Sloughing Off Winter

Maybe it’s the sunshine we got this morning, or maybe I’ve just had too much coffee, but I feel like it’s time to start spring cleaning despite the fact that our temperatures are only in the low 20s and there’s a dusting of snow on the ground. I won’t be throwing open the windows or anything, but the thought of clean laundry and shiny wood floors suddenly excites me far more than it should. I’ve recently noticed the layer of dust on the printer, the general stuffiness of the house, the discombobulation under the kitchen sink. The atrophy that occurs after months of insideness. The piles of junk begging to be organized or put into bags and dropped off in a bin at the back of the thrift store.

Everywhere there is evidence of neglect.

In the office, a box containing Christmas wrapping, a chair I’ve been meaning to re-cover, the buckets I used to condition the aquarium water for fish now long dead.

In the kitchen, a waffle maker that hasn’t been used in weeks still on the countertop, an empty space on the wall that should hold the 2017 calendar I never got around to buying, a Tupperware cupboard in complete disarray.

In the living room, the air conditioning cover that blew off in high winds weeks ago, the snow pants that haven’t been necessary since January, the basket of Christmas cards I forgot to recycle.

And there’s more, so much more! When people ask me how I can write as much as I do when I work full time . . . this is how! I let other things go.

But the robins and red-winged blackbirds and sandhill cranes are back. The buds are swelling on the bare trees. The rivers are swollen with rain. They’re telling me that it’s time to clean up my act — clean up my house — and get ready for a new season.

The 130-Year-Old Surprise under the Stairs

In my ongoing quest to maximize storage as we remain in our house, I suggested to my husband that we should clean out the space under the basement stairs, build a custom shelving unit under there, and store hiking gear and luggage in a more efficient way. He was game and began the project a week or so ago, sawing and pounding and generally making it sound like he was removing the very foundation of the house. There were some things under there we expected to find — leftover paint, old area rugs that for some strange reason we had decided to keep even though we replaced them with other rugs we liked more, some things we used to have on the walls of our old apartment and I guess weren’t ready to get rid of, even though there was nowhere for them in this house, etc.

But there was one thing that surprised us — because we weren’t the ones who put it there and because the closed off closet under the stairs was so dark we never even noticed it.

When we first moved into the house at the end of 2005, there was a little shelf in the basement with the exact same design on it. We gave it to my in-laws because it didn’t quite fit our style. We knew it was either Eastlake or a later Eastlake-inspired piece. It would stand to reason, then, that this bundle of wood was a related piece. But just what was it, we wondered?

We brought it upstairs and started to unwrap it. It was partially packed with a September 1941 issue of The Detroit News (which I’ll show you all in a separate post because there was some great stuff in there). We laid out the pieces and started to ponder.

Some of our early theories were a mantle piece, a huge frame for a long lost mirror, or a headboard. A bit of putting the puzzle pieces together and searching for photos of Eastlake furniture online, this is what we came up with.

It’s a twin-sized headboard. It is missing at least two short pieces that would go vertically on either side of the darker piece of veneered wood in the middle. Whatever happened to those (and why the rest was saved even though it could not really be used again unless those pieces were present) will never be known.

What is quite interesting to me, knowing the history of our house, which was built in 1939, is that it is unlikely this 1880s headboard was ever used, or if is was, it wasn’t used long. The first resident of our house was a single female pediatrician named Frances Kenyon. If she moved in in 1939 or 1940, she would have used the headboard less than two years before packing it away with a 1941 newspaper (unless the paper had been around for a while before the bed was packed away).

I can envision her moving in with some hand-me-down furniture that she replaced with something more modern (perhaps something advertised in the very newspaper that was used to pack this old-fashioned piece away) when she had the means. And why did she keep the headboard she was no longer using? First of all, I know from a very knowledgeable friend of mine who is a historic preservationist that some bedsteads in past times were the finest and most expensive furniture you might own and they were passed down within families. But I’m not sure this was the case here.

