Friday, December 30, 2011

2011 in Review

Today, I get to look back at the incredible driven-ness of the past year, and remember every challenge we met and pulled through, and puff my chest for the last time. And then, I get to tear the page off and look forward again. Refreshed. Balanced.

2011 was not a year of balance. It was a year of springing out of bed at a quarter to seven on summer Saturdays and hauling implements of destruction around the yard, of creaking out of bed on autumn Sundays with an internal refrain of must... finish... house.... must... get ready... for Christmas... It was also a year of so many blog posts here trumpeting our accomplishments with a frankly obnoxious We! Are! This! Awesome! tone. We are this awesome. I've proved it now, and can rest.

The laurels have been laid, and it is time to relax. This winter, I plan on savoring the home we've worked so hard to make here. I plan to spend quality time with the fireplace, and make lots of soup in the kitchen. I'm eagerly awaiting the green leafy BOO YAH of seeing the asparagus and the raspberries and the fruit trees unfurl and begin to thrive. If I feel like it, maybe I'll paint some cabinets or sew a quilt for snuggling by the fire. I'll make some progress on my flower wall.

2011 was a blank slate, a void to be filled, a house full of blank walls. We have hung things and made things and done things and given the house our life to hold. The scramble is over. Home has been established. Home is here. 

Here's to the peace and satisfaction and balance of home. I hope you all have a wonderful New Year's!

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Wednesday, December 28, 2011

It was Christmas


I had pretty amazing Christmases, growing up. We lived three hours north of our entire extended family, in the snowy wilds of rural upstate. On Christmas eve, cars would pull into the driveway. Dad would go pick grandma up at the bus stop. The house would fill with relatives I didn't see often enough, and presents, and enticing cooking smells. I became a sugared-up whirling dervish, spoiled and scooped up by aunts and grandparents. The huge back room of our house turned sweltering from the roaring fire my dad laid in the hearth; I ran around the dining table half-naked. My mother was a frazzled blur of efficiency and wonderful food, always with a turkey baster in one hand. She didn't just host Christmas, she ran a three-day, three-night bed-and-breakfast, complete with presents, Santa, and--oh right!-- my birthday thrown in for good measure.

It was always perfect. The food, the abundance, the presents, the house full of family appreciating a reprieve from city life. The bar was seriously high as I started thinking about hosting my first Christmas this year.

This time, the family would be coming to me. We're a little smaller now, even, than we were then. I invited my friend Alexis and her fiance to balance out the age dynamic, and because I love them, and because they are family. I planned Christmas eve dinner and Christmas morning brunch, and got the house together. I made beds and collected blankets.

Something about spending the night. It was an essential element. Sharing a meal is happy and fun and enjoyable, but somehow, sharing shelter is even more meaningful. It's kinship. It's feeling like-- being able to pretend-- that you're all part of the same village, the same tribe, even just for one night. The same people. Does that make sense? I don't know. That's how it felt, after we tottered home from caroling and meeting Santa at the park-- a Gilbertsville tradition-- and had wine and dessert and more wine, and basked by the fire. 

Everyone thanked me, in the end, for good food and warm beds. But I'm really the lucky one. Here's my family, delighted, eager and willing to make a tradition out of Christmas in Gilbertsville. The biggest, most meaningful gift of all.

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Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Yup, we're ready

I hope you are, too.

Happy holidays! 

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Monday, December 19, 2011

Behind the scenes

We came home from running errands yesterday morning to find Patrick's dad working on our house.

You know how some people wish for elves to take care of difficult or unpleasant jobs in their lives? Well, we don't need elves, because we have Patrick's dad. Have I mentioned that he's a saint?

First he spent a couple months installing new banisters and railing in our stairwell. Now we come home and he's installed our antique reclaimed mantle in the Great Room.

It had been sitting in our garage all summer, poor thing. It seems unreal that we purchased it back in April, when it seemed logical to expect we'd be able to install it in a month or so. Ha.

Not sure if you remember, but this has been our plan all along for this room. We had a terrific brick fireplace in our Binghamton house (with a gas insert-- so easy!) and became quite fond of spending howling cold January evenings sitting before it with a bit 'o wine. This house was fireplace-free, but it did have a fine empty expanse of wall in the Great Room that seemed ready to accept one...

About midsummer, I measured and taped off a ghostly outline of where I hoped the fireplace would someday live... flanked by custom bookshelves on order from my dad. (My dad is also a saint.)

After we came home Sunday, Patrick and his dad strode about purposefully, wielding industrial adhesive and mega-clamps, while I dithered about in the background, periodically wringing my hands (watch the floor!) and dancing celebratory jigs. 

