Home to Roost, for a bit

With a sigh, with a laugh, with a parking spot right in front of our apartment we returned home last night as the very late tendril of daylight savings light left our block. Rail weary, road hard, laden with burdens and gifts, sunburnt, bugbit, a bit heartsore, but happy: we are home.

This trip south was to celebrate living: one friend’s wedding, another’s birth, my small family taking each other’s hands to honor the what and why of everything that has come before and to keep on keeping on together into the thankful brilliant wonder of everything that lies ahead of us. Being home there and coming home here, I’m reminded of this little verse from Emily Dickinson that my Mama holds dear:

“Hope” is the thing with feathers—
That perches in the soul—
And sings the tune without the words—
And never stops—at all—


Fly South

Today at 3pm Sweetheart and his banjo boarded the Silver Star in New York City. In a few hours I’ll be getting on the same train in Richmond, VA, fried chicken, cold beer, guitar and handkerchief in hand to meet him en route to south Georgia. We’re taking the fabled “Oysters Rockefeller” express down to the sea islands for Miss McKay’s birthday. On the agenda: gators, clamming, cocktails in ruins, armadillos, ghosts, sunsets, pig heavens, and- most importantly- adventures. I’ll see you all next week. Until then picture me here…

Feeling Alive

Chalk it up to multiple childhood readings of The Secret Garden, but I’ve always felt a kinship with plants. If you read this, you might have gathered that the dried up dead ole plant lurking in the brightest but apparently-not-bright-enough corner of my basement brownstone was making me feel dried up, ole, dead, and stuck in a dark corner. Just like when my college roommate killed my orchid by mistakenly watering it with vodka, the symbolism doesn’t go too deep there. After writing about the dying plant, I left the house to go to a meeting and returned to find Sweetheart had populated the window with two new, very green, very alive plants. The next day, it’s warm enough to have the windows open, the breeze is coming in bringing tidings of adventure, and it’s bright enough in here (at least for now) for the prisms I have hanging hopefully between the window bars like a hipster Polyanna to yield little rainbows. Sometimes all it takes is a little green and a little light.

Just a little Valentine

My grandfather carried a handkerchief, and I think it’s a special, sweet, old-fashioned, and useful little thing- harkening back to an age of simple and elegant manliness. You can give it to a crying woman on a bench somewhere, entertain a small child, mop your brow, smooth the neck of a guitar, pick up a handgun at a crime scene like it’s 1939, wrap up a sweet treat to go, put it up your sleeve or suit pocket, perform sleight of hand, or (obviously) blow your nose. This Valentine’s Day, I gave Sweetheart a parcel of plain white cotton handkerchiefs that I clumsily embroidered- three with hearts and three each with funny squashed A’s on them (his initial), because I think he’s all of these things- sweet, old fashioned, simple, and manly. This little project was easy and fun- I knocked out the embroidery drinking beer and watching Downton Abbey (reveling in both my emancipation and my needlepoint). If you’re a crewel mistress, you could make these pretty fancy, but you really only need a simple running stitch to keep it manly. Get 100% cotton hankies, wash them and iron them first, double the thread, and just freehand the hearts. And, hey, it’s not 1800, if they turn out a little crookedy, that’s ok.

Heart, Valentine’s Day

I’ll let you in on my (small, useful) Valentine’s surprise for Sweetheart tomorrow… I don’t want to blow it. In the meantime, I stumbled across this new video by The Shins, September (I found it on a site promoting “Record Store Day 2012“, so this song will actually be the real-live B-Side to their new single). I never fell head over heels for them in the Garden State days, but the more I play it, the more I love it. A love letter to analog and reverb and sweet/silly words, it seems a good heart-day discovery for those who love all of those things and maybe want to rub a little vaseline around the edges of their lenses today. Happy day to you all!

The Shins: “September” (b-side of “Simple Song” 7”) from Record Store Day on Vimeo.

