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It’s Nearly Spring. Shouldn’t You Be Redecorating?

My crafty mother-in-law and her friend have started an Etsy shop called Homespun Favorites. They upcycle vintage items –like biscuit cutters, candy molds, medicine bottles, rulers, sheet music, books, and more — turning them into one-of-a-kind decor.

Just look at these sweet little things!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Clicking on any of the images above will take you right to the listing. Then you can explore the other (very-reasonably-priced-especially-for-etsy) offerings.

If you are a fan of the style of Joanna Gaines (Fixer Upper and Magnolia Home) or shabby chic decorating, you’ll want to bookmark this shop.

Radio Silence = Real-Life Insanity

Maybe insanity is a strong word.

Maybe.

But I’ve thrown my entire house into chaos at the same time I am doing my first edit on my debut novel (you know, the one that will take the most concentrated thought).

If you follow me on Instagram you probably know that I am finally working on the #roomswitcheroo, wherein we move the master bedroom downstairs into the current office, my son’s bedroom into our current master bedroom, and my current office into my son’s room.

It’s madness here.

There’s a little bit of my son’s room in my room (and also in the hallway).

There’s a little bit of my husband’s closet in my office.

There’s a little bit of my new office in our living room.

There’s a lot of my office in my son’s closet.

Oh, and I have to paint two rooms (and the woodwork in those two rooms). And a closet.

Oh, and the big furniture can’t be moved up and down the stairs inside because of a tight right turn that probably seemed like a good idea in the 1930s when furniture was smaller.

So we have to move those out onto the roof of the smoke room and up and down a ladder.

And big furniture is really heavy.

And we got a foot of snow over the weekend.

And did I mention the manuscript edits?

Yes. Insanity is the correct word. Low-grade, garden variety Erin insanity.

 

These Changeable Days

It is a cloudy morning, but a springish light is in the air. Despite it being January. We’re all discombobulated by the weather, bouncing between thaw and freeze, rain and snow, sun and clouds. In the words of They Might Be Giants, “Everyone’s excited and confused.”

Lonely piles of snow still linger in the cold and sheltered places, but much of my world is a dull wash of brown and faded green. One day I walk our little chihuahua mix with her plaid coat on and worry about her little paws and ears freezing. The next she goes out naked, splashing through puddles of meltwater, going ballistic when she sees a squirrel.

This is January?

There is a tall and slender dead ash tree in the back yard that is listing northwest, aiming for the garage. It looks like a rope and a couple of determined guys could pull it the rest of the way down. Part of me worries about it and part of me is rooting for it. But it’s not big enough to do enough damage so that we’d have to replace the garage and might be able to claim some insurance money to get the job done. 

I worry about the fence as well. Katy is small enough to fit through the spaces between pickets. The fence needs to be replaced — it is rotting in spots, pulling away from the posts. But on one side the neighbors have a new metal fence Katy can get under and through with little effort. A tie-out is one solution, though it’s apt to get tangled up in bushes. A mostly invisible wire fence along the neighbor’s metal fence is another. For now, we take her out on a leash.

There’s a strange, unsettledness to life right now. We have more orphaned socks in our sock bag than ever before. I’ve been washing dishes by hand every day as we figure out a solution to a dishwasher problem. The workroom is clean, yet there’s sawdust being tracked through the house. The outdoor Christmas lights lie in a pile by the door, drying out before we can put them away in the attic. The far end of the dining room table is gathering an assortment of papers and Legos and headphones and items with no home. Desks are almost clean. Laundry is mostly done. Books are all half read.

And I have started writing a new novel. A story about sisters and identity and a hiking trip that will go very bad, but ultimately be good.

I don’t know yet how 2018 feels to me. I do know that eventually the seasons will figure themselves out. Eventually that dead tree will come down, one way or another. Eventually the fencing issue will be resolved.

Ultimately, it will be good.

Blessings in the Midst of Burdens

During the long weekend, my little family piled into the car and headed for Tennessee to visit dear friends at their new house. Somehow we didn’t get the news that a massive winter storm would be sweeping over our entire nearly 700-mile trip down on Friday, or that another winter storm would be sweeping over much of our nearly 700-mile return trip Monday. I guess being rather more disconnected from social media has its disadvantages.

Fortunately, we grew up driving in Michigan.

Unfortunately, most of the other drivers we encountered did not.

And apparently the Tennessee Department of Transportation doesn’t understand how to properly salt their roads. Or, you know, salt them at all.

