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!

Featured

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.

Putting our stamp on the Reset

Our second move — from rental to new house — has posed some interesting creative opportunities. This house is much more open with more flexible living spaces, making how we want to use them the challenge. We think we’re getting a handle on it, and Steve and I have dived in, unpacking boxes and making the Reset our own. For someone who loves tweaking and arranging as much as I do, this is the perfect project. 

Once we saw the “flex room” under construction, Steve and I knew it would make a great library.

Those of you who visit Ivy & Ironstone regularly know I am a book lover and find it nearly impossible to part with many of my books. Add to that a shelf or two of books that I have kept from my parents, as well as Steve’s library and you can see why we moved 28 boxes of books. (Okay, some were partial boxes, with other items included. But still, 28 boxes!) 

I have been saving images of library walls and bookshelves to a Pinterest page since long before we knew we were moving, so you can imagine I had plenty of ideas on how to stow my library. And this house has a “flex” room off the foyer that Steve and I both thought would be perfect for a wall of book shelves.

Sourcing the shelves

Now that we had the space, we had to find the shelves. Months ago i started looking into buying finished book shelves. That resulted in serious sticker shock. I knew it would be pricey, but yikes! I decided to search out other options just to see. Our realtor suggested her handyman, so after we moved in I asked him to come by and look at what I had in mind. Alas, I had a “furniture look” in mind and that was not at all what he was envisioning. So, I’m saving his talents for other tasks, but I still needed the shelves and a place for all those books. 

Along the way, Steve and I had both been attracted to some Ikea hacks, including more than one involving their various bookshelf components. We made a few trips to Ikea checking out the options in person, coming home to measure again (and again!), and then finally purchasing three Hemnes bookcases in the black-brown finish. They’re made of solid pine with six shelves, five of them adjustable and one fixed for added stability. This was not a huge financial investment, so we thought we’d give it a try. 

Originally, we assumed we’d use four bookshelves because that fit the length of wall perfectly, but the shelves are deeper than the adjacent wall. We didn’t think we’d like the idea of them extending five or six inches into the doorway. We also thought we would choose white, but decided it might be a little “blah” against the pale walls and all the white trim. I knew I was going to use these shelves to show off some of our collectibles, and the dark background is a great foil for the ironstone and transferware I’ve used there.

The shelves went together easily, but assembly definitely took time.
We used additional hardware to anchor the frames together and then to the wall.
Once the shelves were up and anchored, I literally flew into action unpacking books, collectibles and arranging. This was so much fun!

The shelves need some finishing touches: some trim top and bottom and perhaps some lighting. But we had to stop here and move on to other projects just to get the boxes unpacked. Here’s some of the styling I did with pitchers, baskets and candlesticks.

 

I had not started out thinking I would put my baskets on top of the bookshelves, but I think they really work!
I used to gang all these candlesticks on my dining room table (with candles of course) and I loved that look. So, I tried it here, I just couldn’t fit in the candles!

Lessons from moving a collection

One of the things I’ve learned in the moving process is that I need to let go of some of my ironstone and transferware collections. This is in part a space consideration. I just don’t have the display space I once did. But I’m also opting for a leaner, cleaner look. When the realtors finished staging our former home for sale, I wasn’t at all thrilled about what they kept and what they removed, but I really liked the cleaner look. And to tell you the truth the house was beginning to look a little too granny-ish. So my new mantra is “keep the best, let go of the rest. “ 

I know I said I left five pitchers on top here, but I “borrowed” one for flowers on the kitchen island. And I just noticed the crooked print hanging above. Oops!

When I was styling the bookshelf, I used four of my favorite ironstone pitchers. Then I put another five of the best and biggest ones atop another cabinet. But I still have eight of them on a shelf behind this cabinet door, along with assorted sugar bowls, sauce tureens, etc. I used to think that I could never have enough white ironstone; now I’m not so sure.  

I have always loved collections — the bigger the better — and the character they lend to a space. And frankly I love the look of the blue and white transferware, the ironstone and the shelf of brass candlesticks on the library wall. I could “rotate my stock” from time to time or I could have a sale. What would you do? 

Thank you so much for stopping by. It’s taken me a while to get my head out of the boxes and back into the blog. But there’s so much more to talk about, like what I’ve been reading (did you see my Instagram post of the Book Loft in German Village), what I’ve cooked now that my kitchen is open for business, and have you seen “Downton Abbey: A New Era” ?

See you again soon!

