Unintended Consequences, Unexpected Gifts

DSC03680First the old car had to be replaced, the one Vic and I bought before he got sick. Then the kitchen drain clogged and flooded the floor. Water dripped through the pine boards to the cellar. I called Phil.

“My kitchen sink is plugged,” I said. “Draino didn’t help.”

He grumbled a little the way he does. Then he did the second thing he does, and said, “It’s probably more than I can fix,” followed by the best thing he does. “I’ll be right there.”

Phil installing the door bell/light

Phil installing the door bell/light


After a careful look under the kitchen sink, he took off his baseball cap and scratched his head with a “this is hopeless” shrug. Then he headed for the cellar. Phil knows my house inside and out, up and down. He’s kept the old girl humming for years.

“Come look,” he called from the cellar. “That pipe sags. Everything else drains. The problem is right there.” I love the way Phil sees my mess as an interesting puzzle.

“Hold this end,” he said as he tore into a pipe fitting. I sputtered when water hit me in the face. Phil was baptized, too. “I can do this,” I thought. I held on.

“Yup, this is it,” he said. “Get these parts at the hardware store. I’ll be back in an hour.” I had a working drain in ninety minutes.

Matt & his family join me for a walk

Matt Hoff & his family join me for a walk


“While you’re here,” I said, “the kitchen fan is busted. And the couch legs fell off at one end. And I really need a doorbell/light for the hearing impaired.” I let a few things go while promoting Leaning into Love.

Phil smiled. “I’ll take care of it.” I knew he would.

The next week, just after Phil finished the doorbell installation, Matt loaded firewood on the front porch. “The hydraulics on the tractor leak,” he said with an apologetic grin. “I don’t think it’s a big deal. Let’s call Bob.” Bob is the man who takes care of my car and tractor.

At Bob's garage with Willow

At Bob’s garage with Willow

Before Matt was through reassuring me, Bob drove in the driveway and headed for the barn.

I wondered if these breakdowns in the underbelly of things were associated with my recent writing about the Underworld. Magical thinking? It crossed my mind.

The next day, the woodstove draft wouldn’t open. I put on asbestos gloves and retrieved a warped piece of metal from hot coals. Talk about the Underworld. “This is Vic’s job. I can’t do this,” I whined. I did it.

Then I noticed a thin crack snaking across the green enamel top that wasn’t there the night before. I called Steve who knows about woodstoves. “I’ll be there in ten minutes,” he said.

Steve supervising the roof replacement in 2012

Steve supervising the roof replacement in 2012

“Do you have a flashlight?” Steve asked. I silently nodded yes. He pointed the beam inside the firebox and light twinkled through the crack. Serious.

“I get a little scared when things break, Steve. Thanks for coming quickly,” I said. My voice was high and tight.

“Nothing to panic about,” he said. I remembered Vic saying, “If you can throw money at it and fix it, it’s no problem at all.” Money? Another thing to worry about.

I called the Ithaca woodstove dealer. “Our first service opening is Dec. 31,” the woman said. My cackle was rude. Obviously hysterical. Dec. 31? It’s winter. This is upstate NY.

“Thank you,” I said politely, although I felt like throwing something. I googled for a closer Vermont Castings woodstove dealer and handed the phone to Steve who explained the problem.

“The guy who installs and repairs will get back to you,” the man said. I got an appointment with Dan the next afternoon.

Cracked stove out

Cracked stove out

New stove in

New stove in










I was familiar with the “this is a mess lady” shake of the head. “A new top and parts will cost more than the stove is worth,” Dan said. “Besides, you’ve had this stove as long as you can expect a woodstove to last.” I surrendered.

I ordered dark brown enamel. In stock. Dan and his crew installed it a week ago.

DSC03692Careful planner that I am, I didn’t plan any of it, but I have a new car, a doorbell/light, fast-running drains, a tractor with hydraulics, a couch with legs, and a new wood stove. “Think of the stove as an investment in your house,” Art said. He’s my financial adviser, another helpful man.

