Friday, October 21, 2005

Renovation Wisdom We Have Learned

This is what we've learned from renovating our home in numerous attempts both large and small:

~ If your husband suggests redoing the kitchen floor before he goes into the hospital for a "routine" procedure, say NO
~ No matter how small the project, it will soon eclipse itself in duration, price and hassle
~ Remember, when redecorating one room, you'll have to tear up at least two more (to store the stuff from the room that has to be gutted)
~ Budget at least the cost of your renovation for meals eaten out (most of us won't cook with sawdust in our kitchens)
~ If you are doing anything more than one room in your house, budget for a hotel or stay with compassionate friends, better yet leave the country
~ If you are renovating any part of an old house, it is always easier to tear it down and start over (but don't do it!)
~ An architect for big projects is worth their fee, especially if they will work with the contractor so you don't have to
~ Forty year architectural shingles last less than seven
~ Lead paint lasts a lifetime
~ A woman is always, ALWAYS allowed to change her mind, even if the first coat of paint has been applied (but it helps to do a sample area, first)
~ Prepasted, vinyl coated wallpaper is crap
~ When considering a hand-blocked scenic wallpaper mural that will cost more than a year in one of our finest colleges, make sure your children are past the stage of wiping their hands on the walls and woodwork
~ Bring good danish and coffee to your workers on a regular basis
~ A good plumber is hard to find (treat them well!)
~ A good electrician is hard to find (treat them well!)
~ A good painter is hard to find (treat them well!)
~ A good carpenter is hard to find (treat them well!)
~ If your marriage survives a major or minor house renovation, it can survive just about anything
~ If you can't afford to redecorate or renovate in a given year, just rearrange the furniture!

Sunday, October 16, 2005

Palate Cleansing

Ok, I've vented and that is enough of that. Time to cleanse the palate and swish out the self-induced venom.

~ I need to catch up on so many things in this blog: my pantry book for one! Lots of updates on that front (that deserve their own entry).

~ The official end of an extended summer after 10 days of rain and unprecedented flooding in New Hampshire.

~ The 20th anniversary of my move to Boston in August 1985 with my best friend Di, who stayed on there and is soon to be married.

~ Our crazy house renovations in the midst of my husband being back in the hospital! (He will be fine but the recuperation this time will be long...)

Every day brings another exciting change.

Right now our three children are sleeping, the wind is blowing steadily outside, and fall seems to have settled around us after a very balmy late summer--still no killing frost! But a clearing wind and that has made all of the difference.

Tomorrow will be a full moon--I can see the glow cast now on the Main Street of our village and the white houses in a spectral light.

Tomorrow, with the floor refinished and dried in the kitchen--with everything removed from counters and cupboards--I will start again with a less cluttered approach and better use of counter space! I have too many collections of kitchen-related items and have decided to warehouse and rotate them. It is the only way--that or I start selling on eBay. Some day...

But I'm looking forward to a good week of fall cleaning, to getting my husband home to a long winter of recovery (what better time to appreciate DirectTV and a warm fireplace in a newly opened living space?). We just had the wall knocked down between the two west parlors and the space is incredible. The wall had been removed before and is easily returned. We were all tired of being crammed into four 15x15 boxes in the main house, one used more than others off the kitchen.

My friends, Steve Gross and Sue Daley, who shot the photography for my pantry book want me to write copy for their next book project. I couldn't be more pleased or excited. We have known each other for 16 years and have worked together on many articles in the past (we met on the shoot for my first published article in VICTORIA Magazine). It will be an honor and privilege for me to write for them, just as I was honored that they'd want to help me with my pantry book. There are no finer interior photographers working in the United States today. Period.

Several weeks ago I wrote an article for the next NEW ENGLAND HOME (November issue) on tight deadline, with some time I had to spare a week before our intense 3-day photo shoot of pantries...but more about the pantries another day. I've pitched some more article ideas to OLD-HOUSE INTERIORS with future placement. I need to send some more of my children's stories out to editors for feedback. This can be "winter work" to fill in the gaps around my pantry book writing.

But right now I should try to turn the lights off before midnight for once in my adult life...