Walking the garden

LavenderMost mornings I “walk the garden,” with my cup of coffee. Today is gray and cloudy, and it rained last night so the garden is a bit squishy. But for me at least, my garden is always a bright spot. Here’s some of what it looked like this morning.

To be totally honest, the phrase “walk the garden” belongs to one of my gardening mentors. It’s a good practice to see what’s in bloom, what’s past its prime, and where the weeds, etc., may be creeping in. I like to check things out in the morning. It’s the best time to cut flowers, so I often walk with pruning snips and a bucket or two – one for stray weeds and one for fresh flowers.

First, a few favorite pots

The lavender, above, is in a pot on the patio. It spends a lot of time on the porch, where it smells heavenly. I’ll plant it in the herb garden at the end of summer, but I have not had a lot of luck with lavender wintering over here in Chicagoland. I think it’s just too cold.

This dahlia, below, is a show-off. I walked away from it — it was already pretty big — about three times at the gsrden center, before going back and putting it in my wagon. I know I would have been bugged all summer by passing it up. Happily, it has bloomed more and more all season!

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A little herb garden

I’m not sure why I started growing herbs. It seemed like something gardeners do and I had the perfect spot behind the garage. I started with herbs I used in cooking. But, the more I cooked and the more I relied on my own fresh herbs, the more I enjoyed this part of the garden. Now I would be hard-pressed to give it up.

You can see my herb garden behind the dahlia. The perennial herbs, like thyme, sage and oregano, are doing great. But the dill, rosemary and cilantro are poking along. Our break-through cases of Covid kept us out of the garden until late May, so the annual herbs and border are anything but lush right now.

Here’s a close-up of the herbs. The basil gets better the more we cut it. The parsley in the lower left came up from last year and immediately went to seed. I’m told it will come up as new plants next year. I have not had that happen before.

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Just the flowers, please

The friend who told me about “walking the garden” collected daylilies. One year we split an order of bulbs from White Flower Farm. Initially I was a little disappointed, because not all of them bloomed the first year, or even produced much greenery. However, once established they have thrived. They require almost no maintenance, except for dead-heading when the blooms are spent snd ultimately some clumps will need dividing. The daylilies seem perfectly sized for the bushes behind them and other perennials like coneflowers and daisies between them. They really do make the garden in the summer.

 

Last year I planted these blue alliums to contrast with some small, lavender daylilies on the corner of the garage. We removed an old, dying spruce from this spot and replaced it with a redbud tree. I thought the area needed a little more “presence.” The daylilies were good from the start, but the alliums seemed a little small. However, as is so often the case with perennials, they really came into their own this year!

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I seem to have an accidental yellow theme on the south side of the house. It started with the daisies in May. Then the false sunflowers just shot up. (They’re very prolific bloomers — the more you cut, the more you get!) and now that the daisies have finished, the blackeyed susans have have literally taken over! This is really my cutting garden this year.

There are purple coneflowers buried in the false sunflowers, but they’re barely visible. Fortunately I have more elsewhere, and I think they like the alternative growing conditions better. Look how rich their color is!

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And that’s what’s blooming here. We leave soon to meet our kids at the beach, which will be hot and sandy but fun.

Thanks for stopping by. See you again soon!

 

Looks, books and cooks from a pandemic, part 1

How are you doing?  Isolation is hard, but I honestly can’t complain. We’re healthy and so is our family. Right now, that’s everything.

I am  struck by the challenge of balancing the practical (stay in, stay safe) and the emotional (stay sane, keep busy) in every day living. Life right now, I think, is made up of small victories.  Here are some of the things saving me these days.

Conversation

Obvious, right?  But maybe we’ve been relying too much on texts and emails. I have long suspected that personal conversation is so much richer, and the pandemic has proven me right.  Phone calls from old friends and family members are golden, the highlights of the day. Those other voices really are reassuring. And then there’s FaceTime, Zoom and all the other platforms that allow us to meet face-to-face. In addition to our usual FaceTime adventures with the grandkids, we have been enjoying grown-up, cocktail FaceTime with friends.

On Friday my book group met via Zoom to discuss The Lake is on Fire by Rosellen Brown. Fifteen of us logged on to talk, check in with each other, share a few war stories about life in a time of social distancing, and then realized we really could not talk all at once. (This happens even when we meet in person!)

