Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Giddy Delight

I am not sure I can describe the giddy delight of this combination.  Not sure I can express the indulgence of it, so extreme in my world that it is decadent.  In-house frozen summer treats are nothing new around here; popsicles and ice cream sandwiches and vanilla are never in short supply. Cones, too, are often present and sometimes mint chocolate chip, but never sugar cones.

Things evolve this way.  All the boys like vanilla, so it's easy.  All three, too, like cake cones. They are at ages where an ice cream cone a day has no effect on health or heft, not that any of them would stop to consider either.

I do not like cake cones, a scrunchy, airy styrofoam concoction I've never understood.  And while I like vanilla, I'm not tempted by it.  It is temptation itself that I resist.  I don't over-indulge in anything, except perhaps the worry of over-indulging. But last week, alone at the grocery store, I stood in front of a foggy glass door and wondered, "What bad thing will happen? Cavaties? Countless pounds?" I hesitated. "Unlikely." I nonchalantly tossed mint chocolate chip, my favorite flavor, into the cart.  Then, standing before the cone options, I noticed the mixed marriage of cake and sugar.  "Could they be as good as in a shop?" I wondered.  "Or will they be a crumbled mess?" (Not that I am judging crumbled messes at this point.  Every cone has her day.) I put my fears aside and brought them home.

As I popped open the cardboard box and spied true styrofoam, its smartly formed ridges holding each sugar cone whole and safe, I admired the design of their container. I opened it carefully and slid a cone from its home. The sharp edge of the scoop lifted the ice cream in a thick rippled curl and I pressed it inside the cone as gingerly as I would return a baby bird to the nest. Another scoop created a full round mound. I bit the ruffled excess from the edge, a first bite cliche, and pressed the soft, frozen cream to the roof of my mouth, feeling the cold and the sharp bite of the mint travel up my sinus, then the thick snap of the dark chocolate under my teeth.  A week later I wonder if it is the treat itself or the feeling of naughtiness that delivers the thrill.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

The Perfect Place

Mary Randolph Carter and I sort of met on the internet. I'd received a review copy of her book, A Perfectly Kept House is the Sign of a Misspent Life, loved it and wrote about it.  She wrote me back.

We've exchanged a few emails since then.  It was in an email that I asked her to pass along a compliment to Joan Osofsky for whom Carter had written the forward for You Should Love Where You Live.  I told Carter that her short piece of writing at the beginning of this very good book made me think that if circumstances were different that she and I would be friends.

She emailed me back and said, "The circumstances are right and we are friends." So I should not have been surprised when I asked her recently if she wanted to have coffee when I was in New York and she emailed back, "Why don't we have coffee at my apartment?"

Should not have been surprised because no one feels more than I do that there is often an immediate connection between people and sometimes things.  Should not have been surprised when she greeted me with a hug and invited me to sit at her kitchen table and have a bagel with her husband, Howard.  

Should not have been surprised as this is exactly how I would have welcomed her here given the chance.  And just as she did, I would walk her around the house and show her all the crazy things that make sense to nearly no one else that she would surely understand.

I know that she would, as that is what she has done with the homes of some very personal collectors in her new book, Never Stop to Think…Do I Have a Place for This? The best thing about Carter's books is that they tell a rich story of people, and ultimately it is the passion of the collector that gives the collection its life.

You can find links for Never Stop to Think... Do I Have a Place for This? here.

Never Stop to Think…Do I Have a Place for This? by Mary Randolph Carter, Rizzoli New York, 2014.  Photography, Carter Berg.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

It's Electric

Since the move I have not been very interested in hunting and gathering.  "I'm not in an acquiring phase," I've said to a friend or two. I've had no interest in antique shops or malls and have driven past the occasional estate sale without even slowing down to look and see what the shoppers have tucked under their arms. "I don't need anything," I kept thinking and then furrowing my brow because this phrase from other people used to seem incomprehensible.  I had always thought that need went beyond the calories it took to survive. To be delighted had always seemed a critical need and I wondered why I was not interested in seeking it.