Family Summit

Last weekend, Columbus Day weekend, my 17 year old daughter and I made the trek down to Summit, New Jersey and back in the pouring rain. We went, quite spontaneously as it turned out, because it worked out for us to go, but for months I had been jostling the idea back and forth. I figured, I don't see my immediate family branch up here so why drive 300 miles each way on the rainiest weekend in months, pay for a nice hotel room, only to be subjected to possible upset? Well, to prove a point for one (I am a part of the extended family and there are many first cousins once removed and second cousins whom I enjoy). The second and perhaps primary reason was because my daughter is at that age where her roots begin to mean something. And finally, I wanted to see the houses that my grandmother always spoke about in Summit: Avebury, Lindum and Little Lindum. She painted a blissful picture (Summit is still a bucolic suburb) and always colored her childhood with the broad brush strokes of reverence and rememberance. At the center of her brood of nine siblings were her beloved mother and father, true Victorian scions of a modern 20th century family. Our cousin Bob put together quite a reunion program which included a walking or driving tour around Summit family haunts. It is always good to know where we come from (at one point, my daughter turned to me and said, "I didn't know we were a family of so many WASPs..."). She wasn't being derogatory in any sense of the word--there was almost an awe and reverence to her observation.

We walked in mid-day on Saturday, a bit drenched, and the first person I saw was an aunt who recently accused me of "taking the best things" from the farm. As no one had acknowledged my flabbergasted rebuttal of six weeks prior, I didn't expect or plan to get into anything at the reunion. I did not go to cause trouble. So, we just avoided each other all weekend, acting like the elephant wasn't in the room. Meanwhile, I discovered that one of my uncles actually screens my other aunt's (mother's sister) e-mails so she never even read any of the crap that I was hurling back in my own self defense! Ah, and then there was the "Dance of My Mother's Third Husband" as I came to call it--they'd appear around the corner at the elevator, he'd look at me and slip down the staircase (we were four floors up). "Just slip out the back Jack, make a new plan Stan, don't need to be coy, Roy...just set yourself free." I saw him at the bar later that night, first in line, and he looked away. The crowning moment was when I was heading up Sunday morning to pack, the door opened to he and my mother standing in front of the elevator waiting to come down. No avoidance this time. I said, "Hello, W.", with all the sincerity and arch tone, I suppose, that Seinfeld reserved for Newman. No response. My mother fluttered about and I just walked down the hall, tired of the humiliation (he'd actually been ignoring me and my children intermittently for four years). The night before he actually said in front of my daughter, "Well, I think you know whose table I'M avoiding!" That prompted a terse e-mail response upon my return.

Ah well and as you might know, WASPs don't like to confront uncomfortable situations. I have in the past year taken a different tact: I confront them, much to my own further isolation within the family. It is uncomfortable this woman who will not enable bad behavior in others and who no longer minces around the truth or won't sweep things under the carpet as the rest of the women in her family. I'm all for taking the damned rug out of the house, hanging it on the clothesline and beating the merry h#$% out of it with a carpet beater! As I grew up often criticized for everything I did or didn't do by some of the women in the family--or things I did well were rarely acknowledged--I've finally decided to speak for myself. [Ok, this is really a leap into "Reality Television" land--too much BONADUCE, I fear--but I think my weight issues have to do with see? I can still be this person and do these things AND be "fluffy" as my friend Judy so sweetly terms it...I don't have to be an emaciated skeleton to accomplish my goals or be accepted. Besides, imagine if I'd been left alone when I was only 20 pounds overweight back in high school? Women can be their own worst enemies.]

The highlight of my weekend? One word but three people: BOB. My mother's older brother who sat with me at dinner and who has been incredibly supportive of me and my husband--and observant--during some difficult months (at one point during dinner he leaned across the table and said to me, "It was an incredibly brave thing to come down here, you know"); my mother's first cousin who organized the reunion and whose entire branch of the family, along with his wife and twin brother, is a pleasant breath of functional fresh air (they know how to laugh at themselves and with each other); and finally, another Bob who married into the family and who always gives me a big hug and says hello. A true gentleman. There were other highlights, too: seeing my French cousins again after many years, meeting others, and learning that the reunion organizational baton had been passed to my generation of cousins--the great-grandchildren of J.A.T. and H.A.T.

None of my generation of cousins ever knew our great-grandparents and some of us didn't even know our grandparents, but their legacy lives on in their descendants. It is a great family that we come from and no group is perfect, no person is perfect, but after the shakedown of the past year in my own family of origin--largely over the farm but there are other issues, too--I realize it is important to look beyond and to find "family" in good friends and relatives who get it, and those with whom you want to spend time. I know each branch has their own issues--another even has their own squabbles about another family farm--but taken as a whole, we're a great and diverse bunch, as nice as you're likely to find anywhere else. I'm looking forward to the next family "Summit" in Florida in 2010. And I will bring all of my family to that one as our boys will be a bit older and likely to have more fun with a bunch of relatives. At this reunion I was so pleased with my daughter who mingled with ease and poise and has the diplomatic skills of the finest Foreign Service officer. Her grace and beauty will take her far. (I was also grateful that she is one heck of a driver, logging at least 3 hours each way and most in rain or difficult traffic.)

