Saturday, January 17, 2015

A Day of Rest

 Finally, a day off after an aggravating work-week.  Strawberries and red grapes for breakfast.  A chicken Caesar salad for lunch.  I started Patti Smith's memoir, Just Kids, this afternoon.  Beautiful writing.  And a beautiful cat stretched out on my legs while I read.  Leftover chili for supper.  And now, a big bowl of popcorn on my afghan-covered lap while I return to my book.  Bliss!  One of my favorite professors in college always wrapped up his Friday afternoon classes by advising us to have either a productive or relaxing weekend, whichever it was that we most-needed.  I think of that advice on evenings like this, when I look back on my day and its hours of reading, cat-cuddling, and catching up while Mike reads in his own chair beside me. 

Saturday, January 10, 2015

My Dream Braided Rug (or Bargaining FAIL)

Click to enlarge. 
While Mike watches football tonight, I've escaped to the bedroom to glue all the magazine clippings I've saved lately--mostly decorating ideas, some outfits, some quotes, a few recipes, some home/life tips--into my inspiration scrapbooks.  In tonight's pile of saved clippings is this page I printed and mailed to my mom in the summer of 2010.  I had found--well, seen--my dream rug on eBay and saved the seller's photos to show her.  If you click the above photo, you'll better understand my heartache at not being able to "Buy It Now" this rug.  Ah!  It is perfect for me--and a whopping 10' around so is the perfect size for under my table.    Mom had saved this page with some of her mail and gave it back to me when I was home in November.  Seeing the rug photos again makes me swoon, and rereading my note now makes me laugh. 
The eBay seller had listed a "Buy It Now" price of $850 plus shipping costs, but had set up the auction so it began at nothing and included the "Make me an offer" option.  I thought I would be crafty--I thought I actually had a SHOT at this gorgeous rug (poor naive little Val)--so I made an offer of forty dollars, thinking that the seller would say (s)he couldn't go lower than $250 or so, I'd make a counter-offer of $100, we'd settle on $150 or $200--prices that struck me as fair--and I'd ride off into the sunset on my magic rug.  I was already imagining the rug under my round gingham tablecloth-covered table,  Stuffed curled up in all his black and white glory on the colorful braids, patchwork cushions on the chairs, red Geraniums as a table centerpiece, and Holly Hobbie herself eating her heart out over this perfect, perfect rug.  On this wave of braided bliss, I confidently submitted my offer of $40.  The seller pulled my magic rug out from under me when (s)he wrote back, just seconds later, "I think you meant to add another zero to that."
My heart!  It's so silly--we're talking about a RUG, just a rug--but it still hurts.  The seller expected a STARTING offer of $400?!  Gah!  And why sellers don't just start the bidding at whatever they deem the lowest acceptable price to be instead of using the vague "Make-me-an-offer" tactic, I don't know.  I'd have never gotten my hopes up if I'd known the bidding was to start so high.  My heart, my heart!  I watched the eBay listing each day hoping that maybe the seller would lower the "Buy It Now" price or put it on sale at some point, since I couldn't imagine anyone would bid on this beautiful rug at those prices anyway, but--no.  Once when I checked it, the auction was updated as having sold--to a buyer who had simply bought it for the full "Buy It Now" price of $850 plus shipping.  And to think I had made a starting bid of $40!  Ha!  And moreover:  Someone out there has this sweet rug!  Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhh.  I hope it is well-loved and is admired every day, I hope there is a cat or dog cozily curled-up and napping on it right this minute, and I hope I myself find another just like it someday.  If I had enough space to work on one, I might, but I also wonder if, if I even had the work-space, by the time I'd buy enough materials to make a rug this size, if it wouldn't add up to a lot more than I'd want to spend on just one item anyway.  I don't know.  In the meantime, I keep the photos and my note in one of my inspiration scrapbooks and hope for "someday."  And I think:  Forty dollars!?!  HA!  Val, Val, Val.  :)

Friday, January 9, 2015


The Hyacinth is almost in full-bloom now, exactly a week since I brought it home from the grocery store, and I keep thinking as I admire it--pausing for a long sniff of the flowers every time I walk past the mantel--that I should start giving out single bulbs in forcing vases as holiday gifts, as this has brightened the past week so much.  My older brother used to give pots of Amaryllis as Christmas presents.  Collecting the vases and selecting the bulbs would be a sweet little project this year. 

