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
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. 

Finding inspiration

I have always loved magazines. My first subscription was to Seventeen. Then I moved on to Glamour and Mademoiselle. It was around this time that my dad was an editor for Conde Nast. We always had magazines around; now we had more. In my early years writing ad copy, I was mentored by a former editor at House and Garden. In my last professional position I edited two trade magazines. Do you see a pattern here?

I have also always loved decor, arranging and rearranging my teenage bedroom, putting my personal stamp on my first basement apartment furnished with the land lady’s cast-offs, hauling home estate sale bargains to refinish for our first house. This is just who I am. So this weekend when I was sorting miscellaneous papers and discovered what is left of my old decorating files — essentially pages I had torn from magazines featuring furniture arrangements, color schemes, collectibles, centerpieces, window treatments, holiday decorations, you name it — all the ideas we now save on Pinterest and Instagram, I felt like I’d unearthed hidden treasure. After I took some time studying these pages, I realized they were not historic (although some are more than 20 years old!) but rather the backbone of my personal design “aesthetic.”

I sat down and took the time to savor them, page by page, the way I sit down to dig into a new magazine. I went thru them once, just to see what I had, then again more slowly. I remembered these photos and have even seen some of them on Instagram. But rather than feeling stuck in the past, I realized that good design (however we define it for ourselves) is always in style. Had I chosen that well? Or do I just know what I like? Maybe some of both.

Style seems to morph with the times. The reds, blues, greens and golds I started out with have now mellowed into white and pale grays. The plates and photos that once crowded occasional tables are cleared out, along with some of the tables. I’ve been through a wallpaper phase and then stenciling. I loved them both until they seemed dated. I’ve been editing a lot, or at least a lot for me. As I said in one of my earlier moving posts, I’m looking for leaner and cleaner these days, keeping the best and getting rid of the rest. Which takes me back to these pages…

I realized how many of these ideas I had actually implemented in my own home. Here’s an image of Dan Carithers’ own kitchen, decorated decades ago and still looking timeless when it appeared in Country Home or Traditional Home (not sure which) several years ago:

The late Dan Carithers was a master at timeless design. His rooms were layered and detailed
but never standoff-ish.

And here’s a parade of white ironstone pitchers on top of a cabinet in our new house:

As soon as I saw this niche in our new home, I knew my old green cabinet and white ironstone pitchers were meant for the space.

Here’s a good example of inspiration that somehow stayed with me, however subconsciously. I tore this image from Country Living in 2009.

A few years ago, looking for something simple on my farm table, I gathered up my own collection of brass candlesticks. Then I re-did it with glass candlesticks. You may have noticed I did the same thing on one of the library shelves in the Reset.

When I wrote about our new “library” here, I said I had been saving bookshelf images for a long time. In fact, that idea pre-dates my Instagram.

Where am I going with this? First, good design, design that really speaks to you, is always going to be good. Decorating on a whim is fun, but like those old bell bottoms in the back of your closet, it just doesn’t last. Recognize its limits. The best rooms are edited. Early on when I was dragging home the estate sale finds, they were fun but intentionally temporary. The old tea cart I bought at an estate sale and painted tangerine to be a fun table in our tiny kitchen was a temporary fix. I sold it when we moved to the next house.

And it doesn’t mean I’m not going to try a few trendy things now, like faux greens in a glass vase between the sinks in our master bath or a trio of orchids in a large bowl (staged with plenty of moss) on the kitchen island. That kind of styling is way too much fun!

But back to my file of old magazine pages. They were really my home-grown, do-it-yourself design class. I learned a lot from those pictures: balance, symmetry versus asymmetry (they both have a place in design), scale, the difference between country and primitive and traditional (and all their variations), and the importance of detail.

To think it all began with Seventeen magazine.

Thank you so much 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!

Reading lately: It’s (almost) all a mystery

It’s been awhile since I have shared recent reads, and in gathering the titles for this post it’s clear that mysteries are my current genre of choice. And why, you ask? Mysteries are my go-to when I have a lot on my mind (like moving to a new state). In a series they can be a bit addictive, individually they capture my imagination but don’t require a big mental investment from me. 

Some, like the Stephanie Plum series below or Sue Grafton’s alphabet series (A is for Alibi) or Louise Penny’s Inspector Gamache series are addictive. They’re fun to read, and there’s always another title to tackle. They’re like binge-watching a favorite Netflix series.