More likely, I think, is that she kept it in case she might need it in the future — perhaps for a child? Frances Kenyon never married and she handed her house (my house) down to her niece, Sarah, who lived here until the early 2000s, when a young family bought it. That young family was transferred to another city, and that is how we came to own it. But maybe she wasn’t single by choice all her life. Maybe she had hoped to start a family and kept that twin headboard for a child who was never born.

And now we are left to decide what to do with it. It’s definitely been damaged while sitting on a basement floor for perhaps 75 years. It would need specially made replacement parts to again function as a headboard. And it’s just not our style. So we’re sending it to live with the shelf we already gave away. My clever in-laws will be thinking of a way to repurpose it in their home.

For me, the best part about my husband’s discovery of this artifact beneath the stairs was the pre-Pearl Harbor newspaper packed with it. I can’t wait to share it with you in a later post…

Bringing Back the Morning Room and the Drawing Room

A couple new pieces were added to the Cigar Room over the long weekend. While the menfolk were out geocaching and shooting off rockets on Black Friday, my mother-in-law and I went antiquing. I had two very specific items on my list — a small, round drink table and a vintage lamp for right next to the Eames style chair. I found the lamp right when I walked in the door of the first shop. The table was discovered in the back of the second. It’s the perfect size for the lamp, a drink, and a little candle.

We do still need to put a few more things on the wall, but the room is nearing completion. Both my husband and I find ourselves there at some point almost every day. Sometimes all day when we are writing or editing. It is perfect for sunny morning coffee and reading, afternoon tea or cigars and writing, and evening wine or decaf paired with pleasant adult conversation.

Though it’s far more masculine than the traditional morning room that a large estate may have had in the 18th or 19th century, I find that it is a nice substitute in our neighborhood of small homes built in the 1930s and 1940s.

A morning room, if you’re unaware, is just what it sounds like. A room used in the morning. Traditionally it would have been used by the lady of the house to receive visitors, plan meals, make shopping lists, and work on correspondence (I do have all my stationary there now). Lots of windows and strategic placement on the morning side of the house meant lots of natural light by which to read and write. The term is used more in Britain than the US, by why not borrow it to add a touch of formality to our stubbornly casual lives?

The morning room’s cousin is the more commonly encountered drawing room. Contrary to my childhood misunderstanding, it is not a room reserved for drawing (a fact which deeply disappointed me when I discovered it). The term is short for withdrawing room. It’s a room to which you and your guests might withdraw after a meal for conversation and drinks. Alternatively, it might be a room to which one would withdraw alone in order to escape one’s guests.

We use it to escape the messy kitchen and dining room after dinner, or the toy-strewn living room at almost any time during the day. We also use it to withdraw from noise when we are trying to read or write with other people in the house. It is mostly separated by the brick wall that used to be the outside of the house, so with the door shut it is quite insulated from the sounds of video games in the basement or music in the living room. It is an absolutely adult room — no toys allowed — and the only part of it that can get messy is the table, which is easily tidied by emptying the ash tray and putting coffee mugs into the dishwasher.

This uncluttered space has helped my state of mind immensely. It is a room in which it is equally easy to concentrate and to let the mind wander and dream. I don’t know when I’ve ever been so pleased with how a sudden redecorating whim has turned out.

Staying Put and Scheming about the Future

A couple summers ago, we began considering putting our house up for sale. Driven by a number of factors, one of the most important of which were schooling options for our son, we started cleaning stuff out, sprucing stuff up, and living on Zillow.com. The plan had been to possibly list the house this past spring. That didn’t happen.

We still weren’t in as advantageous a position as we were hoping as the Lansing real estate recovery stalled. The urgency to move was lessened by us finding a good private school we love that isn’t too terribly far away. And then this summer I thought, hey, if we’re probably staying here at least a few more years, why not make some improvements, and thus began the transformation of the sunroom into the cigar room.

Our space and storage issues remain, but some recent scheming has made it plain that it would be possible to stay long term, just as we had originally planned when we moved in. This would mean some thoughtful reconfiguration of rooms, some creative storage solutions, some updates and upgrades around the house, and hopefully (please, please may it be so) some willingness to let go of some STUFF.