Patrick went off to rehearsal in the evening, and I sat on the couch and smiled gleefully. It just looks so freaking cool. I gave our baby a bath (she was mighty sooty) and then I lit the insert (no faux-logs yet, but they're coming soon).


Of course there are still a dozen little trimming-out and finishing-up steps before it's truly done... and, of course, a wide mantle shelf to sit on top, which we didn't want to set in place until after the glue was dry on the uprights. But the big tricky stuff is out of the way, and when my family comes on Saturday they can sit on the couch in front of the fire, and that is amazing. 

Here's a view of the new light fixture we have overhead, which I mentioned on Friday. 

Really coming along. 

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Friday, December 16, 2011

Spruced up

I can't believe I'm about to say this, but: I'm finally beginning to feel satisfied and contented in this house. Things are shaping up. In the past two months, we've gotten a dishwasher, installed new light fixtures, received new railings in our stairwell, bought a big shelf for my office, and painted and spruced up the downstairs bathroom. We have a nice ceiling fan in our bedroom instead of an ugly gold boob light. The net result of all this is I no longer walk into a room and cringe inwardly. All summer, it was, Oh, this'll be nice after... or, just wait until I hang/install/buy this...thing... I'll no longer be cringing.

It's far from done, of course, but so many of the big-ticket cringe items are off the list now. It's a beautiful thing. A liberating, beautiful thing. It's feeling like home.

The new light fixtures were the biggest thing. Every day, I'd walk into our front room and look around, and feel content with things... until I looked up. The whole downstairs came with cheap dated-looking ceiling fans, which I plan to refinish and install in our upstairs (because ceiling fans make more sense in bedrooms, anyway, right?) but to replace them downstairs I wanted something nice. I eventually ended up at Rejuvenation, justifying the order I placed by agreeing it would be my birthday present to myself, from myself, this year.

I have a habit of justifying expensive purchases that way. Anyone else?

The good news is, both fixtures are in, and I love them. Love love love. The one in the great room is bigger than the one shown above, with four lights dangling from a curvy oil-rubbed-bronze canopy. It's almost exactly like the fixtures we had in our Binghamton house, except those were actually from the 20s, and these are reproductions.  

The downstairs bathroom, too, has seen big upgrades.

The paint really helped, (remember before?) and then I went and added curtains, a funky Venetian blind, a new set of towel bars etc, and (luxury of luxuries!) a new toilet seat. Oo la la, right? Hey, it's the little things.

(Pardon the missing switch plate. Apparently some things are still too little to be dealt with in time for photographs.)

This room was so dingy when we moved in, and now there's nice new towels hanging from brushed chrome towel bars, and funky new curtains (I sewed em, natch) and a sleek oil-rubbed-bronze curtain rod... everything is suddenly feeling very put-together. Surprisingly put-together. 

Well now. I think the house just might be ready for Christmas. How do you like that.

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Wednesday, December 14, 2011

O, Christmas Tree

Thursday evening, I sat down with a box of ornaments and a box of tissues.

Last month, I had received, via my mother, a box of my grandpa's old glass Christmas ornaments. Sitting down with that box of his brought him back to me the way nothing else really has.

My grandpa went after life with both hands. He patented a sort of explosive, near-gagging laugh that showed  the fillings glinting in his back molars. He carved the turkey every year: there is a category of photograph of him, carving knife in hand, face red from Chianti and the roaring fire, about to cut into the bird. I'm pretty sure there's one for each year we had Christmas at my parents' house, 1986 to 1997.

The other category of photograph is pictures of him holding me. He reliably wears an expression that most people reserve for the dessert case. I'm going to eat this thing, this beautiful, delectable granddaughter of mine, it says. He loved me fiercely. For my first eleven years, I was his only grandchild.

He had an eye for art, and he knew and understood and practiced beauty in a way most men I've met shy away from. He took me flower picking when I was a girl, carefully selecting and arranging the stems in his hand as we went along, holding each one at arms' length before choosing its place in the bundle. In my mother's childhood, he was a giver of colored pencils and paper tablets, an art director and critic as her talents for sketching and painting emerged.

There is so much of him, I realize, in how mom talks with me about my writing. About how she's always been there, giving me paper for book-making (when I was younger) and attending poetry competitions, and now, reading rough copy and offering comments.

