broadsideblog

Posts Tagged ‘domestic life’

A whole house to myself

In behavior, cities, culture, design, domestic life, life, urban life on June 30, 2012 at 1:35 am
Herbert Storey Cottage, Westfield War Memorial...

Herbert Storey Cottage, Westfield War Memorial Village, Lancaster (after 1924) (Photo credit: pellethepoet)

I haven’t lived in a house since 1988.

Even then it wasn’t a whole house, just our ground-floor apartment in a house at 42 Green Street in Lebanon, NH. I grew up in a few houses (interspersed with apartments) in Toronto and Montreal, but have never owned or rented one myself.

In NH, I loved the 1930s-era pull-out wooden cutting board in the kitchen. I liked having a lawn and a lot of room between us and the neighbors. I liked that our dog, a small terrier named Petra, could safely roam the quiet street for hours.

For the month of June, first at my Dad’s, then house-sitting, I’ve been living in a whole house. I’m now at a hotel for three nights — then back home to 1,000 square feet, no stairs, one door to enter and one to the balcony.

Houses are complicated!

Multiple doors, and stairs and a back yard and a front yard and a garden and garage and a driveway. (My Dad, typically, turned his garage into a painting studio and most of his gravel driveway into a garden. Kellys are like that.)

I’ve lived in the same one-bedroom apartment, (with such crappy closet space that I need a garage and storage lockers for things like skis, luggage, old paint, out-of-season clothing), since 1989 when I bought it, thinking, up and out to a house within a few years.

As if.

The doctor husband bailed just as he stopped being broke — and I started to. I’ve been there ever since. My second husband, then beau, moved in with me in the fall of 2001. His official moving day — seriously — was 9/11. He told the movers to come back in a week; his quick thinking on that day of terror helped The New York Times win their Pulitzer prize for news photography.

Our home isn’t large, and I also work there. But we have a great river view from the top floor, a balcony, pool, tennis court and a garage. It’s light and quiet and our monthly costs still low enough we save decently for retirement and travel. There are times I feel trapped and claustrophobic, but I value the freedom if offers me to write for a living without panicking over the monthly mortgage.

A house anywhere nearby, (in the northern suburbs of New York City), would cost $300,000+ (plus at least $12,000 a year in property taxes) — usually for an un-renovated 1,200 square foot 1950s box with a postage stamp lot. No thanks!

We could afford something battered 90 to 120 minutes’ train or car ride further north, in a much more rural area, or the decades-long burden of a huge mortgage payment. I prefer quick and easy access to Manhattan — I can be parked near the Metropolitan Museum within 40 minutes.

For the past month, I’ve enjoyed the temporary luxury of multiple bathrooms on every floor, a kitchen big enough to swing a cat in, (good thing there’s only a dog here), not to mention a walk-in closet bigger than my only (5 by 7 foot) bathroom at home. Room to keep an ironing board permanently set up.

But the responsibility!

The one I house-sat has huge gardens that needed a lot of watering in a heat wave, and a pool requiring daily attention — which paid staff do at our apartment building.

I prefer sitting very still, with a frosty G & T and a glossy magazine.

Do you live in a house?

Do you enjoy it?

Ten elegant touches

In antiques, art, beauty, behavior, domestic life, life on April 20, 2012 at 12:18 am
Iridium fountain pen nib, macro.

Image via Wikipedia

“Elegance is refusal”

— Coco Chanel

We don’t own a big house. We don’t even own a house.

We drive a dinged 2001 Subaru Forester. We’re not snobs about designer labels or owning The Latest Thing.

But I am addicted to elegance, in matters large and small, which is often far more affordable and accessible than one might imagine.

Elegance, for me, is the daily refusal of the ugly, the poorly-made, the falling-apart, the un-dusted table and the dying house plant.

Here are some ways I add it to my life, as you might to yours:

Using a beautiful writing instrument. Whether a fountain pen or felt-tip marker, choose a fun color and make a mark. I love my aluminum Lamy.

Selecting personal stationery. In an era of email blandness, a distinctive way to communicate. Which font is you? What paper color? Which envelope liner? A personalized stamp is an affordable substitute, and paper in a fab rainbow of colors and shapes can easily be found on-line, from places like Paper Source.

A signature fragrance. I love sillage, the delicious trail of scent that follows a man or woman wearing fragrance. I stopped a neighbor last week after happily sniffing hers…turned out to be a Jo Malone number. My late step-mother wore Caleche, a crisp, classic by Hermes invented in 1961, for decades. I recently found a bottle of Grey Flannel for my husband, (created in 1976, the cologne, not him!) and he’s loving it again. Every time he wears it, he remembers the New York Times interview when he wore it. (And got the job.)