We’d like to do some updates in the kitchen, someday I’d really like to replace our deteriorating driveway and squirrel-hotel of a garage, and we’ll have to tackle the issue of closet space when we eventually move our bedroom into the current office. But some of these repairs and changes open up opportunities.

For instance, moving the master bedroom to the main floor got me thinking about adding French doors to the back yard, redoing the upper patio, and having my morning coffee out there. Updating the kitchen will mean adding functionality and style. Moving the boy into our current bedroom will mean he has room for all his STUFF in there and I won’t see it all over my living room. And the small size of his current bedroom, which would become my office and studio space, means it can only be mine and no one else’s stuff will fit in it.

Muahahahahaha!!!!! A room of one’s own, the holy grail of rooms. It almost makes me want to start moving stuff around now.

The decision to stay put for a while has lit our creative spark, which is a good thing. Last month Zach made more custom built-in shelves in the fun room (aka, family room) and a couple days ago we starting scheming about new custom shelves beneath the basement stairs to house all the hiking gear.

I’m sending away a bunch of little-used STUFF from the basement, garage, and yard through liberal use of our area Freecycle group. A number of things I’ve saved over the years “for if we ever have a bigger house” can now be let go of. Things I packed away when I was thinking about showing a house and then moving, well, if I don’t miss them over the next year and they’re nothing of sentimental value, that will be the next wave of stuff to go out to new owners. And if you know me, you know I love getting rid of STUFF.

We may still find that in a few more years we’ll want to move and the opportunity will be just right. If that’s the case, we’ll hopefully have less STUFF to move and an updated house to sell. But in the meantime, we’ll get to enjoy any improvements we’ve made, rather than just doing all that work for the next owners.

Or, maybe the feeling we had when we first saw this house back in 2005 — that we could live here forever — was right all along.

Only time will tell.

 

Estate Sale Win for the Cigar Room

I am in love.

EamesChair

The cigar room continues to slowly come together with this Eames-style mid-century chair for which I got up at 6:00 AM on a Saturday. I got my name third on the sheet and should have been third in line when the sale opened, but the first two ladies were slow and apparently not too eager, so I was the first one in the door at 9:00 AM. One of the estate sale workers had already told me exactly where in the house to go for it. I snagged the tag a split second before the lady whose name was after mine on the list (and then avoided making eye contact with her).

Victory!

The lady who checked me out told me they’d gotten a lot of calls about the chair, so I bet there were a number of disappointed people out there this morning. But I’m not going to worry too much about them. Instead, I’m going to sit smugly in my awesome new chair and get back to drafting my next novel. In fact, I used the time waiting in the car this morning between 7:00 AM and 8:30 AM to get more than 700 words written, so I’d say it’s been a pretty productive morning.

Now, I say Eames-style because it is not an authentic Herman Miller Eames chair. Here’s a great article on how to tell the difference. But the estate handlers advertised it and priced it accordingly. I never would have bothered going if it were authentic.

There’s No Such Thing as Too Many Books

You’ll find books on every floor of our house, and in nearly every room (bathrooms and laundry room excluded — reading on the john is anathema in our household). You’ll even find books in the hallway and on the landing.

Were I asked to estimate how many books the three of us own, I’d be hard pressed to come up with a number (especially since when you add in Zach’s books that are housed at his office in the church, the number likely doubles!). I can say that when we moved from Grand Rapids to Lansing more than ten years ago, the estimator for the moving company did not take seriously our warnings about the literal wall of boxes in our apartment when he was blithely counting them up to add them to his sheet.

“Those are all books, so they’re going to add a lot of weight.”

“Yeah, got it.”

No, guy, you didn’t. And when we moved, the movers had to check in the weight of the truck before they left…and had to get another truck…which they wanted us to pay for despite their mistake.

I digress.

In the decade since our move to Michigan’s capital city, we’ve accumulated more books. A lot more.

