Tag Archives: Musings from the Dream House

It’s Late


I walk my dogs, Rosie and Dexter, nearly every day. It’s rarely too hot, it’s sometimes too cold and none of us can stand to get wet, but besides that, we go. If we walk in the morning for our hearts and our waistlines, we travel faster and farther. If we walk at night, for our sanity alone, we stroll and stay closer to home.

For the first two years in this house I looped around and headed south on our walks. I don’t know why I started walking north about a year ago, but now we do. Over weeks and months, as I stretched the route a little further, a little further, I stumbled upon a short stretch of street I hadn’t been on before. There, tucked back from the road on a slight incline under very old trees are two large brick Georgian houses side by side. They are each other’s only neighbor.

Their structures are nearly identical. Symmetrical and brick, one is its original red while the other is painted white. They are like identical twins who always have different haircuts. Each thinks her choice is best and I cannot decide who’s right. Rosie and Dex are divided on the issue. I keep walking by these houses because I am not used to them yet. I like them, but they are still strange to me. I want to know their stories. They are indifferent to my needs.

Along the way of this pilgrimage is a house with a patio tucked in its belly. In the spring, just as we began to take the new route, a vine, thick and full, sprouted a canopy of leaves providing a cool, dense shade for the patio. We envied it, the dogs and I, and waited for the blooms. I expected the conical lavender cascade of wisteria, but it did not come.

As the weeks passed, I worried that the vine was ill. Though lush and green, it didn’t flower. Then, one early evening as we headed down the gentle slope of the hill, we could see the orange cones of the trumpet vine hanging thick, their ruffled edges folded back to make way for the slender bills of the hummingbirds. It was not what I had expected, but lovelier in its surprise. I thought I should have expected it, the hue of the blooms so right with the colors of the house. Each time I pass it, I marvel at the thickness of the trunk and wonder how long she has been there, spreading her branches to shade diners and readers and those who showed up only to loaf. Many years, surely. Good things take time.

For the last few weeks as we walk at dusk, we are serenaded by the cicadas. I am so used to their song by this time of year that sometimes I stop hearing their chirp. But in the evening as we go slow under the canopy of the oldest trees, it is as if we are walking through a church tower the ring of them is so loud.

If we are ambitious, or the dogs have been cooped up, or I am restless, we walk around a nearby park. The dogs want to be out and when we are walking they always want to go further. When we go through the park, I usually follow the path, a ribbon that winds round the edge. But last night we cut through the heart of it.

The dogs are creatures of habit. They are used to sidewalks and paths. As I steered them across the expanse of lawn, they both looked back over their shoulders, the whites of their eyes showing, to see if I was sure. The lawn rose and fell in gentle movements and eventually their gazes were steady and straight, unalarmed by the lack of direction. They trusted me and in this case they should have. I was sure of what I was doing. We needed to go our own way and once they found the ripeness of new smells, they agreed.

When we got home, they were as anxious to get in as they were to get out, which is always the case. As soon as their leashes were off, they collapsed on their sides, their tongues lopped flat on the cool of the floor. I know they were not thinking, as I imagine they do, of where we go and why. But I like to believe that they appreciate that our direction changes and trust my confidence as we go a different way.

I have a dozen reasons why I haven’t posted lately, though they are really just excuses.  Still, Mrs. Blandings turned nine last week and I didn’t want it to pass unrecognized.  Thanks, as always, for stopping by.

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Artistic License

I have given myself over to starting work at my computer with a visit to Pinterest.  It is automatic now and I find that the images clear my mind of the chatter and enable me to focus.  I don’t get distracted there.  I don’t click around.  I absorb what I see and when I get to the place where I left off on my previous visit, I close the tab and start working.

Each day there’s a jumble of images and subject matter, though you won’t be surprised that not very many people whom I follow post recipes.  There’s always a smattering of quotes and I like these as one never knows just what will strike one’s heart.  Timing, with both hearts and inspiration, can be everything.

This week I ran across a quote by writer Neil Gaiman.  In his wish for the new year he says, “Don’t forget to make some art – write or draw or build or sing as only you can.” I had never considered before that there are people who would need this kind of encouragement.  I had never considered before that there are people who never create.

I hope their numbers are few.  Their hearts, I fear, are heavy.  Very likely their footsteps, too.  Nearly everyone must, even occasionally, make something from almost nothing; a sketch of the swing that needs repair, an omelette, a row of peas, a lullaby.

But if you don’t, I wish that you would.  In all fairness, those of us who push words or paint or chairs or musical notes around must do things that are outside our nature.  We have no choice. I could put all these daunting tasks under the heading of “math.” We must manage bank accounts and gather paperwork for taxes. We must measure walls and furniture and time, even though we believe we are pretty good at eyeballing. We might not do any of these things easily or beautifully, but we manage.  And when we do, we have a little rush of secret pride that we have tackled something so foreign and at the very least, not fucked it up.

