Morning Room Makeover

I’m a romantic, I can’t help it.

The sun rising in the morning, peaking through the trees, brings out the poet in me. This small room at the front of the house, I’ve named the “morning room.” Facing east, it enjoys bright sunshine for several hours. In winter, this is where I want to be with my tea, a book, and my dog. Originally, this room had a door and would probably have been referred to as a sitting room or a parlour.

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Three years ago, when we moved in

a hodge-podge of furniture and books from various rooms in our last house ended up here. When Greg or the kids asked me where they should put the small grey chair, or the giant box of photos, or the clocks I’d inherited, I directed them here. Charming as the room was (and is), when dusting and cleaning all the shelves that first week, I discovered an alarming electrical burn the size of a dinner plate where the last owner had plugged in a stereo. This had me wanting to drink something stronger than tea.

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my kids refuse to call it the “morning room”

probably because they think I’m being pretentious and inaccurate, since whenever they are home, regardless of the time of day, this is where they can be found-  playing video games. Hardly the sort of parlour games the Victorians had in mind. Despite my dislike of charging cords and large TVs, we are a 21st century family living in a part 19th century, part 20th century house. Adjustments, such as built-in cabinetry, were made for the sanity of the previous lady of the house and I take full advantage. The boys can play in here, in the afternoon and evening, heads full of computer generated graphics, as long as I don’t have to look at anything but books and the sun when it’s my turn.

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besides the sun, I needed color

All paint is by Benjamin Moore:

Carolina Gull for the trim, bookcases, and cabinetry

Grey Cashmere for the walls and Decorator’s White for the windows

it took a year and a half to paint because. . .

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I painted the whole room myself

like a crazy person. But I find painting to be therapeutic and vaguely hypnotic.

And sometimes, if you’re a mother raising sons, you need to be hynotized.

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greg and our oldest son built the daybed from paneling

and I sewed the roman shades. Purchased at the famed Brimfield Antique Show, the paneling cost less than $100. In a pinch, this room can double as a guest room. I found its original door in the barn and am considering re-installing it.

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Greg got the clocks ticking in near-perfect synchronicity

Both clocks are from my father’s side of the family. The mantel clock is a New Haven Clock Company model owned by my recently immigrated Hungarian relatives in the 1920s. The model on the bottom is older and aptly named after its shape: bullet clock. My father remembers it sitting on a table in his German grandmother’s living room.

(The gentle dual-ticking of the clocks was soothing but the double chiming was a bit over the top.)

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I love formal rooms that can adapt to a casual life.

Everything on the daybed is machine-washable cotton from the down-alternative pillow inserts to the ivory coverlet. Which means that only half of my dog’s hair shows after a morning of her curled beside me in the sun.

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Time Travel

I bought a house, but I also bought an archive

Before installing a new access panel to HV/AC ductwork behind a closet, I found a cache of newspapers and two periodicals from 1951.

Of course, I only thought I was buying a house. To be precise, an old house and a rural house, but just a house- empty of furniture and the lives that once inhabited it.

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The photo above is from Folklore and Firesides of Pomfret, Hampton, and Vicinity, self-published by local resident Susan Jewett Griggs in 1950. Shown from the road, visible is the length of the house’s 1900 Cape Cod design. Not visible is its 1830s original stone foundation.  An awning over the front door protects visitors but the covered porch shelters the family’s most-used entrance which lead to the kitchen. In the back, a shed for a car or tractor and cold storage.

I’ve inhabited eleven houses. Three of those houses were new, built either for my grandparents or my parents. The rest were previously someone else’s, often sold, as houses are, to close an estate after the death of the owner. So, I’m not unconscious of a house holding history. The baton of my present house’s ownership, in what I think of as a relay if not a race, was first handed from the Trowbridge family to the Pecks, followed by the Platts-all farmers- to the Sweets: horse people, and now me and my family. We own no plow, no horse.

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In the cellar, caked with mud, were thirty-odd glass canning jars. Some dated back to the late 1800s.

Despite its age, my house isn’t listed on the National Register of Historic Places. There is no plaque by the barely used front door.  Despite my house being listed in Griggs’ Folklore and Firesides, she lists neither in regard to my house. Historic New England isn’t interested. Obviously, George Washington didn’t sleep here. Beyond my family and friends, no one comes to visit.