Once again, the universe mirrors something bigger than my fear. I am surrounded by trusted and kind men who know how to fix things. I’m drowning in good fortune. I get it.

So can things stop breaking? Please?


Wishing you a warm and peaceful holiday. My family arrives on December 21. As far as I know, no one has to fix anything. I hope you’ll enjoy my first Underworld article/book review called Initiation by the Dark Goddess. For another article about the meaning of descent, see Jean Raffa’s Inanna: Myth of Descent. Jean and I will co-lead a lecture and workshop on March 11-12 at the Sarasota Florida Jung Society on the myth of Inanna and dreams as guides when facing mortality and grief. I hope you’ll join us.

  1. I can SO relate to this. My dear Dan died on July 25. Since then the much-needed and used pendant light over the kitchen sink burned out. I had it taken down, rebuilt and put back up. The thermostat failed and had to be replaced. The back door handle collapsed and had to be replaced. The furnace wouldn’t turn off (on Thanksgiving no less) and had to be repaired. The furnace wouldn’t turn on and had to be repaired. One of my dogs had a small lump removed from his lower “lip.” It was melanoma but the vet said she got it all. I got a screw in my left front tire. Had it patched but felt nervous about that and decided to buy a new one. Ugh. Maybe this is a thing the universe does to either distract us or to give us confidence that we can manage things.

    • Oh Melanie. You’re so new to life without Dan. And all this to deal with? My house stayed glued together right after Vic’s death, partly because we’d finished a major remodel the year before he got sick. The improvements held until recently, but I have an old house, so things are bound to happen. I know my water heater is living on borrowed time. And the septic should be pumped, but I’ll wait until spring. I hope your dog is fine. I hope everything is fine. Safe tires are essential. I learn how to swallow and make a phone call when I don’t know what to do. Slowly, slowly, I learn to trust that I can do this on my own–with the help of many people, men and women, family and friends. May all be well as you navigate your way to the New Year.

      • Yes, I too am learning to call and/or ask for help, either from professionals or friends and neighbors. It’s a good lesson for me as I’ve always been reluctant to do that. My next task along those lines is to find a good handyman.

        Meanwhile, I’m sort of hibernating, waiting for the (inescapable) holidays to be over.

        • I hope you find something creative or interesting or colorful to do. Not an easy time of year, even if holidays weren’t such a big deal to you and your husband. The social expectations are thick. I plan to take a long walk on Christmas Day.

  2. Your family will have arrived now Elaine! May it be a joyous time, with nothing more to fix! It’s extraordinary that when things start to go wrong, they get a momentum of their own and then it’s one thing after the other .. and then the other side of the universe is shown, in bucket loads of people wanting to help and make things easier .. have a blessed time with loved ones.

    • Blessed Solstice to you and yours, Susan. It must be bright and light with long, long days there. We have rain and low clouds. No snow makes travel easy, but it isn’t pretty.
      Nothing has broken for the last week so I hope it’s a new trend. My sons and daughter-in-law are here and we’re making merry. If something new breaks, they’ll fix it.
      Today we’ll celebrate Vic’s mom’s birthday. She’s 100 in January, but her grandsons are here now and it doesn’t matter to her. She has always liked opening presents immediately and early. There will be another cake and more candles in January with people at her residence.

  3. Ouch Elaine, it sounds like ‘Murphy’ has been hanging around you, but certainly the universe had a way to fight him off and help you out. The stove looks lovely, and now with everything in working order and spanking new, there is so much more to be grateful.
    Happy holidays my friend. 🙂

  4. This is simply charming, Elaine! I smiled throughout. You are such an excellent writer.

    What a rough few weeks you’ve had. Yet, as always, you came to terms with it rapidly and found a more expansive perspective from which to view it.

    And so, Double W, (Wisewoman Writer, my new name for you), I imagine you sitting in a warm room celebrating a blessed solstice with your loving family. And I love what I see.