As you know, I am a huge fan of Louise Penny and her Inspector Ganache series of mysteries, so I was intrigued when she left Three Pines long enough to team up with Hilary Rodham Clinton to write State of Terror, a page turner about a newly appointed female Secretary of State defusing an international crisis. This could have been a cliche, but not in their capable hands. I’m sure co-author Clinton is one of the few people who could provide the insight into international negotiations on which this plot hinged, as well as the behind-the-scenes life of a cabinet member. Penny is the ideal co-author to deftly maneuver the plot twists and turns the book into a true who-done-it. But one of the real joys in this story is how the Secretary of State and her best friend and confidante manage the crisis. It’s two women “making the world a safer place.” This is not great literature, but it is a really good read. 

My daughter-in-law gave me The Neighbor’s Secret by L. Alison Heller. Much like Liane Moriarty, Heller has a breezy style writing about the residents of an upper class suburb and the female book club members in this novel that act as the unofficial communications/moral code police/leadership system for the community. Sound familiar? In addition to the book club, their paths intersect at school functions and social events. Their kids are friends or not. Rivalries come and go. The story begins with a handful of acts of vandalism. Who would do such a thing in this lovely community and why?  And the mystery proceeds. This may not be as gripping as Louise Penny, but it has its moments. And you may find yourself reading more just to see what happens to the book club member that reminds you so much of your next-door-neighbor. Read this on the beach this summer, then pass it on to a member of your book club. 

And while we’re on the subject of beach reads, I started reading Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum series (One for the Money, Two for the Dough, etc.) on the beach in South Carolina well over a dozen years ago. Plum is a hapless Trenton, New Jersey, bounty hunter who readily admits she captures her fugitives more by luck than skill. Her sidekicks include Lula, a former ‘ho, who consumes fried chicken and various donuts to calm herself, and Stephanie’s Grandma Mazur, who never misses a viewing at Stiva’s Funeral Home. Her back-ups include Ranger, a former military type with a profitable and mysterious protection business, and Morelli, a hunky Trenton cop and her on-again, off-again boyfriend. There are a host of other regular characters too, which makes this series at once fun and a little formulaic. I read several of these mysteries (and always laughed out loud at least twice in every one) before deciding that the stories were so similar I could not remember what I’d read. And I moved on.

But then we started this moving project and I needed a light, late night reading escape when I couldn’t sleep. I discovered the series had added several new titles. Stephanie Plum had moved all the way to Game On: Tempting Twenty-Eight. So, for several weeks I was back in Trenton, catching up on Plum’s recent adventures, at least until they got a little too formulaic. 

No mystery, just a fun read

Stanley Tucci’s latest book, Taste: My Life Through Food, is essentially a biography of his family’s  love affair with cooking, the recipes handed down from his Italian grandparents to his parents to Tucci and his sisters. His focus moves from his mother’s cooking to other memorable meals — from comfort food to celebratory food. Much of it is Italian, but it’s also French, Asian, British and more. (Tucci is both well-traveled and an adventurous eater.) Some of these cooks have Michelin Stars, some are preparing their mother’s treasured recipes in their own kitchen. If you watched “Stanley Tucci: Searching for Italy” on CNN, you got a taste (no pun intended) of his appreciation of food and culture. This was a fun read — Tucci writes like he talks in the CNN series. He drops just enough Hollywood and Broadway names to keep the reader waiting for more, and he includes a number of recipes, his own and others from the chefs in the book.

What’s next? 

Here are a few on my short list:

  • London, the Novel by Edward Rutherford. You may recall I had a very slow start to his Paris book but then loved it, so I’m looking forward to London;
  • The Sentence by Louise Erdrich. Erdrich is a favorite author and this book is also featured in a recent issue of “Shelf Awareness” by Page 1 Books;
  • Silver Sparrow by Tayari Jones, recommended by Modern Mrs. Darcy, among others. My book club loved his American Marriage; and
  • A Flicker in the Dark by Stacy Willingham, a Book of the Month pick from my daughter-in-law.

What are you reading and/or recommending now? I’d love to hear!

Thanks for stopping by!

The reset part 3: Moving out, moving on 

Are you getting tired of our reset yet? Considering we sold one house, packed it up, and bought another house so quickly, it’s taking a long time to tell the story. But one look at this photo of one of the two pods we needed to hold all our “worldly goods” and you know there’s a tale worth telling. 

This is a terrible photo but it shows how tightly the pods were packed. I’m not sure why we brought the vintage Tonka truck, but it explains the space crunch. Moving is always about the “keep it or ditch it” decision.

When we moved in the past there was a fairly straightforward process — load a truck at house A, drive it to house B, and unload. This move was complicated since we knew we’d have an interim stay at our son’s rental. The plan was to pack and store most of our stuff and move just the basics into the rental. 