A cousin from another branch made an astute observation about myself and several other women in my generation--"You are mold breakers," she said. "You are setting out to make your own matriarchies and careers of interest while forging your own way independently from your family. It is a hard thing to do, but you're doing it." I was proud to be in the good company to which she was referring. And that is really what it is all about in the end: making our own way separately from the places and people we come from. Legacy is a strong word--whether in a family expectation or a family business or a house--and sometimes we just have to start making our own. Yet it is nice, too, to have a cushion of common DNA to fall back on from time to time. The reunion weekend gave me enough to sustain me for at least another five years--in the meantime, I'll fall back on the more immediate DNA of my own household and the refreshing diversity of an extended group of friends.

It's time to put things behind me and start along with visions for my own clan, my own book, as it were.

Saturday, October 1, 2005

Three Hundred Channels and Nothing On

My friend Edie was right. Don't do it--don't get Direct TV! So far I am unimpressed. We have been living with an antenna for five years and had cable for only a few before that. Cable was limited and expensive and we found our daughter was becoming glued to MTV at the impressionable age of ten. Our antenna got all of the basic Boston channels but with haphazard clarity. We like certain programs and we like old movies--we've hardly been going to the video store at all. In fact, I can't remember when I was last in there. Besides, we watch very little television at all in the summer.

For some reason, Direct TV began to seem appealing. Lots of program offerings, local channels still included, a fairly reasonable monthly premium--if you don't get all of the movie channels--and some friends couldn't stop talking about TeVO. (I admit, while I haven't yet "TeVoed" anything, I have paused a critical scene in an old BONANZA episode for twenty minutes while my son went outside to see something.)

I'll report back more on this new technology. I know my boys are watching way too many cartoons. I'm still watching the shows I would have watched any way, mostly on network TV...although I have to confess to liking BREAKING BONADUCE on VH-1, a new reality show about Danny Bonaduce, former child star, and his unraveling life and marriage. Pathetic really--truly Gladiator TV at its finest hour. Next we will be watching people on death row.

The Summer that Wouldn't Fade

Boys at Spring

Tonight we ate barbecued chicken out on our Martha Stewart patio set (from K-Mart--perhaps our most used furniture in the house of late). It was balmy, a bit breezy and all around lush greenery just beginning to fade, and ample pots of coleus still blooming. It is October 1 and we have yet to have a frost, let alone a killing frost.

In August after the balmiest, hottest, even most humid summer that I can recall in the northeast (it has been a while), I predicted a warm fall. September was beautiful. Of course the dry dust and mold is kicking up in grand form--we have had little rain--but the clear, cloudless days are beginning to spoil us with their predictability. And who says we are not having Global Warming? It will be interesting to see what winter brings but I can take another month or so of this.

Even the fall foliage is delayed--it has the appearance of late August when the swamp maples are just beginning to turn. I expect our peak weekend will be much later this year when "peak" is usually around Columbus Day. But cider is here! Lovely, sweet, rich nectar of the apple gods--and unpasteurized! The only place we can find the "real stuff" is at Tenney Farm in Antrim, New Hampshire. You haven't tasted apple cider until you've had unpasteurized. In fact, I consider it to be fall tonic and it helps ward off colds and all sorts of things.

I'll take this weather all year round but I find myself beginning to crave the crackle of a warm fire and the colder nights. One thing I miss about autumn is the smell of burning leaves. Everyone used to burn leaves--in suburb, city , and country--but no longer. That is a smell the candle companies should fabricate. There has been so much sun of late, particularly shining in my office window, that I haven't had to turn on my light box. Yet I do notice an increasing irritability--perhaps it is time.

I haven't written much lately because, perhaps, so much has been happening. The children are all back at school, we are settling in to a busier routine, and I am starting to have pantries photographed for my book (and arranging for all the styling that goes into them behind the scenes). I have loads of pantry props and it will be fun. Next week my friends Sue and Steve come up for the week to begin shooting. We have a variety of pantries, many from old "legacy" houses that have never been seen by the public. Those houses that hold the stuff of generations and never seem to change. These are a part of New England, especially, and there are more around than one realizes. It is a special treat to have befriended many of their owners and to be allowed access--almost like a secret club.

So I promise to write a bit more regularly and will probably be commenting more on the book process as the months ahead unfold. It is a good time of year to be thinking about pantries--we have been stocking our cellar shelves like regular squirrels. Instead of canning or freezing this year--my garden was a complete disaster--we are buying a great deal in bulk or on sale for shelves and freezers. Despite the beautiful and continued summer, there is always a winter in New England.