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Brighter Days and French Breads

"The shortest day has passed, 
and whatever nastiness of weather 
we may look forward to in January and February, 
 at least we notice that the days are getting longer.  
Minute by minute they lengthen out.  
It takes some weeks before we become aware of the change.  
It is imperceptible even as the growth of a child, 
as you watch it day by day, 
 until the moment comes when with a start of delighted surprise 
we realize that we can stay out of doors 
in a twilight lasting for another quarter of a precious hour."
~  Vita Sackville-West, 
December 30th, 1956
I love that passage.  Right now at five-o'clock, it is still light out.  I'm not minding January this year.  Some years, as they say, are better than others.  Last year, almost everything about the month got on my nerves, or so I remember it.  This January finds me feeling hopeful and cozy.  Three loaves of Glenda's French bread are in the middle of their second rise and will soon be placed in the oven to go with tonight's supper--it feels like a soup and bread night here--so the scents of yeast and flour are in the air.  Love.  The last time I made French bread, it was 2001 and I had just turned twenty-four.  I used my grandmother's recipe and ended up with ohhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh! dozens?! of small and almost-inedible loaves.  Grandma had died just a few weeks before and I tried to honor her by making her bread for a family dinner.  Bad, brokenhearted timing, and after hours of kneading, punching-down, forming loaves, and baking:  Bad, brokenhearted bread too.  I trust that tonight's loaves will be better.   The smell of homemade bread, in all the bread's stages, always takes me back to my grandparents' kitchen outside of Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania.  Just before sliding her loaves into the oven, Grandma would slice a small X into the top of each one.  One Baking Day while I was staying with at my grandparents' house, I decided to add the finishing touch of a letter V to each of the loaves, and Grandma was first perplexed and then amused.  Few things taste as good as fresh bread with butter, and the smell of the loaves instantly transports me back to Grandma's apron-covered side.  It is always--likely forever and always--almost impossible to believe that if I went to my grandparents' house at any given moment, that I wouldn't find them there.  Surely, Grandma is nodding off a bit in her armchair right now as I write this and thinking every time she wakes that she really needs to get up and put together a little supper for her and Papa.  Surely, Papa keeps walking from the back porch to check the thermometer to the kitchen to look out the window at the snow.  If I called right now, I would wake Grandma from her catnap, but she would be tickled to hear from me, and we would want to hear that the other was staying warm and would ask what the other was making for supper.  She would tell me what she and Papa might watch on television that evening--usually a nature program--and would mention that Papa would be walking down to the post office in the morning to mail her next letter to me.  I would tell her that I'm taking down the Christmas tree tonight and that Stuffed has been stretched out like a piece of gum along the bedroom radiator all day.  We would say "I love you" before hanging up and soon we would both settle down to our simple meals of homemade soup and French bread.  

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

January Hearts

It is 13° outside and feels like -4°, according to the weather reports, but I forced myself out for a short walk this afternoon anyway.  I'm sure it did me good, but the wind is beastly, and by the time I returned home, I felt like a cartoon character in need of an anvil-hit to thaw myself.  It was freezing here last year at this time, too, though, and there is an odd comfort in seeing that.  Here we are again, one week into January. 

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

The Hyacinth Today

In just the five days after I brought it home, the Hyacinth has grown a few inches and has already begun to bloom.  Life moves fast when you're an indoor bulb, I guess.  And it really will be white, as I was hoping.  To see the flowers appearing today as the city receives its first few inches of real snow has made it all even sweeter on this January day. 

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Mom's Birthday

My mom's birthday should fall in May or June, it's always seemed to me.  She doesn't seem like a winter birthday person, but instead like one who should get to enjoy a garden party in full sunshine on her day.  She has Mother's Day in springtime, at least.  