Home Sweeter Home: Part I

After seeing Jenny’s Mom’s sideboard looking so fresh and so clean (almost as an aside in this post about the lovely green wallpaper), I decided to tackle our identical Ikea NORDEN for my first project. I capitalize NORDEN because anytime I say any Ikea name I say it loud and in a bad/deep Swedish accent. Here is the naked NORDEN:First, let me tell you a few things about our apartment. It is the whole bottom (read: basement) floor of a classic Brooklyn Brownstone. The kitchen is HUGE by New York standards (110 sqare feet) and our landlords re-did it a few years ago, choosing the marble-and-cherry wood finish and stainless steel appliances that were so very popular at that time. All the nitty gritty kitchen functiony things about it are pretty great (storage, counter space, big sink, dishwasher [!!!!!], large gas range with griddle etc.) and we cook in it ALL the time. But… it will never look like this:It will never look like this for a few reasons: a)  I am not Julia Child (sigh) b) our kitchen has no windows, it is, in fact, in the very middle of our apartment which is in the very bottomest darkest basement and c) there are no plugs in the kitchen into which to plug such a thing as a standing mixer and/or a lamp so- no-knead bread and overhead lighting it is. But I digress. Since I couldn’t just up and move to France, it was time to paint my NORDEN. For that I needed my Mama. We had ingeniously scheduled for her to come and visit at the exact time when the need to revamp was reaching a critical fever. With her help and guidance, we had two major projects lined up, first take care of das Norden and second, to paint the old secretary that I use for my desk (spoiler: you will be seeing some pictures of this very soon). We went together to pick out paint and decided on these two colors. Martha Stewart Oolong Tea- a sandy celadon we hoped would read less yellow- for the NORDEN, and Gabardine- a blue-green-grey color equal parts “stormy sea” and “I think the man in this suit is a spy”- for the secretary. Even after many inspiration based e-mails on the subject and lots of in-person discussion spent contrasting the colors of my pots and pans, we still probably talked about it for, like, an hour at the Home Depot on Nostrand Avenue next to the Sugar Hill club. We got our paints mixed, bought a few tools and a fair amount of wine and got to work sanding and priming. We had help the whole time:After our first round of sanding and priming, we had to leave the NORDEN in the middle of the kitchen overnight, so we ordered takeout and started in on the wine. About a bottle into it we looked at each other and said: We’ve got the colors backwards! NORDEN must be GABARDINE not OOLONG! In vino veritas. The next morning we started in on the gabardine, and spent most of the day on the floor. We had a very good time down there:When all was said and done, we loved it. We kept looking at it and saying “It looks more blue than green!”, then “it looks more green than blue”:Do I wish my kitchen were different? Yes. Do I wish it was brighter, airier, and not lit by four recessed floods? Yes. But, honestly, I can’t realistically change those things, so instead of maintaining some sort of bitter renters inertia, the simple act of just painting the NORDEN made our kitchen feel absolutely marvelous. Now the cast iron wok and the red dutch oven are friends, the fruits and strange amaros are close at hand, and we feel a bit more human.

More ever-loving thanks to Mama, who- as we’ve already established– never does anything half assed.

Julia Child’s marvelous kitchen from here.

Home Sweeter Home

So, I’ve lived in New York for a while now and, like pretty much everyone I know, I have serious apartment envy. Perhaps envy is the wrong word. Curiosity? Voyeurism? Obsession? I love nothing more than walking down the nicest streets in our neighborhood at night looking into people’s brownstones who left the shades open (look at that molding! what an amazing chandelier! They have PLANTS.). The same is true for online voyeurism- I (again, like pretty much everyone I know) practically refresh Design Sponge on the hour to see if there are new sneak peeks into the apartments of real people, I loved Domino, Martha Stewart is practically pornographic, and my pinterest is pretty much all pictures of people’s reclaimed wood tables, plush velvet couches, whiskey-organization-systems, and (again) plants that the light in our basement apartment cannot support. There are two things that are tough for me, though: unlike most the people who inhabit the amazing gorgeous spaces I suckle, 1) we rent our apartment, and so we can’t paint the floors or mess with the light fixtures or rip out the pre-fab dark cherry kitchen cabinets and  2) at this point (le sigh) Dorothy Draper dressers and/or any sofa that isn’t our trusty futon aren’t in the financial cards for us. The Selby will never be in our place. I think this is why I love Little Green Notebook so much.Unlike so many of the other designey blogs out there, which engender only covetousness, Jenny fosters a grand and wonderful sense of possibility (also, is it weird that I totally feel like we’re on a first name basis?). She has me believing I really could reupholster the victorian settee that belonged to my great-grandmother myself, that careful editing and judicious use of craigslist can make a space look (pretty much) just as good as a space furnished out of Holler and Squall or John Derian, and- most importantly to me- that just because you don’t own your space is no reason not to make it your own. She also always has a bright red manicure when she’s doing semi-manual labor and that’s something I can get down with.After the one two punch of watching Jenny take down temporary wallpaper (!) in her rental apartment and realizing that the kitchen island that Jenny and her mom re-painted here was the EXACT same one that we have from Ikea (but with additional hardware) I thought: I can do this. For the past two months or so I’ve been on a Little-Green-Notebook-fueled, totally low-budget vortex-redux of our apartment. With infinite thanks to Sweetheart, my ever-lovin-Mama, and, of course, Jenny: this week I’d like to share all the changes with you… Stay tuned.

Images from top: here, here, and here.

