It’s in the cards

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My sister has moved 22 times as an adult. And no, she’s not in the armed services, the French Foreign Legion or the witness protection program.

I guess you could say that she’s a rolling stone.

She’s lived in Virginia, North Carolina, Georgia (twice), California, Maryland (twice),  Ohio (twice) and is now back in California.

And she’s been through many acquisitions and purges in her 35 years of moving  but there has been one item that has always made the cut – a box filled with every note, letter and card I’ve ever sent her starting when she went to camp when she was 12.

The box is not organized in any way, shape or form and if you knew my sister at all, you would laugh at the very idea of her organizing such a thing.

I pulled out the box while I was visiting her this week and it was a little like that weeper movie, Somewhere in Time, where Christopher Reeve is swept back in time by looking at an old painting. Years and years documented by Hallmark.

My sister is seven years younger than me and she was only 38 when we lost both of our parents. That’s terribly young to lose your rudders and the loss has certainly informed much of her life since then.

As the older sister I was always somewhat of an authority figure (okay, you can say bossy), even if she rarely took my advice.  When our parents died in 2002, I became sister and mother, a dual role I desperately want to get right.

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This is the essence of my sister.

Rummaging through the box, I have made several observations:

  1. My handwriting over the years has declined from marginally legible to Straight Outta Serial Killer. I wonder if it’s too late for med school.
  2. I pick out the best cards. I knew which ones were from me before even opening them. And many of them made me smile – again.
  3. Almost every note to my sister is a form of a pep talk – only the subject matter is different depending on the decade – boyfriends, jobs and diets, always diets.
  4. Postage has really gone up a lot in 40 years.

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    Those “Forever” stamps are looking like a good investment.

I pulled out a letter from 1981 that I had written my sister – on yellow legal pad paper, my stationary of choice for many years. She was living in Lynchburg, VA with my aunt and uncle and taking general studies courses at the local community college. Her grades in high school were not stellar and she was feeling like a loser while many of her friends were enrolled at various colleges and universities.

I was trying to make her feel good about herself and her future and my letter made me laugh out loud when I got to this part: Don’t look back – the past is nothing but a bunch of Kodak snapshots dumped in a box in the closet.

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Sisters, circa 1974.

How prophetic I was!

I don’t know if my letter helped her but it all worked out well as she went on to study at The University of Virginia and is now managing several breast cancer centers in Southern California.

But it’s the cards that really get to me. Almost all of them have a picture of two young girls on the front and that is the image that has sustained me over the years – the two of us, together – usually laughing and usually up to some shenanigans.

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The inscription on this cards says, “I’m so glad I always have you to lean on.”

It is a rare and precious thing to be deeply known by another human being – especially one that you are related to and my sister knows me in all manner of ways. That’s why she had a case of seltzer water (orange) chilling for me upon my arrival and vases of fresh-cut hydrangeas (my fave) throughout the condo.

And she knows my heart and my pain and she has suffered greatly these past few months since I lost my job – a job that was more like a calling to me. She was 3,000 miles and three time zones away as we weathered this great storm together. And yet, she walked every step of this ordeal with me.

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Some of it was good. Some of it wasn’t. But through thick and thin, they stayed close, and they were sure they always would. And this made the world good again.

That’s why I was so grateful to have the opportunity to share a special dinner with her on my first night here. I sat across from her at the table and looked into her sweet face and told her that in my entire life, I’ve never felt another person be so present to my pain.

She cried. I cried. I think the waiter might have even cried.

We’ve had so much fun together this week and “no fights” as she remarked the other night, which initiated a hilarious “greatest hits” recap of some of our most famous disagreements.

My favorite story is from years ago. I was living in Greensboro at the time and she was in Kensington, MD. We got into a heated argument about, well, who knows, and I got so mad that I threw the phone, the portable phone mind you, against the wall and it shattered into pieces. She called back a minute or two later and my partner answered the phone. My sister said very earnestly, “I think Addison and I got disconnected.”

I’m giggling now thinking about how clueless she was to my rage.

Fortunately, most of our disconnections have been few and far between over the years. Nothing a call or, yes, a card couldn’t repair, but I’ll tell you one thing, we’re going to need a bigger box.

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My sister, my lifeline.

 

 

 

 

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Connecting to place

It’s a cloudless, sunny day – the kind that doesn’t feel much like January. Coats will be worn, but unzipped. Gloves will be off, but tucked in the coat pockets just in case. When I take my dog to the big open field by the middle school in our neighborhood, I un-clip her leash from her collar and she runs into the wind, smiling. She too feels the shift in the air.

Molly

By Carla Kucinski

It is my day off, and I’m spending it writing, reading, reflecting. Though I will confess, I spent the morning working on a presentation for work, but I did it in my pajamas and slippers, and therefore, it felt less “work-like.” But I surrendered at noon, not allowing it to take over my entire day.

