push standardized styles and samey products.

There's alleged variety -- lofts, condos, houses, older and newer developments. But the same sentiments are voiced the same way repeatedly.

The buyers are so coached that watching it is kind of like being one of those Rocky Horror Picture Show nuts who's seen it 4000 times and can recite the scripted lines right along with them. If one more dimwit says the precise phrase "I love the high ceilings and the open floorplan!" my brain will melt.

I won't say that real people never want open floorplans, Like anything else, some like them, some don't. But if you judged by this show, you'd think that caves were all anybody wanted, ever.

Because builders love open floorplans. They can sell you a lot more square footage without forking out to build "outdated" things like full second floors, when a partial second floor "open to below" will let you display Michelangelo's David or the Buckingham Palace Christmas tree, and says trés elégante to potential buyers who've turned their brains off. Or interior walls, with all those tedious things you have to put into a wall, like framework and drywall and paint and outlets and wires and wage-hours and stuff.

Hunters seem unconcerned about the Grand Central cacophony of noise as every downstairs activity -- laundry machines, TV, kitchen clangs and clatters, phone calls -- resonates together. And we mustn't even think about watching our heating dollars waft up into the 18-foot ceiling of our massive Great Room.

HGTV is paid well to try to convince you that this is what you want. When househunters see older houses that still have those terribly outmoded features, like rooms, or, God Forbid, white kitchen appliances, they wrinkle their noses.

And if they see the ubiquitous high ceilings, guhrayuhnit countertops (that's "granite" countertops; they all worship granite and they all pronounce it like that), and stainless steel appliances, they brightly approve these things not as mere preferences, but as necessities.

HGTV has got it down, man, but honestly, when they get a 30-ish-year-old guy to walk into a nice, well-planned, color-coordinated kitchen, look at synthetic countertops, and say, "Those countertops will need updating," it takes implausibility to new heights.

The word, trained into the potential buyers with painful obviousness, is "need." They clearly are told to say, not that they want to update the kitchen, but that they will "need" to. Like a white stove won't cook and a fridge that's not steel won't keep the milk from spoiling.

And we must love open floorplans. Living, kitchen, dining rooms all have to flow into each other like one big Dark Ages Great Hall.


Give me walls. No matter how much building material and effort you have to grudgingly expend to do it. Got that?