Monday, December 28, 2009

Blue Plate Special

We finished the bathroom - finally. I don't even have pictures of it yet because we've been busy with the holidays, but they'll be up soon. For now though, it's a pale shade blue with white tile -- two inch on the flor, four inch in the bathing area - and a white pedestal sink and matching toilet. We moved the honey colored vanity from our bedroom into the bathroom which had the added benefit of opening up our bedroom. The piece also adds character to the space, and gives me a place to dress in the morning without having to compete with Chris for mirror time.

While I was putting together chocolate mousse for Christmas Eve dinner, I rediscovered my old dishes (although it felt like I was seeing them for the first time!) In particular, I found the blue lined French plates A. gave me a few years ago. Then I discovered two other blue plates, one with a seashell and the other depicting a boat, and I decided that I would somehow integrate these plates into the bathroom, perhaps on the wall. Chris was not keen with this idea. "Old women do that sort of thing," he said. So I took one of the French blues and put the current accouterments arranged on the vanity -- a tea cup of matches, bottled bath salts, and an empty vintage spirits bottle yet to be filled with bubble bath -- on top of the plate. The others, and there are 4, I stacked to the side. I plan to hang them along the bathroom door despite commentary from the man who just installed a flat screen TV at the foot of our bed. (Of course I did not protest this since I bought the thing and intend to watch Pride & Prejudice and other "old women" films with it.)

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Pink Peonies that My True Love Gave to Me

(Pink peonies for the lady's Southern garden.)

I just read about Clare Cooper Marcus, a UC Berkeley professor who has written about the home in her book House as a Mirror of Self. I don't know why I hadn't read about her research until now, but it's something worth exploring. She using Jungian theory to explore how our homes speak to who we are. Home magazines never seem to make that a point likely because if people realize that home comes from within they'd stop spending so much money trying to emulate someone else's world.

It's nearing winter but I'm thinking about gardens. I've been dreaming of a garden I once had the pleasure of experiencing years ago. I tended to its lettuces and tomatoes, plucking leaves and fruit as each meal required. I long for a garden though I know with the granite dome on which our house sits this is far from a possibility. Living in Mississippi I was surrounded by gardens and their happy gardeners. Clare Cooper Marcus' latest intrigue is how gardens heal, a theory I'd like to explore in tandem with my understanding of homes. (I think about this now and I can't think of a single crumudgeonly gardener so gardening must have a positive effect on disposition.)

When I moved to Atlanta and began assessing my new residence I had dreams of planting hydrangeas (in honor of Chris' parents), forsythia (in honor of mine), and peonies. I had once seen peonies at the Botanical Gardens in Brooklyn and have ever since imagined their soft petals a part of my personal landscape. A few months ago I spotted the neighbor's righteously overgrown pink peony bushes and decided it was sign to plant some of my own. While we haven't progressed beyond the threshold of our home, perhaps in the next planting season I'll have my peonies planted firmly in the soil of Atlanta just as I plan to be by then.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

The Post in Which the Universe Has Righted Itself

Little known fact: I like being proved wrong.

Yesterday, I got a nice phone call from the gentleman who rear-ended me, and after he explained to me how sorry he was not getting back with me sooner due to a bout of food poisoning, I physically shrunk in my chair. I recalled all the negative thoughts that were swirling around my head over the weekend and the waste of energy created from feeling so "wronged." "You probably thought I was a jerk," he said after I picked up the phone. I nodded, but moved the conversation in another direction - to our respective backgrounds in music. Turns out young fella has a talent for signing and writing (I checked his website out after our conversation) and has a show tonight. I don't know if I'll have time to check it out, but I told him I would put him in touch with the new producer for Thacker Mountain Radio.

Now, I still think you should file a police report after a car accident just for the record, but I'm glad I rose above aggression. Doesn't the South - no, the World - have enough of it?

Monday, December 7, 2009

Tea Time

(Home: Refuge from the big, bad, world. )

Funny how the little things can slow you down if you give them enough attention. For me, it was a lesson learned. ALWAYS call the police for even the most minor of car accidents. No longer living in my old hamlet, I'm reminded of the travails of city life, namely it's every person for themself. So I'm left to deal life's most recent curve ball: a twenty-something Atlanta-based musician rear-ended me.

At any rate, I managed to get over my funk just enough to tackle some more work on the house with Chris. Although we were bummed to hear that my sibling and her children won't be visiting this weekend, we were pleased to know that we didn't have to kill ourselves to finish the rest of the upstairs renovations. Somehow we managed to accomplish more than we set out to do, including, finishing the bathroom plumbing, installing hardware, priming the guest room, and last but not least, bake some ginger molasses cookies.

I'll post the recipe and some update photos. Also, we just sold the booth in the dining area. We were sad to see it go, but welcomed our first guests to our new table setting last Friday and the new arrangement left me all smiles.

Today's Teatime is from 20x200, a very cool project by NYC gallery owner Jen Bekman. Bekman was recently featured in the "home" section of the New York Times, but it's the art she sells at 20x200 that caught my eye. She regularly features artists whose work explores the idea of home. And her most recent artists listing, Amy Casey, fits the profile. Check it out and try to resist buying these limited edition prints.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

First Prize Friends

There's something to be said of an organized office. Last night I worked in the newly painted (and organized) space for a record breaking 2 hrs. Previously, I'd grow anxious with the time, ultimately leaving when my curiosity about what was going on elsewhere in the house got the better of me. Instead, I transcribed film for two hours with Turner at my heels.

I'm now able to consider my favorite part of the house. With the office nearly up to snuff, and the floor boards in place throughout both baths, it's a tough call. Who doesn't love a relaxing soak? (Count two of my friends who attest to only ever taking baths.) On the way home from a shoot in Gwinnett County, I was told of a little boy's class exercise in which he had to describe his favorite room. He cited the office because "his parents let him hang his best artwork."

I keep the proof of my successes (pdfs of articles, certificates of achievements) filed away in boxes. While in Florida, I found a trophy from 6th grade. I can't remember exactly why I earned it - probably grades - but I took it back home with me. It's now sitting on my desk and tucked into the golden eagles perched on the marble is a picture of my friends. Making good friends over the years is perhaps my greatest achievement.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Tea Time

I missed Tea Time yesterday, so my Dear Readers, I have a treat for you. My mom was telling me how she online shops then abandons her cart. A friend confided in me that she does the same thing too. A recent study found that nearly 60% of US online retailers survey are seeing cart abandonment rates of over 20% this year. They're in good company.

As many of you now, I am a fan of all things twigs and branches. I will never forget the silvery branches of the birch trees in Massachusetts countryside. So, of course I was drawn to Branch Home, a sustainable design for living store that's filled with unusual gifts and home accouterments you'll feel good about purchasing.
I don't think many of you will abandon your cart here.

Chaos Theory #1

I read a page of an old journal (circa My Early 20s) from the cache I've been storing in the basement. On it I wrote a few of the things that make me happy. At the top of the list was the word "cleanliness" and right after it "order."

Lately, I've been feeling good about where I am both physically and mentally. I've pushed myself very hard these last 5 months or so and now I feel ready to take the next step, which is create. Some artists can work in utter chaos, perhaps even thrive in it. Chaos thwarts me. I'd rather sit next to a pile of neatly stacked trash than a disheveled mess of fresh roses.

This is one of my many quirks. I've been rediscovering, or better yet, reminding myself of who I am in the new space than now feels like home. This evening we put down a large area rug near my writing desk that I let my bare feet brush across. Closing my eyes I could have been in Oxford only it was colder there this time of year, and unlike today, my house was lonely.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Hell or High Water

(In which Dante discovers that the Devil is actually dust.)