New Traditions

Our family has always valued tradition. Our Virginia roots stretch down deep in the clay loam of Tidewater back farther than the Whiskey Rebellion. For me, anyway, I’ve never felt as tied to my home as I do at Christmas. We chopped down our own Christmas tree every year (including the year where Daddy had suspect access to an old tree farm out in Charles City County that had been on the market for a few years and he and I went in the old pick-up truck with the Flatt and Scruggs cassette stuck in the tape player and cut a spindly ole tree down with dubious permission and had to skedaddle out of there with a banjo soundtrack when some overseers came out of the trailer on the edge of the property like enraged overalled hornets). We had fires in our fireplace that I would keep going til the last minute until it was time to put it out for the safety of potential Christmas Eve visitors. We had embroidered stockings with our initials on them that, for me, always contained a can of olives (my greatest desire) and a new toothbrush (a two-pronged attack on hygiene maintained by both Santa and the Easter Bunny). Then, when we were older, we had long Christmas day brunches, just us, for hours at the dining room table, totally content, entirely self contained. Our traditions built us up and kept us together.Though the past made us many things, I have learned that this is not what makes us family. So, this Christmas we tried a few new things, new to us but still rooted deep somewhere. Instead of the pink poinsettias that have been on our kitchen table at home every December for my birthday, this year Mama brought up the pink camellias above- cut from our Virginia garden. My grandfather brought her the plant, started from cuttings from the original- growing at my Great Grandmother’s house- he called them Sophie Davis Camellias after her. Instead of a long boozy brunch of hash browns and hominy, we went to Pell Street in Chinatown with Sweetheart’s family- in from Rockaway- for the long standing New York Jewish tradition of chinese food (in this case, vegetarian dim sum) on Christmas Day. Instead of the boxwood roping, magnolia leaves, and fresh cut trees of our old roots, we had the entire New York City skyline glittering and bejeweled, new to us but rooting us here just the same.

Simple and Wonderful Do-it-Yourself Pomanders

It’s no secret that I absolutely love Christmas. Perhaps it’s the inheritance of the December baby, whose favorite birthday celebration for five years in a row was to go see The Nutcracker wearing a gargantuan taffeta hair bow and sporting a fur muff (some things never change… Sweetheart is taking me to see it at BAM on Tuesday, and maybe I’ll wear my Samantha muff). My holiday love, though, probably comes from growing up in Colonial Williamsburg, where, every year, the season starts with a bang at the Grand Illumination celebration- where the streets of the colonial town are lined with bonfires and it is mandatory for every household to put white candles in the windows. Oh how wonderful to go to the Raleigh Tavern Bakery and get one of the amazingly dense and spicy gingerbread cookies and walk the streets of Williamsburg in the clear chill and look at the decorations. Every railing and lintel festooned with magnolia leaves and pineapples, boxwood and pine roping, and, of course pomanders. For inquiring minds, here’s a full history of pomanders (from the french pomme and ambre, meaning, literally, apple of amber), but in short, in the absence of giant inflatable snowglobes for the yard, colonial households would stud the thick skins of precious oranges, lemons, and other fruits with a design of cloves to fill their houses with the heavenly scent of bright citrus and pungent-sweet spice. Ah-Mazing.Last week I had the girls over to drink wine, talk about what we’d missed in our whirlwind lives since we last saw each other, and to make pomanders. You just need:

-A large container of cloves; each pomander will use 100 or so cloves depending on your design, so you want to be sure to have enough
-Fruit; this year I used oranges, lemons, and pomegranates but you can also use limes or apples… anything you want, really.
-A poking utensil; I used this moustache corkscrew, but also on the table was a meat thermometer and one side of a corn-on-the-cob holder. This is not an exact science.

Decide on a design- stripes, lines, and swirls work wonderfully as do harlequin and argyle patterns, or even random polka dots.

Poke a hole in the skin of the fruit in the shape of the design you envision and put a clove in each hole. The cloves are incredibly aromatic, but they can be kind of sharp.

If your fingers start to hurt from pushing the cloves into the fruit try using a thimble.

It’s incredibly easy to make these yourself, and unbelievably satisfying to end a night with a belly full of wine and root vegetables and a bowl of beautiful, fragrant, and timeless pomanders that will keep for weeks, looking lovely and smelling wonderful whatever your holiday season may bring. They gave my apartment the feel of a gingerbread brownstone for my holiday party- incredibly festive.

Fine Feathered Tree

We put our little city Christmas tree up late last week, and it’s been a source of constant joy to me since. The night we put it up, I had the girls over for Christmas Crafts (more on that later), and after a long boozy vegetarian dinner (for Smills the yogi) followed by the cracking open of the bottle of grappa I brought back from Italy, we sat in the glow of the tree through the wee hours and talked of the future and the past and of our little and not so little dreams. It was all so very wonderful. My absolute favorite part of the tree are all of the little birds, coming from all over my history to nest in the tree, feather by feather.

Thanks to Meags for the first picture of my tree, lovingly taken during her visit this weekend (we hugged each other with six of our friendship-octopus legs to make sure that we had two legs each free for champagne, of course).

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