We were so grateful not to have been stuck on I-40 West, which was closed for hours and hours due to a crash that involved 16 semi trucks, and on which some people were stuck in their cars overnight. (There were still stranded and overturned semis on the highway when we left three days later.) We had gotten off that highway early on and taken a dark, winding, icy state highway that was mostly empty, rolling into the Jackson, Tennessee, area around 9pm. We should have gotten there by 4pm, had it not been for the weather and traffic snarls.

But we did get there. In one piece. And that is a blessing.

We had a delightful couple days hanging out, eating good food, smoking cigars, watching movies, and marveling at how an entire state can be so unprepared for winter weather events, even though apparently it does snow occasionally and, sometimes, intensely. (The lady at Wal-Mart had never heard of using salt to melt ice, and while the store was well-stocked with gardening gloves and grass seed, there was not a snow shovel to be found.)

The trip home was rather uneventful and far less stressful, though the roads were still sloppy part of the way. We were happy to be reunited with our newest family member, who I introduced in my latest email newsletter. (Aside, if you’d like to get on that mailing list for future monthly newsletters, you can sign up here.)

Then this morning when my husband was taking my son to school, my car got a flat tire. And I felt grateful all over again that it didn’t happen on an already long and taxing multi-state drive down treacherous highways.

Sometimes we have to look past our inconveniences to see our blessings.

We had a terrible drive — but not as terrible as some.

We visited the South on the one weekend in years that it was experiencing the kind of winter weather we always experience and, by January, are usually pretty tired of — but it meant that we spent all of our time in the house with our friends, and that’s what we wanted to do down there anyway.

We got a flat tire — but in the scheme of things, that’s not really that big of a deal.

Storms sweep through our lives — but in the midst of them, we can still praise the God who brings us through.

And next time we visit our friends, we’ll be flying down.

The 3-Month Painting of Manido Falls

Hello, stranger! It’s 2018 and I have a moment to breathe. In fact, it’s my 38th birthday, which means I have the day to myself. Because of winter break, I never went to school on my birthday, so when I joined the working world, I decided I would never work on my birthday either. I take the day off and putz around. It’s marvelous, especially after the craziness of Christmas, my wedding anniversary, New Year’s Eve, and taking down the Christmas decorations. Added to it all this year were two and a half trips to Grand Rapids, with much of the way during one of those trips being in near-constant white-out conditions; one trip to Bay City; two funerals, which were emotionally draining; and a low-level sickness of some sort almost the entire time.

BUT, it’s my birthday today so I’ll do what I want to.

And I wanted to paint.

Back in October, before the kitchen renovation project got underway, I started a new painting.

I got this far.

And then I screwed up. I had to paint over my mistake and wait a couple weeks for the paint to dry so I could continue. Then the holidays happened.

Today I dove back in head first. I added the waterfall I had previously botched.

And when that seemed to go well, I added everything else.

I’m really happy with the results. The subject is Manido Falls, which you may remember from this post about the tail end of my epic Upper Peninsula road trip this past June.

It’s not an exact representation but an interpretation. I’m trying to break myself of attempting to recreate photos and instead consider a painting on its own terms. In this case that meant added red tones to the rocks that weren’t that strong in the original photo in order to complement the greens of the trees.

Once this is dry I will list it in my Etsy store, Erin’s Artful Life.

 

Loosening the Facebook Noose and Rediscovering the Natural World

Two days ago, we got about five inches of snow. Yesterday was clear and cold, six degrees in the morning, warming to about twenty. My son spent his snow day largely out in the snow despite the temperatures. Between bouts his snow gear tumbled around in the dryer to get it ready for the next session.

Today it is snowing again and my yard is filled with birds munching seeds from dead flower heads and from the feeders which I’ve moved to the north side of the house so we can watch them from the kitchen and the dining room table. The neighbor’s garage acts as a windbreak for them.

We’ve seen dozens of goldfinches in their dull winter coats all vying for a place on the feeder with the thistle seed in it. House finches prefer the sunflower seeds in the tube feeder. Juncos pick up the scraps that fall to the ground. A woodpecker has been carving away at the seed cylinder that is laced with cayenne pepper to keep the squirrels off it. Sparrows and nuthatches and cardinals and chickadees and the occasional blue jay round out the company.

“It snowed all yesterday and never emptied the sky, although the clouds looked so low and heavy they might drop all at once with a thud,” writes Annie Dillard in Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, which I’m reading for the first time. Winter is a good time for reading anything, but especially nature writing.

I find myself jealous of all that is right outside of Annie’s door in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia and I recall how much time I used to spend outside, especially in winter, when I lived in Grand Rapids and volunteered at Blandford Nature Center. Winter and early spring hikes around the property were always far better than those taken in summer. The world holding its breath all winter and then finally releasing it. Each spring hike a wonder as new things came alive. The wonder of spring only made possible by the icy grip of winter.

