A handful of good reads

Not a new release but an engaging story.

I have been on a really good reading run lately, These titles aren’t new releases and have little relationship to each other. They do, however, reflect various times in history. With the exception of Strapless which I read for one of my book groups, I picked them up because they looked good or came highly recommended. Although it’s great fun to read the new release everyone is talking about, I sometimes worry that focusing my reading there eliminates way too many good books. I’m trying to mix it up.

The Golden Hours by Beatriz Williams is one title (and not a new one) in her long series of historical fiction, a genre I really enjoy. This book alternates between the early days of WWII, in the Bahamas, when the Duke and Duchess of Windsor were in residence (and they play a significant role in the WWII story) and twenty years before during WWI. Lots of romance and intrigue and — thanks to the Windsors — a fair amount of glam.

The Paris Library (and who even knew there was one) by Janet Skeslien Charles is another novel that moves between two distinct time periods — the Nazi occupation of Paris in WWII and a small Montana town in the early 1980’s. I found the Parisian story fascinating when it focused on the various subscribers to the library and how the staff and subscribers survived during the occupation, although I found the young heroine in Paris was maybe too naive. However, the intergenerational friendship between Lily and Odile in Montana was inspiring.

If you enjoyed watching The Empress on Netflix, you may really like reading more about Sisi.

After watching The Empress on Netflix, the story of Elisabeth “Sissi” von Wittelsbach, Princess of Bavaria who became Empress of Austria upon her marriage to Emperor Franz Joseph, I picked up a copy of Siri: Empress on Her Own by Alison Pataki. A friend recommended it a few years ago and I just didn’t get around to it until now, but it picks up where The Empress left off. Despite its fairytale beginning, Sisi and the emperor did not enjoy a happy marriage, but she was beloved by her Austrian and Hungarian subjects and played an often pivotal role in the politics of the day.

I’m sure I shared with you earlier that my book group was reading Strapless by Debra Davis, about Virginie Gautreau, the subject of John Singer Sargent’s controversial painting, unveiled at the 1884 Paris Salon. Both were relatively unheard of at the time, and hopeful that the painting would change that. Unfortunately Gautreau’s reputation did not assume the stardom of Sargent’s. In fact she was shunned socially, though Sargent, of course, eventually assumed a stellar reputation.

The story behind the story 

At the beginning or end of a book do you read the writer’s notes on how they got the idea for the book, did the research, and/or perhaps struggled to get this particular story all on paper? Often these comments are thrown in with long lists of thank-you’s to publishers, editors, assistants, researchers, family and friends. In some respects that makes them somewhat forgettable to the average reader. We just want to dig into the story itself. But then there are the times they reveal so much. I don’t  know how or when i started reading these notes, but this book had such interesting roots, I think they are worth sharing.

Davis happened onto the story when a friend compared a dress Davis wore to that of Madame X, AKA Gautreau.. Curious, Davis researched and discovered the woman, the painter and the painting. And then, of course, the story and the mounting research carried her along. This is more history than novel and unlike historical fiction there is almost no dialogue. In fact another member of the book club and I both wondered when the Preface would end and the story begin, until we realized it wasn’t the preface we were reading, but the book! 

So much of this is so interesting to me: the way Davis discovered the story, the amount of research she did on both of the main characters as well as other, more minor characters, to flesh out Sergant’s artistic background and the world of artists and patrons in which he moved. The same is true of Madame Gautreau who was initially something of a sensation in Parisian society and then, after the painting, led an increasingly circumscribed life. 

The most appealing bookstore

And while we’re talking about books, if you have not yet seen these pictures and many more of Beacon Hill Books and Cafe, You need to up your Instagram game. Recently opened on Boston ‘s Charles Street, photos of the charming, uber-stylish interior (which is apparently also available for private parties) are popping up everywhere. Or just visit the website for a closer look.

You could settle in here to read…
Or you could host a private event.

Looking ahead, one of my book groups has chosen Dinners with Ruth by Nina Totenberg as our next read. Totenberg is the legendary NPR correspondent and Ruth refers to her friend, Ruth Bader Ginsburg. I just downloaded this to my Kindle and I can’t wait to read it! These two remarkable women were friends for nearly 50 years. I’ll also be catching up the the Book of the Month Club recommendations of my daughter and daughter-in-law.

What about you? Read any good books lately?

Thanks for taking the time to stop by. I’ll be back again soon!

The table Jack built

For years now, my husband, daughter, son, and daughter-in-law have all rolled their eyes at my insistence at holding on to certain pieces of furniture or books or crockery or miscellaneous memorabilia that I have refused too part with.

In general none of these things are heirloom quality, and if my daughter or son asks for something I’m not using, I’m happy to pass along said table, chair or whatever. However, sometimes I do so with the caveat that they may not get rid of it without asking me first if I would like it back.

