I Blame the Lilacs

It’s not my fault I did no housework this week- it’s the lilacs’.

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Yeah, OK, it’s MY fault I bought the house with the giant lilac bush that smells like heaven and it’s MY fault I placed my desk under the window that looks out over the giant lilac bush and MY fault that I opened the window. But it’s the lilacs’ fault that they magically opened in the warm spring sunshine causing me. . .

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to forget about writing and doing the laundry and cooking and shopping and instead. . .

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run outside and smell them.

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And because I was already outside, I got further distracted and took about fifty pictures of the planet sized flowering quince covered in bumblebees and hummingbirds. This caused me to be late picking up one of my sons from school.

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Afterwards, I walked around the yard like I’d just had lilac-infused alcohol. I was a lilac zombie with a camera and took this picture. . .

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and this one.

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And I went on a bike ride and all I saw was purple

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I’ve been outside all week. The wind is blowing the writing off my desk. The laundry is touching the ceiling.

It’s a relief that I have to shut the window. . .the forecast is calling for rain.

 

 

 

 

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Pretend Paris

Paris Welcomes You! 

I’ve always wanted to go to Paris and just after we were married I proposed a trip to Europe. Greg proposed that we begin having children. We were twenty-four years old. I was ready for a traveling adventure. Greg was ready for adventure of another kind. “I don’t want to be an old dad.” (Remember, I said we were TWENTY-FOUR.) He also said, “Europe will still be there when the kids are grown.” It was hard to argue.  Today, our three sons are 22, 17, & 17. One has moved out and the other two will graduate high school next year. And lo and behold, Europe is still there. But with an old farmhouse wanting our attention, twins with college plans, and all three needing our resources, Europe will have to wait.

Friday afternoon Greg and I drove across the Connecticut border and the road sign that I pretended said, Paris Welcomes You!  actually read, Massachusetts Welcomes You! 

Greg surprised me for my birthday with an overnight stay in Boston- a city that could never be confused with Paris- or could it?

It rains in Boston, just like I’ve heard it does in Paris.

Boston has shrubbery shaped like gumdrops, just like Paris.

And Boston has bakeries.

You can sit at the window inside Tatte and watch people wrangling umbrellas while you sip a cup of Earl Grey. The owner designed her cafe to make if feel as if you were being hugged. I can think of nothing better than to be hugged by a cinnamon bun.

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How much for the entire platter, s’il vous plait?

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So, Paris has Jardin du Luxembourg. Boston has the Common.

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Does it get foggy in Paris?

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I know for damn sure that Paris doesn’t have our friend Sean, head chef of the Revere Hotel’s restaurant the Rebel’s Guild, who brought us plate after plate of deliciousness. (My present to you: order the Skillet Cornbread with Maple Butter.) My cocktail was the Midnight Ride. Thank you very much.

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They had kings in Paris, but we had a king-sized bed in Boston. Also, champagne.

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French women are skinny, but our Boston hotel had a skinny mirror. I’m really going to miss it.

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Saturday morning was beautiful, not a raindrop in sight. Perfect for walking. . .and walking. . .and walking. We walked all the way to the MFA.

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The Louvre doesn’t have Mark Rothko. (Or this dude with his Tatte bag, who kind of looks like he needs a hug.)

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Before Greg and I left the MFA, I headed to the bookshop and performed one of my new magic rituals. With my manuscript, Blueprint for Daylight, currently being pitched to publishers by my agent, I find the non-fiction section and create a space where it will-one-day-if-I-pray-to-the-publishing-gods be found. Weird? I am certainly weird. But if it works, you saw it here first, all you aspiring writers. Then I take a picture and sit with my phone for way too long drawing a book spine with my finger and typing the title.

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The only beer I like is a Corona Light on a 100 degree day after working all afternoon in the garden. But after walking seven miles we needed a pick-me up. And Greg says Corona isn’t beer. Whatever, Guinness Man.

This Blood Orange Wheat radler was SO GOOD.

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Do French women take pictures of their feet when the nail polish on their toes is chipped? Probably not. But after our trip to Boston, where I walked in the rain, drank champagne, enjoyed pastries, art, and came home with books-it felt like the best birthday getaway, no plane ticket necessary.

Europe will still be there after we save enough to finish remodeling our farmhouse and the twins graduate college. . . but until then, I’ve got Boston.

Five Steps to Crazy

This is my office. AKA: the Writer Containment Area. An area that is not allowed the isolation of Area 51 as it is in my bedroom. Sometimes, I have visitors.

I used to be considered a neat freak. I can hear you laughing and asking me what all that stuff, very important writing process stuff, is. Let me break it down in a precise clockwise fashion:

  1. writing on the floor
  2. writing on the desk
  3. books and journals I should have already read on the floor, the desk, and the sofa.
  4. Art I made four years ago (during creative crisis) and still have not hung
  5. The printer is on the floor because in yet another vain attempt at becoming a minimalist, I removed the printer’s table.