So I did not accomplish much last weekend. After an episode of House Wars (a new show staring Yours Truly and Significant Other) that highlights one couple's attempt to whip their house into shape, I lost my focus. That said, the weekend end happily ever after. Chris did another round of leaf maintenance on the lawn and I refreshed the master bedroom, removing at least a pound of dust and several bags filled with clothes and other miscellany.

A clean house will lift your spirits. Sadly, getting it into shape can sometimes feel as though you are Dante going through hell (except trust me, far less interesting.) There's something about removing the past and displacing it.

Friday, November 13, 2009

View from a Room

I wish you all could see the gorgeous vista I'm presently enjoying. It's a blue sky and my pansies are drinking in the sun. (I will too on a long run this afternoon.)

I been very busy at both the architecture and construction firms lately, but the busyness has recharged my batteries. OR perhaps it's just fall. I always feel sluggish in the summer months, trading exercise for ice cream or any other thing with the word 'ice' in it. Now as I watch the leaves fall in our back yard, I'm contemplating a weekend of chores I'm more than willing to tackle.

I'm hoping we'll continue our new tradition of Goldberg's at 9 (which is the site of Chris' weekly pastrami fest) and then I'll attempt the following:

  1. Clean non-public areas of house to match the now gleaming front area
  2. Vacuum car
  3. Rework intro for exhibition on sustainability for Gwinnett Environmental Center
  4. Rework marketing materials for a client
  5. Finish article tentatively title Comfort Me with North Georgia Apples
  6. Sort through old clothes/closets
  7. Begin stock piling for next weekend's yard sale
  8. Finish bathroom for good!
  9. Start jewelry chest project
  10. Write!
Maybe I won't tackle everything, but there's nothing more satisfying than crossing things off a list.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Just Peachy

(Leviathan, Bo Bartlett.)

There are a few things that I'm enjoying presently in our home.
1) Aquiesse candles from Devonshire in Brookhaven. (I've also discovered an intriguingly named Febreeze air freshener called Moroccan Bazaar. I initially bought it on lark for Chris since he lived in Morocco for a time, but at a fraction of the price of the candle and since we both enjoy the scent, we've kept it.)
2) A postcard I spied at A.'s house in New Orleans promoting the work of Georgia-artist Bo Bartlett. His paintings are evocative of Andrew Wyeth, but with a fateful twist.
3) A sweet potato pie leftover from dinner with Chris' parents on Saturday. Subtle cinnamon and a creamy filling. This is the sweet potato pie of my dreams.
4) Narcisco Rodriguez perfume. A birthday gift and a wonderful airy contrast to my deeply seductive - but equally heady and very 80s - Paloma Picasso.
5) Sibyl Moholy-Nagy's (aka Sybil Peach) book Native Genius in Anonymous Architecture. I'm reading this for research on a sustainable design exhibition that I'm working on with Houser Walker Architecture and the Gwinnett Environmental and Heritage Center. It demonstrates how native builders contributed to modern architecture. And yes, she is the wife of the surrealist photographer.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Stay Tuned ... In

(Heart-breaking cake of staggering cholesterol.)

In an ideal world, it wouldn't still be raining, and I'd have the energy to be working out some creative project. Instead, I'm waiting for the rain to stop and I'm drained after a long day of sitting in Atlanta traffic and staring at a computer screen. In fact, it's actually been fairly productive start to my week.

The other day I was asked to help develop some kid-friendly heart healthy meals/snacks for a segment of TBS' Dinner and a Makeover. They're featuring Chris' mother's nonprofit organization the Queen of Hearts Foundation and will be preparing the recipes for a show that will tape in December.

"Can you have it done by Monday?" his mother asked.
"This Monday?"
"Yes," she said.
"Sure."

And so, come Sunday, I hadn't come up with anything. After sending an email to several friends who have tots ranging from age one to five, however, I had a little more perspective on what kids are eating today. What surprised me the most was that several of my friends' kids love things many adults have never tried, i.e. curry, quinoa, tofu, and soy milk. Knowing this reconfirmed the fact that I have a wonderful bunch of forward-thinking friends. You are what you eat after all.

So what recipes did I come up with? Stay tuned... We're testing them this weekend.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Tea Time

I've been in a whimsical mood, so now that the house is in order (the public part of it anyway) , I've begun to collect fun things for Christmas. My new favorite place to shop is Devonshire, a store in Brookhaven (just off Dresden near Peachtree Rd) that specializes in home furnishings and gifts. Although I've decided against putting up a tree this year -- we're still in the middle of home projects -- I'm picking up a few things to fill the house with holiday cheer. Continuing in the twig theme, we'll have a small twig Christmas tree.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Tea Time


(Briochin - Sexing Up House Cleaning)


It feels like 6 o'clock in the evening thanks to the time change. Alas, I'm late posting the weekly Tea Time link so here goes...

This week's comes from my boss at Houser Walker who shared with me the eye candy found on a package design blog. Why a package design site? These designers make even the most mundane of household chores seem glamorous. Oui! Oui!

Friday, October 30, 2009

Booth Be Gone

(The booth where it all began.)

I'm feeling a pang of regret. I just posted for sale on Craigslist the booth that used to be our dining room seating. Chris had it custom made a few years ago, and while I thought it was a nice piece, we both agreed it no longer fits the space. So why do I feel bad about it selling it? This was the booth where Chris and I had our first date.

Falling for Words

It's time I confess. I already did so sitting with A. in a boutique candy shop in New Orleans, but I need to air it publicly. In the midst of moving, I've put my writing projects on hold. So affected by my surroundings, I found it imperative to shape parts of my new home to also somehow reflect me. The last few months have been productive. The bathroom is nearly complete, and we're making headway with some other maintenance work to the house long overdue. My things sit in familiar arrangements, and every once in a while I discover an old object from a box I decided to finally unpack.

Every Thursday night my cycling instructor shouts out at me (and to the class), "Where do you see yourself tomorrow?" I take her question seriously while I pedal furiously on my stationary bike. Maybe a few years ago I would have thought what I'm doing right now is like what I do in class spinning my wheels. But with experience backing me (and moving me forward), I've realized that even the little things we change or the small challenges we resolve enable us to grow.

There are two big writing projects I've been romancing the last two years, and now that I feel comfortable (comfort is the key) in my new home, it's time to fully realize them. Some of you know that one of the projects is about Thacker Mountain Radio, the show I produced for some time and wrote about for my Master's thesis. An editor is patiently waiting for the manuscript. The other is the makings of a book I think a lot of people will get. I don't want to disclose too much, so I'll tell you that it's about feeding people. It's a story I've had in me for a long time and certain things had to happen before I could even begin to shape it in words.

They say that sometimes falling in love is all about timing. Writing is the same way and I'm glad I am no longer fighting this notion.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Today's To-Do List

Dog Food
Milk
Oatmeal
Granola Bars
Sink?
Meat (Chicken /Fish)
Swifter
------------
Dry cleaning
------------
Home - call KitchenAid
------------
Lowe's
------------
Gym

Monday, October 26, 2009

Tea Time

(Tree Gold)

We ran around all weekend, mostly in north Georgia where we went to our friend's wedding in Big Canoe. Sadly, we were there for less than 24 hours, but it was long enough to take in breathtaking mountain vistas and Fall's gift of the colors ochre and red ochre. Apparently ochre is the earliest color known to man, which might explain the whimsy I feel when taking in its beauty. Red ochre has often been used in rituals to symbolize blood and rebirth. But I like the color best on my lips for a night out of dinner and dancing.

This week's Tea Time post was something I stumbled upon and immediately let out a giggle. My favorite line:

'In 1650 Blaise Pascal turned away from his studies in mathematics to contemplate the “greatness and the misery of man.” He decided, ”Most of the evils of life arise from man’s being unable to sit still in a room.” It only follows then that lying in bed must be a virtue.'