I think I love winter more every year.

My friend Cindy Crosby writes in the tradition of Annie Dillard, though she is in the great wide prairie lands rather than the mountains. If you enjoy nature writing, you may like her blog or her book The Tallgrass Prairie: An Introduction. Here’s the description from Amazon:

More than a region on a map, North America’s vast grasslands are an enduring place in the American heart. Unfolding along and beyond the Mississippi River, the tallgrass prairie has entranced and inspired its natives and newcomers as well as American artists and writers from Willa Cather to Mark Twain. The Tallgrass Prairie is a new introduction to the astonishing beauty and biodiversity of these iconic American spaces.

 

Like a walking tour with a literate friend and expert, Cindy Crosby’s Tallgrass Prairie prepares travelers and armchair travelers for an adventure in the tallgrass. Crosby’s engaging gateway assumes no prior knowledge of tallgrass landscapes, and she acquaints readers with the native plants they’ll discover there. She demystifies botanic plant names and offers engaging mnemonic tips for mastering Latin names with verve and confidence. Visitors to the prairie will learn to identify native plants using the five senses to discover what makes each plant unique or memorable. In the summer, for example, the unusual square stem of cup plant, Silphium perfoliatum, sets it apart from its neighbors. And its distinctive leaf cups water after the rain.

 

A gifted raconteur, Crosby tells stories about how humankind has adopted the prairie as a grocery, an apothecary, and even as a shop for love charms. Rounding out this exceptional introduction are suggestions for experiencing the American prairie, including journaling techniques and sensory experiences, tips for preparing for a hike in tallgrass landscapes, ways to integrate native prairie plants into home landscapes (without upsetting the neighbors), and a wealth of resources for further exploration.

 

An instant classic in the tradition of American naturalist writing, The Tallgrass Prairie will delight not only scholars and policy makers, but guests to tallgrass prairie preserves, outdoors enthusiasts and gardeners, and readers interested in American ecosystems and native plants.

Earlier this week, two red-tailed hawks took a brief respite in a maple tree in my back yard then went on hunting. I felt lucky to see them. And I feel lucky that I live in a place that gets a real winter, which always feels like my own respite. A Sabbath season.

I’m winding down my year of reading A Year with C. S. Lewis: Daily Readings from His Classic Works. Today’s selection includes this observation: “When promiscuity is the fashion, the chaste are outsiders. They are ignorant of something that other people know. They are uninitiated.” Lewis is talking not just of chastity versus promiscuity in this selection, but of the desire to be part of the Inner Circle of mankind. To be in the know. An early 20th century version of FOMO (fear of missing out).

I never used to care about being at one with the Zeitgeist. I was comfortably on the outside, not even looking in, because I was spending my time looking at the same kinds of things Annie Dillard and Cindy Crosby were looking at. And I felt with certainty that was the one in the know, in the inner circle. I noticed the things that mattered while everyone else was whirling about trying to be current. I was the insider and they were all outside, not even looking in, because they were too busy for the slow, constant, predictable motion of the natural world.

Sometime in the late 2000s, that changed, and I’ve spent a decade far more engaged with the tumult of mankind than I could ever have imagined I’d be. It’s probably 100% due to my entrance into social media by joining Facebook in 2007. And honestly, I’m not happy about it.

There are things that have to be said, wounds that have to be opened, policies that need to change, and power structures that should probably be toppled. It’s certainly unclear if social media is the most effective place to do this. It certainly is clear that social media makes people feel less understood, less connected, and more anxious and depressed than they would otherwise be. It is the ultimate irony of our times.

The history of mankind and the history of everything else in the world run on parallel tracks, one frenetic and anxious and bumpy, the other timeless and deliberate and while not unchanging certainly changing slower and for more logical reasons sometimes.

Maybe its too early for resolutions, but this has been on my mind. This desire to jump back over to that other track for a while and remember that the weight of the world’s problems are not a burden I need to carry. I can’t carry it.

In his first letter to the church in Thessalonica, Paul encourages them to “make it your ambition to lead a quiet life.” And to the Romans he says, “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.” This is hard to do in a democracy. It is made all the more difficult when media and social media seem designed to stir up anger, fear, dissension, and self-righteousness.

When I first joined Facebook, it was fun. It was a waste of time, no doubt, but it was fun. Now it’s mostly not. I’m not dumping it entirely for 2018, but I’m taking a step back. I’m unfollowing A LOT of people. I’m limiting my time on it, and eliminating it entirely on weekends. I’m going to go quiet. Take a Sabbath rest. Rediscover my blog, which I’ve let go quiet this fall.