This starts with a magazine

If you follow me on Instagram, or follow the fringes of the design world anywhere on IG or in blog-land, you may recall the collective swoon over Milieu magazine’s fall issue featuring a handful of homes belonging to interior design movers and shakers including Carole Glasser and Jackye Lanham. It was a collection of beautifully thought-out but livable, approachable rooms. Places you could imagine sitting in with a book and/or a cup of coffee. Not surprisingly, the images continue to pop up up on IG and the web. This one, in particular, rang a little bell in my brain:

The cross buck coffee table and the white sofas in Jackie Lanham’s Kiawah Island living room looked more than a little familiar, probably because I have a very similar crossbuck table (in front of a white Ikea sofa and already “staged” with a plant and some books!) in our loft. Take a look:

My dad made this table 60-odd years ago to hold our black and white TV. I’m sure it’s from a pattern he cut from a woodworking magazine or maybe the Sunday paper. And I’m also certain its construction pre-dated any power tools. (The TV on it was in a wood cabinet, which he sanded down and painted green. And you wonder where I got my decorating chops?)

It eventually morphed into a coffee table at my house. We put our feet on it, ate pizzas at it, played games around it, and still it soldiered on. It has been at my son’s house for several years, most recently in a corner of the basement. I confiscated it when we moved here and gave it new life in our loft. The table is still rock solid and the finish is original, a little dinged up, but after all this time I just can’t bring myself to do anything to it.

Thanks, Dad.

And thank you for stopping by. I’ll be back soon.

To be like the Queen

I suppose it helps to have dressers and ladies-in-waiting, but she looks so pretty and perky here.

Have you been watching the reports from Scotland & London on the farewells to the Queen? I can’t tear myself away. I know it sounds a bit silly, but it’s such a slice of history. (And I am an avowed history nerd.) On one hand, so much pomp and circumstance, on the other tradition. And monarchs in the United Kingdom are one of the oldest of traditions. 

I haven’t always been a huge fan of Queen Elizabeth. She often sounds very stiff and formal, and for years she toed the most conservative line about marriage and divorce, well after society had clearly moved on. But, we soften with age. The Queen sure did, and I guess I have too. 

Queen Elizabeth’s life was pretty much unlike any other and probably not what she would have chosen, but there she was, at the center of history. Can you imagine a weekly meeting with Winston Churchill when you’ve just assumed a new job? Trying to sum up the Queen’s ninety-six years in just a few words, even a few paragraphs, is impossible. And all kinds of really smart people have been doing it beautifully for the last several days. Look them up.

So, yes, when I grow up and grow old — like into my nineties — I’d like to be like the Queen. I’d like to be stylish and wear pretty colors and matching hats. I’d like to still be wearing lipstick to highlight an impish smile. I’d like to be current with what’s happening in the world. I’d like to have a cheeky sense of humor a la James Bond and Paddington Bear. I’d like to savor the antics of my children, grandchildren and great grandchildren. And I’d like to still have my prince at my side to share it all.  

It’s not about the crown or the jewels, the power or the palaces (although given the choice I would likely choose palaces over all of the above). I would just love to be the ninety-six-year old matriarch sharp enough to be current with what’s happening in the world and wise enough to view it from an historic perspective. I would like to be gracious enough to privately manage familial trials, failing health, and whatever other ill winds blow. In essence, that’s keeping the proverbial stiff upper lip. 

So now that I’ve written this all down in black and white, so to speak, I have to wonder: Am I asking too much? I hope not. I’m sure going to try.

Thank you so much for stopping by. I hope I see you again here soon,. 

The September miscellaneous file

Did you give summer a proper send-off last weekend? We did with a football theme, (see below). My miscellaneous file also includes a report of my summer without a garden as well as what I have been and will be reading. I hope you enjoy the this-and-that-ness of this post as I sink my teeth into September, one of my favorite months! (It’s those bluer than blue September skies that get me every year.)

Of books, book clubs, & good reads

After decades of participation in my Wheaton book club, I cannot tell you how many people have asked if I have found a new one. The short answer is yes. In fact, I found two. First, I joined one in our neighborhood. It limits participation to less than 10 people, a far cry from the twenty members, give-or-take another ten that I am used to. And while I am uncomfortable with the size limitation (who wants to tell someone they can’t come to the discussion?), I understand the reasoning. We met recently to discuss Richard Russo’s Empire Falls, had a great discussion, and the small group allows everyone to participate fully. 

Our next read is Strapless by Debra Davis, about Virginie Gautreau, the subject of John Singer Sargent’s most famous painting, unveiled at the 1884 Paris Salon. Both were relatively unheard of at the time, but of course that quickly changed. Unfortunately Gautreau’s reputation did not assume the stardom of Sargent’s. It’s one of those books that has a bit of a buzz, and the story along with the 19th century art world setting should be interesting.

I’ve also discovered a very informal book group in the New Albany community. They will meet in October to discuss Lessons in Chemistry by Bonnie Garmus which I just read and loved. It’s a book that begs for a conversation so I’m looking forward to that. 

