Hearts Afire

My stained glass heart is overshadowed by Jean’s beautiful fused glass pieces (middle and bottom photos).

When a high school classmate invited me to participate in “Hearts on Our Doors” via Facebook several weeks ago, I immediately accepted.

I’ve lived in the shadow of Yale-New Haven Hospital for my entire life, and several physicians, nurses and staffers live in my neighborhood. When I heard that six physicians in a neighboring town were suffering from the Covid-19 virus, I hung up some hearts leftover from Valentine’s Day on a few trees on the main road bordering my property.

I wasn’t thrilled with my effort, but I wanted to do something to thank workers risking their lives to help people during the pandemic. Shortly after those hearts went up, a lot of other hearts and red ribbons began popping up.

I wanted to make a suitable heart, something that would convey my appreciation and came up with the idea of a stained glass piece. I failed to consider that I haven’t worked with stained glass in about 15 years, and had forgotten nearly every step involved in the process.

I took up the craft when my kids were young, and I was looking for a creative outlet. I was once so engrossed in the process that I failed to notice my 2-year-old daughter was scribbling all over my new living room furniture with a ballpoint pen.

When I looked through the Yellow Pages and found an upholstery cleaner who made emergency visits on Saturdays, I said, “I think this qualifies as an emergency.” He removed the ink, and I became a lifelong customer. But that pretty much put an end to my obsession with stained glass.

But something about this pandemic brought out my desire to resurrect the craft. Using glass that’s been in my basement collecting dust for years, I went about cutting, grinding, taping the edges of the glass in copper foil and soldering the piece. I was so eager to finish that I framed the piece and put on black patina, failing to remember to solder on wire to hang it.

A week later, the heart was still sitting on my kitchen counter and I was desperately trying to figure out ways to hang it. I eventually decided to drill through the glass using a special drill bit, but ended up cracking some glass in the process.

I was kicking myself over my stupidity when my son reminded me that this was just one heart, and I could make another if I was unhappy with it. He also commented that it wasn’t my best work anyway, something I couldn’t really dispute. Whoever thinks that lead-free solder works as well as the real stuff has never used it. Give me lead any day of the week.

So I hung my heart, cracks and all, on a plant hanger outside my house just in time for our state’s lockdown to officially end today.

It’s OK though. I want my heart to stay out there for a very long time, reminding people of where we’ve been and where we’re going. I don’t want people to forget the sacrifices front line workers made during this crisis and how much we appreciate their efforts. We all tend to have short memories when things begin to return to normal.

Looking back on it, I should have consulted my friend Jean, who owns a glass studio in town. I thought about it, but figured she might be busy. As it turns out, she was, churning out about 525 glass hearts in all sizes to give to health care workers and first responders to thank them for their efforts.

Jean launched her project after her 34-year-old niece had to undergo a heart transplant in the midst of the pandemic in North Carolina. Alone in the hospital and unable to have visitors due to Covid-19 concerns, Jean made her niece a small glass heart and a rainbow to lift her spirits.

She then decided to devote the next few months to making hearts to give to people helping out during the pandemic, everyone from police, fire and ambulance drivers to people delivering and shopping for food for the elderly.

“It was the one thing I could do,” she said. “Some people were making masks or donating their time, but I decided to make hearts to make people smile and show them that we care. I wanted people to not feel alone.”

The hearts are made of fused glass, a process in which glass is heated up to 1,480 degrees and joined with other glass in a kiln. Jean said it’s impossible to say how long each heart took to make, but noted the process takes several days. Jean made most of the hearts as pocket tokens, though some were designed to be worn as necklaces.

Each heart is handmade and unique, ranging in color from vivid oranges and pinks to deep greens and blues. Jean is now busy making larger hearts for shop owners and residents who want to hang them on their front doors or windows.

She’s also gearing up for the official reopening of her shop in downtown Guilford, CT., today. Jeanne bought the shop about a year ago, fulfilling her promise to herself that she’d one day get back to her art. A double major in studio art and American history at Smith College, she worked for years as an elementary school teacher and later, at Yale University.