This is a super embarrassing great photo to further illustrate how far down the slob rabbit hole I’ve gone. The old me would have ripped out the awful wall to wall carpet the day we moved in. It’s been two and a half years.

I’ve even let people see this space. Some of whom were without shoes. Or socks. Since I have rose colored glasses and can only see the lovely view, I imagined my visitors did as I did and ignored the stained carpet and all the papers, books, and floor obstacles. I am kind of impressed how long I let this mess fester. Like going to the hairdresser and having her say, “Your hair feels really healthy,” and responding, “I haven’t washed it in a week!”

The move two and a half years ago coincided with the book I was writing and the graduate school education I jumped into. While I was there I developed a Second Brain. Second Brain cares nothing for neatness and wants only to write books,devour literary journals, and write things that could, with a Herculean amount of editing muscle and luck, be printed in one. All was going swimmingly.

Then two weeks ago I submitted my manuscript to an agent who is, as we speak,  pitching it to publishing houses. So obviously, I got a dumpster.

It’s like Oprah always says, “Clean out your Writer Containment Area if you want to get published.” No? Sure she does. She also says, “To make room in your life for unlimited prosperity you must remove your unattractive 1990s carpets.” Then she’ll send me the keys to a Mercedes and a lifetime of Sephora. While I wait for that, I give you Five Steps to Crazy:

Step One: Enlist husband to rip up old icky carpet and lay new floor. Buy beer and whisky. (Maybe buy the beer and whisky before enlisting husband.)

Step Two: Put all the stuff back and snap a “before” photo.

Step Three: a week, two sore backs, and many stubbed toes later, voila! A place for the dog to sleep.

 

Step Four: Realize how amazing the space looks (what to call it, Modern Shaker?) without most of your stuff- like minimalist nirvana was achievable. However, you must now write downstairs at the dining room table because the green upholstered Parsons chair is in the dumpster.  A hole was worn in the fabric from sitting and watching the new David Letterman series on Netflix writing.

Step Five: Because you don’t want to pester the agent (WHAT’S HAPPENING?!), buy more beer and whisky because the bathroom is next.

In Praise of Green Things

Officially, I live in the Quiet Corner of Connecticut. Unofficially, it’s the Arctic Circle.

I lay in bed checking the forecast in hopes of seeing a reassuringly normal 30, even 25 degrees.  The phone screen illuminates, “Feels like -17.” I’m wearing that many layers to stay warm and I haven’t even left the house. This is a perfect excuse to boot the teenagers out of my favorite room and take it over. The best descriptor for that small parlor is straight out of Rebecca, the classic novel by Daphne du Maurier. In my morning room, unlike the movie adaptation, there are no rhododendrons but the owner’s name is apt: Mrs. de Winter. Like the name morning room implies, ours faces east and being small, is the only room in the house that remains cozy in sub-zero temperatures.

No video games this morning, boys.

I sit here, all tucked in on the daybed with the sun streaming across my lap and dream about spring. Since anything resembling green grass or green leaves is months away here in Connecticut’s northeast corner, I’ll share my favorite collection of green things, recently gathered.

Right after Christmas, my husband and I went to Newport, Rhode Island where we escaped the snow, but not the frigid temps. That didn’t stop us from taking in the Winter Passport mansion tour where I indulged in all things ornate.

From extravagant passementerie to an exhibit from the private collection of Pierre Cardin, I warmed right up.

 

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New Year’s Eve: New Year, Still Me

“Time flies like an arrow; fruit flies like a banana.” -Anthony G. Oettinger, Linguist

In less than nine hours it will be 2018. In the spirit of Type A procrastinators everywhere (yes, it’s a thing), I wonder:

Do I have enough time to achieve all my 2017 resolutions?

In my head spins the refrain to the John Lennon Christmas classic, Happy Xmas (War is Over), reminding me that I haven’t done most of what I thought I would: and what have you doneanother year over . . . My palms are sweaty, my right eyelid twitches. It’s been a busy year. I’ve done a lot. But those resolutions I write every year as the ball is about to drop, balancing a re-filled glass of wine between my fingers, are calling me from the deep part of my subconscious where they went before Happy New Year! was shouted with streamers.

Time to take stock. Written on hastily ripped graph paper in orange crayon at 11:55 PM December 31, 2016:

2017 Definitely Will Happen Resolutions

1. Weigh 125 lbs.

Unless I have a limb removed,* this is impossible.

Solution: Might as well enjoy that Lindt gold-wrapped chocolate ball staring at me on my desk.