Then the weather became warmer and I realized that I do need porch furniture.  Mission Road Antique Mall usually has a good selection of old wicker and that is exactly what I had in my head.  I could already smell the fumes of the black spray paint that would make it right. So off I went last week to see if I could find - and afford - a sofa or a chair or two.

There were a few pieces, all beyond my purse. While on the hunt, in a back corner on the second floor, I ran across a tall copper post leaning against a short wall. The small rectangular tag hanging by a thin string with a tiny knot, the kind that is often difficult to tie with adult-sized fingers, said, "Old lightning rod" in neat script.

It made me smile.  A man who knows me well had told me once that I am a lightning rod.  I did not get his inference then and did not ask for clarity, but it has bubbled up to the top of my mind from time to time.  In all my digging about in dusty spaces I have never come across a lightning rod before and suddenly, I had to have it.

In that rush of wanting, I remembered what had drawn me to these places in the beginning.  The discovery is so personal.  In the homes that I love best, I usually find that there are things that beg for explanation.  I find, too, that in the telling, we get to know one another better.  And that is truly a delight.

I know this looks more weather-vaney than lightning rod.  There is a very pointy top that is not pictured here.  The arrow seemed more interesting, so he was allowed to star instead.

Thursday, May 22, 2014


The new house offers surprises.  It wasn't keeping secrets, exactly, only biding its time.  We came together in winter and were both tentative about our new arrangement.  As the weather has gotten warmer I've discovered that the yard is composed almost entirely of clover and dandelions.  The rabbits who live under the monstrous yews bordering the porch have no complaints.  They are so entrenched and proprietary that we imagine it is something of a rent-controlled co-op with burrows passed down from generation to generation.

"They don't even move when I walk out the door," said the oldest.

And it's true. Even the slam of the screen does not cause them to flinch.  They sit all four paws on the ground, nearly always in profile, chewing quickly, and watch us each through one large, brown eye like chocolate rabbits on a shelf at the Dime Store at Easter.

But with the clover and dandelions there is a dot and dash of a hosta border, a few hydrangea and peonies.  The first bloomed last week, offering up the deep, dark pink that I like the least.  A tease.  Then yesterday, white and blush burst, too.  I clipped them this morning as the clouds moved in, afraid that a serious rain would leave the petals scattered on the ground.  One of the boys has done something with the kitchen shears - "It wasn't me!" - and I had to sever them from the bushes with a long sharp knife.  Greedy, I took everything that was fully open. The plants are not as established as the first hedge that I inherited.  Their stems not as sturdy.  Their blooms not as dense.  But their scent is strong and sweet.  And they are here.  And I am here.  And we are happy to discover our delight in one another.

Monday, April 28, 2014

Safe Harbor

Twice this weekend I reassured two different and unrelated friends about the weather. "I've lived my whole life in the midwest and have never been in a serious tornado situation."  One nodded and said nothing though I could see that this did not comfort him.  "E2s" texted back the other, referring to the storms in South Carolina.  "Don't borrow trouble," I tapped on the glass face of my phone as I sat by myself eating black beans for dinner and drinking a beer out of the bottle.  I was reassuring myself, too, as I worried that all my boys were in different places during the unstable weather.  It was hard to believe there would be a storm, the sky was so clear and pale.  Almost white.

My next door neighbor and his wife were grilling out and I could smell the charcoal as it heated.  He was playing the guitar and singing to her.  I thought he was singing to her and I hope that he was, though I don't really know that this was the case.  He could have been singing for himself alone.  They have wind chimes and there was not even enough breeze to make them stir.  When I first heard the chimes after I moved, I wondered if they would bother me. If they would wake me in my sleep.  They do not and I am often soothed by their irregular ring as I lie in bed waiting to drift off.

My neighbor on the other side has chimes as well and a son and daughter-in-law who have been visiting for a week.  They are on vacation and as I shuttle children back and forth this young couple - and they look very young - sit on the porch with one another and with friends. They talk and laugh and drink from red plastic cups. The houses are close and they greet me a few times a day as my too-big black car pulls up beside their porch. They always give a friendly, "hello." His mother seems happy to have them here.  When we moved in she brought a colorful bag with a few beers, a bottle of red wine, a bottle of white and Izzy for the boys.  It made me like her immediately; she had covered all of our bases.