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Apple Pie Redux

We had an amazing dinner last weekend that got me dreaming about apples. Our friends L. and Tex invited us to dinner at L.'s family home in Stone Mountain. The home over looks a lake, but the real sight was the kitchen island where L. and her dad were slicing apples to caramelize for a pork loin.

Dinner came quickly-- sauteed kale with pan-seared tenderloin and caramelized apples, and amedley of root vegetables. Since Chris had been in Chicago, this was our first non-restaurant meal in a few days and it was good. Dessert reminded me -- in taste at least -- of the birthday cake I made for Chris some time ago. Lots of chocolate, mousse filling, and ganache. Heavenly.

Unfortunately, I came down with a cold that very evening and for the next few days it was chicken soup from wherever Chris could procure it (my favorite was Poncho's.) While I was sick, Chris finished the grout work in the bath with Al and installed our toilet -- a funny thing with two buttons for flushing.

This weekend, we head to Big Canoe for a wedding. More importantly, and perhaps selfishly, we will also be celebrating our first anniversary of knowing each other. As I told him, all other options were off the moment I met him.

Which brings me back to apples. On our first date Chris cooked for me. I wanted to contribute something to the dinner, so I surprised him by bringing an apple pie that I made just a few hours before I headed to his house. Initially, I drove to my friend's house in Atlanta from Spartanburg, SC, with a cooler full of cut up apples and fresh pie dough. A few hours later, I arrived with my pie in a red plate and heart full of hope.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Tea Time

Feeling a bit under the weather despite the appearance of good weather over the weekend. My Tea Time post is a little early today. I plan to leave the office an hour or so after my lunch so I can sweat out my cold in bed.

This week's post comes from Newsweek about the trend of people staying put in their homes. The story is particularly relevant since Chris and I have talked about moving to Portland, OR., but being close to family trumps everything -- at least for now.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Speaking of Progress

(Before)

I still can't believe I grew up in a house with 8 people who shared one bathroom. Before my dad even had a chance to cut off the car's engine, we'd all pile out and race to the front door to be first in line. Today, I have the luxury of my own powder room -- although, as you can see from above, it remains under construction. We are so close to finishing the project. In fact, Chris installed the tile floor with the help of a friend. The walls have been painted "Ghost Ship," a blue shade of gray, and we are in the process of finding a pedestal sink. Soon I won't have to wait for my turn to do my hair in the morning and guests won't be forced to trespass our bedroom to the other bath.

(Almost after.)

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Trayed Not Tabled

From the rusted tin tray destined for the garbage that holds a few select perfumes (Narcisco Rodriguez, Paloma Picasso, and Tea Rose), a red metal dish my mom made circa the 1960s in shop class, and our his/her watches to the chinked porcelain dish upon which six Moroccan tea glasses rest, I've found that trays bring order to my life. More are stashed in cupboards for when the opportunity calls for a pink painted floral or gold-flecked Fire King platter.

"Arranged on a tray," writes Rita Konig in an article on the subject of trays, "[things]feel less like a group of random objects and more like a collection of treasures."

Send me pictures of your favorite trays...

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Tea Time


Sometimes we need a little inspiration. I started reading E.O. Wilson's The Creation yesterday, setting up a palette on the front lawn. After a week of downcast weather, I needed a little sun. I'm starting to think about ways to bring the outdoors inside for the coming months, and this book has me thinking green. It's Wilson letter to a Southern Baptist preacher on why we need to put aside our literal reading of the Bible that the end is nigh and consider our earthly home (which if you are of the religious bent, the home God created.)

I've been reading a lot lately - from magazines to other peoples' blogs - and I've decided to post links to articles that I've read that explore ideas of home. I'm doing this every Monday. Mainly because I need something to look forward to on Mondays and I'm sure you do too. (Especially at 4 p.m. when you begin watching the clock.) I'll being calling these post Tea Time after the job I once had at the National Trust in London. Every day we stopped working to feast on dainty cakes and sweet cups of tea. Book chats and reviews of the latest plays, films, or bands, were highlights of our conversations.

Today's post comes from Slate.com. Two writers pose the question: Can a writer invest a random, worthless item with value by inventing a story about its significance?

Then check our the the duo's website. I'm thinking of all those trinkets that have begun to fill a vintage chest of drawers and the stories they could tell.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

October Haiku

The day was dreary
waiting for the autumn sun.
Then I came home.

Bad Idea

As it happens, Tweeting my life does not work for me. In addition to some technical glitches, I simply couldn't submit to sending my schedule into the ether. We just got back from a birthday weekend in New Orleans. I hadn't been there since 2005, so I was amazed at how bright the skyline was coming into the city later Friday night.

We took a break from working on the house, but Chris will be finishing the floors this week. I'll have some photos of the progress up this week.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Clocking In on My Time

(If only life could be lived under these trees.)

Some people keep a journal to loose weight, but my problem isn't the size of my waist. It's time. In an effort to better manage my time, I've decided to twitter my whereabouts for 30 days straight. Ever one to stare at a computer screen for moments on end, I'm trading in blanking out for productivity. There's something to a Twitter post that says, "Mindlessly browsed for watches for three hours." Ok. Not that I am inclined to waste my time that way, but trust me, I've got issues. You can follow the minutiae* here.

*Don't worry, I'm restricitng Twittering to homelife only. Afterall, this a blog about the Home.

After the Flood

(Last week we built a bathroom. This week will be an ark.)

Just before I reversed out of the driveway, our neighbor appeared in the backyard to let me know that Em was running loose. Apparently a tree fell in the middle of the night and he found Em rooting around his yard. (She's a runaway dog most days, so everyone knows her.)

Needless to say, Chris took the chainsaw to the tree and built a makeshift solution until we can take care of the fence. Much of west Atlanta remains under water, a sight that eerily reminds me of New Orleans after Katrina.

I visited New Orleans a few months after the hurricane and I still remember how difficult it was to navigate the city without any street signs or lights, for that matter. Parts of Atlanta have disappeared under the water in the same way the 9th ward was reduced to a water stained chunk of the city. Not nearly as many lives have been claimed by the rain, but I am reminded of the fragile nature of homes despite their brick and mortar foundations.

The sun has finally opened her eyes to us this afternoon -- time to move on from the darkness.

Image Source: AJC, Phil Skinner

Monday, September 21, 2009

Demo This

It's Monday morning and Buford Hwy is flooded. It's been raining in Atlanta for so long I've lost track of the days. Rainy weather is a good excuse to stay indoors and that's just what we did last weekend. There was no cozying up on the couch. Instead, we demolished the bathroom. Photos and commentary tonight.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Staying Alive

Having worked at this Southern institution for 1/6 of its life, I have to share this video filmmaker Joe York made to celebrate Square Books' 30th anniversary. It seems like just the other day I was getting dressed up for the 25th anniversary at the old Off Square Books location.

Square Books was my home for 6 years. My boss Lyn teased me about having a cot in my office, since it seemed I was there when she left in the evening and when she returned at 8:30 every morning. On my last day, a few of the senior employees gathered at City Grocery's bar (our official bar) to say there farewells. There, Richard Howorth and his wife Lisa presented me with a necklace upon which hung a golden key. "So you'll always have a key to the store," he said.

Enjoy Joe's work and check out more of it here.

SQUARE BOOKS 30th Anniversary Video from Joe York on Vimeo.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Napping Lately

Mondays hit harder than a hangover. In our home, we sleep later during the week than on the weekends. For good reason: we like to maximize our time together.