A gorgeous handbag, messenger bag or briefcase. So many choices! Mine is a classic creamy beige leather French model. It needn’t be designer, just terrific quality and a style signifier; non-black, non-brown is more interesting. (Consignment shops offer some great picks.)

A stylish wristwatch. Look in flea markets for something with a little panache. Add a lovely grosgrain or colored leather strap. Enough using a cellphone to tell time!

Cloth napkins. Unless you’re still caring for multiple small children, go for it! There are few daily items as casually lovely. Ironing them only takes minutes and the color, texture and patterns they add to your table make every meal a little more charming.

Candles. Lots, everywhere. Votives. A scented candle for the bath and/or bedroom. Tapers at dinner.

Something well-made and well-used. It might be a battered leather jacket or your granny’s quilt or a painted chair someone sat in 200 years ago. We’re only passing through. A memento mori helps.

Quality china, glassware and/or cutlery. It doesn’t have to cost a lot: I’ve been using mismatched heavy silver-plate cutlery, amassed at flea markets, for years. (One of my favorite tabletop sources, on sale, is Anthropologie.) Nothing else feels as good as bone china, has the ping of crystal or the warmth of silver.

Pretty linens. Also find-able through flea markets, Ebay, Etsy and consignment shops, whether linen, silk, crochet, embroidered. A welcoming table, bathroom and bed are respites we all can enjoy.

What adds elegance and style to your life?

Ten Mid-Winter Cheer-Ups

In art, beauty, behavior, domestic life, entertainment, life on January 23, 2012 at 12:51 am
NYC: Porto Rico Coffee Reflection

One of my favorite NYC stores! Image by Professor Bop via Flickr

If you live in the Northern Hemisphere and are heading into our fourth month of cold, snow, ice and short days, it’s time for a cheer-up!

Here are ten ideas:

Spend as much as you can afford on fresh flowers. Even $20 or $30 will fill several containers with living color, scent and beauty for a few weeks. I snagged $16 worth of white lilies from the supermarket last week and they’re still blooming and fragrant in the bedroom and dining room. So lovely to open the front door to a hit of scent! If you have nothing to put them in, check out your local thrift shop.

A long walk, preferably with a camera in hand. Snow and ice transform the landscape in unexpected ways. The jagged stone walls surrounding our apartment building, covered with snow, look exactly like a row of teeth!

A long talk with someone you adore. Make a phone date  — or face to face, better yet — and settle in for a good 30 minutes or more. Forget email and Facebook.

Bake! This morning I cranked out blueberry/banana muffins and spice muffins. Easy, fun, something nice to look forward to every morning for a week or more. If you haven’t replenished your pantry, make sure you’ve got the staples on hand for when inspiration hits.

A small pretty treat for your home. Check out the sales at old favorites like Pottery Barn, Home Goods, Crate & Barrel, West Elm, Anthropologie, Wisteria, Sundance — a few of my on-line favorites. For even $20 or 30, you can enjoy a new set of hand towels, a few new dishtowels, some pretty candles, a 2 x 3 foot cotton throw rug from Dash & Albert, some fresh pillowcases. Check out Etsy for affordable and charming choices. Here’s the Dash & Albert rug we ordered for our living room.

Make fresh tea — in a teapot. Enough with this awful Americanism of “tea” being one sad teabag stuck in a mug of hot water. I think not! You need a proper china or pottery teapot; here’s one shaped like Big Ben! Some lovely teas, maybe a few you’ve never tried before. I love Constant Comment (with orange and spices), cardamom/chai, Earl Grey and even (wild stuff) Lapsang Souchong, whose smoky, tarry flavor makes me feel like I’ve been licking the deck of some 17th century frigate. If your local store doesn’t have these, order from my favorite New York purveyors, both of which are more than 100 years old, Porto Rico Coffee & Tea, (try their pumpkin spice or chocolate raspberry coffee), and McNulty’s. Even better if you’ve got a lovely bone china teacup with saucer; check out this one, in blue toile, for a mere $9.75. Aaaaaah.

Something cashmere. A pair of socks, or gloves, or a watch cap or scarf, or a turtleneck sweater. The sharp-eyed can always find one affordably in a local thrift or consignment shop.

A massage. If you’re really lucky, your sweetie knows how and is happy to provide. If you can afford it — usually $65 or more — a scented rubdown is sheer bliss after months of being swaddled in wool and rubber, our chilled muscles stiff and sore. My local drugstore sells a bottle of eucalyptus scent for a few dollars…add it to some light oil and you’re good to go.

