In Praise of Green Things

Officially, I live in the Quiet Corner of Connecticut. Unofficially, it’s Crazy Town.

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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Fear & Type A in Bucolia

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That’s me. The me in my fantasy horseback riding lesson: like fearlessness and a hat with a feather would levitate me and a one ton animal off into space.

The happiness I courted was specific: to conquer a fear I’d been carrying around my entire life. But I didn’t just want to conquer it, I wanted to excel.

When I was a teenager, I attempted to conquer my fear of horses by riding.  Instead, I got as far as sitting on a horse for thirty seconds. He never even moved. That’s all I could handle. A week later, he threw his owner, who had been riding him for years. That settled it in my mind: some fears weren’t worth a crushed vertabrae.

And yet.

I’ve spent the last twenty-nine years admiring horses from the comfort of my car. Daily, I drive alongside rolling pastures that dot the Land-of-Bucolia where I live, watching horses graze and toss their tails. The horses seem small and manageable from a distance.

I’ve felt this way before. Several years ago I was riding a wave of successful newness: I’d moved and opened a business so why not try a triathlon? I ran, I rode my bike, and I did the breaststroke in open water while wearing unnecessary goggles and hair protection. Why? Because I never put my face in the water. I’m a quadruple Type A who needs to be in control all the time. And I couldn’t control what lived in the lake.

What if a giant barracuda swam toward my face? What if the Loch Ness monster grabbed my ankles and pulled me under? It didn’t matter that barracuda live in the ocean or that the Loch Ness is lake folklore of Scotland and I was swimming in dime-sized lakes in Connecticut.

Reason didn’t factor into the fear. But, when I mentioned to my friend Jane, an avid horsewoman, that I wanted to try horseback riding again, she said she had been intimidated at the beginning, too and now she loved it.

I wanted so badly to love it.

So last month I called a local stable, arranged for a $45 private lesson, and on the appointed day pulled on my boots. I drove confidently to the stable and instead of driving by, pulled my car down its rutted gravel road. I parked and strode purposefully to the barn, used my whole body to slide the heavy door open and then- I couldn’t move. There were horses everywhere. Being brushed, being washed, winying from their bays. They were huge with massive heads and I imagined a set of horse teeth taking a hunk out of my leg if I attempted to climb onto its back. I defaulted to my safety plan: talk my way out of the lesson, stay in control.

Newly purposeful, I walked carefully around horses to a woman with kind eyes. “Oh, Becky? She’s back through the ring.” I kept going, walking past jumping apparatus and sets of climb-on-the-back-of-horses stairs, to a tiny girl-sized woman.

“Oh, hi! There you are, let’s get Guennie. She’s super gentle and has been doing lessons for years.” I walked with her. This is the moment, this is when I’m going to say, Um- no thanks. I love my vertebrae. But I just follow to the tack room. What is wrong with me- say something!

The next thing I know, I’m wearing a helmet and carrying a saddle. Becky leads Guennie to the indoor paddock and I follow. Oddly, I’m patting Guennie on her mane. Now I’m babbling about the puppy I’ve been training, and now I am sitting on Guennie and don’t remember how I did it. Holy shit.

I’m not even afraid. I am comfortable. I do what Becky says and steer Guennie in circles around the paddock. I learn to stop her and when Becky asks me to stand up in the stirrups and let go of the reins, spreading my arms wide- I do it, and I’m pretty sure I yelp. I sit down and somehow I’m cantoring and then I’m learning to post: up, down, up, down, one, two, one, two. It’s all going great until I start wondering what I would do if the horse bolts, or if I pulled the bit too tight, or what if. . .

“Hey,” Becky says, holding the reins and looking me in the eye, “The people who have the hardest time horseback riding are the Type A ones.”

I laugh out loud. And then I stop thinking about all the things that could go wrong and I just enjoy myself. When the lesson’s over, I help brush Guennie and Becky says, “People think that with horseback riding, you’re 80% in control. That’s wrong. The horse is 80% in control and if you’re lucky, you get 20%.”