2. Have book published. 

Despite best efforts, this is not something in my control. My much edited and rewritten memoir manuscript is presently in the actual hands of a literary agent and in the metaphorical hands of the Memoir Goddess who I christen: Mary Karr. (Can you think of a better name? Mary Karr has penned three brilliant chronological memoirs which are evidence that it can be done. Well.)

Solution: Accept that I have given this my best effort and will either have a book deal in 2018, or need to find an agent willing to take a chance on my work. Buy new notebook and begin writing second memoir.

3. Organize papers, including the mountain in the closet, sitting on top of the filing cabinet. 

I am a paper-person. I write long-hand. I still write checks. I write letters, insert them into envelopes, and affix stamps. I use a spiral-bound calendar made out of paper. I do not trust digital calendars, I trust trees. I live in a papery world and I like it. But is saving every utility bill and mortgage statement necessary when that part of life is online, and, we can safely assume, not a fad?

Solution: Plug in the shredder, feed it every paid invoice, and burn the ribboned heap in the fireplace in a symbolic gesture to simplicity. (Make sure not to shred entire family’s Social Security cards, which I know are in that pile. Also, make sure the flue is open.)

4. Catch up on reading. Stop reading multiple books at once.

My mother has a fantastic list of every book she’s read since the 1980s but more importantly, she finishes every book she begins. I aspire to this sort of organization. I have a leaning tower of books in several areas of my house: the nightstand (obviously), the kitchen counter, the living room book table (I don’t drink coffee), and sometimes piles appear on the staircase and the washing machine. I seem unable, however, to stay engaged with some books. Mid-read I will often reach for a book of poetry or a literary journal. This happens most with books people give me.

Solution: Forget it. I can never catch up or say no to a book someone gives me. And my life’s goal of being surrounded by books twenty-four hours a day cannot possibly happen in one year. I need another fifty. Also, I have absolutely no idea how many books I have read. Possibly one thousand. Which means there are at least one thousand books in my house I have not read. YAY!

5. Blog more frequently. Once a month, MINIMUM.

Solution: There’s always next year.

* Not a large limb, mind you- maybe my left arm to the elbow, or my right leg, up to the kneecap.

A Chain of Events on the Landscape

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The Glass House

Yesterday, I visited the Philip Johnson Glass House

in New Canaan, Connecticut. Now owned by the National Trust for Historic Preservation, The Glass House was the home and on-going project of modern and post-modern architect Philip Johnson for fifty-six years. Besides its most famous structure, the property comprises forty-nine rolling acres with thirteen additional structures.

Each is divine.

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The Studio

Despite having lived in traditional dwellings all my life, I have admired modern design since my under-grad years. While I didn’t extend my initial four-year degree in interior design another two years for a degree in architecture, I remember that we students were divided between Beaux-Arts and Modern.

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Studio Interior: Johnson sat at left, directly under the cone-shaped skylight.

We design devotees didn’t argue in the quad but instead, consistantly produced drawings that announced our alligience. My drawings had Chippendale furniture against stark white walls paired with Josef Albers paintings. I was put in the Modern camp somewhat against my will. I couldn’t articulate my dilemma of aesthetic alligence then, but I can now: I belong where ever the conversation between old and new is happening. And it’s happening at the Philip Johnson Glass House.

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Part of Johnson’s large architectural reference library in the studio.

What I love about this property and the buildings it includes, is the sense of repetition, or what the guide called, “twins but not twins.” Similarities in form both classical and modern, are found everywhere.

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The bathroom is the only enclosed, and therefore, private-structure inside the Glass House.
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On the drive approaching the house, a stone wall negotiates with a tree.

At the back of the Glass House are the Pavilion in the Pond, a folly, and Monument to Lincoln Kirstein, a climbable sculpture. The Pavilion is three-quarter scale and I immediately wanted to sit in it.

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A close friend of Johnson’s, LIncoln Kirstein was a poet, founder of the Society for Contemporary Art, the developer of a literary magazine, and instrumental in bringing George Balanchine to New York where he eventually founded the New York City Ballet.
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View from the interior of the Pavilion in the Pond
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The Glass House invites. When I was inside I felt drawn to walk outdoors. When I was outdoors, I wanted to walk back in.

Our guide indicated that Philip Johnson designed the landscape and structures to be a “chain of events on the landscape,” and I felt that. The land and structures, similar but dissimilar, are in constant conversation with each other.

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Detail of the radiant heated brick herringbone designed floor.
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Interior of the Sculpture Gallery

The conversation continues.

Picture This

Two things: first- my dog is a ham. Second, I’m so freaking happy to be done with this foyer, I almost want to paint something. Two months ago, I posted A DRAMATIC ENTRANCE all about turning my boring-as-dirt entrance into one with high drama. I imagined going dark. But that worked out the way it does when I decide to color my hair anything but blonde. I had regrets. I also had a hangover. It doesn’t pay to consider wall colors while drinking wine. Luckily, I came to my senses.