A stack of library books you’re dying to read. Make them two-week returns so you won’t procrastinate! I recently read, and totally loved, “The House in France” by Gully Wells, a memoir.

Get out your pens, pencils, watercolors, oils, paper, wool, threads, fabric, dye….and create! Borrow your kids’ Legos or Barbies or trolls. Turn off every single electronic “toy” and use the best one of of all — your brain!

Bonus: Paint something: a bathroom, a funky chair from the thrift store, a bookcase you’re sick of, (one of ours recently went from deep olive green to pale yellow/green to match the walls. Big difference!) A fresh coat of paint in a new-to-you color is a guaranteed happiness-inducer: quick, cheap, eye-opening. Here’s a $10 guide from House Beautiful magazine with some wonderful choices. The British company Farrow & Ball makes the yummiest colors ever. They’re expensive, but even a sample pot will give you enough to re-do a lampshade or lamp base or a small table top. Here’s a sample of Straw, a great neutral mustard tone which we chose for our very small (5 by 7)  and only bathroom; two years in, we still love it.

Make Me Laugh And I’m Yours, Baby!

In behavior, domestic life, education, life, religion on August 2, 2011 at 11:27 am
you laughed so hard you cried?

Image via Wikipedia

Is there anything less amusing than a day — a week — longer? without laughter?

Especially when times are terrifying and horrible and painful, you gotta laugh.

The men who have won my heart are the ones who made me laugh so hard I almost peed, like Bob, who took me to a Manhattan comedy club but made me laugh ten times harder on the drive home.

The sweetie and I met on-line, so our first few conversations were by phone, as we lived about 30 miles away from one another. I have no idea what he said, but something made me laugh so hard I snorted.

Sexy!

That’s the end of that, I figured. What man wants to date a chick who snorts?

But Jose, being Jose, thought this was — as Buddhists like to say — an auspicious sign. If he could make me laugh that hard, clearly I had some appreciation for: 1) the same things; 2) seen the same way; 3) him. All true, and here we are 11 years later.

The eight-day silent Buddhist retreat I recently attended certainly looked Very Serious Indeed. All the students had mala beads wrapped around their wrists, and prayer books wrapped in gorgeous Chinese silk bags and some of them fully prostrated before each teaching. Yikes!

I do take such matters seriously indeed, but a little lightness goes a long, long way with me.

Thank heaven for Lama Surya Das’ love of laughter. We were killing ourselves at his raucous, bawdy humor — which made a deeply thoughtful 90-minute teaching, with 20 points on one slide alone — fly by.

How often do you laugh?

Is it enough?

Balcony Life: Helicopters, Turkey Vultures, Stars

In Uncategorized on June 26, 2010 at 11:21 am
Red-tailed Hawk

Image via Wikipedia

The true sign of summer at our home, a one-bedroom apartment with little closet space, is when we start living on our balcony, a space 12 feet wide by six feet. For such a small amount of real estate, it makes us feel like millionaires.

We’re on the top floor, the sixth floor, with uninterrupted views of the Hudson River, a few miles to the west. Every weekday (grrrrr) it’s the damn helicopter of David Rockefeller thudding to and from his enormous estate just up the road. Last night it was a police helicopter, its searchlight sweeping the horizon and capturing us in its beam. Every day, since flight paths were changed, we have a steady stream of  private and commercial jets, some flying way too low for our comfort.

But it’s the birds that make it most interesting. I was deeply engrossed in a newspaper story a few years ago when I heard a “whoosh!”

Whoosh? A red-tailed hawk had swooped so close I heard the wind through its feathers. Same thing happened this morning as the sweetie read the paper and a turkey vulture overflew the roof. “Maybe I should move around a bit more,” he said nervously.

One of the sweetie’s specific talents is rescuing the tiny sparrows who fly into our windows and stun themselves. If we get to them quickly enough, a few drops of water and a little careful attention, and off they fly.

A few summer ago, a hawk landed on the balcony railing. I’d written a story about raptors, even having one perch on my arm, so I knew their eyesight is extraordinary. This one stared into my eyes for minutes. Neither of us moved. The sweetie, with quick reflexes, managed to find and focus his camera in time to capture its image.

Then it flew off, leaving only a few grains of sand from its talons as proof I hadn’t just hallucinated.

Last night I finally slept outdoors on the balcony. The night air was fresh and cool, a few stars visible, the dull rumble of bridge traffic only growing quiet around 2:00 a.m. The morning light streamed across the yellow and orange marigolds and strawflowers, now at my eye level.

Heaven.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 10,182 other followers