I’ve decided the trick to finding a good book club is identifying one that likes to read the same material that you do, and maybe — hopefully — pushes you to read a bit beyond your comfort zone. It’s great if the books aren’t always current best sellers. Empire Falls was published in 2001, but there is so much depth and layering to the characters that the conversation just kept rolling. Not every book or author lends itself to that kind of examination. Some of my fellow readers in my last book group got me started on Louise Penny, and I devoured her mystery series. But I don’t think we would ever choose one for a book discussion. And I think the same is true of a lot of writers and not only of mysteries. What about you? 

My summer without a garden 

I’ve missed being able to go outside and cut some flowers for the table.

If you have followed my blog for long, you know I wrote often about my garden (for example here) and about cooking from the garden (as I did here and here), but at the Reset we are still waiting for irrigation, final grading and sod before we can plant much of anything. The front has been landscaped with boxwood, day lilies and a nice bed of mulch. I’m sure we’ll add to this scheme, but not until the builder finishes his work on the lot. 

In the meantime I have a few mis-matched planters of annuals on the front porch. There is no rhyme or reason to them: one over-sized pink geranium, because it was in full bloom back in May (and has continued to be so most of the summer), a pot of assorted coleus that I have cut back several times and yet it is taking over its spot along with a Boston fern from my grandson’s school flower sale. It’s also out of control. However, they don’t all really work together and so I need a better plan for next year. Any ideas?

And what about the missing vegetable garden? I honestly haven’t missed canning tomatoes (though I will probably miss cooking with them this fall). I bought some beautiful basil at the farmers market to make pesto. I do have pots with rosemary, thyme and parsley on the patio. so I can still duck out and snip what I need for a recipe.

This is Big Ten football country 

Meet Brutus, part OSU mascot, part OSU ambassador.

Columbus is the home of Ohio State University (my husband’s alma mater, but that’s another story) and you only have to be here once, on a fall Saturday, to grasp the football fever that grips Columbus. So, it should not have been a surprise to me — but it was — that when I attended a community event on September 1st — two days before kickoff against Notre Dame — the event had a bit of an OSU pep rally feel to it. EVERYONE — and I do mean EVERYONE — was dressed in some variation of an OSU shirt/hat/socks/shorts, etc. And in fact Brutus, pictured here, joined us for coffee. And that was just the beginning of kick-off weekend. We dropped by a community watch party in a park on Saturday night. It was fun – a huge screen streaming the game, food trucks, and more. Frankly, I am entertained by the fans as much as the game.

Thank you, as always, for stopping by to spend a little time with me. I hope you’re having a great week. And if you’re one of the millions experiencing our extreme weather, I hope the worst is behind you.

See you again soon!

My big, blue wall…

And how it came to be.

Our new home is a builder’s “spec house,” purchased too late in the process to add any real customization like an extra wall outlet or alternative light fixture and in the midst of a supply chain calamity that made even getting a built-in oven and microwave a Herculean effort.

The architectural flourishes we admired in many of the models we visited during our home search were add-ons we would have happily paid for, but there was no one available to do them. So, in true Janet and Steve fashion, the more closely we examined “feature walls,” the more we thought, “We can do this.”

I don’t know if it started with Joanna Gaines and her shiplap, but feature walls decked out in various wood treatments and painted a contrasting color have become “a thing.” Actually, long before the feature wall trend, molding treatments on their own or framing wallpaper or fabric panels were popular, often a decorator’s trick to use pricier accents in smaller amounts or inject some architectural interest in a boxy space. Today’s feature walls have just taken that idea and run with it.

I saw feature walls more and more on Pinterest and in magazines for the last few years. When we started looking at houses, I saw them up close, painted in a trendy contrasting color and decked out with molding or board and batten trim. They provided an attractive architectural focal point for open floor plan spaces. As a bonus I noticed that when painted a dark color they lent a little camouflage to the flat screen televisions usually mounted on that primary wall. And frankly, the 9-foot by 15-foot blank wall in our great room was crying out for something to balance the rest of the room’s windows and open space. 

Steve and I did some research and watched lots of YouTube tutorials. We went back to the model home here to take a  closer look at similar treatments and take pictures. Then we got really carried away and decided to add similar molding and a chair rail to the entry. 

It’s all geometry

Here’s one of our “working diagrams” to determine the sizing. 

We realized early on that the painting and wood trim were doable, the challenge was working out the geometry on the wall. Chair rails are a consistent 36-40 inches above the floor. But the boxes had to be evenly spaced and sized to accommodate existing electrical outlets and switches — something not one of the tutorials mentioned. Several sheets of graph paper later featuring not only the wall dimensions but also the location of outlets and switches, and using variously-sized paper templates to represent the proposed molding boxes, Steve figured it out. The five equal-width boxes we began with gave way to three different sizes, arranged symmetrically, (basically A, B, C, B, A) to accommodate a handful of electrical obstacles. All the boxes are spaced 4-inches apart and 4-inches from the base, chair rail and crown molding above and below them and 8-inches from each end to accommodate wall switches. 