I've introduced Mom to the artwork of Susan Wheeler, creator of the illustrated "Holly Pond Hill" world, in the past few years.  I sent her the Wheeler card above a few days ago--she mentioned tonight how she loved the giggling mice on it--and as part of a small package that postal service tracking promises will arrive Monday morning, one of Wheeler's Holly Pond Hill books titled Today Is Your Day.  Every one of Wheeler's illustrations in it is "so Mom," I can't imagine a more perfect book for her.  If reincarnation exists and Mom has any say in it, she will come back as a tea-drinking rabbit dressed like Tasha Tudor.  The rustic cottages depicted in Wheeler's artwork are what do it for me:  The arched windows and doors, the scalloped shingles, the colorful furniture. . . .Bliss! 
The illustration above reminds me of the treasured photo below of Mom's surprising me--the oddball sixteen-year-old with a lap full of decorating magazines--with my birthday cake in 1993.  Birthday laughter, the best of gifts. 
When I talked with her earlier tonight, she said that she'd gotten to see both my brothers and their families in the past few days, had talked with her sister Laurie and their friend Vickie, and that she and Dad had enjoyed their weekend together. All good news. 
Mom had mentioned while I was home at Christmas that she misses chocolate-covered pretzels now that she's gone gluten-free, and I found her a box of gluten-free ones last week to include in her package.  She had surprised me on Christmas Eve:  While I was baking, Mike checked the mail and returned with a tiny box from her that contained a felt stocking holding a few of the chocolate marshmallow snowmen I'd discovered last month and raved about while home last month and the smallest gift box with an Old English Sheepdog key-chain inside.  
The box was the perfect size for a miniature gift for her--
--so I reused it for her blue floral tea pot and plate of cookies-- 
--and then re-wrapped the box itself, so the silly surprise will be more of a surprise.  :) 
Last spring or summer, I had found a couple sheets of vintage blue wrapping paper with colonial-looking tavern signs like those Mom collects on it, and I saved it for this year's birthday package.  
I had enough to wrap the book, pretzels, miniatures, and a couple sets of note cards too, and since there was still some left, I covered the outside of the entire package in it then strengthened it with clear tape before taking it to the post office. 
 Happy birthday, Mom. 

Friday, January 2, 2015

Forcing Vase

While turning the corner in the grocery store's produce department earlier tonight, I spotted a small selection of Hyacinth bulbs in glass forcing vases.  Love!    I've wanted one of these vases for ages now and had never treated myself to one until now.  Only $5, so I'm tempted to go back for a couple more.  I want windowsills filled with them someday--all different colors and shapes and sizes--I just find them so charming.  So begins the collection! 
I'm doing the Snoopy happy dance here every time I look at it. It is, indeed, the little things.  :) 

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Happy New Year

One of the stunning old cards in Grandma's box of saved correspondence.  And one of my favorites.  A happy new year to you all. 