It seemed so simple. 

The familiar cross-country moving companies were happy to accommodate this plan, and their cost for the move was what we expected. But storage would cost about $1,000 a month! At the time we didn’t know if storage would last two months or ten. Our realtors urged us to consider pods. They had used pods as had some clients. After more research, we decided to go ahead with this. The plan was to have one pod delivered at a time (that was all we could fit in our driveway), followed by a crew to load. The first pod would get picked up and we’d repeat the process. 

Putting the plan into action

The first of two pods being delivered. We had sold the furniture from two bedrooms and moved dozens of boxes into storage. We thought we’d only need part of the second pod.

By the time we actually moved, we had settled on a new build in the Columbus area that would be ready later this spring. We’d be in the rental for more than a month but hopefully less than two. We also had purged, packed and purged some more to stage the house. You may remember from part 2 that our son made two trips to take boxes and a few pieces of furniture to Columbus to use at the rental. 

We still had a few hiccups:

  • At my daughter’s urging, we created a spread sheet of all the boxes — their contents and the room the contents came from. Each box was numbered. (She’s an excellent planner.) However, as my family loaded the boxes onto the trailers that my son drove to Columbus they did not note the numbers of the boxes. It will be a surprise when we open them! 
  • The crews that loaded the pods were so efficient, they loaded some boxes we wanted to take ourselves. This is how I lost my can opener, and whatever else was packed with it. They also loaded two cartons of furniture pads which — luckily —we were able to retrieve. 
  • My husband’s heavy tools and my oversized patio pots took a lot of pod space. My basket collection and other oversized accessories took more room to pack than I had planned on. Full disclosure: we seriously underestimated just how much of this there was.

The crew that loaded the pods wrapped and taped the wrapping on every piece of furniture, even finding ways to wrap and pack those inevitable pieces you don’t know what to do with. They were working “by the hour” but they hustled the whole time. Although, as these pictures will attest, the back end of the pods looked stuffed, they were careful to pack boxes and furniture tightly so nothing could shift or move. 

The moment of truth

As the packing crew shoehorned the last items on the second pod — and I do mean they shoehorned some things into place — and locked it, we turned around to discover that our porch furniture, my husband’s bike, and a brand new snow blower were still in the garage. My  heart sank to my knees. We had already packed our cars with clothes, leftover groceries, and kitchen essentials. 

My husband had seen this coming and called a local self-storage location and rented a small locker. We stayed with friends that night and the next morning Steve rented a small truck and, with our friend’s help, moved the garage leftovers into that locker. It was a bummer to realize we’d have to deal with those things, but at least were we done.

So, now we had a storage locker in Wheaton, one in Columbus, and two pods in limbo. (Should I worry that all our worldly goods are spread out like this?) But the house was almost clean. It’s amazing. You purge and pack and there’s still a bottle of Tylenol in the bathroom, miscellaneous groceries in the kitchen, a towel in the bathroom (I threw it away!) etc. My advice will forever and always be to pack early and purge more. 

Are you getting tired? Because by now I was exhausted. I hired a cleaning team to come thru the house, and they did a great job (except for the part where they blocked the driveway for the last pod to be picked up!). They even gathered the miscellaneous bar of soap, roll of tape and pens left behind in drawers. Too bad they did not get the KitchenAid mixer left in a kitchen cabinet! 

We were done and done in. We swept out the garage, hauled the garbage to the street and left. And honestly? I did not feel a bit sentimental leaving the house. We had lived with boxes instead of our books, packing instead of our pictures, etc., for so long this house no longer seemed like ours anyway. 

But, of course, the story doesn’t end with driving away. I still have not found my can opener and we never even realized the mixer was gone until three days later when our realtor texted to say the new owners had found it on their walk thru. Steve and I looked at each other and said, “Wow, I wondered where it was…” 

Thank you for taking the time to follow our story. I promise to change the topic to something more interesting the next time. See you then!

The reset, part 2

As I was writing this post about part 2 of our reset, Russia invaded Ukraine. My heart aches for the tens of thousands of Ukrainians who have fled their homes and their country. At the same time I am in awe of their bravery, resilience, and even defiance. So often, it seems, we see the best of people in the worst of times. 

Selling was easy. Finding another house was the “challenge. “ 

Most people find a new home first and then sell their current home. We flipped that process. It wasn’t intentional, but that’s the way it worked out. Frankly, we took advantage of a fast-moving market in Chicagoland where we were selling. The market in Columbus was equally competitive, but here we have the advantage of accessible short-term housing in our son’s rental property, which was coincidentally available. We’re lucky, because finding a home was an exercise in flexibility.