This is what we started with. Kind of blah.

With the geometry solved, we collected our materials: chair rail, trim, and crown molding from the lumber department at Home Goods; and paint. Our plan was to paint the wall first. We assumed it would take two coats, but it would be easy to roll on — and it was. Then we’d paint the molding before cutting it to size and adding it to the wall. We could touch up whatever we needed to after. The first coat rolled on and the dark navy was bold but we loved it. It dried somewhat splotchy which wasn’t especially concerning, since we expected to need a second coat. The second coat was better, but there were still some patchy spots. Ugh! Before attempting any “repairs” to our paint job, Steve took pictures of the splotchy paint and headed back to the store to ask a few questions. 

I need to stop here and tell you how terrific the pros at our local Sherwin Williams paint store are. Steve and the manager discussed the tools he used, the condition of the wall, etc. SW has a number of grades of paint and we had used an above-average grade (at the manager’s suggestion). So, the manager gave us a new gallon of top-of-the-line paint. (We didn’t ask for any freebies, SW just wanted us to have a successful project.) Steve came home and painted the wall yet again. Third time’s the charm! 

Let’s hear it for customer service and quality materials. You have to wonder how many do-it-yourself projects are derailed because the instructions and/or materials aren’t up to the task, or the do-it-yourself-ers don’t ask the right questions. A good lesson to learn. 

It may be a little unorthodox, but given how the sizes of our boxes worked out, Steve installed the crown at the top and the chair rail 36-inches off the floor. This would help us consistently align the boxes. He started in the middle of the wall, doing the bottom then the top boxes. Next he worked on the boxes on either side of the center and finally the ones on the end. He had painted, measured and pre-cut all the pieces ahead of time, labeling each piece with dimensions on the back.

Installation was like assembling a puzzle. We used a laser level to square up the bottom corner of each box, spread a small amount of glue on the back of each piece, then tacked it on using a pneumatic nailer. He nailed up the bottom of each box first, then the left side, then the right side. The top just dropped into place. We were a little tentative getting started and then surprised when the first finished box was done just as we’d planned. We got more and more efficient as we moved along. By the time we got to the entry hall, where all the boxes are down low, we were flying. (I’ll detail that in another post.)

It turns out I was too busy as the carpenter’s helper, holding tools, getting a damp rag, holding the glue, moving the laser level, etc., to get in-progress pictures. But I can’t stop taking pictures of the finished wall.

As you can see here, this is not exotic molding. And the wall and
the molding are painted with the same finish.
Here’s the finished wall. It needs artwork and a more substantial buffet or console table. But we need to make a TV decision first.

So now while we continue to admire the results we have a few decisions to make.

Do we paint the wall and ceiling trim blue or keep it white?

And what about the white switch plates?

The plan has been to mount a TV here, but probably not the one we currently have. If we’re going to hang it on the wall, a newer, smarter one is preferable. We are trying two different templates on the wall for size — to be continued…

This may have been my idea, but my husband really made it happen. And didn’t he do a great job?

Thanks for stopping by. I’ll be back soon, because there’s more to share — including a new book club! See you again next time!

It begins with a trip to the museum…

Rapgaello Sanzio

Last week we took a cultural field trip, visiting the Columbus Museum of Art to view the Dresden Tapestries, based on cartoons by Raphael in 1515-16 and commissioned by Pope Leo X to hang in the Vatican’s Sistine Chapel. Although we had seen tapestries in French chateaux and other European museums, this was our first opportunity to get a little closer and to learn more about how they are made. The bottom line: they are really art times two, the artist’s initial cartoon and the fiber art of the tapestry produced from it.

What is a tapestry?

The more intimate setting of the Columbus museum and the quiet weekday timing offered a perfect opportunity to view the tapestries more closely. A docent gave the group we were with a basic overview of tapestry weaving as well as the history of these particular pieces. Tapestries are a unique fabric art, woven to portray a scene, story or event, often biblical or historic. These tapestries focus on the ministries of Saints Peter and Paul. But more about that later. 

This is the cartoon by Raphael for the tapestry “Christ’s Charge to Peter.” This is just one in a series of ten cartoons.

In essence the tapestry subject is a woven copy of a drawing (known as a cartoon) created by an artist. Tapestries are painstakingly handwoven — most often by European workshops specializing in this art form — with the design on one side of the fabric. To do this, the cartoon is copied (by hand!) and the copy laid face-down on the fabric. The finished tapestry becomes a complete reverse of the original cartoon. The cartoons for the original set of these tapestries were sent to Brussels to be woven in the workshop of Pier van Aelst. They were probably completed in 1520.