Across the street an older couple celebrates the holiday with exuberance.  What holiday? Every holiday. Banners and flags, lights and trees, hearts and eggs. A holiday is over, but not stale, and its decorations come down and the next go up. Each time I am struck by the effort of it.  The packing and unpacking.  The taking down and putting up.  I imagine that the inspiration is largely the wife's, though the labor is largely the husband's.  He seems unbothered by it.  He is the one who pushed a ten gallon bucket of salt into my eldest's hands during the worst of the winter, worried that we did not have enough.

The young couple a few doors up, the ones with the golden dog with the long curving tail and stubby nose that makes me think it may be part boxer, may be the most like me.  They might see no resemblance between us, my middle-aged self and life so different from their unlined faces and their late morning walks. They raise their hands as I come out to get the paper, but don't stop to visit.  Perhaps they come, as I did, from neighborhoods that are friendly but staid.  Neighborhoods where children make noise, but little else does.

My last house, the house with no name, is almost an island.  I could go days without seeing a neighbor and I liked that about it. Though now I see that that had more to do with me than anyone who lived around me.

Nearly all the houses on my new street have front porches.  Many of these porches have swings.  I've never lived in a house with either a front porch or a front porch swing and I can tell you, it is a defining element.  The porch and the swing have changed me.  Already, in the last few weeks when the weather has been warmer, I find myself there - sitting, reading, eating, talking on the phone and, for about twenty minutes Saturday, napping.  When I awoke, my lids parted lazily and not with a start.

Falling asleep in general has become something of a chore and I never know if it is age or hormones or the amount of trouble that I am borrowing that keeps me awake in my bed.  But, if this swing can relax me enough to offer me the security to fall asleep out of doors, its gentle rhythm erasing the concern of a storm that may or may not come, then I know it is the right place to be.

Monday, April 14, 2014

One Man's Folly

I saw a friend Saturday, a handsome devil, and we reminisced about our first meeting.  It was at a lovely dinner for a dreary out-of-towner and he pulled up a piano bench by my chair and we were, instantly, friends.  A few months later I put him to my left at a dinner party at my house.  Late in the evening someone mentioned his birthday and I realized our age gap was greater than I had expected.

"I don't know if I can be friends with someone ten years younger," I told him.

"It's too late," came his quick reply.

Some connections are like that.  Love at first sight, even when the love is platonic.  Such was the case as I met Furlow Gatewood through the pages of his book. Mr. Gatewood lives as I aspire to live: sure of his taste, comfortable in his skin and with a steady flow of creativity.  

This connection is strengthened by Mr. Gatewood's love of old things, worn rugs, quilts, Chinese porcelain and dogs. And, at home, he sits sideways in chairs, legs thrown over the arm as I do.  

The images in the book offer delight and inspiration, but it's Mr. Gatewood's devotion to his Americus, Georgia home, the tale of the moving of buildings and their restoration and decoration that is the real appeal.  That the story is told by Julia Reed is a wonderful bonus.

If you like anything here, if you ever feel we would be friends if circumstances allowed, you will surely like One Man's Folly, The Exceptional Houses of Furlow Gatewood.  I know I'm hoping to someday have the opportunity to drag a piano bench closer to his chair and lean in.

All images from One Man's Folly, The Exceptional Houses of Furlow Gatewood, courtesy of Rizzoli.  Photography by Rodney Collins and Paul Costello.

Monday, April 7, 2014

George Stacey and the Creation of American Chic

George Stacey leaned casually against my front door a week or so ago, waiting patiently for me to invite him in.  We've spent a lot of time together since and I'm delighted to know him better.

His aesthetic, admired by stylish luminaries such as Diana Vreeland, Babe Paley and Brenda Diana Duff Frazier, looks familiar with its mix of French antiques and garden chairs, but he led the charge in this melange of high/low goodness. Indeed, the deft handling of red and green that many designers manage today was a common element of Mr. Stacey's work.