These women are challenging readers (as well as some of my oldest friends) and we did dive into the book. We got side-tracked by the history of Jews being re-settled on midwestern farms. And then there was the matter of Chicago’s colorful history on the near South and West sides. This was a challenging read, and it shared a wonderful slice of Chicago history.

Many of us thought it well worth reading. We agreed we’ll do this this next month when we read An American Marriage by Tayari Jones, and perhaps even in June when we meet to determine our reading list for next year. Thank goodness for books, and my never-ending list of what I want to read next and then after that.

Keeping busy

I learned long ago that tackling a new recipe in the kitchen is — for me —  a great stress-reliever. When I’m concentrating on measuring ingredients and following directions, I am able to put other cares in a better perspective. Like so many of you, I am cooking a lot. Our dinner repertoire now includes Frying Pan Spaghetti, my name for our version of a New York Times recipe that combines dry spaghetti, halved cherry tomatoes, a generous pour of olive oil and a quart of boiling water in a large, shallow pan for a five-minute simmer. Add a little green with a handful or two of fresh spinach or kale, short pieces of asparagus or green beans or even peas. Spice it up with fresh parmesan, parsley, and/or basil. It’s  a great “hip pocket recipe,” one that adapts to what’s in your pantry and fridge.

And speaking of your pantry and fridge, how are you keeping them stocked? My husband and I are learning the ropes of “click list shopping” online and then picking up our order in the parking lot. It is easy and feels much safer than braving the store, but it definitely requires much more organized list-making than Steve and I are used to doing. We’re making it work, but between our accidental omissions from the list and the grocer’s need to sometimes substitute, we’ve come to realize flexibility is key.

I’m embarrassed to say, this is my very messy cabinet of sewing curiosities.

Long before I fell in love with cooking, I found sewing and other needlework to be equally engaging. When I started shopping vintage and antique markets, I was quickly drawn to the vintage tablecloths and fabrics available. (And by this I mean I seem to have an inner sensor that detects barkcloth draperies, 40’s tablecloths, antique French grainsacks and linen towels before I even see them!) This explains the bundles of vintage and new fabrics I have stuffed in a cabinet downstairs. So, I opened the cabinet doors where I keep this stash, and I’ve been measuring, cutting, sewing and letting the creative juices flow. I have no finished projects (except for a few homemade face masks), but I’m having a terrific time. And I will share what I  eventually have to show for this effort!

Like so many of our friends, my husband and I try to get in a walk outside most days. And as the weather has improved here we have found ways to putter in the yard and garage, cleaning up the inevitable “winter residue” and settling on some space for vegetables in our yard since we aren’t sure when or if Steve’s garden plot at the park district will be available. This life is full of unknowns, isn’t it?

Too much news is just too much

I can be a real news junky, but I have sworn off much of what I used to watch. I still flip on the Today show first thing in the morning. It’s my check in with the world, to make sure we’re all still here. And I  try to catch local news to get what’s happening in Chicago. But I don’t let it run on all day.

I have mixed feelings many of these days. I miss simple pleasures like coffee with a friend or guests for dinner. I miss my adult children, self-isolating in their own homes. Although I’m keeping busy, like everyone else I also wonder:  How long will our isolation last? When will we be able to have friends over for Sunday night supper or take a trip? And then there are the big questions. Will we all stay safe and healthy? How different will life be in the post-pandemic?

As so many if us have said lately, “This too shall pass.” And, I would like to add, “We live in interesting times.” What about you? How are you spending your days in these social-distancing times? I’d love to hear from you!

Thanks for stopping by. See you next time?

 

Fall started with a manicure

My husband gave me this bowl years ago, and I really do love it! It’s perfect for big, mixed arrangements.

I stopped for a manicure the other day, then realized, as I was heading back to my car, that Trader Joe’s (which shares the parking lot) had an interesting variety of pumpkins piled outside. Of course, I checked out the display and they were even more appealing up close, not to mention well-priced!

And that was the nudge that pushed me into fall.

In truth, I had already picked up a few cute pumpkins and updated planters with mums, the latter because the previous blooms had totally withered in the last of summer’s heat. Now, however, I was into the new season. I cut two big buckets of drying hydrangea blooms and arranged them into several plump bouquets.

More than that, however, I began my quest for my own pumpkin patch in the front yard. It’s a challenge to see how many different kinds of pumpkins I can find — green, pink, white, orange — and I also have to protect them from from nibbling by squirrels, rabbits, and whoever else stops by for a bite of pumpkin. And don’t get me started on how easily specimens with soft spots or tiny breaks in their skin can readily rot into messy, mushy piles. (If it sounds like I have had experience with this, you are right.)