Last week witnessed the purchase of a new car to replace my Camry, which was totaled following a three year battle with a leaking trunk. I was more happy that I would get the coveted carport spot, than actually driving the car itself. That excitement alone belongs to Chris.

We also ate with Tex and L. on two occasions. The first night, we ate a late supper chez Mary/Chris that was more of a collaboration. Pork loin on the grill served with coconut rice and sauteed soy broccoli. Later in the week, we dined chez L./Tex and devoured plates of baked goat cheese salads, pan-sauteed halibut topped with a simple, but summery, tomato relish, and Chris' coconut rice.* I contributed the remains of peaches and raspberries, which I fashioned into a cobbler.

By Saturday, our stomachs full, we set out to work on the bathroom. With the tiling finished, Chris and his dad rebuilt the toilet (a fairly disgusting task that occurred while his mom and I fixed lunch.) On Sunday, I removed the existing bathroom fixtures and commenced to scoff at the layers of wall paper beneath that wreaked of 1960. I would have pressed on but I was weirdly unmotivated and decided to nap.


*The one dish I've washed my hands of as a cook is rice. It was one of things Chris made for me on our first date. Although it was a little mushy because I was late, since then, he's proved to be the official Rice Cooker in the house.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

A Room of a Different Color

(The Color Changing Room)

We have still not painted any of the rooms since I moved in. However, the botched tile work has been repaired, so this weekend we may pick up the brush. I stress over everything, and the color of the bathroom is an equal opportunity for scrutiny.

As happenstance has it, my boss left an article on my desk and the opposite side has a brilliant (though somewhat dated) story on color. "There's a wish for a more home- and nest-like world, particularly in terms of more natural chromatic color versus the high-tech color that saw an extensive movement in the late 1980s and much of the '90s," Margaret Walch, director of the Color Association of the U.S.

Ms. Walch was correct. Just shortly after the publication of the article, Chris painted his house hues reminiscent of twigs and "dirt," my sister bluntly put when she first visited. The trend followed suit in other areas, namely clothing fashion. Does anybody remember the coterie of bridesmaids donning chocolate gowns? When the love faded, you would always have pictures of your friends dressed as giant-sized chocolate bars.

The brown stuck. It's the predominate color in our house, revealing both comedy and truth in my reference to Chris' "man cave," and it's also a blaring (despite the muted tone) reminder of our pasts, which were without the other. Color, as much as tchotchkes, invoke the past, but we rarely acknowledge this fact. When I moved into A.'s old house on Pierce Avenue in Oxford, Mississippi, I purposefully left the bedroom the blue she and her sister painted it. The color reminded me of her. The rest of house was washed in color that had significant meaning, too. The Tiffany blue kitchen a nod to my prized Tiffany box that lived under my bed; the pink bathroom and curtains a farewell to girlhood.

Our house in Atlanta is warm -- cozy on most nights -- and though I still remember falling softly asleep on Chris' brown bed linens for the first time, since then we've arrived at a different color. We'll start with the bathroom first, and see where it leads us.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

From the Cry Baby Room: Hot House Flower and the Nine Plants of Desire*

(Do we take care of plants or do they take care of us?)

The other day I moved my plants to the window and booked a flight to Isla de Mujeres. After a few evenings with Hothouse Flower and the 9 Plants of Desire by Margot Berwin, it was the only thing to do.

Lila Nova is a thirty-something ad woman in NYC disillusioned with the way her life’s unfolded: divorced, demoralized, and lonely. She moves into a nondescript apartment near Union Square’s greenmarket where she buys a bird of paradise. It’s an unusual choice for the location, but doing so brings color and drama to her lackluster life.

First, she’s introduced to David Exley, an attractive but rustic plant dealer at the greenmarket who tells her about the nine plants of desire. Then she stumbles on a Laundromat that doubles as a greenhouse where she meets its proprietor Armand. He offers her a cutting of a fire fern, one of the nine plants of desire. Lila takes advantage of Armand’s generosity and the result is devastating. In an attempt to make amends with him and with herself, she departs for the jungles of Mexico.

This is not Mexico for tourists. Instead, it’s a place steeped in magic and ritual, untamed and uncertain. As Lila goes deeper into the jungle she gets closer understanding her life. What is that she wants? What is it that we all want? More to the point, perhaps we all have a little Lila in us, that yearning to attain all that the nine plants represent (love, immortality, fortune, fertility, sexuality, life force, magic, freedom, adventure).

This is a captivating debut from Berwin, and one I debated whether to rush through or savor. (However, a quick search divulges more of Berwin's writing not to be missed.) If Hothouse Flower does anything, it asks us to slow down and consider that which we desire. And for those of us with a thumb more brown than green, you’ll think of your plants as beings, not just things.


*The guest room, where all the books in our house live, was affectionately dubbed the "cry baby" room when I moved in with Chris. The way I remember it we had our first argument and I went to the guest room (where my old bed resides) to sulk. It didn't last long. We made up, and since then, we reference going to the cry baby room when either of us need a little breather, or in my case, a good book to read.

Monday, August 31, 2009

Everything in Its Place

(Felder Rushing - A Study in Pratice & Patience)

C. wasn't kidding. I haven't posted in quite a while, and for good reason. No internet the last week (though I did sit in the parking lot of a chain pizza joint to download emails), and the house has been abuzz with activity.

My friend B. stopped by the third weekend of August and spent the night. We made Moroccan: steamed cod, couscous, and spiced French lentils. Then, proceeded to drink a bottle and half a of wine between the two of us so that a few hours later brownies seemed like a good idea. They were indeed, though I don't recommend making brownies while inebriated. I doused the mix with too much baking soda. B. was gracious as usual, and complimentary about the house, which had been frustrating me. We gave B. "the tour" and his enthusiasm for what we have planned charmed me. It reminded me of my first date with Chris. He gave me a tour of his house, and afterward, I was convinced I would be around to see all his ideas come to fruition.

The next morning we woke up early, said our farewells to B., and immediately began to work on the basement. By early afternoon, we were covered in dust and ready for lunch. Such hard work deserved - no, required - a hearty lunch. We split burgers at Vortex, then headed home for a long afternoon snooze.

Other distractions to date are a couple of articles I have due for Delta Magazine on the newest cook book Simple Fresh Southern from the Lee Bros. and the artist Jere Allen, a pushed back deadline for The Book, and preparations for first foray into volunteering for the Decatur Book Festival. I'm also still hammering out the details for Golden Apple Media.

I'm adding a new feature to The Blog. While I was out grocery shopping I ran into fellow writer, Itabari Njeri, who has a short story coming out in a noir collection edited by Dennis Lehane, as well as her first work of fiction from Akashic Books. Since writers need more support than ever, especially in the South, I'll be including book reviews in future posts, which seem appropriate for a blog from someone whose guestroom is actually The Bookroom. Up first will be Hot House Flower and the 9 Plants of Desire by Margot Berwin. Ms. Berwin's book seems incredibly appropriate to the South considering the relationships many of us have with plants. I'd like focus on books bent towards home or the idea of place, so let me know of anything I shouldn't miss.

(Image Source: NYT)

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Head-to-Toe Vegetables

(Home is where the hearth is.)

A friend recently asked me where I get the inspiration for my posts and it's often the pictures I've collected (and failed to properly organize) on my computer. Sometimes they're recent, sometimes they're old. In fact, I'm planning to download all the images off my old computer and will be able to cull from that cache as well next month. I have a particular penchant for photographing other people's homes over the years, and I have amassed a healthy supply of narrative photographs.