So it seems only fair that those of you who say, “Oh, I can’t…” draw or write or sing (truly, I cannot sing – there are witnesses) should give it a go.   Very few of us who would put ourselves in a creative category, do something just right the first time.  Usually, after the first go, we stand with our heads cocked to the side and think, “No.  Not quite.” Or worse, “Disaster.” Then we do it again.  And again.  Do not be discouraged if you don’t capture your lover’s smile in the first sketch, or the mood of the day in the first draft or a perfect “C” ever. If you have done it, as Gaiman says, “as only you can,” there will be no finer creation.

I used to do a round up of my favorite rooms published in the shelter magazines over the year.  I have not, as I said I would not, kept much track of this sort of thing. But the room, top, has been on my bedside table, dustier than I care to admit, since summer.  This room captures something to which I aspire.  Groundedness, lift, light.  Books, art, stuff.  Threadbare and modern, with a little bit of red.

The home of Benoist Drut of Maison Gerard, photography by William Waldron; produced by Robert Rufino; Elle Decor, July/August 2014.

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Front and Center

There is a house at 55th near State Line that used to be owned by a very charming couple, both with thick, dark hair, flashing dark eyes and generous smiles.  They have three boys as I do, though theirs are now grown. I have always been inspired by her easy way in her role as fraternity house mother and by her abundant peonies.

The house is a large, brick Tudor that is squarish rather than long.  Every year she put a Christmas tree in the front hall and the lights sparkled through the glass of the front door and I was enchanted, each time that I drove by, at the thought of a Christmas tree greeting visitors as they enter your home during the holidays. It is not something I ever imagined for myself.  I never thought I would have the kind of space to set up a Christmas tree in the entry.

My house has a funny not-quite-entry, not-quite-part-of-the-living-room space to it.  There is a perfect spot here for a table just under the stairs and I had just the right table and, of course, plenty of stuff to put upon it.  What it needed was a lamp, but there was no outlet nearby. In my fret and worry of expense and my imagining that it would be difficult to add to an outlet there – for why wasn’t there one already, as the spot so obviously wanted it – I tried to put the idea out of my mind.

But as we drew nearer to the holiday and I moved furniture in my imagination to make space for the tree, nothing made sense.  I realized that this spot, where the table normally lives, was perfect.  Moving the table was easy, but the issue of the outlet needed to be addressed.

I outlined all the difficulties to a friend; the expense, the likely inability for an outlet to be placed there at all, the not knowing someone who could do it. She said, “I have a guy.” And she did.  And he popped an outlet in the wall – and two others – for a very reasonable price, in a relatively short amount of time.  All the difficulty, all the obstacles, all the stress was manufactured.  None of it was real.

The charming couple has moved and their former home is undergoing renovations, hopefully being carefully modified to suit the family who now owns it.  This year there are no decorations there. Instead, plywood covers the windows; changes take place out of the view of passers by. But I have a Christmas tree in my front hall and the lights sparkle through the glass of the front door and I am enchanted each time I drive up to see it greeting me and my guests during the holiday.

Thank you, as always, for dropping in.  I am wishing you the best in the new year.


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Feeling Blue

If you’ve stopped here very often, you’re aware that I don’t cook.  That is to say I do cook, but I do it badly and inelegantly and only out of necessity and rarely with joy. Someone said to me once that she dusted her cooktop and I crossed my fingers behind my back that I would get there eventually.

But I love to bake.  While I make the same ten recipes for dinner in a pretty regular rotation, I’m fearless when I bake.  Cakes, cookies, pies, tarts.  When I cook, I often realize I’ve skipped steps or left out ingredients. When I bake, I’ll sift, grate, blanch, peel or candy with care.

I had not used a Kitchenaid mixer until about ten years ago.  I grew up with a hand mixer (my mother was a terrible cook and baker, so we’ve evolved a little.) With it, I made cookies and brownies and cream puffs that looked like swans.  As an adult I did the same and could not see the appeal of this behemoth of the kitchen counter.  I thought it was another affectation of cooking like an egg separator or a mat with concentric circles that tells you how far you need to roll the dough for your piecrust.

I was wrong.  Once I lived with a Kitchenaid, I understood that it was one of the few devices that make the process better.  Whether whipping or mixing, it was well worth the exercise of lugging it from under the island onto the counter.

When I moved, the Kitchenaid did not come with me and I was without one for about nine months.  I told myself it was a needless expense.  I told myself I could live without it.  I told myself that I had been happy with a hand mixer before and I could be happy with one again.