Our initial home search in Columbus had turned up options, but nothing we wanted to move into.  As it turned out, the day our old house went on the market, we retuned to Columbus for more searching. The next two days were a split screen adventure. The whole time we were out looking (but not finding) with the realtor, our phones were pinging to alert us to appointments to view our existing home. (Stressful even as our Chicagoland realtors handled the responses.)

Just to make life more interesting, the temperature was hovering in the teens and the heat stopped working in my husband’s car. (Are we having fun yet?) Within 48 hours we were on a conference call with the Chicago area realtors, debating a handful of offers. 

Buying is all about compromise.

The market in Columbus is as tight as that in Chicago, but our realtor did an excellent job of reading the marketplace tea leaves as well as Steve and me. We gravitated to “patio homes” — free-standing ranch homes with exterior maintenance included. Depending on the builder and the development, these communities may also include a community center, work-out facility, pool, pickle ball court, etc. Some are as small as 40 for 50 houses, others have as many as a few hundred. Some are limited to buyers over 55, some are not. 

The houses we looked at were all nice, offering first floor master suites, guest rooms with private baths, a den or office, and often a roomy upstairs loft for a second living space. We saw several I could have happily moved into — except for their locations: surrounded by apartment complexes, backed up to busy highways or under high tension wires. I kept repeating the real estate mantra to myself: location, location, location.

This kitchen was very close to what we had in our former house, and featured a working pantry to keep the “mess” out of view. The price point was too high, but it will always be the pantry that got away.

Our other option was a three bedroom/two bath ranch. It was non-existent on the market, though we did eventually see one under construction. We only looked at three previously owned houses, all of them patio homes. There just wasn’t anything on the market. Is this January or the marketplace in general?

Obviously we were looking for a new build.

Eventually we boiled our choices down to two builders with appealing locations and spent time with each of them, working thru options from lot choice and siding to trim packages. Steve and I are like-minded about much of this, so the process was not necessarily painful and we knew it was all tentative. But then we hit a wall. 

And every house had a large television hung on the wall(s). Am I being too fussy? It’s all I can see in the room.

And the wall had a huge calendar on it.

Building from the ground up takes close to a year, from final plans to permitting to construction. Today’s supply chain and labor shortages complicate these schedules, and builders only release two or three lots each month. After all the looking and learning, we both came to the same conclusion at about the same time: we just didn’t want to spend a year building a house. We are both a little (maybe even a lot) impatient. After nearly two years of pandemic living we needed to keep the reset moving forward.

Were we making progress or spinning our wheels?

Things begin falling into place.

After a few days of decision paralysis, we took a deep breath and headed back to Columbus and our tireless realtor, this time looking for something already under construction, but perhaps not our ideal floorplan. We found a house by one of the builders we liked. It was in an over 55 community (not a pre-requisite, but not a deal breaker either). There were no high-tension wires, busy highways, or looming apartment complexes outside the front or back doors. In fact the setting was fairly bucolic with a stocked pond and walking trails.

After looking at the second house — and we really scrutinized it — Steve and I and the realtor got back in the car and headed to the next house we’d planned to view. We were each quietly weighing the merits of this last house when one of us (I can’t remember who) posed the question: was there a reason not to choose the patio home in the over-55 community? It checked all our boxes for living space and bedrooms, the kitchen design was very close to what we had and loved, we liked the location, and it would be finished in late April, a reasonable wait in our son’s rental since we needed to be out of our current home the first week in March. 

It takes a certain amount of imagination to choose a house based on this network of studs. Where does the sofa go?

For the sake of comparison, we finished that day’s “tour” looking at two more houses. The first was nestled close to the dreaded high-tension wires (really, they were everywhere!!). The last was a three bedroom/three bath ranch under construction in a more traditional development. It was a great house, but frankly just more house and more lot than we need. Five or ten years ago, I would have jumped at it, now not so much. And maybe our minds were made up. 

So now we are living in Columbus and waiting for the house with the alternate floorplan to be finished. We just stopped by and the painters are finishing up the window trim; we think floors are next. We’ve never owned a “new build” before, so this is fun for us.