About the Raphael tapestries

My knowledge of Raphael was pretty sketchy, so after the museum visit I delved a little more into his life and his role in the Renaissance art world (Of course, it would have been even better if I’d done this homework first!). Along with Michelangelo and Leonardo da Vinci, Raphael is considered one of the three architects of the High Renaissance, a period from as early as 1495 to as late as 1530 of exceptional artistic accomplishment in Rome and Florence, Italy.

Artistic temperaments played a part in Renaissance art. Historians point out that Michelangelo was no fan of Raphael and openly critical of his work. Raphael was generally thought to be more agreeable and charming, traits that may have played a part in his success in acquiring significant commissions. In developing the cartoons for this series of tapestries, Raphael was very aware that they would be in close proximity to Michelangelo’s famous ceiling in the Sistine Chapel; however, the subject matter — Christ turning over the church to Peter and Paul — was different.

Like many artists, Raphael got an early start; his father was a court painter and Raphael was apprenticed at a young age to another master. After time spent elsewhere in Italy, he found his way first to Florence and eventually to Rome. His reputation firmly established, one biographer noted that Raphael had a workshop of fifty pupils and assistants, many of whom later became significant artists in their own right. This was arguably the largest workshop team under any single master painter. The workshop included masters from other parts of Italy, probably working with their own teams as sub-contractors, as well as pupils and journeymen. There is little evidence of the internal working arrangements of the workshop, but this was the artistic custom of that time. Raphael died quite young (at age 37 in 1520). He is perhaps best known for the frescoed Raphael Rooms in the Sistine Chapel. The series of 10 cartoons for tapestries representing the lives of Saint Peter and Saint Paul was commissioned by Pope Leo X in about 1516. 

“The Miraculous Draught of Fishes.” Like all the tapestries in this series, the subjects refer to Christ turning the church h over to Peter and Paul.

The Dresden tapestries are one of numerous sets woven from these cartoons after Raphael’s death. Seven of Raphael’s original 10 cartoons for the series have survived and are now in the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. The tapestries woven for the Vatican no longer hang in the Sistine Chapel but are displayed on a rotating basis in the Vatican Museum. They returned briefly to the Sistine Chapel in 2020 in honor of the 500th anniversary of the artist’s death.

This is the cartoon for the tapestry above. Note the images are reversed.

The impact of the tapestries and Raphael in the art world is evident in the second part of the exhibition, which includes drawings by Raphael that were studies for his cartoons. Numerous other works—paintings, prints, drawings, and sculpture—were created by artists influenced by Raphael’s designs. The artist’s style and in some cases entire images were lifted from the much larger tapestries to become art on their own or to be worked into other pieces. Noted renaissance and baroque masters such as Rubens and Poussin are among the artists who incorporated Raphael’s work into their own.

The Columbus exhibit is comprised of six works from the duplicates ordered by the Prince of Wales (later King Charles I) about 100 years after Raphael’s death. (Here’s where the world history kicks in.) They were produced by tapestry makers in Mortlake, England. Augustus the Strong, elector of Saxony and king of Poland, brought the tapestries to Dresden, Germany in the 18th century. The tapestries were restored in the late 20th and early 21st century. The Columbus exhibition is the first time they have been displayed outside Europe. 

Two lessons in one

I think I always looked at tapestries as works of art, but certainly without appreciating the entire process. First, the artist creating the cartoon has to plan the scene, starting with a series of rough sketches that are refined into final drawings to be included in the cartoon. These are huge works with significant detail and background scenery. This is where the other artists in the master’s workshop came into their own, copying the master artist’s style and intent. This is the first art lesson. The artistry of the tapestry weavers is the second lesson. Perhaps time for more research?

I don’t know about you, but I love when a “field trip” of some sort sets me off on subsequent pursuits. I’d like to know more about the lives of Raphael and Michelangelo. Can you imagine these men elbowing their way for favor among the papal and royal interests of their day? I know Francis I lured Leonardo da Vinci to his chateau in Amboise, France, where da Vinci (and the Mona Lisa) remained until his death. What story lines would you pursue?

Thank you so much for stopping by for my impromptu art history class. See you again soon!

Getting the hang of picture-hanging

Recently, I put my heart in my back pocket and went ahead and made nail holes in our “virgin” walls. I’m not an empty walls kind of girl, and we had pictures, prints, etc., stacked up in corners everywhere. The real issue was less about making holes in new walls and more about deciding what should hang where.

First we decided what we definitely wanted to hang again, what we thought we would hang again, and what we never wanted to see again. (This last category took some negotiation and that process continues.)

About those holes in the wall

I never have a problem hammering a nail or picture hanger into the wall. Sometimes, of course, despite careful measuring, the picture is not hung in the exact spot you planned or maybe it is but doesn’t look right after all. In that case I just move it. Does this sound cavalier? My husband will roll his eyes at this, but I don’t worry much about excess holes in the wall.  A dab of spackle, a quick sand and a light brush of paint take care of most errors. I admit that there have been times when the holes were not visible from minor hanging adjustments until we took all the artwork down to repaint the room and revealed what can only be described as a machine gun look to the walls. In my mind that just means more spackle before you paint. However, I understand that for some, this can be tragic.