Here’s the font yard patch: three different oranges and a pink (!!!) pumpkin.

This is my patch from a few years ago.

This year I armed myself for serious pumpkin protection (or maybe I just need a hobby?). I washed them with soapy water seasoned with a splash of bleach. After they were dry, I spread them on a drop cloth and sprayed them with a clear coat sealer. I have no idea if these precautions will work, but they come from other bloggers who seem to know what they’re talking about. (Which really means they take their seasonal decorating much more seriously than I do.)

Pumpkins getting the “preservative treatment.”

I’ve also done my best to spread some autumnal cheer inside. I have an admirable collection of dried gourds, collected over several years, that I rely on for inside scene-setting at this time of year, but they are currently trapped under the basement stairs behind bookcases and toolboxes re-located for the duration of our drainage repairs (which should be wrapping up in another week or two. Hooray!!). So instead, I’m using more pumpkins, fruit, fresh and faux leaves to set the scene inside.

I piled my ceramic pumpkins from Berea, Kentucky, along with some some baby boos and a few real ones here on the antique dresser in the living room.

 

Then I thought about how good orange looks with blue and white, so I tried this in the dining room.

 

Finally I paired one of my buckets of hydrangeas with these pumpkins on the back porch!

Most importantly this has fed my puttering/tweaking gene, which spills over into a bit of fall cleaning, polishing and generally dusting-up. (My grandma would be pleased.) My house needed the attention and I needed the “therapy.”

I’m so glad I stopped for that manicure!

Thanks for stopping by. See you next time?

The truth about my summer

This is the “finished” side of our basement. If you look at the floor in the corner of the closet on the left, you can see how the perimeter of cement has been re-done for new drainage. Those boxes  holding tools are up-ended cabinets that were under the wall-mounted wine racks. Wallboard was removed to make way for water proofing.

As I write this my husband is banging around in the basement, re-constructing our finished space there which was de-constructed to make way for a french drain (a fancy name for a trench around the entire inside perimeter of the house which is excavated with jack hammers and then lined with gravel, drain pipe and fresh cement) to replace the failed drainage tiles around the exterior of our foundation.

Are you following this? Because I can hardly follow it and I’ve lived it this summer.

But this very expensive hole in the basement has pretty much been the story of our summer. Really. Bigger than two weeks at the beach (where we escaped once we had implemented our remediation plan), more time-consuming than the yard and garden, and more worrisome than the stock market.

It started with not one, not two, but three heavy rains and subsequently a repeatedly wet basement in May and June. Not ankle-deep flooding, just puddles in the utility room. And then squishy carpet in the finished portion. And it kept happening. Where is this coming from? The hunt was on. Pull back carpet, have the restoration company out and set up their industrial fans. (They can dry anything. Really.) Move things off the floor, out of the way, into the garage. Move more stuff. Call water-proofing companies. Wait for their estimates (It was a very wet season all over Chicago and the suburbs and these guys were really busy!), wait for a building permit (the city gets involved here) and then wait for the new cement to dry.

Now it’s September. I think we’re on the down-side of this, looking at putting things back together in the next month or so. I hope. My husband has been storing nine cases of wine in the dining room. (Not a bad thing. It makes the good stuff more accessible.) I can’t even remember all that I carried out to my “holding pen” in the garage. And I have no idea where my so-called “fall decor” is.

There is an upside. We have done a remarkable job of culling the stuff stashed in our basement. And while I was driving loads to Goodwill, I also cleared a lot from the closets and happily delivered several boxes of miscellaneous school memorabilia to my son in Ohio. I would hardly compare this clean-up to Marie Kondo, but it feels good.

Choosing your words

And since I didn’t want to close on a whine-y note about my basement, I thought I would share some well-chosen words. As many of you know, Instagram is my social media weakness. I think of it as a daily shelter magazine of pretty rooms and gardens (because those are pretty much the only feeds I follow). But some how in the last week or so I have come across the most wonderful words there, witty and wise.

First, this made me laugh out loud, and is so much like me. (And why do women of a certain age seem to tip so easily?)

This, I think, is excellent advice.

Finally, from Aibileen Clark, one of so many unforgettable characters in The Help. I wish I’d had these words to repeat to my kids every day as they went off to school.

Thank you so much for stopping by. I look forward to seeing you soon!