These ornaments shone on the tree throughout my mom's and uncle's childhood. She remembers each individual one, sometimes even where he bought it and where it hung. A Christmas tree is a deeply personal thing, a tree laden with memories and charms for the things we wish for and love and remember best. Sitting there in its glow last week, I felt a little piece of family history had come to stay with me for keeps

.I wasn't alive yet when he purchased these, but I know how it went: holding each one at arms' length standing in the department store aisle, imagining its place on the tree before making his selection. 

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Wednesday, December 7, 2011


This corner was made for a Christmas tree. Seriously, when I walked into this room for the first time, I thought, Christmas tree there. 

We haven't decorated it yet-- Patrick claimed November 30th was too early for husband participation-- and besides which, I need to buy more garland. Tomorrow night the ornaments will come out en masse. 

Something about that first Christmas in a new house. I'm ordinarily pretty into merry-making, but this year has brought seasonal spirit to new heights. I drove over hill and dale to collect the Christmas tree, which I found on Craigslist. I went to JoAnn Fabrics and Michael's and spent hours, hours, looping yards of garland over my arm like a female Clark Griswold. 

I'm going back again tomorrow. I'm worried.

I told my mother-in-law that hosting Christmas gives women a special kind of mental illness. This I said to a woman who hosts a lavish Christmas day dinner in her house where quaint snow villages and caroler figurines occupy every horizontal surface. Strangely, she didn't seem offended.

I think I understand it, now. I'm beginning to long for snow villages and caroler figurines of my own.

If I somehow find the time to squeeze in a craft project before the actual day, I might make toilet tube owls. Or a light bulb hot air balloon. Or a single, perfect, glittered snow house.

Sigh. What holiday preparations are underway at your house?

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Monday, December 5, 2011


Pearle L. Strain
October 6, 1919 - November 30, 2011
The best part was, almost the whole family was there. For someone who devoted her entire life to her kids and grandkids, it was about as perfect as a passing can be. 

About a week before Thanksgiving, she stopped eating. As simple as that, it seemed she was letting us all know, enough. So the family came and gathered. We sat in her living room. We slept by her bed. We helped her to be comfortable. We ate pumpkin pie in her kitchen. As best we could, we helped her transition. We helped each other transition.

Though I've been a part of this family for six years, going through this journey with Patrick's parents and aunts has brought them closer in a way I didn't expect. Experiences like this change people. Empathy deepens. Understandings emerge where they never existed before. For a week we waited and watched. 

I was standing in the room with her two daughters when she slipped, peaceful as fog, from one side to the other. It was honestly beautiful-- a release she'd been wanting for some time, I think. Patrick's parents came just minutes after. Patrick came, too, from work. We all stood around with tears glittering on our faces, shocked in spite of ourselves.

Later in the day, we gathered in her sunroom to open a bottle (perhaps two) and share stories. We talked about Thanksgivings and Christmases, and the year she single-handedly drained a bottle of Bailey's before coming over for dinner. We joked about her tongue, which had loosened considerably in old age. We lovingly retold some acutely embarrassing stories of when that tongue had been unleashed in public places, complete with pitch-perfect imitations. Patrick's dad and his sisters shared stories, some near-legend quality, from their childhood: The Great Chicken Massacre. Shooting Groundhogs from the Attic. 

I'm pretty sure she was right there with us all the while, listening and laughing along.

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Monday, November 28, 2011

Weekend scenes

Patrick and I spent lots of time out enjoying the glorious sunshine. Then we came inside and did our best to ignore the sunshine while we started decorating for the holidays. November, month of paradoxes.

I hope your Thanksgivings were warm and peaceful and delicious.

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Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Gratitude 2011

It's the day before Thanksgiving, and that means gratitude. For the past three years, I've set myself the ambitious goal of "no repeats," but this year, I'm going to cut myself some slack. Here we go.