Tackling new, blank walls

Sometimes there’s a natural anchor for artwork, like a fireplace or a piece of furniture. This is the bottom of the large buffet from my former dining room. When we moved here, I left the metal shelves off the top and settled it on the biggest wall in the foyer. These prints of Siena and Montapulciano hung in our former living room over a marble-topped dresser, but they seemed perfect for this space. I think, however, I need to switch to a larger lamp and perhaps extend the wall arrangement beyond the width of the cabinet. Does this look skimpy to you?

We are both really fond of a number of prints we bought on our European travels. They are grouped together on a slim wall space, also in the foyer. I started with the large print on the left, then the two from France stacked on the right. Then I just filled in the space. They all came from open air markets or tiny galleries and I don’t think any of them cost more than $20. I thought about just hanging the two square prints from France, but since this is across the hall from the arrangement above, it seemed appropriate to add more weight here for balance.

When I was arranging these groupings, (left and below) I started on the floor first. I discovered that a basic drop cloth was about the same color as our walls and it offered a neutral background for arranging the prints. So, I laid the pieces out, adding, subtracting and arranging space until it seemed right. Sometimes I had to walk away for a while and come back to it.

It’s interesting to mix the media in a group. We did that in the library with this combination of black and white photos, a black & white print and some smaller, sepia-tone prints. This is a grouping that I imagine may grow a bit, as we find additional pieces, though I would like to stick to black and white.

It’s fun to hang something in a more surprising spot, like over a door. This old fruit print is from my pears/plums/grapes period, when I was collecting artwork and plates with that motif. (It’s a long story.) I’ve passed on most of those pieces, but I do love this print and its unfortunately heavy, dark oak frame.

More hanging tips and tricks

  • There’s a hanging system for everything, from heavy-duty french cleats (which we used to hang some antique shutters in our last house) to super light tacks for small pieces. Cruise the aisle with these supplies at the hardware store and ask questions. Then, arm yourself with a selection of anchors, hooks, hangers and even Command stick-on strips. I keep my supplies together in a kit with a small hammer and a tape measure so I have what I need when I’m ready to hang.
  • Framing gets very expensive very quickly. Usually what we find on our travels or at antique markets is unframed. I have most things framed at Michael’s or Hobby Lobby, and I wait for a sale or a coupon. Their frame selection is substantial, and I have never been disappointed in their workmanship.
  • You probably already know this, but in general, the center of a single picture should be between 56- and 60-inches from the floor. If you’re hanging a gallery of pictures, you will have to adjust this, but keep in mind that wall arrangements should be essentially at eye level, not floating above furniture.

The snake-bit system

A designer friend introduced me to this a few years ago. It requires two holes for every frame (Ouch!), but once hung nothing moves. This is especially useful in a hallway or high-traffic area where pictures often are knocked askew. To do this you need a hammer, small finishing nails, wirecutters, a small level, a small block of wood, a tape measure and pencil. 

  • Determine where you want the picture to be. I like to make a small pencil mark on the wall at the top corners of the frame and in from the left and right sides of the frame a quarter- to a half-inch, depending on the width of the frame.
  • On the back of the frame, make comparable marks a quarter to a half-inch on the left and right sides and 1-1/2 to 2-1/2 inches down from the top of the frame. Tap a finishing nail into the frame at each of the two marks. The nails should be at an angle, like fangs on a snake. Make sure the nails are anchored firmly in the picture frame. Use the wirecutters to snip off the heads of the nails. You need to be able to drive this end into the wall.Measure the distance from the top and sides of the frame to the point where the nail is in the frame. Using the lightest touch of a pencil, transfer this to the wall, using those first marks you made indicating the left and right top of the frame.
  • Using another finishing nail, make a “starter hole” in the wall for the snake bit nails to slide into. Tap this nail in part way and angled down to match the nails on the frame. Pull the nail out and you have holes for your snakebit nails to slide into. Now carefully fit the snakebit nails in the frame into the holes in the wall.
  • Gently push the frame down to snug it to the wall. If you need the hammer to tap it in place, use the small block of wood between the hammer and the frame to prevent damage. Use a 6- or 8-inch level to check that the top of the frame is level.

Until you have done this a few times, it seems like a huge project. Don’t be discouraged if your holes are too big or unevenly spaced. Don’t be surprised if you end up with a few extra holes until you perfect this technique. We used it on these botanicals in our last house, and none of the prints dared to move. 

None of these ideas are original. In fact, the concept of assembling wall art by subject matter or color is fairly “tried and true.” It works. Most of my ideas come from a Pinterest board I’ve saved called “Walls,” because it includes shelves, sconces, baskets, plates and more. Like I said earlier, there’s a way to hang almost anything on a wall. And the mix of items is so much fun!