    Blessed solstice, dear friend. Here’s to repair, resilience, renewal, ritual, and a joyous return of light.

    • Smiling and laughing here, Jeanie. Blush… Thank you.
      It was a maddening few months, but I got through it and things stopped breaking.
      Because of oddly warm weather here, I’m not burning the wood stove. We are warm. The woods is many shades of green and brown. Lots of moss like Ireland.
      There have been four strong adults and four dogs within my “monastic” walls since yesterday. The refrigerator bulges. We cook together, four people chopping and stirring in my kitchen. The fundamental human ritual: breaking bread together.
      Blessed Solstice.

  5. Well, everything in houses wears out. And, with new rates of obsolescence of appliances, only the most expensive appliances are expected to last more than ten years, eek. One problem is not knowing how to make our own simple repairs. Seems like a gender-related ability, at least in Elaine’s telling, and admittedly my experience as a single home-owner has been no different. Meanwhile, having only one person in charge of all the details of home and budget is challenging, even if we’re lucky enough to have sufficient funds.
    Thank goodness for community and family coming to our aid. Please give David and Anthony my regards. Happy Birthday to Virginia, becoming a Centenarian! The body is amazing, even though not perfect, and generally outlives the inanimate equipment we rely on.
    Love and best wishes for a good holiday and peaceful New Year to all,

    • Hi Myra,
      The house will outlast me. I’d love to hire a woman for any of these jobs.
      David and Anthony are here. I’ll tell them you said hello. Nothing for them to fix, I’m glad to say. We’re cooking big feasts together, all bumping into each other and vying for space in the kitchen.
      Virginia has amazing vitality. I sometimes think she will outlast me, too.
      Blessed Solstice to you and Rachel.

  6. You are an inspiration as usual, a brave, strong woman!
    Enjoy your family this holiday!

  7. I always whiz through reading your posts because the dialogue makes me feel I’m right there. And I can relate to your plight of things breaking down, usually in threes it seems. I remember our roof leaking like a sieve in the dining room when Cliff was on tour, and of course I had to get moving on finding a contractor.

    For some reason I thought of Joan Didion’s The Year of Magical Thinking because of a reference you made in the story. I’m sure you have read it.

    How fortunate are to have son Phil who sees your mess as an interesting puzzle. I’m sure you see Vic in him.

    By now you are surrounded by more relatives. I’ll think of you warm and snuggly in a fixed up house. Enjoy all of it!

    • None of the men are related, Marian, but I can see why you might think that. They all live in my neighborhood. Phil is close to my age and the other men are around my son’s ages–in their forties.
      I read The Year of Magical Thinking just after Vic died. I used her words to poke fun at myself, but also to describe how I look for symbolic significance and deeper meaning in life’s experiences. Some would call that magical thinking, but to me it’s just staying awake.
      Both sons are home, one daughter-in-law, three grand dogs, Willow, and me. I love how everyone pitches in with cooking and cleaning up. We are feasting. Very warm here outside. Strangely warm. A little eerie.
      Blessed Solstice. Winter is the lovely season where you live.

  8. Now I’m not sure Phil is your son. I guess you’ll straighten me out – ha!

  9. I read both this and the solstice post together, but this is the one I felt most like commenting on, because today is my father’s 87th birthday, and although many things are falling apart, he was happy and cheerful when I called. And when he told my mother, who is becoming less and less articulate, “to tell Paula we love her,” and my mom said “we love her,” his laugh was gentle. Repair, resilience, renewal, even in these times.

    • A beautiful image of your parents, Paula. Last week, I had lunch with a married couple I’ve known many years. She’s losing her memory but she’s still very much herself. When I asked about her kids or her health, she turned to her husband to ask him to verify her answer or tell her what to say. He helped her and didn’t shame her. I’m touched by this story of your dad in the same way. Thank you.