I’ve seen lots of hearts over the past few months, but I think Jean’s glass ones are among the most stunning. Something about the glass and the way it shines is mesmerizing. To see more of Jean’s work, visit https://www.jgreshamdesign.com.

Simple Pleasures

Few things are more deflating than spending a fortune to replace something in your house like a septic system or new well pump.

As homeowners, we know that these things may one day need to be replaced, but we hope it will be in the distant future, preferably under a new owner’s watch. If we have to spend money on capital improvements, most of us would prefer visible upgrades such as a new paint job, roof, landscaping or a patio.

The water pressure in our well water system has never been great. I know this because it takes way too long to fill up a bucket of water to mop the floor or a huge pot for pasta. I can turn on the faucet and walk away from the sink for a minute or more and it’s only halfway full.

But I didn’t realize how low until my 18-year-old daughter shouted down from the upstairs bathroom the other day. “Call the guy about the water pressure now!” she shrieked. I guess this is what her teachers are talking about when they say she advocates well for herself.

In her defense, she’d ask me to call someone about the water pressure the week before and I ignored her. Though it was sporadically very weak, I suspected that it was affected by household activities such as showers (of which there have been many), laundry and the dishwasher, which seems to be running constantly.

I didn’t think it was that bad. I hadn’t noticed a marked difference in the pressure in the master bathroom. I offered to let her use our shower, thinking perhaps the shower head in the other bathroom might be the problem.

But she was adamant.

“Call someone now,” she said.

I instantly became incensed. I don’t like being ordered around. But more importantly, I had no idea who to call about the water pressure: a plumber or the well guy?

And let’s face it, the last thing anyone wants to do right now is have a service person in their home. It has nothing to do with them personally. It’s just that after you’ve been holing up in your house for two months to avoid the Covid-19 virus, you don’t want anyone in your house.

I thought we could hobble through with our weak stream of water, but the system forced our hand. The next day, only a trickle of water came out of the kitchen faucet, and the Curmudgeon complained bitterly about his morning shower.

I called our well service company and explained the problem. Not surprisingly, they had an free appointment the next day at 9 a.m. Within seconds of looking at the piddly stream of water in the kitchen sink, the technician said, “Looks like your well pump is shot.”

After inspecting the water system in the basement, including a tank leaking water onto the floor, he said our pressure was zero and we’d be out of water by the end of the day unless it was replaced. Turns out my daughter was right about this one. I needed the well guy whether I wanted him or not.

I was heartened that the technician didn’t want to be in my house any more than I wanted him there. He offered to enter through the basement hatchway, but I had to let him onto the first floor to see the water flow. He wore a mask and escaped to the basement quickly, never entering the main living quarters again.

He said his company’s been very busy considering we’re in the midst of a pandemic. After three slow days at the start of Connecticut’s state shutdown with no work, he said business has been brisk.

“People need water no matter what,” he said. I also reminded him that people are in their houses a lot more than usual, so they’re noticing problems that might ordinarily be overlooked. They’re also around to let repairmen do their jobs, though I don’t think anyone is relishing that aspect of it.

Within two hours, the pump was replaced and we were out about $3,000. I was feeling pretty grim about spending money on a replacement part when my son came down from a shower.

“That was the best shower I’ve ever taken in my life,” he said. “The water pressure is fantastic. It’s actually exhilarating.”

He suggested that I take a shower to see what he was talking about, but I pointed out that it was 3 p.m. and I’d already showered. Still, I’m feeling a little better about the new pump. Exhilarating? I’ll take that in any form I can get it right now.

Trust Issues

The hair color did a fine job considering we had no idea what we were doing.

When it comes to hair, the burning question is, “Who do you trust?”

The answer for most of us: almost no one. Certainly not ourselves or our spouses.