I’m really looking forward to 2018. A time to start fresh. A pure white blanket of fresh-fallen snow. A year of possibilities. A year to buckle down and work on what pleases me. A year to lead a quieter life, at peace with those around me.

I’m not worried about missing out. I’m looking forward to it.

 

On the State of My Desk

At this moment, there’s a lot going on . . . on my desk. The standard things are there: computer, keyboard, mouse, speakers, two landlines (yes, two), lamp, my little coffee warmer hotplate thing that makes drinking coffee in any other room of the house just a little disappointing.

There are other things as well. Yesterday’s coffee mug still waiting to go to the kitchen. A piece of broken glass from the Silverdome sitting on an iridescent shell found on the sandy shore of Thumb Lake. A painted rock. A tray of nineteen Petoskey stones, all found at camp. A tray of pennies. A cactus. A tube of mostly organic moisturizer.

There’s wrapping paper and tissue paper, scotch tape and packing tape. There’s a list of gifts bought, gifts intended, check marks next to those that have been wrapped.

There’s a pincushion, a spool of thread, sewing scissors, a package of elastic, and two stuffed animals (five originally) that need some surgery.

There’s a pair of sunglasses, a couple keys, a barrette. A measuring tape, a couple catalogs, the bill from the eye doctor, the plate from my breakfast.

There’s my work binder with its lists of books in various stages of completion. Copy trackers and catalog schedules and pagination documents.

And there’s my planner, hanging out on the edge of one of those pull out trays old desks have. Ah, the well-intentioned planner.

Inside, things are just as chaotic. Files, yes. Pens and pencils. Post-Its. But also German flashcards, one of those spidery-looking head massagers, collections of state quarters and national park quarters and the first twenty presidential dollar coins. Guitar picks, silicone iPod covers, stacks of business cards I have never consulted.

Last night I finished reading White Noise by Don DeLillo, first published in 1984. After his college town is involved in “an airborne toxic event” the main character is more and more convinced that he is dying (and of course, in the existential sense, he is, just as everybody is always coming one moment closer to their deaths). Near the end of the book, he starts throwing things away, starting with things obviously no one needs — broken things, obsolete things — and then moving on to things you do need — like soap and shampoo still being used in the shower — until his daughters have to stop him.

“The more things I threw away, the more I found. The house was a sepia maze of old and tired things. There was an immensity of things, an overburdening weight, a connection, a mortality. I stalked the rooms, flinging things into cardboard boxes. . . . It took well over an hour to get everything down to the sidewalk. No one helped me. I didn’t want help or company or human understanding. I just wanted to get the stuff out of the house. I sat on the front steps alone, waiting for a sense of ease and peace to settle in the air around me.”

And later, “I was in a vengeful and near savage state. I bore a personal grudge against these things. Somehow they’d put me in this fix. They’d dragged me down, made escape impossible.”

I fully admit that I know the feeling of being overburdened with things, tired of having to organize them and try to keep them neat. I regularly go through purges. I purged when we renovated the kitchen. I recently put two chairs and an old printer from my office on the side of the road. Last weekend, my husband and I helped our son do a full cleaning of his room. We threw away an entire garbage bag of junk, sent several bags of clothes on to our church’s Love Clothing Center, half-filled a very large box with stuff for Goodwill. It took hours and hours.

It never feels like enough.

DeLillo’s character seemed to be doing it out of a sense that these objects were in some way connected to his own mortality and he was afraid to die. He waited to feel a lightness but it never came because the objects weren’t the real problem.

I, on the other hand, always feel lighter when I get rid of things.

Next year I will be moving my office to the smallest room in the house. What a perfect excuse to do a little more purging. At some point perhaps I will have little else than books and rocks and art supplies to my name. It won’t help me escape death. But it will make life feel far lighter.

Operation Kitchen Facelift Is Complete!

It’s been nearly a month, but I think I can finally call this project done! Let’s get right to the photos, shall we?

Here is the kitchen before:

Warm and sunny, but over the 12 years we’ve lived in this house, those white cupboards, which were really just painted with primer, not actual paint, got dingier and dingier and more and more like the teeth of someone who drank too much tea all their life. They needed a bleaching session.

And I’d always been bothered that the cupboard knobs and the drawer pulls were shiny rather than matte and especially that they did not actually match each other, the pulls being silver and the knobs being almost black.

Also the wood-grain-looking laminate counters had some problems, namely at the ends. On one end the endcap piece had come off, leaving the particle board interior visible when you sat at the dining room table and on the other end it didn’t meet up with the stove, so all manner of grease and particles of food made their way down to the floor, catching themselves on the dishwasher’s insulation blanket on the way.