Obviously, there are more walls to deck, more pieces to find places for, and inevitably more to collect, so stay tuned. For now I’m giving my hammer and hangers a rest and enjoying what we’ve accomplished.

Thank you so much for stopping by. See you again soon.

Summer without a garden & more

Normally at this time of year I would be including lots of notes about my garden, but I don’t have one yet in Ohio.

Good morning! First, thank you for your supportive comments on my last post. I really appreciate them. After my rant, however, I thought something a little lighter may be in order, so I’m sharing my latest Instagram favorites. They are probably as good a clue as any to what’s on my mind, what I’m finding inspiring, and what I may (or may not) be planning to do.

My summer without a garden

Our yard is still clay and rocks; there is also a healthy crop of weeds. (It’s really pretty awful looking.) The builder is awaiting the appropriate parts and crews to finish drainage and irrigation issues. In the meantime my green thumb can only dream. So here’s what I’m thinking.

We will have a small garden out front based on some bushes that the landscaper provides. We will supplement that with some blooming plants and I would like to try for a green and white garden. It’s a small area and I want like it to look cohesive. Something like this, with Lambs Ears and Hostas for texture and color variation, along with white blooms, below.

In the back yard, we have a small patio, sort of a very mini version of this, below. Again, I like the blue, white and purple with the greenery. And I love the idea of a few really generous pots for color, but still keeping a tight palette.

Hung up on picture hanging

We continue to work on getting pictures hung here; Steve and I both think they add the personal touch that makes a space feel like ours. However, the spaces here are somewhat different so I’ve been searching for inspiration on Instagram.

We have several pairs and even trios of prints to find places for. I am not necessarily a symmetrical person, so arrangements like this, below, that work for multiples often throw me off. But, hey, if James Farmer can do it, I can too! I love the way he takes the edge off the symmetry by staggering heights and objects on top of the cabinet (which would be perfect in my house.)

I really like the idea of dressing up a bathroom or powder room with artwork. The image below does just that and is the kind of loose arrangement I usually prefer in most rooms, instead of something too studied. (Although I think it’s harder to achieve.) And I like the way the classic frames and touches of black and white give this space more sophistication.

I’m planning a picture-hanging post soon to show off some of what I’ve done so far. And some of what I’ve already moved!

Some rooms call my name

If you are one of the legions of fans of Nancy Meyers films (The Intern, Something’s Got to Give, It’s Complicated) do you like the films or are you just mesmerized by the gorgeous settings? I’ve seen each of these movies more than once, and they’re charming. But I love her sets. They are the ultimate eye-candy. So it’s no surprise that the blog world was set a-buzz when the newly renovated interior of Nancy Meyers’ own home was revealed in the current issue of Architectural Digest. You can go directly to the magazine, but if you’re really interested I encourage you to read Joni Webb’s post (here) to get a look at Nancy’s house then and now as well as all her sets. No one covers a decorating story like Joni Webb.

This is the perfect living room in Nancy Meyers’ house, below. It’s a little traditional, somewhat spare in a modern sense, not overly staged but certainly welcoming. I like the way the mirror off to the right (instead of staged over the fireplace() reflects more of the room, the substantial coffee table with plenty of room for drinks, snacks and magazines. I could easily sink into one of those chairs to enjoy a conversation with friends or a drink in front of the fire.

Sometimes I scroll along in IG, pause, scroll some more, go back and like something and scroll some more. Then I finally go back and save the photo. That was the case here. First, I’m a sucker for a center table like this and when it’s skirted, it’s even better. (Any excuse to incorporate a generous swath of fabric and trim!) I like the way the white in this room balances the wood. Those beams could be imposing, but they aren’t. And that table — perfect centered with big flowers and staged with a collection of books and memorabilia, at least that’s what I imagine.

Paris is always a good idea

We are beginning to think about travel again. It turns out I’m willing to go anywhere as long as it ends with a few days in Paris. And even if I don’t get to Paris, I still save images of the city. Cafe de le Nemours is one of our favorite stops there. It’s near the Louvre, next to the Comedie Franchise, and around the corner from the Palais Royale (also good for a glass of wine) and therefore perfect for people watching. It also serves a wonderful quiche that’s perfect any time of day if you need more than a cafe or wine.

And after, you can walk over to the Louvre and, if you have had the foresight to buy the right kind of ticket, enter thru a side door for a quiet look around. Just avoid all signs leading to the Mona Lisa.

Of course, Paris is going to be a bit of a stretch if we decide to road-trip thru Canada or head to Sonoma for some wine tasting! I think the real issue here is indecision. I’m not packing any bags just yet!

In the meantime, I hope you’re having a great day. Thanks for stopping by! See you again soon.

Guns & fireworks

This week, on our first July 4th in Ohio, I was feeling a little nostalgic. For most of our 40 years in Wheaton we celebrated the 4th at least in part with the community’s traditional, homegrown parade, which always began with a few dozen firetrucks blasting their sirens and waving to the crowds. Then came the local politicos, the high school band, the boy scouts and girl scouts. The local VFW usually showed up, as did the Shriners in their mini race cars and Uncle Sam on stilts handing out candy.