1. GILBERTSVILLE. Really, how could that not be first?
2. Everything we've accomplished, together, in the past year.
3. Sunchokes
4. Genevieve's eggs
5. Pete tearing around like a maniac, outside.
6. That cozy feeling settling in.
7. A new dryer that dries clothes in one cycle.
8. Having a dishwasher again for the first time since May.
9. Our dads: handy, dogged, generous, kind.
10. Our moms: creative, enthusiastic, generous, kind.
11. Our quaint little post office
12. Our quaint little general store
13. Weekly phone consultations with my best friend and bride-to-be, Alexis
14. Every freelance assignment I've been given this year. So grateful.
15. Maker's Mark bourbon
16. Homemade pickles
17. My neighbor's porch swing.
18. The same neighbor's early Christmas decorations.
19. The same neighbor's excellent cookie-baking skills.
20. Land.
21. A different neighbor's horses, which I can see from my office window
22. Our friends with babies.
23. Our friends without babies
24. Old buttons.
25. Roasted Brussels sprouts
26. Gillian Welch & David Rawlings
27. A Dirty Life, by Kristin Kimball, which has been entertaining and inspiring me lately.
28. Clean sheets.
29. Feeling pretty.
30. Fabric-covered embroidery hoops
31. Plate wall
32. Nesting
33. Glee. (Yes...)
34. Supportive family
35. Local meat
36. Mentors
37. Putting down roots in our new home
38. Meeting new people who live on our street
39. Gorgonzola-stuffed olives
40. Chobani yogurt
41. Spotted Duck honey
42. My growing garden
43. Feeling like I have more storage than I know what to do with
44. Hiking with Patrick
45. Goofing off with my husband
46. Borscht
47. My "chicken boots."
48. Dutch Bucket System
49. Singing along to my husband's guitar
50. Decorating
51. Driving the truck
52. Dunderberg Brook.
53. Sourdough pretzels
54. Campfires
55. Looking back
56. Looking ahead
57. Old spools
58. Anna Maria Horner
59. Resiliency
60. Pumpkin bread
61. Pumpkin beer
62. Trick-or-treaters
63. Closure
64. Hosting
65. Porches
66. Galpals
67. Lilacs
68. Arugula
69. Orioles
70. Old cemeteries
71. Craigslist
72. Antiques shows
73. Lockets
74. Pedal steel
75. Old mirrors
76. Repurposing
77. Working from home
78. Old photographs
79. Getting organized
80. Feather duvets
81. Family heirlooms, old and new
82. Flannel shirts
83. Blog comments
84. Colored pencils
85. Sam Adams Octoberfest
86. Portabello mushrooms
87. Ducklings
88. DIY blogs
89. Pinterest
90. Being a band wife
91. Milkshakes
92. Potential
93. Feeling that the toughest of the work is behind us
94. Rag rugs
95. Live music
96. Making soup on rainy afternoons
97. Creme fraiche
98. Old keys
99. Yellow tulips
100. Plaid

Happy Thanksgiving, friends!

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Monday, November 21, 2011

Presto, chango!

I don't think I'd ever showed you our downstairs bathroom, had I? Well, don't get attached to the view above, because now it looks like this.

Oh, what a difference a coat of paint makes. I did trim, walls, and ceiling. If the color looks familiar, it's because it's the same as our hallway. Behr Baked Brie.  All else being equal, I'd rather have a gallon of actual baked brie than a gallon of baked brie-colored paint. Every time I think of the color, I start to salivate.

As far as plans go, I've been inspired by a couple of Pinterest pics. Namely,

Pinned Image

Pinned Image

..which means I'm thinking of painting the vanity... green, perhaps? Wrong! I'm actually envisioning a vibrant yellow, which will tie the shower curtain (made from a sheet, in case you're wondering) in nicely. Though I did just come home with some very punchy brown-and-white voile to make curtains from, and once those are hung I might decide it's just a little too much punch, and try bleaching the curtain to make it more muted. Who knows. Decorating is such an evolutionary thing.

Oh, and for reference, this is a close-up of the trim before.

YUCK! Kids, don't smoke. This is what happens. Smoking will turn your crisp white window trim to dinge in no time. 

So, here's another thing crossed off my before-Christmas punch list. Paint downstairs bathroom. Check!

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Wednesday, November 16, 2011

How I A-door

There's a long list written on a yellow legal pad in my dining room, and yesterday I got to cross off two things:
  • Paint kitchen ceiling (check!)
  • Hang headboard
It's the to-do-before-Christmas list. This is my first time hosting Christmas, and also our first Christmas living here. It's important to do it up right, and apparently to me doing it up right involves a 71 1/4" door hung on the wall in our bedroom. The door came from our Binghamton house, where it had moldered in the attic for who knows how long. At some point somebody hacked the upstairs of that house into pieces, and there was one door too many. So we've brought it here to live with us, a nice reminder of our old house.

It wasn't an overly difficult project, but it did involve a table saw at the last minute. Fortunately, both dads own table saws. How crazy is that? You know you're in a DIY family when...

All I did was trim a few inches off one end (to center the panel), paint it (three coats), and then follow these crazy ingenious instructions to hang it on the wall, all while holding my breath. 

Our bedroom continues to make progress. Now for a new bedspread and a rug and some rearranged art and to hem the curtains... and a full length mirror... oh, it's still a very long road ahead. One step at a time, one step at a time.