For the past several years, I’ve entrusted my hair to my hair stylist Walter. Every month or so, I slip into his sleek black chair as he touches up my roots and occasionally paints my hair Balayage-style. It’s like highlights, but instead of foil, involves a board and brush and sometimes, a spinning heat lamp.

But with salons closed for the past two months, I’ve been looking a very ragged in the root department. I’ve tried to deal with it with temporary spray-in color, floating parts, barrettes and hats, but it’s an uphill battle.

This is sort of a cultural phenomenon right now. There are a lot of women walking around with white and gray crowns that are expanding every day. In fact, one of my sisters is using this time to consider permanently transitioning to gray.

I know many women who look fantastic with their gray, white hair or salt and pepper hair – two or three friends instantly come to mind. But I’m not ready to go that route right now. I’m still clinging to the illusion that my hair is mostly brown.

I haven’t colored my own hair since high school. Back then, I used Clairol’s Quiet Touch to achieve golden highlights, but it often came out orange. After one unfortunate incident, my hair looked an awful lot like a tiger. I had to walk around with orange-striped hair until it grew out.

Quiet Touch was popular in the ’70s.

Buoyed by tales of other people taking their hair into their own hands, I bought some hair color during a supermarket run. Truth be told, I’ve never been in that section before, and was impressed by the number of products on the market.

I bought a box of Revlon Colorsilk for about $3.50 because it was marked light golden brown. That’s the color I think I’m after at the salon, but who knows? Like lipstick and BB cream, it’s all a crapshoot until you get it home and open the box.

The directions sound very simple: section your hair into four parts and place color on the roots, working it through to the ends. I skipped the ends part because I just wanted the roots colored. Let it sit for about 25 minutes, 5 minutes longer if you want to cover stubborn gray.

But it’s not so easy to color your own hair. After the first few front pieces, you can’t see what you’re doing. I enlisted the help of my 18-year-old daughter, who stormed off after a few minutes, declaring me a control freak.

I then screamed for my son to stop writing a paper for college and finish the back sections for me. I knew the kid would come through. In this house, he’s the only one who can handle throwing away a dead mouse or anything else bordering on scary or gross.

This isn’t the first time I’ve enlisted his help for my scalp. Several years ago, one of us came down with lice from school (don’t get me started) and I needed someone to inspect my head to make sure I was lice free. I asked the Curmudgeon to do it, but he just moved the comb around my hair for about a minute and proclaimed me OK.

“NO!” I screamed. “I need someone to put me under a light and really make sure I don’t have it.”

I admit I was hysterical. Dealing with lice isn’t for the faint of heart. In fact, I’m pretty convinced you have to be a maniac to get rid of it on the first go-round. There’s the daily washing of linens, vaccuuming of carpets and sanitizing of the home. There’s also the nightly inspection of your beloved child’s head for at least three weeks.

In case you’re wondering, I think Lice MD is the best product on the market. Its thick oil is non-toxic and makes the process much safer and pleasant for everyone involved, if that’s possible.

I think my son was around 9 at the time. He sat me under a gooseneck light in the bathroom and spent about 20 minutes parting and inspecting my head with a magnifying glass. I think he thought of it as a science project. After about 20 minutes, he reassured me that I had no lice. Yippee!

I could tell he wasn’t thrilled about putting the color on my roots. It’s not something most kids want to contemplate: seeing their moms’ gray roots up close and personal. But he put aside his reservations to do me a solid. I knew there was a reason I was so sad when he went off to school.

My daughter laughed when she saw my root color all over my forehead. I’ve never been known for neatness and this was no exception. Hair dye was everywhere. But I was pleasantly surprised when I rinsed out the dye and didn’t start crying. The product had done a fine job considering it was in the hands of such amateurs.

For now, I’m going to have to get along on my own. Hair salons are closed for at least another three weeks, maybe longer depending on when Connecticut opens up. But I think I’ll be OK. Three boxes of hair color arrived on my doorstep today.