I am in my living room, sitting on the couch, notebook in my lap, sunshine streaming through the French doors, warming the room like an oven. My dog lies on the living room floor in a patch of sun the shape of a rectangle. She is breathing softly through her nose, the way dogs do when they first drift off to sleep.

I live essentially in three rooms in my condo: the bedroom, the kitchen and this room. These spaces occupy the majority of my time. It’s been a few months now since we moved into our condo. I like it here. It’s cozy and compact, but not in a claustrophobic way. I like that I can talk to my husband in the living room while I prepare dinner in the kitchen and we share moments from our day. I like that when I step out onto the balcony, which seems to always be bathed in sunlight I can look out over the tree tops and roof tops, and watch the seasons change. Sunsets from here are spectacular in their various shades of pink.

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By Carla Kucinski

What’s not fun is hauling three bags of groceries up three flights of stairs, and the dogs next door that bark every time we set foot on our doorstep. But it beats raking a yard full of leaves. In any case, you get used to it. Sometimes, you grow to love it, even the force of the train a half-mile down the street, whose blaring horn slices the dark and stillness of the night. There’s comfort in knowing someone else is awake early in the morning.

We drove by our old house the other day. It felt strangely foreign to me, as if we never lived there. Everything about it was the same, except for a pair of white lace curtain hanging from the front window. I never hung curtains in that window; they would have blocked the view.

I’ve realized that I’ve learned to adapt easily to new surroundings. I can quickly turn a house into a home. Start from scratch. I dream of one day owning our own house, a quaint bungalow with a forest for a backyard and a front porch for swinging. I can picture the house, but never the place.

Angel Oak Tree by Carla Kucinski

Angel Oak Tree by Carla Kucinski

All this moving sometimes makes me feel rootless. Without roots, there’s no commitment. I’ll always be searching for the next thing. Owning a home both terrifies me and excites me. Owning keeps one from moving, which is the part that scares me. Renting gives one flexibility, prevents you from getting stuck. But wouldn’t it be nice to paint the walls the color I want?

“It is difficult to commit to living where we are, how we are. It is difficult and necessary. In order to make art, we must first make an artful life, a life rich enough and diverse enough to give us fuel. We must strive to see the beauty where we are planted, even if we are planted somewhere that feels very foreign to our nature.”

These words struck me today while reading Julia Cameron’s “The Sound of Paper.” She goes on to talk about how while living in New York she had to “work to connect to the parts of the city that feed my imagination and bring me a sense of richness and diversity instead of mere overcrowding and sameness.”

Perhaps that’s what’s at the heart of my “rootless” issue. I am not connecting to the parts of my city that feed my soul. Instead, I’ve felt very reclusive lately, drawing inward but not finding inspiration and thus blaming my lack of imagination on my environment. Cameron says we become victims if we aren’t willing to connect to the place we live to feed our imagination.

Foggy Morning Walk by Carla Kucinski

Foggy Morning Walk by Carla Kucinski

Photography has always connected me to places, moments. It helps me see the beauty in everyday life. Maybe I need to see more of my city through my lens or put it down and actually experience it instead of observing it.

“We must, as the elders advise us, bloom where we are planted,” Cameron writes. For if we don’t “our art dries up at the root.”

What an evocative image.

What feeds your imagination? What parts of your city do you connect to that feed your imagination? How do you connect?

By Carla Kucinski

By Carla Kucinski

Home is where your heart is

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Four.

That’s how many times I’ve moved in the last nine years. And in 15 days, it will be five.

This was not necessarily a plan for me to move five times in the same city. It just sort of happened. The twists and turns of my life dictated it. I rented, I owned, I returned to renting.

It sounds exhausting when you think of it – five moves in nine years – but as odd as it may sound, when I look back on those years, I don’t think about the days spent duct-taping my life in cardboard boxes; I think about the memories made in each of the homes I lived.

Each house was special. I will forever feel nostalgic about the quaint, white bungalow I lived in when I first moved to Greensboro in 2005 – mostly because it was my “first.” It only had two closets the size of a cigar box, but the amazing front porch made up for its lack of storage space. I passed many hours on that porch with my dog Yoshi at my side and a cold beer in my hand during the hot summer months and a steaming cup of coffee when the leaves began to turn then spiral to the ground like pinwheels.

Every home I move from I cry on the last day. I get attached to things – even to inanimate objects. But to me, a house is more than a house; it’s a home. It has an energy to it, a heart and a soul that comes from the people who dwell under its roof, making memories.