The wall color is Hawthorne Yellow, a Benjamin Moore product. I’ve been using BM for years, my favorite of their products is Regal in pearl finish.

I have about one hundred framed photos of immediate family, extended family, family I never met (yet) because they died before I was born. My mother’s mother was an only child, and out of her three grandchildren, I am the one most interested in our history.

I won’t bore you with it, because no one is as interested in a person’s family history as the person telling it. Instead, imagine your foyer, or entrance, or place where you throw your keys as an opportunity to visit yours.

This is Gigi. She isn’t a dog model, she just thinks she is.

OK, I give up. Who wants a treat?

Indoor Garden Party

It was supposed to be outside. My parents’ 50th wedding anniversary party, that is. Until the forecast called for rain, the torrential kind, with high winds. And it was going to be COLD.

Doesn’t Connecticut realize that it’s MAY? The day after the party (today!) is Mother’s Day. Isn’t the earth a mother?

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I imagined the 40 + guests enjoying the fragrance of the giant lilacs I inherited, walking in the garden, and generally taking the sun, eating, laughing, and talking until dark.

What happened the night before the party? A mad dash to swap out big round tables meant to be under the tent for smaller indoor tables under. . . the living room ceiling.

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It was an excercise in delegation: my aunt, my sister, cutting massive amounts of lilacs from the yard, and me, (on the way home from bringing the puppy to the kennel), stopping the car to gather pretty yellow weeds flowers from the side of the road.

It was an hour before the party (I was hopping in the shower) when my sister and twin sons made tissue paper poofs and opened white lanterns to hang from the dining room ceiling. They should have been in the tent. We all should have been in the tent.

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img_7613But, New England weather can never be trusted. And that, as it turned out, was a good thing. Because, the torrential rains never came. It wasn’t warm, but the wind stayed away. 

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By the time the sprinkles started, the party was hours in and nobody cared. Not a one. Cake can have that effect on a person. Also, lots of laughing, and eating delicious food (catered by Jessica Tuesday’s), and hugging in the beautiful Connecticut countryside.

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All these pictures are of my mom with one of her best friends, MaryEllen and her husband Jim, her cousins from Baltimore, and with my twins. My dad isn’t in them becasue he was where he’s happiest: looking at an old car, (it happens to be ours), a Morgan Super-Sport, Plus 4.

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Happy 5oth Anniversary Alan and Carol! (Dad and Mom to me.)

P.S. I made the cake and frosting from scratch. If you are looking for the best white cake ever, look no further. I found it HERE. The frosting is good, old-fashioned butter cream.

 

A Dramatic Entrance 

Our farmhouse is old. 1830 foundation old.

The main part of the house, rebuilt in 1900, is a Cape. Of course it has a front door, but since it faces the street, and not the driveway, we barely use it.

Attached to the rear of the Cape is an addition, once a woodshed/tractor garage.  That structure is now a two-story wing with a new main entrance that leads to the driveway. The outside is lovely: classic portico, hanging pendant light, bluestone underfoot- then you open the door.

And it’s boring as dirt.

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You are greeted by a utilitarian closet at right, and an electrical panel at left. A commercial-grade recessed light is not flattering to the space or your complexion. No place to toss the mail, keys, or check lipstick before running late to an appointment.

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Last May, in a spring fit, I took down the closet doors to create an alcove, slid a chest from the dining room in on a blanket, added a lamp and mirror.

A MAJOR improvement, but certainly not finished. I promised the space: next month.

Here it is, nearly a year later, with one patch of snow still in the yard and the entry is just as I left it. I thought I knew what I wanted. Wall color that is light, bright, and spare. Something like this:

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Pretty. Pretty freaking boring. I realized that for the last twenty years I’ve been creating houses for other people, even though I lived in them. The whole time I was paying the mortgage on the first three houses, I was designing the remodels based on a future buyer. The future buyer isn’t a mysterious creature: give them classic, solid construction with quality fixtures, and you’ll sell in days. But, this time I’m not leaving. So, I sat down and thought: what do I want my entry to look like?

Dramatic. Rich with heritage and oozing history. Every real estate agent says upon listing your house, “Remove family photos.” This will be the opposite. Walk in my house, and even if the dog answers the door, my family are in your face.

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I’m going against traditional small space design protocol. Instead of light-bright, I’m going for English gallery. The whole space is 10 feet by 10 feet. Hardly a manor entrance. But, I have about fifty framed photos to crowd the walls with.

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I haven’t decided on a precise color, but the options all have a theme: blue-black, green-black, ooo…how about blackety-black? This is damn fun.

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