For several years, beginning when my son was a toddler and my daughter a newborn, we attended the parade with a handful of neighborhood families, always gathering on the same corner. As with all things, time marched on. The kids grew up. Some of us moved away. But these memories remain a part of the fabric of our family.

Yesterday, on our way home from our first July 4th celebration in Ohio, I heard what had happened in one of those other Illinois communities, hosting their Independence Day parade. A young gunman sat atop a downtown building and used a powerful weapon of war to shoot and kill at least six parade attendees and injure more than two dozen more.

Please re-read that last sentence. I can hardly believe it. What have we come to?

This isn’t just about Illinois or the 4th of July. In days, it seems, we have moved from Buffalo, New York, to Uvalde, Texas, to Highland Park, Illinois. How did a mass killing we once would have thought of as a frightening aberration become a weekly occurrence?

If you have followed this blog at all, you know it isn’t political (Okay, sometimes personal bias does seep in.). It’s books and cooking, decorating and some travel. But the reality is too heartbreaking to ignore. Thoughts and prayers are not enough. We must also admit that recent legislation, though well-intentioned, would not have stopped this shooter. (Another heartbreak — finally one step forward and now back again.) How does this country separate our fundamental belief in a militia from this love affair with weapons of war?

What will become of us if we don’t?

I have no answers, but I believe it’s time to put my money where my mouth is (my vote is already there) and now I’m lending my modest financial support to Everytown for Gun Safety. You might want to check them out. And thanks to Julie at Creating This
Life
for suggesting it.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this. And thanks for listening.

June reading: history, mystery & gossip

 Wow! How did it get to be almost-July already? For me, June begins like a sweet promise — long, sunny days strung out for months. Then that image is interrupted by the flash, sparkle, and bang of July. It’s hotter, and the beach seems like a really good idea, but if you don’t act fast August is here and summer is waning. It’s back-to-school time and hay fever. Yikes! I’m making myself older just sitting here on my laptop. 

Forget the calendar, what I really meant to report on today are some books I’ve read over the last several weeks. My reading life has finally moved on from a seemingly endless stream of Stephanie Plum mysteries. I was just digging into London: The Novel by Edward Rutherford (a slow start but it does get better) when I was side-tracked by Tina Brown’s The Palace Papers. The hoopla surrounding the Queen’s Jubilee got me started on this. (I’m a sucker for the Queen, the rest of the royals not so much.) I’ll be honest — it begins with Camilla and Diana and ends with Kate and Megan. And the Queen is always at the center because, well, she is the Queen. Charles, Andrew, William and Harry play their respective parts, because no soap opera is complete without the men.  There is definitely a soap opera quality to the book. 

Brown draws from credible sources, though she rarely ever names them relying instead on her reputation as a journalist. What did I glean from this besides a lot of juicy gossip? First, power is everything in royal circles. If you have it, you need to keep it; if you have no power, you need to find some. It’s pretty simple. Second, a lot of this power is granted to secretaries, schedulers and PR teams (and, yes, everyone has one of them too). In fact it seems the royals often communicate via secretary to secretary. And if you have ever played telephone, you know how that goes. What a complicated life!

After that read I needed a bit of a palate-cleanser, so I picked up A Flicker in the Dark by Stacy Willingham. My daughter-in-law gave me this book for Christmas, along with a membership to the Book-of-the-Month Club, but then I got so focused on moving I put it aside. It was the perfect read! The story focuses on Chloe Davis, whose father was jailed 20 years earlier for a series of murders of young, teen-age girls. Now, after two decades and just as Chloe is about to marry, two more young women die in the same way. Chloe is oddly connected to these victims and forced to revisit the earlier murders to resolve the current ones and clear her own name. Solving the crime isn’t simple, and the mystery takes a number of twists and turns. I thought the unexpected ending was a stunner — when I finally got there. If you love a good mystery, this is for you. 

Looking ahead, this is my to-be-read stack, above. I’m really looking forward to This Tender Land by William Kent Kruger. I read and loved his earlier novel, Ordinary Grace, more than a few years ago. It’s one of those books that just stays with you. Read it if you can. My daughter gave me The Book of Longings by Sue Monk Kidd. It’s one of her recent favorites. We both loved The Invention of Wings, also by Kidd. Finally, I’m looking forward to All That She Carried by Tiya Miles, a true story of an enslaved woman in 1850’s South Carolina and the bag she prepared for her nine-year-old daughter before they were separated. The bag continued to be shared thru subsequent generations. This may not be a “summer read,” but I’m looking forward to it. 

And that’s my summer reading plan for now. How about you? Any recommendations?

I’m so glad you stopped by & wish you a star-spangled July 4th holiday. 

See you again soon.