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.

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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 Little Sparkle (even from teenagers)

 

Merry Christmas Everyone!

Christmas in a Jar

I am beginning this blog post from the check-out line at Michael’s craft store. It’s a line that rivals only the infamous line at Barnes and Noble on Black Friday. My craft store line has snaked from the registers past Christmas bows and wrapping paper into the serious art isle whose shelves include empty canvases, cold-pressed papers, and watercolor paints in cabinets under lock and key. I’ve moved up and now stand next to intricately designed coloring books for adults.

Why would I put myself through this? Pinterest. It’s all Pinterest’s fault. A couple weeks ago I came across this image:

jars
Image courtesy Under the Sycamore

. . . and I was smitten. I’ve loved miniatures forever and used to have a dollhouse.

But my dollhouse is long-gone and a few years back, I gave the dollhouse furniture away to a friend with two little girls. My boys were more interested in other toys and I wanted the miniature beds and bureaus to go to someone who would enjoy them.

I don’t have the time for a dollhouse now, but a miniature Christmas world in a jar? I think I can swing that. The supplies are few and directions simple: pour the snow (Epsom salt) into the bottom of the jar, add figures, and ta da! It’s Christmas.

Down in my scary basement, I have about fifty old glass jars. I try never to go down there. It’s got a dirt floor and stone walls. Snakes have been known to make it home. I made my husband bring about ten of the jars upstairs. Then he cleaned them (OMG)!

basement

So, here I am in line, holding some cute little trees, a couple reindeer, and some metal house ornaments. Finally! Once I get home I realize the tin houses are too big for the jars. No prob. I repurpose some glass vases and now, twenty hours later- it’s instant Christmas.

village

 

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I have just enough Epsom salt leftover to soak my feet.

A Homeowner’s Fairy Tale

WHEN I WAS A LITTLE GIRL, I IMAGINED WHAT IT MIGHT BE LIKE TO LIVE IN A CASTLE OR A TOWER OR A MAGICAL FOREST.

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Our fairy tale cottage as it appeared in the 1920s

I tried to imagine myself as a princess. I tried really hard, but it never worked. Somehow in my fantasies I was always the assistant to the princess. I attribute this to my peasant ancestry.

Since I was relegated to be the right hand of the princess, the position included suitable lodgings. I would be able to visit the castle or tower or magical forest as often as I pleased, yet I would live in a cottage. The cottage was my childhood bedroom.

I remember commandeering my mother’s broom and sweeping away real cobwebs. I used my cardboard kitchenette where I cooked faux dinners and drank plastic glasses full of disappearing toy milk. My dolls had bunk beds with knitted blankets that they straightened every morning before eating their breakfast. Because our house was a ranch my fairy tale cottage had two stories. I mentally placed a staircase in my bedroom closet and staged regular entrances and exits from “upstairs.” Importantly, unlike our real house, my imaginary cottage would have a fireplace, which of course, was the bureau.

I am embarrassed to say how long I kept this up. So I won’t. (I was nine.)

I have never outgrown my cottage fantasy. I have always wanted a not-too-big home. Nothing excessively showy (although a little sparkle is appreciated) and conversely, nothing too rough like a cabin. Someplace snug, but not cramped. Someplace with charm.

After living in eleven other places, my fairy tale dream came true. But in the true story, no princess bestowed it. Instead, it fell magically in my lap.

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Clockwise from top left: Once the attached shed, the addition houses the new kitchen downstairs and master bedroom upstairs. The doorway from the original part of the house to the kitchen. The previous homeowner left me this fall display of gourds, pumpkin, and bittersweet. The back of the house. That large window on the top floor is where my desk sits.

Once upon a time a couple in their forties with three teenage sons were approached by the mother of a neighbor. “Please, I want to buy your house so I can live near my daughter,” she said. 