What I found was that I stopped baking.  I tried a couple of times, but my rhythm was off.  I can see now that it was a combination of a few things.  Baking and cooking are physical acts.  The way we move about the kitchen is a dance.  If you watch a practiced cook or baker, you can see that it is like ballet.  As with anything, routine helps us find our grace there.  It takes a while in a new space for our fingers to find the spatula without looking.  It takes a while to open only one drawer in search of the knife.  It takes a while to know that the oven heats at a ridiculously slow pace and runs just a couple of degrees hot.

I realized, too, that once we know better, it is difficult to go back.  So I decided to invest in a mixer.  The previous Kitchenaid, which I did not choose, was white.  If I had chosen it, it would have been white.  Or maybe black. I read and hear funny things in my life that snap into my brain like Legos.  Advice on style or living can come from any random place and become part of my canon.  I was a child when I saw the movie Thoroughly Modern Millie. In it Mary Tyler Moore’s character, while discussing cars, says that machines should only be black or white. For whatever reason, as I lay on my stomach on orange shag carpet with my chin in my hand, I thought that sounded right.  Not just sensible, but chic, though I didn’t know that word at the time.

When I went to buy my mixer, I planned on black or white. I do not get a thrill from cooking stores, as some people do, and my main objective is to get what I need and get out as quickly as I can.  But the day I went to buy my mixer, I could not leave the spot at the back of the store where they were displayed.  I had gone to determine which size I needed, but was enchanted by their shiny, candy colors.  I knew already that he would live on the counter; I did not want to bother with the charade of hiding him.  Suddenly, the question was not if there would be color, but what color it would be.  I considered red, which is a color that I love, but there was simply too much jump.  It was, unsurprisingly, the turquoisey-not-quite-robin’s-egg blue that I could not shake. Even after learning that it was on back-order – I would have to wait a little longer – nothing else would do.

In this particular case, my instincts were good.  The turquoisey-not-quite-robin’s-egg blue makes me smile every morning as he greets me.  And I am baking again.  My middle son is a baker, too, and we made cinnamon rolls for the first time Thanksgiving morning.  He told me yesterday that he wants to try lemon poppyseed muffins, though he’s never had lemon poppyseed muffins, he likes the idea of them.  It seems silly to say that a mixer changed my life for the better, but in a very small way, it did.

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Glamp On

A friend emailed me and another friend a couple of months ago and the subject line was “Glamping.” We had traveled short distances together before: Columbia (Missouri), my house, her pool. You may remember that I don’t particularly like to be outside, but I am making an effort to try new things.  Being anywhere with these women is always a good idea. Sleeping in a tent (that someone else put up) with three queen-size beds seemed best case for camping.  Glamping.

But the week was busy, and as the day neared the demons began to whisper, “You don’t have time.  This needs attention.  You haven’t even gotten to that.” And I wavered.  Each woman responded with a calm voice.  “It’s vacation. Don’t suffer. We know you don’t like to suffer.” “We’re not in a hurry. Take your time.”
And we did.  We stopped first at Louisville Cider Mill, the sort of place I would have taken the boys when they were little.  I had not quite shaken the buzz of fret in my head and I thought, “What the heck are we doing here?” But it was a beautiful day and we stood in line with dozens (hundreds?) of happy strangers for warm apple cinnamon doughnuts, which apparently are medicinal, because after the first bite everything was better.  I was all in.  And suddenly Louisville Cider Mill was the best and smartest thing going.
We ate at El Potro Mexican Cafe in Paola (we were the only customers, but from the size of the bar I have a feeling they do a killer business after dark) where the margarita was delicious. (I ordered the premium tequila.  It was vacation after all.)  There are a few antique shops in Paola which were filled with lots of vintage goodies.  And while I am infamously good at spending other people’s money – “Don’t you think you need that?”- they both refrained, while I indulged.  (Not a total surprise.)
And then we headed to Hoot Owl Hill. Brenda and Steve Wrischnick opened a new chapter in their lives when they built their house on this hill and decided to share it with strangers who want to enjoy the view and some good home cooking and a little time away from the city. We enjoyed the butterfly garden and the guinea hens and hanging out in the sun talking for hours. (When I’m really relaxed I sit sideways in chairs like this.  I hadn’t realized I was doing here and am so glad to have this picture.)

When the sun set we sat around a huge camp fire and talked and laughed some more, until even the fear of the chill could not make us keep our eyes open.

The next morning we settled at a big farm table while Brenda fixed breakfast and Steve served and cleared.  As we chatted I thought, “They really enjoy this.  They like having people here and sharing their stories.” It reminded me that we often end up just where we need to be. If we listen to the right women.

I’d highly recommend Hoot Owl Hill.  There are six large tents.  We had a wonderful time, the three of us, but we couldn’t help thinking what a total blast it would be to have a group of couples or a large group of women. You can find out more here.

The images are mine, except for the middle – photo credit to Sloane Simmons.  I received no compensation for this post.  

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