(Tilapia with Green Onion Sauce and Basil Mint Pesto Penne Rigate)

This week, though, Chris suggested that I post images from our meals together. I had thought about doing this before, but it seems like a lot of people do it and I wanted to focus on the oft overlooked parts of the home, i.e. the bedroom, closets, gardens, etc. But after dinner tonight, when Chris bit into the tilapia we made together, I knew I had to document what has proven to be the "something" that keeps us in tandem with one another. I won't be able to document everything, but here is a start.

(Pickled Green Onions)

Inspired by the summer surplus of vegetables and fruits that turn before I have a chance to enjoy them, I've gotten into pickling again (remember the lemons.) Pickling adds another dimension to whatever fruit or vegetable you use, and in return, you get a couple of more weeks out of them (assuming you can resist using them before the week is over.) Following a simple recipe for ramps, I pickled the white parts of scallions. Most people throw the white part out and use the green, but with an Asian-style pickle, you can top rice or grilled meat to add a sweet and tangy finish.

(Balsamic Peaches)

The other condiment I made today was balsamic peaches. I simmered three whole peaches until I could slip them out of their skins, then halved them and returned to the pot with 1/4 cup balsamic vinegar, 1/2 water, and 1/4 cup sugar, a cinnamon stick, and 1 T black peppercorns. I turned the peaches over once and waited until the liquid reduced by half. They're best consumed within a few days, preferably with a scoop of vanilla ice cream and a sprinkling of crushed amaretti cookies.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

The More the Mary-er

(Speaking of writers, here I am with Clarissa Romano, one of my favorite dames.)

As I write this, I'm working from bed. There's a lot going on at chez Attebery/Warner. What was to be a day of tiling the bathroom has turned into Chris sleeping by my side mid-afternoon while I eke out an article for Edible and begin a business plan to launch Golden Apple Media this fall. Then there is THE BOOK.

I received a congratulatory email from my editor regarding the reception of my documentary film on Thacker Mountain Radio, which engendered in me fear rather than ecstasy. Always one to under-promise and over-deliver, I'm wondering how I will add another one hundred pages to what I've already written. How can I turn something feverishly academic into a cool read in less than three weeks?

There is hope. I've befriended the lovely Laurel Snyder through our mutual friend Lauren Cerand and I have to say it's a match made in heaven. To be a writer without a community is a suffocating thing. Despite Chris' genuine enthusiasm for my work - of which progress has been minimal - there is an understanding between writers that can not be grasped by those who don't wield the pen for a living. (I'll never forget the conversation I had with one writer who sneered at to the 23 year old version of me, "You don't want to be a writer, do you?") It was too late, the pen had already chosen me. Talking to Laurel the other night reminded me that I'm not the only one trying to make a go of this life.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Florida Redux

Chris and I are back from Florida. We loved spending time with my family but we we happy to see Em and Turner. While Em managed to devour a blanket, everything else was as we left it -- including the bathroom project. We plan to complete the tile this week, but I'll believe it when I see it.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Dual Homecomings

(Bryan Ledford on the big screen at Lyric Theater)

For the record, I'm back. This is a busy week as I prepare to visit my childhood home with Chris. (He hasn't meet my parents yet, so the trip should be interesting.) My mom jokingly asked me if I think Chris will no longer want to marry me when he sees how small their house is. Even if designer digs were never within our reach, I remind her that our home was always rich in love.

On Monday ,I finished the Thacker Mountain Radio documentary film (a good first draft) with Joe York to much aplomb. The Oxford film Festival screened it as part of their summer series and about 75 people showed up to see it. Afterward, I was approached about showing it in the annual festival, which is held every February in Oxford. Not one to pass up an opportunity for growth, I said, "Sure." Joe and I are anticipating working on it together in the upcoming months to get it ready for its official debut. I'll keep everyone posted on the film's whereabouts.

After coming off a weekend of long hours and sleepless nights, I'm glad to be back in Atlanta with Chris, Em and Turner. All three were besides themselves upon my return and I have to admit, it's heartening to feel so welcome and loved.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Craving Normalcy

(N.'s Eggs on Toast)

As the momentum to create picks up, I've been thinking about what I will be working on when my film wraps tomorrow. Since A. has been in town, we've talked about the fact that I need to blog on a more regular basis. Admittedly, I've been lazy. There was a time -- not too long ago -- when my plate was so full I had no time to see friends in Oxford, let alone family in Florida. While that style of working is not a mode of operation I ever want to return to, I'd like to get back on my writing schedule, which will instill a modicum of discipline in my life.

Walking a dog might do the same. With A.'s parents out of town, I've volunteered to walk Rupert, a cancer survivor who's taciturn save for the appearance of a stroller or other passerbyer. When Em lived with me in Oxford, I relished our morning walks and energy they provided. Now, sluggishly peeling myself from the bed, I'm usually bleary-eyed until I perk up only steps away from walking into the office.

Aside from sleeping in a cozy bed and waking up to good conversations over coffee (rather than the sketch beds and bland coffee that are the hallmarks of hotels), by staying with friends we are offered a window into the patterns and whims of other peoples lives. Not wanting to do anything but relax on Saturday is apparently normal.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Precursor to Status Anxiety

I'm back in Oxford for a few days to work on my film about Thacker Mountain Radio. The weather is perfect - a nice, humidless eighty degrees - and the town is quiet. I also realized as I was driving thirty miles an hour how much I don't miss Atlanta's aggressive drivers.

This week I have the pleasure of staying my dear friend A.'s parents' home just off the Square. A. didn't grow up in the home, but her sister did and the vestiges of her childhood are everywhere: prom photos, a cheerful decor, and a trove of nail polishes in a rainbow of colors. My own bedroom in Atlanta is a palette of muted browns, and I noticed that getting out of bed at 6 a.m. this morning (far earlier than I ever do in Atlanta) must have something to do with the cheery decor. Color, we've know for a long time, affects us.

I noticed, too, that A.'s parents repainted their kitchen. This has been an ongoing affair; last time I was there it was tangerine orange reminding me of Mario Batali's Babbo, or his shoes (though I prefer the former.) Now, it is a pleasant shade of pale blue, somewhat breathy, therefore adding a nice airiness to the space. I find in A's mother a similar desire to change up rooms on a regular basis. Just as many rooms make up a house, so do many views.

On a side note, I had two wonderful conversations with A's parents. The first was with her mother on status anxiety and how it relates to our homes; and the latter was with A.'s father about finding your voice as a writer, a process which he describes as finding "your ear."
(A's father is the author of a rolicking book set in Mississippi.)

I'll be posting on status anxiety in the upcoming week after I revisit Alain de Botton's book of the same title.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Strikes Me As Lovely

Lame is all I've got for you. Between spotty email, bathroom/roof repairs that have drained our pockets and zapped what remains of our energy after long days of work, I've been slow to post anything anywhere -- except for Twitter. Check out my feed on what I'm making, renovating, or turning upside down at our house with additional tweets on what what strikes me as lovely.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Mixing Business and Pleasure


(Sketch for my first business card.)


This week I started working for an architecture firm as their Marketing Director. The job is somewhat serendipitous considering my interest in the idea of home. Many of the projects Houser Walker Architects develops are for museums, libraries, and universities, and like homes, these places foster dreams.

When I was kid I wanted to be an architect, then as fate would have it a cousin enrolled in the architecture school at University of Florida and the few times I saw her during holidays she seem bogged down by books and projects. This was not the life I envisioned for myself, so instead I grew up to work in a place surrounded by books and kept hours more akin to a lawyer than to a bookseller. Life has a way of coming full circle though, and despite the fact I still have no desire to actually be an architect, I have the opportunity to work with them, share ideas, and most importantly, strengthen a business that nutures our identities.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

The Kitchen Ascent

(Cozy up in the kitchen and see where it leads.)