  10. I love this, Elaine. Do what you can. Let your needs be known. And let the universe respond. Or not.

    • Thanks, Mark. I keep bumbling along. I watch for that moment when the universe says no and pushes me to live a different way. I’m managing so far–with a lot of help from my friends. The forest is gorgeous this fall–so many colors of green in the moss.

  11. Dear Elaine, They say that wisdom is not communicable and yet through your beautiful, poetic writing I find myself listening ever more to my intuition, which speaks through my heart. Oh how your words shine dear friend, dear writer, dear poet! Like a visionary you descend, step into the darkness and turn on the clearest light, guiding me while I follow my footsteps home.

    As deeply ‘Intuitive’ I did laugh to myself whilst reading since I always feel somewhat relieved when a practical, hands-on type of person is in my home helping me to fix things. I find myself relaxing, knowing that someone can help and really appreciate their wonderful ‘Sensate’ typology. Always when things are breaking down I keep my pen and notebook closer than ever.

    I love that you are surrounded by trusted and kind men! What pure joy it has been to discover your blog and extraordinary book this year. Earlier I read ‘Let my soul smile through my heart and my heart smile through my eyes, that I may scatter rich smiles in sad hearts.’ – Paramahansa Yogananda, and leave these words here for you on this blessed Solstice. Love and light, Deborah.

    • Deborah, hand over heart, a blush and a bow. Thank you for seeing and hearing me in this glowing light.

      I’ve spent too much time traveling to sit at the feet of teachers and I’ve read far too many wise books to say I believe wisdom isn’t communicable. It’s true in some ways, but something sinks in or rubs off. In India where the underworld and dayworld seemed to meet in the open, I meant to write every day but found after sitting for hours with Sankaracharya that my agitated mind grew silent and words felt like drivel. Dedicated writer that I am now, I wish I’d poured that drivel on a page and found a few gems in it later. It’s not too late, but we were there three times in the early 1990s. I’m glad I have photos to jiggle memories.

      I’m reading about the “medial” woman as Nor Hall calls this intuitive type in ‘The Moon and the Virgin’. I’m a feeling type and then comes sensation. When someone who knows what to do in a practical way or can advise me about who to call says they’ll come immediately, I take a deep relaxing breath. I know my immediate material world will be pulled from the chaos once again.

      The quote is a blessing, Deborah. Thank you for sending it. Solstice Blessings to you and yours as we wait for Light.

  12. I can relate. At my place, things break down in multiples. Big things. Usually just after I’ve splurged on something else and have only the shallowest of funds left. I’m amazed at how quickly your menfolk respond to your pleas for help. THAT doesn’t happen around here. Keep warm and keep (things) working. Cheers!

    • I was amazed by willingness and speed, too, Robin. Their fast response encouraged me to write about this. Nothing more has busted. Whew!
      We’re back at Virginia’s apartment today to celebrate Notte di Natale, her favorite holiday Christmas Eve.
      Not an easy time for any of us, but we’re doing the best we’ve done in a long time.

  13. Oh, do I relate to this one, Elaine! But I, too, have wonderful men I can trust to help when things go wrong with my house. I also have a handy grandson 20 minutes away who will come in a pinch if I need him.

    We are indeed fortunate.

    • I’m glad you have a practical support network, too, Lynne. It makes life lots easier. Wishing you Christmas Blessings and a wonderful new year.

  14. This piece made me smile, and I can sure relate. I could keep your guys busy for weeks around my place! Lots of little odds and ends for the most part. My intentions are good, but it becomes a hassle to schedule repairs and such since I’m at work during the day, so things tend to pile up. I need to turn my garage into an apartment and move an on-site handyman in. Here’s hoping the rest of your winter is “break-free,” my friend!

    • I’ve been break-free, Ann. My new wood stove is wonderfully efficient and easy to run. I’ve needed it for a long time. I also enjoy the doorbell/light. Good idea about an on-site handyman. I’m glad for Matt Hoff who takes care of so many things around here and shows up just when the pile of wood on the front porch gets a little sparse.

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