The couple felt sympathy for the grandmother and although they had no place else to go, they quickly agreed. The next day, the couple met their fairy god-mother (see: Mary the real estate agent) at a house for sale in the next town. It was white (the woman’s favorite) and had a porch, a barn, two stories, and woods that abutted a forest. When the woman entered the master bedroom she was drawn to a large window that overlooked the backyard. Nearly touching the window was a large lilac bush with a blue jay in it; two of her favorite things. She imagined a writing desk in that very spot.

“This is home,” she said. Her husband had the same idea when he saw how much fun he would have with his leaf blower on three acres. “This is home,” he said. The couple looked at no other house. The fairy godmother said, “It’s meant to be yours.”

Due to the fairy godmother, the sale went through easily despite hurdles that resembled walls and the family moved in. Then the woman held Thanksgiving and Christmas while writing a book and kept writing all the way through New Year’s while existing on cereal and red wine.

So, there you have it. I’m here and have spent the last year writing and not working too much on the house. I worked in the yard enough to get two bouts of poison ivy but that’s for another post.

Hallway

The original living quarters was a Cape with one and a half stories and three bedrooms under the eaves. The front door has been replaced but the floors are the original chestnut. The children kept tearing holes in their socks requiring the regular swinging of a hammer and nail-setter. This is one of two staircases in the house.

Staircase

I especially love the post-medieval English pediment details on the underside of the upstairs landing. I’ve painted nothing so far in this space. I haven’t finished listening to what the house wants.

Unmade Beds

Just upstairs are the twins’ bedrooms. Unlike my childhood dolls, this pair of fifteen year-olds don’t often make their beds.

This is a true-life fairy tale, after all.

Old House | New Life

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What the hell did I do? The cliches run through my head: blaze a trail, back to square one, been there done that, or the obvious: begin at the beginning.

Not this time.

It begins, I think- with breakfast. It begins with a pen and paper and a prayer for a quiet house. To write, this is what I need. I’m not the type of writer who gets the job done in a coffee shop. No, I need silence while I contort my legs beneath me and settle to the task of untwisting my mind so the words can appear on paper.

I also need my husband and three sons out of the house. If I can achieve all of these things at once it will be a sort of miracle.

The job? The untwisting? Imagine me saying this offhandedly: Oh, I’m just writing a book.

Crazy. Even more crazy? I sold our house (that wasn’t exactly for sale) and bought another one. Not just another house, but another house in need of a make-over. This change happened in a string of changes: I closed my sewing business, my oldest started college, and I went to graduate school.

I knew my oldest would grow up and go to college, but I never imagined I would. Because I had a career, not writing but sewing. I designed drapery, duvets, bed-skirts and pillows. I loved it. Then, I left.

Then, I wanted more. It took me a little while, but I discovered that I needed a narrative that had more weight than silk. The transition to full-time writing and teaching wasn’t immediate. I spent six months revisiting my previous enchantments: I took classes in jewelry making, watercolor, and figure drawing. Then I took a creative writing class. Bingo. 

By then I’d been blogging here for several years. I called the blog “Your Monday Moment,” for my mom and aunt. They were sharing care-giving of my grandmother. Week-ends were the hardest for them. I live too far away to be any regular help, so I wrote what they thought was funny: my life. I sent them the blog in their email every Monday morning and hoped I was helping. Laughter can do that.

Almost three years ago, my grandmother died. I kept the blog going because I couldn’t stop. What I began as a way to fill a need in someone else was filling a need in me. It’s been a year since I posted. Life morphs but I can’t say goodbye to this blog. So I decided to re-name it.

I’ve spent my life working in houses: mine and other people’s. All twelve that have been home and the couple hundred that my clients owned and I visited- inspire me still. The inspiration doesn’t just come from the buildings, but the people who lived or still live- inside.

When I think about home, I can feel the untwisting- my shoulders relax, I have another sip of tea and dive in, right here, on this page. Because although I am also writing a book about a house I lived in over ten years ago, a house where some bizarre and some beautiful things happened- I am simultaneously pulled to my new old house. I can’t stop thinking about it. It’s new to me. It’s old and expansive. It has stories. It’s my new beginning.

I am going to share those stories with you, here- on Mondays. But first, breakfast.

cereal