J. writes, "I was on Southern Living. com and came across this kitchen idea. I think you might know the owner of this kitchen (from City Grocery in Oxford.)"

She's correct. The image is from the kitchen of dear friends John and Bess Currence. The first time I saw their recently-completed kitchen, I had to take a deep breath. What you can't see in the picture is a small, spiral staircase that ascends to the master bedroom. I often talk of the kitchen dance that couples do, but the Currences have taken it to another level. I like it.


Image Source: Southern Living




Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Life's Ups and Downs

(Rest in Peace - Benson Albemarle Attebery, a fine dog and friend.)


A few updates:
  • Chris' family dog Benson passed away this week, so we've all been dealing with the loss by bunkering down as a family. Yesterday, Chris and his parents buried Benson in our front yard. It's hard to think of that little guy no longer with us.
  • I've just been hired by Houser Walker Architects to do strategic planning for marketing and publicity. It's only part-time but with the film and book, it couldn't be more perfect.
  • My first guest is coming to Atlanta next week: My twin sister Jacqui. We have a couple of things in mind to do including some house beautifying and eating at the Mexican restaurant Chris discovered a few months ago that blows Taqueria del Sol out of the water.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Selling Ideas of Home

So I just got back from an interview with an architecture firm in Atlanta. No, I am not thinking about a career change. Rather, the job encompasses marketing and publicising the firm. I feel like this opportunity is right up there with my interests and I was impressed with the principal who I met with -- he and I seem to be on the same page with regards to sustainability, ideas of home, and how the environment impacts our outlook on life.

I won't know anything until Monday, so everyone keep your fingers crossed.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Formerly of the Hospitality State but still Hospitable

(S. took this picture of me this morning. )

"S. is coming this week," Chris told me a few days before his arrival. S. is Chris' friend from college who is now a sales rep for Taylor guitars.

Not the kind of person to open my home to guests without a made bed, I pulled my old sheets from the closet and outfitted the bed I lugged from Mississippi. I'm sitting next to it now. It's in a room that was once the abode of Chris' roommate who has since vacated. The room has been restored as a guestroom/office. The walls are terribly white, and in the morning the room grows bright and is filled with birdsong. (Some people -- Chris for example -- find it annoying, but I prefer it to the janky alarm that resounds at 7:30 everyday via Chris' cell phone.)

Apparently guests slept on the couch or an air mattress before I moved in. There was another empty room, but it was never set up as a place for guest to rest. I like to think that S. will be more productive today having slept in my old, comfy bed (which I miss) instead of the couch. Or, that the breakfast I offered him -- just as I offer Chris most every day -- will sustain him. It's these little touches, a bed offered or a hot, homemade meal that make the difference.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

IKEA for Dummies

(A man's bathroom reinvisioned.)

IKEA. Say that word and the response ranges from "I love that place!" to "Get me out of here!" The store has its followers and haters, and those of us who appreciate it for what it means: Affordable out of the box design. Of course, to get the look they proffer be sure to set aside a good part of your day. IKEA products are notoriously migraine-inducing before they take shape as say your new platform bed or shelf.

One network television show used IKEA products on a show called the Tool Academy. The idea was to get a bunch of guys -- the "tools" -- to put together beds with their partners and see who could problem solve together. The results ranged from all-out wars to strengthened bonds. IKEA should consider offering relationship counseling alongside their fifty-cent hot dogs.

A few months ago, Chris and I watched a British documentary on marijuana in which a mother -- curious about the real effects of the drug -- purchased an IKEA product to put together after smoking several joints. It's no surprise that she couldn't complete the task. Then again, I felt like throwing in the towel the other day when Chris and I were stumped by the illustrated directions for installing a chandelier. Is IKEA too cheap to hire a technical writer for those of us who appreciate words?

All this leads me to the progress we made last weekend. After a successful trip (albeit a long one for such a short list), we returned home with three shelves, some storage baskets, and a chandelier. The shelves replaced two milk crates that had been crammed between the toilet and the sink. I used to spend several minutes digging out my blow drying and styling products, now everything is nicely organized by use in baskets arm-length away.

Amazed that installing the shelves did result in hours of frustration, we high-fived and moved on to the kitchen. After Chris removed the old chandelier, we spent several minutes trying to decipher the cryptic installation directions for our IKEA replacement. I was certain either Chris would fall off the ladder onto the glass table or be electrocuted. Neither happened. An hour later, we stood beneath a handsome lamp as I wiped sweat from Chris' brow.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Florida by Any Other Name

(In lieu of the beach, an interesting night in Ozark, Alabama.)

Rather then live in one of the homes that line Ozark's (Alabama) main street, when J.'s uncle was relocated to Alabama he and his wife rebuilt a near exact replica of their Florida home on top of a red clay hill they razed of trees then sodded.

Had I closed my eyes as we drove up their long, private drive-way and opened them in front of the house I would have believed to be back in Florida -- where I grew up. Unfortunately, I don't have a picture of the front of the house, but with its stuccoed walls, cool color, and breezy windows, it was a dead-ringer for one of the homes along Bayshore Boulevard on the Tampa Bay.

Inside was no different (although the furniture lent itself to a southern setting.) With the exception of the living room and one guest bedroom, the interior walls were painted aubergine, green, and gray. The ceiling in the dining and sitting room boasted vaulted ceilings with alternating panels of white and purple ("I just love purple," Aunt M. told us.) In lieu of a red room (which is ubiquitous in the South) there were two rooms painted coral. The house seemed to unfold before us; each room opening into the other in an inviting way.

We spent most of our time in the kitchen with J.'s aunt. She bustled around the island as she opened drawers that revealed high-end appliances and cherished service. She had a story for everything, including a ribbon of plates that decorated the wall above the cabinets. (The first few were gifts, and then she started collecting them.) An early 1900s Russian coffee urn was most interesting thing in the house, though it was not actually in the kitchen. "Uncle B. smuggled that out of Russia under Jimmy Carter seat in a limo when he was in the Secret Service," Aunt M. gushed.

We ate pork tenderloin that night served with a sticky bourbon sauce and sweet potatoes. For dessert, a simple pound cake. Afterwards, J. and I sat on a "snuggler" couch reading, then we watched a film with the older company. I barely made it to bed, but when I did, sleep was thick. Morning came and I awoke cocooned in a pink glow. Were there a noise machine, I could have tricked myself into believing the Gulf was just outside my window.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Twig Follow-Up

(Girl Scout skills failing, here is an example of what ours was supposed to look like.)

A few people were interested in what the "branch chandelier" looks like. Here's the photo from ApartmentTherapy and a link to the how-to. Ours has already been turned into firewood and we are considering other alternatives. (Paper, rock, scissors-style.)

In the meantime, J. and I just returned from Ozark, Alabama where we stayed with her aunt and uncle. I have pictures from that adventure and can't wait to tell you all about this immaculate home.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Twiggy Revisited

I wish we had a picture of our latest project. The other day, following a suggestion from a friend, I decided to look for an antler chandelier to replace the out-moded one that hangs above the dining table. Unwilling to chalk up nearly a thousand dollars for a white tail design, I tried to think what resembles antlers. Branches! Twigs! (The ceiling of the house is wooden planks so I thought breaking up the lines with curvilinear forms would make the room appear less rigid and masculine.) After doing a little research, I found a how-to guide for making a branch chandelier. It seemed easy enough -- or so I thought.

After convincing Chris that this would be a good idea (the best time to do this is after a long day of work when there is less likely a chance for protest), we hunted for fallen branches. After arranging them on the ground to a desired width, we tied them together with thin wire. It's just a test, I told him. I wanted to see what this would look like. We brought the tangled bundle of firewood inside and hung it just below the existing chandelier. Wow, I thought, Welcome to Camp Wawona.