And speaking of the dishwasher, there was nothing holding up that end of the counter but the dishwasher, which made it hard to open and shut.

These are all things you can live with, so we lived with them, knowing that kitchen renovation can be disruptive and expensive. But finally the right time came. We planned and priced things out, went with the cheaper and easy-to-care for option for the countertop, bought paint and knobs and pulls, and then settled in for at least three weeks of patching and painting during every spare moment.

And this is what we ended up with after:

Every choice we made for this project grew out of the choice of the countertops, which are laminate slate basalt (or basalt slate, I can’t remember which) which were chosen because we knew we wouldn’t ruin them, we could install them ourselves, and they would keep the costs down significantly. So the paint on the wall (Glidden, Hazy Seacliff Teal — the color is a bit off in the photo and actually looks very different in different lights) was chosen to work with the deep grey and black of the counters.

I moved my cookbooks to the top open shelves above the sink and got new spice racks. And the sink itself was kind of an odyssey.


This is the fourth one I bought. Our house was built in 1939 and these are the original cupboards, so they are smaller than today’s standard, and a standard 33″ sink will not fit. I wanted a single basin so I had room for my big pots and canners, and so that I didn’t just mindlessly fill one side with dirty dishes but instead had to empty the dishwasher. The faucet is the kind where the sprayer is built into the end and can be pulled out and retracts automatically.

The wine rack on the wall to the left in the above picture was, like the spice rack, found on Amazon after going to eleven stores looking for both. Apparently everyone has more counter space than I do and is just fine with wine and spice racks sitting there, taking up space, because not one store had a selection of wall-mounted varieties. But in a small 1939 kitchen, space is at a premium. In fact, all of my “decorations” on the walls are functional.

The things on either side of the clock above the window here are commonly used, easily adaptable recipes. The idea came to me when I was going through my cookbooks and moving them to the shelves above the sink. Two that I use more frequently than the others are binder-type cookbooks that don’t stack well and anyway I thought ought to be more accessible. But really the main things I get out of the one are the pancake and waffle recipes, which I know by heart but compulsively double check because I don’t want to confuse amounts of ingredients in my head.

So I thought, why not just make them a design element and put them on the wall?

But just a couple recipes isn’t enough for decor, so I found more that, while I don’t make them frequently, I make them more frequently than others. Shortcake, banana bread, pancakes, waffles, blueberry muffins, pound cake, sugar cookies, and chocolate chip cookies. I’m hoping that having them on the wall will make me think to make some of them more often.

I also wanted a chalkboard to replace the little whiteboard on our fridge where we write all the things we’ve run out of so we know what to add to the grocery shopping list. This I also could not find in a store to save my life. Either they were too big or too small, and none of them seemed to be an actual, real chalkboard. They were largely just a flat surface that was painted black and didn’t have the feel of something that would properly interact with chalk, if you know what I mean. So again, Amazon to the rescue.

The little thing on the wall beneath it is actually a tray-style birdfeeder I’ve had there for years and that’s where the chalk and eraser go. Originally we had put our garage door opener in it, but the garage door opener has been broken for years.

One thing I had wanted for years was to move the cabinet knobs to the corners where they could more easily be reached and get the cup-style drawer pulls. This meant a lot of spackle before I could paint, especially on the drawers. The people who had this house before us had replaced the original 3 1/2″ drawer pulls with 3″ drawer pulls. But rather than spackle and drill new holes to ensure that the pulls were centered, they drilled one new hole and used one old hole and the style of the pull was such that it hid the old unused hole. So all this time, our drawer pulls have been slightly off center. And while we never noticed visually, the drawers have always been hard to pull out and push in without getting them crooked. Remember, old cupboards. There are no metal tracks that the drawers travel on — it’s just wood on wood.

So I went ahead and did it right, though it took more time of course. I also decided to remove some doors on some more of the upper cabinets entirely. I love the idea of open shelving when I see it in magazine or pinterest photos, but not for my whole kitchen. I know what’s in some of these cupboards and it isn’t pretty enough to be on display. But there is certainly room for some open shelving in my life.

Once everything was light and bright with new paint (seriously, look back over these photos at the amount of woodwork and you will see that this was indeed a laborious task) the floor looked sad and meh, and maybe someday we will tackle that (or rather have someone else tackle it) but not right now. I’d love to see it with old-style shiny hexagon tile, white with a black stripe all around the outsides and dark grout.

And looking at the pictures now I wonder if a white beadboard ceiling or even a tin ceiling would be cool. No, I don’t wonder. It would be. So sometime down the line I can see the ceiling and floor getting redone. But for now, this is quite a transformation in its own right.