Now, I tend to be a person who likes to get rid of things that are not being used or haven’t been used in the past few years. I don’t like clutter and I (along with the two little pack rats I live with) am prone to it, so it’s a constant battle to keep my environment under control. I revel in throwing away expired food and giving away unloved clothes and even abandoning those “projects” I kept meaning to get to but never did. Get it all out of the house! Give me some breathing room.

But I have no problem with books. Books we mean to read someday, books we haven’t read for years, and everything in between. They are all welcome to stay. They just need an inch or less on a shelf somewhere.

“Why not just use a Kindle? Then you don’t have to store all those books.”

We do. Both of us. And we can read on our phones. And we also keep buying printed books. Because printed books are (I’m just going to say it) better for so many reasons. One being, hey, now we don’t have to figure out what to put on that wall for decoration; the answer is always bookshelves.

Books are not only wonderful for what lay between the covers, they’re also lovely as objects in and of themselves.

Especially old books, because back when books were not oozing out of every pore of the Internet, they were made differently.

They were sewn rather than just glued. They were bound in leather or fabric. They were gilded and embossed.

Those things still happen today, of course, and there are many beautiful books. But there is something about the old ones that is especially enchanting. Even when they’re a little worse for wear.

Maybe especially then.

Creative Waiting

Waiting stinks. When we want to do something but it’s not happening on our timeline, we can get impatient and sullen and full of self pity.

Or, we can get creative.

Last summer a realtor called us inquiring about whether we or any of our neighbors were thinking of selling. Housing stock is low in the area and it’s a great time to sell.

Except when it’s not.

I had thought this spring we might make it work, but it’s just not the right time for a variety of reasons. Boo. I had been dreaming of gaining another room, maybe a bigger yard, hopefully less traffic noise and more tranquility. But mainly, more space. And I’m always excited about the possibility of just doing things a little differently.

So there’s a part of me that’s bummed. But there’s also a part of me that says, Okay, what can we do in the meantime to freshen up and make this house work just a bit longer?

The easiest way to freshen up is a new coat of paint. And the room I spend the most of my time in is the office, which is, in my son’s words, “An ugly green.”

I didn’t think so, of course, when I chose the color a decade ago. And I still don’t think it’s ugly. But maybe it is time to move on to something a little lighter and brighter. So I’m examining paint chips.

And the process of moving things out of the room in order to paint will facilitate some further decluttering and reorganizing. Why put it back the same way when there might be better options? Plus, while everything is away from the windows and baseboards, I’ll touch up the trim as well.

I don’t really have a timeline for doing this, but I’ll be sure to share the results when it’s done!

 

Anticipation

Once we get into February, it’s always the same for me. Utter elation when the sun shines, pervasive gloom when it’s gray, and the urge to do something to hasten spring. Yesterday I had that urge. Of course there’s nothing you can really do to get the leave back on the trees and wake your garden up. But when the birds start singing mating tunes, it feels as though the time for sitting around is over.

So yesterday I got out of the house. I stocked up on birdseed to make sure all those lovely little birds would visit my yard. And, oh, they have. Cardinals and chickadees, downy woodpeckers and white-breasted nuthatches, juncos and house finches. Their energetic hopping and flitting about makes me ready to do the same.

I also stopped by a greenhouse in town and got some little succulents for my petite vintage windowsill planters. Why succulents? They’re easy, they’re cheap, and in the summertime I can re-pot them together in an arrangement and place them outside if I want to. Beyond that, I’m used to getting succulents from the days our cat ate everything else that was green.

Now when I look out my office window toward the bare backyard, I see a preview of green and a tiny world that is busily getting ready for warmer weather. Perhaps I should get busy on my own nest. Someone hand me a sander and a paintbrush…

A New Rug for the Dining Room

The old one was the favored spot for both our cat and our dog when it came to vomiting (which is something each did with disturbing regularity, especially as they got older).

New Dining Room Rug

This is a little more orange in person, which matches the accent wall in the kitchen and fits nicely into the very earth-toned main floor. It’s just the quick and easy face lift the dining room needed.