It didn't seem to fit the space. We needed branches from a noble tree instead of the gnarled and grey limbs we plucked from the ground. We failed well, I told Chris. Even though we still don't have the chandelier of my dreams we had a good laugh and worked together.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Sharing the Table

(Former Dining Table at Pierce Avenue)

Even though I've settled into my new home without any snags I've been aware of the subtle tug of war that goes on when two people begin to share a space. Chris is gracious letting me do whatever I want, although I still run ideas by him. He was impressed with my closet organization skills having transformed one scary cave into a fully functional holding cell for cleaning supplies and outdoor accouterments. "I didn't know there were even shelves in there," proclaimed one awe-struck roommate when she opened the door.

Yesterday I tackled the kitchen with Chris' mom while he was at work. She and I shared several what-is-this glances as we consolidated 100 beer glasses (most obtained from the local brewery) and dumped many bags of expired canned food. We took down a collection of photos on the side of the refrigerator for Chris to sort through. Initially, to my dismay he kept them all and rearranged them to resemble collages my friends and I used to make when we were thirteen. After a while, there was something comforting in seeing it.

Last night a dear Oxford friend came over for dinner. He's working an hour south of Atlanta for the summer and I was eager to see him. For years, he's dined at one of my many kitchen tables and sampled everything from coq au vin to homemade donuts. I had recently made preserved lemons, so I prepared Morroccan-stlye cod with cinnamon scented lentils on a bed of saffron couscous. For dessert, I whipped up a batch of coconut maccaroons, which I paired with a trio of ice creams and sorbet (mango, ginger, and coffee.) While Chris swooned over the meal, reaching for my hand under the table between bites, I was reminded of how food sustains us and keeps us going. For so long food was a way for me to reach out to people (and in some cases attract others), but now it is something that nurtures love and friendship.

Monday, May 25, 2009

She Was Here

(The Lady of the House, Pierce Avenue)

We departed Saturday. After a long week of packing, a group of my guy friends arrived to load the moving truck so Chris and I could hit the road in the afternoon. I had little time to dwell on leaving though. A few days earlier, my friend and surrogate Oxford mother Elaine passed away unexpectedly. Her funeral services were Saturday morning.

Whenever I would leave Oxford, I always made it a point to say goodbye to Elaine at the local bookstore where she worked. We'd hug and I'd mischievously wave goodbye. Upon my return, I would visit her again to dish on my adventures while we shared a cup of coffee and she smoked a cigarette. She encouraged me and listened -- never judging -- as I told her the stories that might make my "real" mom cringe.

At the visitation services on Saturday, there were cards imprinted with an image of Elaine along with brief paragraph about her life. Elaine was homemaker it read (in addition to working part-time at Square Books). Despite the fact that she was well on her way to completing a Ph. D. in History when she met her husband more than thirty years ago, she gave herself to being a wife and mother. Above all else she loved her husband and children. "Homemaking" was her calling.

Home was an important part of Elaine's life. It was a haven for when her children returned to Oxford, a place of gathering, and for hiding from the world. It was filled with the past: photographs, knick-nacks, and other things handmade by Elaine or her children. With her passing, home takes on another meaning to me. It is a memorial to our existence that quietly proclaims, "I was here."

(In Memoriam Elaine Cremaldi)


Monday, May 18, 2009

The Corner of Our Universe

(The Corner of Our Universe: Chris' Kitchen in Atlanta)

So this is it. A week ago I began dismantling my house at Pierce Avenue. As if it weren't difficult enough to deconstruct my HOME, I decided to torture myself with a yard sale.

Southerners share a particular penchant for yard sales. In fact, the largest of them runs along the I-127 corridor just a few hours away from Oxford. Last weekend in town there were 25 yard sales listed in the classified section of the local paper. My listing was among them:

1___ Pierce Avenue. 7 AM. Furniture. Art. Household Goods. Everything goes!

It was optimistic, and at first -- as I watched the sun rise over the neighborhood -- I was too. Then people began to arrive. They picked things up and I watched as they scrutinized how my belongings might fit into their lives. What do you with these?, one woman asked holding up a tart plate. I wanted to tell her about the roasted pears with marscapone or the potato gratin I once baked in them, but as I was about to speak she proclaimed that they would become saucers for her houseplants. She bought all six.

Inside my house these banal parts of my life made sense, but on the lawn they were disparate. Is context the key to feeling good about the arrangement and meaning of things that comprise our homes? I hope so. Next week my boyfriend (yes, the one I fell madly for at our bestfriends' wedding) and I will be living together. We'll be merging our two worlds -- both of which are sharply defined -- into one space. I love him for wanting to share his corner of the universe with me. Home, no doubt, will grow deeper with meaning.

Monday, March 30, 2009

In the moonlight, the color and scent of the wisteria, seems so far away
'tsuki ni tooku oboyuru fuji no iroka kana'
-Yosa Buson (1716-1784)

I learned of this purple beauty after watching the English film Enchanted April. Wisteria and England are intertwined in my mind. When I see this woody vine, I want to brew a pot of tea.

My mother is half-English. There was no prescribed teatime at our house, but once she surprised us with a traditional afternoon tea. My first real one was in Peterborough, England. My cousins marveled at how many sugar cubes I dropped into my cup. Then they laughed as I drowned a scone in Devonshire cream and strawberry jam. I left not a crumb.

The tradition of teatime is no longer in vogue (unless you are like Moby and open a tea shop in Manhattan.) In fact, one English citizen was so concerned that the tradition would be forgotten that he sponsored an "afternoon tea" legacy for the National Trust, England's version of their preservation society. I worked there for a few months after college. Every day at 4 o'clock we sipped tea and nibbled on one of the many gourmet treats from the resident pastry chef.

Aside from the crumb cake, the thing I remember most was the conversation.

You can make tea time even sweeter by making a treat to go along with it. For my solo tea last weekend, I whipped up some date almond biscotti with ingredients I had on hand. You can modify this simple recipe to whatever ingredients are in your pantry.


Image source: Domino Magazine

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

The Good in Goodwill

(Our dogs get along, so why can't we?)

"We respect a style that can move us away from what we fear and towards what we crave: a style which carries the correct dosage of our missing virtues." - Alain DeBotton, The Architecture of Happiness

If you haven't heard, I'm moving to Atlanta (which makes move number eleven.) I've been living alone in Oxford for the last year and have enjoyed it. I hang pink curtains without protest, obsessively clean without being called neurotic and never have to hear the drone of a television because I choose not to own one.

My relocation to Atlanta presents a situation which many of us have experienced: moving into another person's home. It's terrifying and exciting at the same time. In my case, it's the home of my boyfriend. In the past, I've lived with women who eventually become friends, but either way the emotions of sharing a space are similar.

How can we learn to better live with each other? I read last night that the sharing of a meal is one of the most important ways to nurture relationships between people who live together. I think of many of the meals I shared with Katy, my housemate who recently
married and moved to France. Bowls of pasta and salad provided the canvas for conversation about love, happiness, and dreams. The same goes for Chris, who like me, prefers to stay at home and cook. At home, there's no competition from clanging dishes and loud diners.

Learning to like what we contribute to our homes is another story. At first, Katy didn't love the art I hung around the house we shared, but it grew on her. I wasn't enamored with her futon but it became a cozy place for me to sleep when my bedroom was too cold. We grew to appreciate the things each other loved, and today, I miss her French memorabilia that covered the house.

Alain DeBotton asks, "Why do we change our minds about what we find beautiful?"

The answer: We learn to appreciate another person's contribution to our world. If you don't adore something, see it with a fresh pair of eyes. (And if all else fails, there is always Goodwill.)