As I read Maureen Footer's engaging and informative text in this new book, I imagined a series of posts where I ticked off designers' Stacey has influenced: Mario Buatta (who penned the intro), Billy Baldwin, Michael Taylor, Stephen Sills, Tom Scheerer and Nick Olsen among them. But then I reached the final chapter and Footer has done it for me and undoubtedly with more elegance.

We are lucky that authors and publishers are circling back around to explore the lives and work of influential designers who did not publish in their day.  I'm thrilled that George Stacey and the Creation of American Chic is part of my design library.  I imagine any enthusiast would feel the same.

George Stacey and the Creation of American Chic by Maureen Footer, Rizzoli, 2014.  Available here.

All images courtesy of Rizzoli, from top: Mark Hampton, courtesy of Duane Hampton, Diana Vreeland from the estate of George Platt Ynes, Stacey's home in France from his personal papers, Nick Olsen's apartment, Patrick Cline, Lonny.com.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Soiree for the Symphony

A quick heads-up to mark your calendar for this Wednesday, April 9th from 6 - 8 p.m.  Danielle Rollins will be at Hall's Plaza to sign her new book Soiree, Entertaining with Style.  
I have the book and she is a master at creating beautiful events that make people feel special and at home.  That's not always an easy task.  A good friend, who is no pushover, met Ms. Rollins when she spoke in Omaha and tells me she is "absolutely charming." 

Sales from the event support the Kansas City Symphony, so it's a feel good vibe all around.  Speaking of feel good vibes, you may remember Ms. Rollins's Atlanta home, decorated by the uber-talented Miles Redd, was in Veranda a couple of years ago. 

Two images, top, courtesy of Danielle Rollins (though I didn't ask.  I hope I'm not in Dutch.) The final image from Veranda, photography Melanie Acevedo.

Monday, March 31, 2014

Into the Fold

I met St. Louis antique dealer, Rick Ege, a few years ago while I was in Chicago.  He's charming and his wares are terrific.  We are not friends, as we haven't had enough opportunity to be, but we are friendly and are connected on Facebook.  

One day he loaded an image that included a Chinese rice server that I found irresistible.  Yellow!  Plums! Bats! What could be better?

"It's been damaged on the inside and has had some repair," he told me.  He was wary, perhaps that that sort of thing would matter.

I didn't pause.  "Yes, well, haven't we all? She'll be in good company.  Wrap her up," I replied.

She arrived by friendly transport last week.  She hasn't missed a beat, just settled in among the rest of the rusted and the dinged.  She smiles at me from atop my mother's desk in the kitchen and doesn't mind a bit when I sing Zac Brown off key.

If you in St. Louis, do stop by and say "hello" to Rick.  If not, you can visit his site here or see him at the Chicago Botanical Antique Show from April 11 - 13.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Dust Up

Have you driven down dirt roads? Looked back at the dust kicked up by the tires while on your knees, arms folded on the top of the seat long before children not wearing seat belts was criminal? Or watched the cloud rise up behind you in the rearview mirror, evidence of your movement, your existence in the world and your mark upon it? The crunch of the gravel under your tires grounds you to reality, the threat of puncture or ping ever present.  These roads are not so often monitored for speed and those most familiar with them fly.  For we who are cautious, as I am to a fault, it feels faster and scarier to navigate on a surface that is only layers of dirt. I cannot ignore that while seemingly packed firm, it is the road itself billowing about me.  Shifting. Still, I've grown up traveling these roads in Georgia, Oklahoma, Texas and Kansas and they represent something unchanging.  The dust comes in through the vents and coats the back of my throat and my hair, making them thicker. The smell of it settles on my skin.  For all their trepidation and mess, I cannot avoid these dusty paths.  Indeed, I seek them out.  They are both comforting and thrilling.

This remarkable photograph by Ahram Park is on exhibit at Haw Contemporary through April 5th.  There are others, though not nearly enough to satisfy me.  More on Mr. Park here.