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Favorites from 2014

I hope to tell you the story of these roses next week.  They marked a happy occasion for me this past year and are one of 2014's photos and stories that didn't make the blog.  Next week, I hope. 
The year ends with the wing chair re-do still in-progress.  I'm still looking for fabric for the seat cover and back. 
I mentioned in February that my older brother's "fortieth birthday fudge" arrived broken into pieces and that I was disappointed but was not going to beat myself up about it, but alas, I couldn't resist making a new batch for him later that month.  I left it at my parents' house for him during a visit home along with another gift and a hand-painted deer ornament.  Forty is a big deal; it was worth a second batch of Grandma's fudge. 
My new camera brought immeasurable joy to my days this year.  The Neil Gaiman quote I opened a January post with--"I hope that in the year to come, you make mistakes.  Because if you are making mistakes, you are making new things, trying new things, learning, living, pushing yourself, changing yourself, changing your world"--has come to mind so many times this year, the quote itself has felt like a gift.  I remember my grandfather telling me that, "People who don't make mistakes don't make anything" at a time when I needed to hear exactly that, and to hear this echo of his words in the Gaiman quote has been a blessing to me.  That I now have a real camera to take with me on my walks is just wonderfully fun for me.  The Mourning Dove below was perched on a fence-post as I returned from a walk this summer--
--and I never could have taken a picture with detail like that with the camera on my old flip-phone.  You understand my joy.  :)
I mentioned at the end of 2013 that one of my goals for 2014 was to be more organized and thoughtful with my gift-wrapping like my dear aunt Laurie always is.  I put more thought into my gift-wrapping, but I didn't end the year any more organized with it.  Mom had predicted that it would be harder for us to be as  organized as Aunt Laurie is with these types of things since Aunt Laurie's entire attic serves as her space for craft supplies and gift wrap supplies and gifts-yet-to-be-given.  In a one-bedroom apartment, I don't have the same set-up, and after multiple organizational attempts this year, I've come to accept that I'll just have to do the best I can with what I have when it comes to this.  Maybe someday, I too will have a space I can devote to all things gift-giving-related.  Aunt Laurie didn't have her attic until she was in her forties, after all, so I still have time.  Dare to dream.  ;) 
Our Easter table this year was sweet--turquoise and peach with rabbits--but I never got a post up about it.  One of the local grocery stores had these adorable bunny truffles in its store-made candy department, so I bought two for our place-settings.  If I'm remembering right, the ears were nuts--probably almond slices.  Anyway, I want to make these sometime--maybe for Easter 2015.  They "made" the table. 
 The girl-holding-her-cat figurine above was my favorite birthday gift this year.  This was how it looked after I painted it to resemble me and Stuffed.  I'm not a kick-knack person, but this little figure's so special to me. 
One of the highlights of this past year--that also somehow didn't make it onto the blog--was a Color Run 5k race my friend Marylou and I ran/walked/laughed our way through this summer.  I told Marylou if she'd come up from West Virginia for it and drive us to the race city, I'd pay for the motel stay and race fees.  We made it work, and especially since it was the first time we'd seen each other since 2008, we had a blast.  
That I was still finding purple and green powder from the run in my hair two showers later was a small price to pay.  It was my first race of any length since 2011.  So fun! 
In June, I got home in time to see my favorite rose, Louise Odier, in-bloom. 
I also got to see all three of my mom's sisters.  The above picture of Mom and Aunt Laurie is my all-time favorite of them together.  This is the one I framed as part of Aunt Laurie's birthday gift last week.   
During that June visit home, my aunt Heidi showed me this old picture of me and my mom--I posted the black and white version awhile back--and it has become one of my most-treasured possessions.  I'd never seen it before.  Love, love, love. 
I took photos I loved too. 
And wrote at least one post this year that made me proud.  I'd wanted to write about Papa and Grandma's crayon can for years, and I finally found the words.  
A double rainbow appeared behind our apartment this summer. 
 Stuffed was as dear as ever.    Each year--each day--with this sweet soul is a gift.  
I walked many miles in 2014. 
And lost pounds that I have regained and lost and regained since then, the story of my life, it seems, but the glory is in the attempt, etc. 
I am ending 2014 having donated 251 books and 57 book character toys/dolls to my former elementary school's library.  The new year's first donations will be delivered when the kids return to school after holiday break next week.  :)
Home continues to be cozy and colorful.  
Mr. V wrote back!  A long letter arrived in the mail just a few days after I'd mailed out his in October.    He is now in-touch with my younger brother via Facebook, which also delights me.  I got in touch with my kindergarten teacher and second grade teacher this year too, and they and I have emailed back and forth a few times, as well.  My heart glows just thinking about it. 
More walks.  A glorious autumn, the most colorful one I remember ever seeing. 
And a year that ends with memories of more gifts happily created and given--Emmet!  --
--and happily received
2014 was challenging and beautiful and colorful and full of love.  May 2015 shine just as brightly, and may I be a better and braver person by its end.    I'm working on it, and the work continues.   Ah!  Happy new year to you all!