IMG_6021Every house I lived in represented a chapter in my life and each was significant for different reasons. My bungalow signified my bachelorette days. I traded it for a split-level with my soon-to-be husband who later became my ex-husband. And despite all the tears I shed in that home, I loved that house. I thought I’d grow old in it. I remember the last walk-through I did in the house and how I paused in every room one last time and then shut the door behind me. It marked a beginning and an ending.

I downsized after that and moved into an adorable townhome. Life had come full circle and I was back to living single. It was a difficult transition. At age 31, I was starting over, and it scared me to death. I cried a lot those first few months – out of frustration, confusion, grief. That townhouse became my place for healing. It’s where I found renewal.

And then I met Andrew; the love of my life. He eventually gave up his bachelor pad downtown and moved in with me. Quarters were tight – but square footage doesn’t seem to matter when you’re in love. We lasted five months before we mutually decided to start casually looking for a new place that we could both call home. It was important to both of us to live somewhere new, not a home that was his or mine but one we could build together.

And that’s how we got to here.

We found this house simply by chance. On a day in February, my realtor friend Jim sent me an email that set everything in motion.

“GIRL!! I found you a house.”

My jaw fell open when I pulled up to the house the next day. It looked like a giant, mint green doll house with white trim and shutters. It was like a mini-mansion.

“Wait until you see the kitchen,” Jim said with wide, silver-dollar eyes as he ushered me inside. The kitchen was bathed in sunlight that shined through a pair of skylights and a wall of windows that looked out to a wooded area in the backyard. I already started to envision what the trees would look like with the change of seasons. Honey, I’m home.

We knew the house was way too big for just the two of us, but neither of us wanted to pass up the opportunity – or the walk-in closet. It seemed meant to be. And now here we are, a year and six months later, filling out change of address forms and hoarding cardboard boxes. Our lease is up, and the owners have sold the house. We didn’t anticipate this. I suppose we got spoiled and thought we could continue to extend our lease until we were ready to leave our fantasy home and buy our own house – maybe in six months, maybe in a year.

This week, I started feeling the first pangs of sadness about leaving our house. It started when I came home from work on Wednesday and saw my husband, waving to me from the front yard as he was walking to get the mail. Then, as I pulled into our half-moon driveway, our dog, Molly, ran up to the driver-side door and chased my car all the way to the garage, anxious to greet me.

Later on, at dusk, I stepped out onto the back deck and walked down into the yard to re-pot a houseplant. When I turned around and looked behind me, I was struck by the beauty of our house at twilight. I stood there for a moment in the chorus of cicadas and gazed at our home with its warm, golden glow emanating from its kitchen windows. And I thought to myself, “I’m going to miss this house.”

IMG_2316We’ve made good memories here – Andrew and me. This house was our first home together as a couple, and our first home as husband and wife. For that reason alone, it will always be special to us.

I remember sitting on the deck the night we got married. It was well past midnight. I was barefoot and still wearing my wedding dress. Andrew shed his tie and dress shirt and was wearing only a white undershirt and pants. We sat on our wooden bench on the deck and sipped beers and held hands and shared stories in the dark. Whenever I ask Andrew what his favorite moment was about our wedding day, he always describes this one.

It’s easy to get used to a place, comfortable. By the end of the month, we’ll be in our new home unpacking boxes again, deciding where to hang artwork, place furniture. And just like the four homes before this one, I will fall in love with it, get attached to it, make beautiful memories in it and then cry when it’s time to leave.

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One of the first photos of Molly and me in the new house - March 2013.

One of the first photos of Molly and me in the new house – March 2013.

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Our deck.

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Yard work break with Molly.

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New IKEA rug for the dining room. Molly approves.

 

Our first washer and dryer. This was an exciting day.

Our first washer and dryer. This was an exciting day.

First Thanksgiving dinner.

First Thanksgiving dinner.

First Christmas.

First Christmas.

Molly's stoop.

Molly’s stoop.

The kitchen in winter.

The kitchen in winter.

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Baking in my favorite room in the house.

First family wedding photo in the backyard.

First family wedding photo in the backyard.

Under Pressure

tumblr_lpagfwP7zq1qzdzbuo1_500I’ve been a slack blogger lately. And I feel guilty about it.

Since we launched Bookends on August 1, I am ashamed to admit I’ve only posted one piece. One. That’s embarrassing.

I’m starting to feel what Addison defines as “blog pressure” – the overwhelming feeling that I’m not blogging enough. I do this a lot in my life – I carry with me this constant pressure and stress that I need to be doing more and doing better than I am. This idea of “I’m not doing enough _____” translates to most areas of my life – not just blogging. It’s not difficult for me to fill in the blank. I’m not doing enough yoga, reading for pleasure, spending quality time with friends, writing, eating more leafy greens, sleeping, exercising, flossing.

It’s hard being me.

What’s kept me from blogging is not a lack of writing material but a lack of time.

Let me introduce to you Exhibit A. Continue reading