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Anti-Clutter is Anti-Southern

(Clutter is such an unpleasant sight that I will spare you any illustration of it.)

With spring around the corner, there is one thing on my mind: A clean, fresh house.

I am convinced that an orderly home ushers in new ways of thinking and inspires healthy living. Several years ago, a friend gave me a copy of Simplify Your Life by Elaine St. James. In addition to whittling your wardrobe down to a palette of three colors and limiting lunch dates, she stresses keeping a clutter-free house.

Clutter is an interesting word. It's from the Middle English word cloteren which mean "to clot" and its modern usage suggests a state of confusion. The word is often used to convey a state of mind or the condition of a place -- usually the home.

In an effort to avoid clogged -- or clotted -- arteries, we limit the amount of bacon and butter we consume, but yet we don't limit the amount of stuff we put in our homes. In doing so, we thwart the creative process. (Anyone who has ever tried to write at a cluttered desk will understand.) For some, the problem stems from anxiety of parting with the past, but for most of us, it's simply laziness. While there are organizations to help the extreme cases of clutterers (check out Clutters Anonymous), the majority of us just need to get out of in front of the TV or stop procrastinating, or both.

In the South, people have a lot of stuff. Several houses come to mind, and in fact, when the New York Times wrote about one particular southern family, the description of their home is not without the reference to the amount of stuff on their walls, shelves, tables, etc:

If there were a publication called Southern Home and Book, the _______ place would be the editorial template. There’s a big wrap-around porch typical of antebellum manors, and the downstairs hall is given over to floor-to-ceiling bookshelves. The d├ęcor exhibits the eccentricity and faded gentility Northerners associate with Southerners; in the parlor, which Ms. _______ calls the “critter room” because of animal-related objects like an armadillo basket and a stuffed bobcat, stands a wobbly-sounding piano, topped by a toy talking monkey.

I think the difference between what these people do -- namely, displaying their collections -- is different than someone keeping every issue of the New Yorker since 1980. (I know someone who does that too.) When a collection no longer has meaning, if it becomes so covered in dust that we can only make out its silhouette, it's time to reconsider the objects in our home. We must ask ourselves if we are we defining them or if they are defining us?

This weekend, in honor of spring, pick a room -- or start small with a closet -- and begin unclogging the arteries of your home.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

I Dare You to Give Me Lemons

(She wore lemon to colour in the grey night.)

I know the end of winter is near when yellow jonquils push up from the earth to announce spring. They don't stay around very long as they are quickly replaced by bright patches of tulips, then purple irises. Spring also wakes me with a symphony of bird calls outside my window.

Calendars and clocks are wonderful for organizing lives, but sometimes it's better to rely on our senses. If we are simply aware, we will know what's coming next. Give yourself permission to slow down and maybe even lay in bed longer to listen to the birds.

To save the last remnants of winter, I preserved lemons. Lemons are a traditional fruit of the cold weather months, but I like how they allude to spring. You can make preserved lemons in just twenty minutes at home. They'll keep in your refrigerator for up to six months. Enjoy them finely diced and tossed with fresh green vegetables, fish, barbecued meat, and anytime you want an unusual piquant flavor to spice up a meal.

A simple recipe for preserved lemons.



Image Souce: David Lebovitz

Monday, February 23, 2009

A Writer's Bestfriend

(Donna Tartt's little friend.)

I'm rarely home these days. In fact, tonight I dined on takeout from a sandwich chain after a long day of running between campus and home. I envisioned living out my last days in Oxford cocooned in the place I created in which to nest, and instead, I am spending my time on the streets. Not Slum Dog Millionaire-style, but it does have to do with a dog.

Instead of the pink light inside my house that filters through my curtains, it's the blossoms of Japanese magnolias I see -- a first sign of spring -- every morning. I didn't realize what little time I spent outdoors until I got Em. Now, it's at least an hour, often more, that I am truly present in the world (when not telling Em "No" as she sniffs some unpleasant object, poised to dine on it.) I wonder how people can have dogs in big cities paved with cement when I delight in seeing Em's nose half buried in dirt.

Now that I have a dog, it seems that everyone does. I'm also learning dog introduction etiquette (which is that I learn the dog's name but not the owner's) and still get embarrassed when Em uses the front yard of a fancy mansion to relieve herself. Even still, with her in my life, I am in good company. I Google my favorite writers and I've found that dogs are common companions in this field. In fact, Em was a rescue from a group named for Willie Morris's beloved canine Pete.

Then there is the famous Faulkner portrait by Henri Cartier-Bresson with Faulkner looking out in repose with his animated "fyce" or rat terriers . Faulkner had this to say about dog ownership: "Every boy should have a dog. He should be ashamed not to own a dog, and so should everybody else who didn't own a dog." Over at The Valve, they've posted a link to pictures of esteemed writers and their dogs. There's Amy Hempill (Wanita), Donna Tartt (Pongo), and Robert Penn Warren (Frodo). The number of southern writers with dogs outnumbers the others, which is interesting considering that the post was on the New York Social Diary.

I can understand the way in which a dog fits into a writer's life, especially in the South where being outside is a way of life most months out of the year. Contemplation is the writer's best friend, too, and walking a dog provides an instant scenario in which to follow your instinct.

(Faulkner's decisive dogs.)

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Spring Cleaning Comes Early

(Some people use post-it notes to be organized, but I get a dog.)

One of the benefits of inviting people to stay with you is that all those projects you keep putting off are suddenly done in one afternoon. Such was the case last weekend, when, after realizing that Chris will be here in FOUR DAYS, I decided I had a lot to do. Namely: hand-mop the floors, rehang the shower curtain, change light bulbs, clear out the summer garden, vacuum the house and car, and wipe everything down. After being on the road for six weeks, a thick layer of dust covered just about everything, and now that I have a dog, hair covers just about everything.

Let's talk about the dog. As I write this, Emileigh is laying beside me in her bed on the floor. She probably thinks she has the most boring dog owner ever, wondering what it is I do all day beside move things around the house and tap at a white object that glows. Bored by me, and because she is still a puppy, she's managed to add some flair to the house. The silk couch I own is now flawed, as is a lamp, and I am with one less bird's nest.

There is a strange correlation between Emileigh and my boyfriend's arrival to my house. Space, that thing we can never really define until something or someone disturbs it, has become an issue. I can not fathom how my parents' shared their space with six children. I am having a hard enough time adjusting to staying with my boyfriend and letting a dog sit on my couch. And perhaps, therein lies the problem.

Growing up, I didn't have any space. Space was the bottom bunk and the pen I used to write underneath the one above me to establish my territory. My twin sister and I used to tape a line down the middle of the room on Saturdays when our room had to be cleaned by the end of the day. That was the only time I was OK with her having a few extra inches. Continuing in the shared space theme, I moved in with my boyfriend after I left my parents' house in the suburbs. He and I lived in a smallish apartment in the the city with a Lab and a German Shepard. The Lab ate a good deal of my books. He, just like Emileigh, was a puppy.

I lived with one other boyfriend after that. He worked from home out of our bedroom, desipte the large den he could have used in the house we shared with a friend. Instead, he became a permanent fixture in the corner of the room with his tower of Coke cans, a sight I found far from endearing. When we moved to London, there was no other choice than to work out of our tiny studio apartment, so we became brilliant (that's what they say to mean "great!" in London) at driving each other nuts. I read and he asked me why I read so much.

Of course with Chris it is different, and with Emileigh too. There is still the adjusting and the wondering if what I am doing is crazy.I like things to be perfect. I look at magazine of homes that are crisp and serene and without a speck of mess. I want that because to me it demonstrates control. But if we let a little bit of control go in our lives, we can let another thing enter: love.