But my house’s archive is telling its story anyway.

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I saved a few.  

Last year, my neighbor bought a dog, a very enthusiastic Brittany spaniel named Jasper, who would bark at the window whenever he saw Gigi and I walk past their house on our morning walks. Soon Dave and Jasper were joining us. While Dave and I chatted, the dogs leaped all over each other, sprinting in black, white, and tan streaks through the woods. Dave told me he and his wife had moved back to Pomfret to be with his father in his elder years.

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Jasper and Gigi

On our short walks I learned that Dave’s father’s house is on land once belonging to my house. I learned that Dave is a great-great-grandson of my house’s original Platt family. Dave also told me he was cleaning out his father’s house, going through old papers and letters.

But for those morning walks, Dave and I barely knew each other. He didn’t know, for example, that my husband and I have a tendency to move. That after about four years in one place, I get itchy. Dave also didn’t know that my mother had recently bequeathed to me three generations of maternal china and linens. He didn’t know how heavily the responsibility to protect these objects weighed on me and how that responsibility was in direct opposition to my impulsive desire to take it all to the Goodwill.

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The new main entrance is where the cold storage and shed had been.

Dave only knew what I told him: that I am a writer and I love houses, and I have three sons-one of whom is grown and moved to Newport and the other two nearly eighteen. It seems that was enough. On a walk a few weeks ago, Dave asked if I would like a collection of letters.

“They’re quite old. My father never throws anything out.”

“Yes,” I said quickly without even knowing what they contained. “I’ll take them.”

I said this even though my dining room was unusable due to fifteen boxes of antique china to be unwrapped and no idea where I was going to store the stuff.

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That afternoon, Dave dropped the letters off. They were bundled carefully by year and retained their original envelopes. It is a complete collection of letters from his great-great grandmother to her son Nelson-Dave’s great uncle. The letters reach back as far as 1909. They include farm news: cows born and neighborhood news: babies born. They are full of hope and fear-especially when Nelson left college in Maine during WWI and was stationed overseas. Mostly, they are letters from mother to son and written in my house.

Somehow the odd collection of newspapers I found in the duct-work access in my bedroom, the canning jars in the cellar, the Griggs book left for me by the Sweets on a bookshelf in the morning room,  the letters returned to their place of origin, and even the 35mm film camera I discovered on the top shelf of the laundry room closet last week-have created an impulse for me to stay.  My archive is rich with life and reminds me that my house is a living breathing thing.

The baton has been passed and I hold it tightly.

I feel no itch to move. img_0050

 

 

 

My Town, My Twins

BLUEPRINT FOR DAYLIGHT, my award-winning memoir of infidelity, cancer, colicky twins, and the flood in my basement

has recently been excerpted. . . twice!

The print publication, Connecticut’s Emerging Writers:  an Anthology is available HERE

LARK BLOOM, a blogsite devoted to essays on disability, creativity, and family, is available HERE

I am extremely grateful to Z Publishing and Lark Bloom.

XO

Have You Ever Seen the Rain?

 

Back in the summer of 1985 I was a ballet-studying, boyfriend-less high school junior living in Virginia. The last thing I wanted was rain. Even in Virginia, where it got so hot people don’t even say the word, it’s like a hex.

At sixteen, I wanted sun, sun, and more sun. I did the sun-dance. All the better to lie beneath while coating my extra-white legs with baby oil for that elusive tan that was never to be mine.

But I had hope.

New Englanders have a saying, “If you don’t like the weather, wait a minute.” Well, I don’t know about the rest of New England, but here in Connecticut it’s been seven days of unrelenting sun. No longer a sixteen-year old after that sweet-spot of the almost-burn: skin that wouldn’t peel and settle into what we all thought of as the Base Tan, I’m older and wiser and discovered bronzer.

And I discovered the beauty of rain.

Finally, after our Connecticut all-sun heat-wave had me taking cold showers a couple times a day followed by drying myself in front of a fan. . . they say that rain is coming. And, oh, how I’ve missed it.

Even if the sweet peas taking over my mailbox don’t seem to miss it.

Or, the grapevines taking over the abandoned ladder don’t seem to miss it.

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They say rain is coming, but when I look up, all I see is sun.

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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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.

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

Horse

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.