Our quest for a reset was never about building a dream home, and I think that was to our advantage. When we switched floorpans, we gave up a butler’s pantry but got a sunroom and a patio. We traded locations from one 20 minutes north of our kids to one 20 minutes east. Neither one was a bad trade off.  And the over-55 thing? Five or six years ago I would have pooh-poohed the idea. Now I think that since everyone is new (many of them also new to Columbus as we are and on the same “get-close-to-the-grandchildren” mission), we’ll make friends quickly. And when we get tired of hanging out with the over-55 crowd, our kids and our grandkids are just down the road. 

There’s more to come in this moving story, including two packed moving pods, a storage space for leftovers, the Kitchen Aid mixer we left behind, and a missing can opener. But without a few missteps, moving would be almost simple, right?

Thanks for stopping by. See you again soon

The re-set

Yes, that’s a For Sale sign in front of our house. Read on for part one of our “downsizing” to “right-sizing” journey.

The term “downsizing” has been part of our household vocabulary for some time. My husband wanted to. Me? Not so much. My reluctance had nothing to do with a sentimental attachment to our house. My objection was that we didn’t know where or to what we would downsize. 

It turns out I am perfectly capable of changing my mind.  I am surprised to admit I am willing to forego a large yard and space we are really beginning to rattle around in for the allure of something smaller, probably newer and with the exterior maintenance cared for by someone else. 

But here is the rub. Most people have a plan: moving to Florida, or Arizona, the mountains in North Carolina, etc. We have never had a plan, and, frankly, none of those usual destinations were appealing to us. We thought about the Charleston area in South Carolina. It’s been our favorite vacation destination for years. And we did look around there, but it’s pricey close to the beach and it’s farther from our kids than we are now. Of course we thought about staying in the Chicago area, but oddly enough there was not much to look at. 

One thing about even starting to look was that it got us talking — a lot! We realized that we really wanted to be close to our grandsons in Columbus, Ohio, before they outgrow us. And I would be foolish indeed not to admit that this decision has been driven at least in part by the pandemic isolation of the last few years. 

We need a change; call it a re-set. 

Leaving a home we’ve enjoyed for 35 years and a community we’ve called home for 40 years is   bittersweet. It’s also energizing to think about a new house & new community. We will probably be in an area with walking and biking trails, perhaps a golf course. Columbus is one of the fastest-growing cities in the country and home to my husband’s alma mater. We will not lack for things to do. 

Once we decided we had a direction to move in, we just kept going. We did some preliminary looking in Columbus to see what our options would really be and called in realtors to give us direction on selling our house — when, how much, what preparations the house needed before sale. We were lucky; last year’s buyers’ market had never really slowed. If anything, there was less real estate inventory available. After totally renovating our kitchen a few years back, we had repainted the rest of the interior in the light gray and white palette so popular today. Our biggest task was decluttering and removing furniture to make way for some strategic staging the realtors planned. Every shelf, drawer, and closet was an exercise in decision-making: keep, sell, donate, or dump?

The packing process is so glamorous!

In the meantime, we went back to Columbus to meet with a realtor and look at houses. The realtor was terrific — a saint I’d say to work with us — but looking was hard. It was cold, it was wet, the days were short. (We used the flashlight apps on our phones to tour a few homes under construction.) The sellers market here and in Ohio made for a poor buyers market in Ohio. There just wasn’t anything to look at. We had to really think about what would make us comfortable and what we could trade off if necessary.

Back home, we just kept packing. All those dishes, my party closet with the traveling wine glasses, and all the books I had determined I was not going to give up. Meanwhile my husband began to mine the tools in the garage and basement. We could have opened a hardware store but managed to sell a few and give others away. The same for more of the dishes, some of our “wedding crystal” and even my grandmother’s china cabinet. Not to worry, we saved more than we gave up and the young woman who bought the china cabinet was clearly thrilled. I’m glad it went to a good home. 

166 boxes later…

Our garage/storage center. By the time I took this photo, a few dozen boxes had already been moved to Ohio.

Our daughter, who lives in Chicago, and our son and daughter-in-law in Columbus have been hugely supportive. Our son moved about half the boxes and some miscellaneous furniture to a storage locker in Ohio. Our daughter rented another locker in the city and took some things she wanted but had no room for right now. My husband made run after run to recycle electronics, hazardous waste (mostly in half-empty bottles and cans from the garage — ewww!) and then there were the Goodwill giveaways. Whew!

With stacks of boxes and extraneous furniture piled up in the garage, the house went on the market and sold as quickly as the realtors here predicted — while we were house hunting again in Columbus.

With step 1 — Selling — off our list, we really had to focus on step 2 — Buying or Building? Stay tuned for the next chapter, when decision paralysis temporarily fogs our path forward and the calendar gives us a firm nudge.  

Thanks for stopping by. See you again soon.