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Monday, November 14, 2011

Last hike

November has been kind, weather-wise. After September's two hurricanes and October's snow, we were overdue for some kind weather. It's been in the fifties and even sixties for two weeks. The rarity and wonder of this fact is not lost on me.

I know this time is fleeting. November is a flighty month.

This year, we've already set out on three hikes we thought would be "our last" of the season, but yesterday we found ourselves striking out on yet another.

With Thanksgiving right around the corner, and more snow predicted this week, I was pretty sure this would be our real last hike. I savored more than usual: wrinkled berries hung like ornaments on winter-ready bushes, great drifts of crispy oak leaves, milkweed pods setting their down adrift in the breeze, the sapphire blue of reflected sky. The bravery of one extremely cold-tolerant frog.

November's colors we often miss entirely in this month of freezing drizzle and knife-edged wind.

Now we have the whole winter ahead to sit and dream and anticipate next year's hikes. A whole season of mornings to sit inside with oatmeal and wool socks and watch, and be thankful I don't have anywhere to go away from my oatmeal and my wool socks. At least on those mornings, twice a week, when I get to stay home. The more I think about it, the more I'm looking forward to it. Can you tell?

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Friday, November 11, 2011

Still lifes

I feel like I'm breathing again for the first time since May. Does that make any kind of sense? Like I've been holding my breath-- too forward driven to pause and look around and think anything deeper than and next...

This has been a common theme lately around this blog, I know. But as I've begun to unwind, and unwind, and unwind, it seems I was a lot more wound-up than I'd realized. 

Just when I think I've relaxed as far as I can go, I go further.

The whole long gorgeous summer is a blur. It feels-- though it fortunately doesn't look-- like we moved in yesterday. I try to be mindful, I try to be present in the moment, but suffice to say this year I flunked that lesson, big time.

Really, I don't think it could've been any other way. It was a lot to take in. A lot to process. A lot to accomplish. 

A big, heady transition. The changing and adjusting has finally slowed to a sensible pace. I can notice things just for the sake of noticing. Genevieve in the early afternoon sunshine. Apples in a McCoy bowl. A basket of goodies waiting to be carried in from the car. 

Part of it is the season. Every year since I started doing home food preservation, I've come to savor winter. My mother-- and most of the greater Northeast-- loathes winter, and understandably so. Windows creak. Ice-dams conspire. Drafts occupy. Cabin fever sets in. Heating oil bills burgeon. There's a lot to resent, but there's a lot to love about taking a break from outside to focus on in. Summer is too many balloons to hold onto, so you let some go: laundry, clean sheets, dust bunnies, homemade bread. You feel guilty, like you should be able to handle it all, but come on: sunshine! flowers! garden! It's too good, and so fleeting, and you leave your messy house and soak it in.

Winter, life starts to feel manageable again. No more garden means time for baking bread. No more raking, no more mowing, no more flower gardening. It feels good. It's easy to ace life, and that's a satisfying feeling.

I'm not saying that visions of carrot seedlings haven't already begun to dance in my head. They have. (Groan.) I'm just saying I'm going to remind myself to savor the simplicity of winter, the stillness, the ease of being mindful and in the moment.

I hope you will, too.

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Wednesday, November 9, 2011


I will confess, I'm just a little bit obsessed with this here shelf. It is everything I need it to be: strong, white, clean but not hit-you-over-the-head-with-minimalism. And that storage. Oh my. Yesterday I finally checked off a dinky little project-- a prettifying project-- that ended up taking way longer than it should've. That happens, sometimes. But it's okay. It was worth it.

I hacked the big IKEA boxes the shelf came in into tidy 13 x 13" squares, covered them with fabric, and made sort of a checkerboard background for my shelf. It isn't perfect, but it makes me smile. 

On the bottom shelf, I turned three office paper boxes into "drawers" (by trimming off a few inches and reshaping each box with ample duct tape) and used the fabric-covered cardboard on the fronts, not the backs. The effect is, I think, pretty darn similar to the inserts IKEA sells for this shelf, but these had the distinct advantage of being free. Here's a better picture of the "drawers."

Pretty good, I think. 

Anyhow. Just wanted to pop in and show that off. Cheers!

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Tuesday, November 8, 2011


Three days of November sunshine.
Azure lakes, grapevine-fringed fields, gold-smudged hills.
A beautiful wedding shared with friends.
Grape pies, farm stands, free donuts.
Antiquing and salvaging.
Hiking, walking, wandering, and lots of eating.

This year has been a little short on Patrick-and-me-alone time, which has the predictable (and slightly wonderful) side effect of making this sort of time so very precious when it comes. We had a wonderful weekend.

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