Standing in a barn with mud up to my ankles, leading Guennie back to her stall, it hits me that maybe I don’t have to be in control all of the time. Maybe that was my real lesson.

And I drive home, into the sunset.

 

 

 

 

This is What Democracy Looks Like

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When I boarded Skedaddle bus number 6661 from Hartford’s Trinity College at 1:15 AM on January 21st, I wasn’t expecting to be handed a cookie. It was chocolate chip, homemade and delicious. As the bus pulled out of the parking lot the other riders and I got comfortable for the six-hour ride to our nation’s capitol, ate our cookies and let out a collective “Whoo hoo!” This was just the first of a smorgasbord of experiences to, from, and at the Women’s March on Washington.

I wasn’t going to D.C. only to march as my own response to the hateful, misogynistic, racist, divisive call of rhetoric from our now 45th president, I was going to D.C. to talk with other marchers for inclusion in an essay I will be writing for PAGE literary magazine.

The day of the inauguration I drafted my questions. Sitting at my kitchen counter with my pen, paper and pre-march sustinence of tea and chocolate, I watched and listened to Trump’s bleak inaugural address. My questions, it turned out, were easy: “Why are you marching?” “Will your involvment encourage future civic involvment?”

By the time my bus arrived in D.C. I had interviewed two women: one upon boarding while nibbling our cookies and one hours later as our bus drove out of the Baltimore harbor tunnel and into fog.

By the time my bus departed D.C., I had marched, chanted, posed for pictures, taken pictures, and interviewed four more women, not including the four women I spent the day with- who two days ago were acquaintences and are now friends.

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I have enough material for a book series never mind an essay.

I’m just beginning to digest the smorgesbord. After a late morning breakfast and the best shower ever, I spent the majority of today watching video of yesterday’s rally speakers and spoke by phone with a graduate school friend who was also at the event to compare notes. I’ve reviewed my little red notebook and disciphered my interview short-hand while my memory is fresh.

In my notebook I recorded my talks with a nurse, a professor, a town official, an immigant, and an elementary school teacher. All women, but from different economic classes and a huge arrary of life expererience. We gathered with over 500,000 others to march, to support, and chant together. There was a rhetorical call and this was our action response.

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In my first chant of the day a single voice called “Tell me what democracy looks like!” And we responded: “This is what democracy looks like!” The signs were up, the mood was up, my head was up.

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I will begin the essay this week, digesting, interpreting, and finally writing my impressions. It would be a lie to say that I know exactly what that essay will look like. But I do know this: my experience at the Women’s March in our nation’s capitol was similar to the cookie I was handed when I first boarded the bus: homemade, homegrown, and even more delicious.

Whatever Sprinkles Your Donuts

 

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Gigi has a hangover.

New Year’s Day, 2017! You: New! Improved! Ugh.

After a late night (early morning) of celebrating, I snuggled with Gigi on the sofa and turned on the TV. In about ten seconds the “lose weight” ads started. I’m so over it.

Christmastime media tells women to bake it, New Year’s Day media tells us not to eat it.

At this very moment I am eating a Deluxe Hershey’s Kiss. I peeled back the gold foil wrapper and enjoyed. I don’t feel guilty about it and I don’t wish it was sugar-free. As a mother, I have enough guilt to fill a Hershey’s factory, so I certainly don’t want to eat my guilt. I’d rather look it square in the eyes of my three sons (have I doled out love equally?) and the garden I planned on whipping into shape but ended up neglecting as other things took priority. Like sleeping.

You know, you’ve just got to do what makes you happy. And things that make us happy change. So this year, instead of seeing flaws, I’m seeing possibilities for happiness. If I’m going to eat a donut, it better be slathered in sprinkles, as if it were covered in all the stars in the sky.

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