Sunday, May 26, 2013

We Who Here Read

From the plaque of a favorite local monument:  "With humility, gratitude, and remembrance, we honor forever those our neighbors who gave their lives. . .that we who here read might live in these United States in peace with both God and man." 

Monday, May 20, 2013

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Home Sweet Apartment ~ in Pink

Since bringing back from my parents' house the mantel my dad built for me and Mike last April, I've been painting it and fixing up the things that will surround it.  My treasured old "Home Sweet Apartment" needlepoint is the first piece I've revamped for the mantel-wall.  It was one of my very first eBay finds back in 2001, that most-miserable of years, and even though--or maybe especially because--I was unexpectedly living with my parents again at the time, I was thrilled when mine was the winning bid:  This vintage sampler, like a Field of Dreams-type "If-you-find-the-decorations-for-it-the-new-home-will-come" talisman,  gave me something concrete to work toward as a frustrated twenty-four-year-old.  

In the summer of 2002 when I finally had my first all-to-myself-with-no-roommates apartment, I delighted in unpacking the needlepoint and dolling it up, and what a year before had arrived pine green and maroon with an unfinished wooden frame became pink and aqua to match the little dining nook in my new place.  
"Home Sweet Apartment" behind me as I would sit in the corner seat under it there and work on school work for my second Masters program.  "Home Sweet Apartment" beside my newly-ex-boyfriend and I as we sat across from each other at this vintage tablecloth-clad table eating bowls of my homemade soup and awkwardly figuring out our post-breakup friendship.  "Home Sweet Apartment" above me as I bawled my heart out in this pink-dotted chair the following New Year's night after realizing we weren't ready to be "just friends" just yet and that we might never be able to in this lifetime.  The sampler over me and my mom when she showed up on a whim with two chocolate muffins from the bakery and listened as I made us tea and told her all about it.  The sampler over a whole bunch of us when I hosted both my first family dinner and first birthday party and relearned that as long as I had love to give--and gave it--I wasn't down for the count.  Before I moved out of this first "all mine" apartment, a former professor joined me for cookies and lemonade under the needlepoint and commented that I was good at making people feel welcome.  "Hospitality is your thing, isn't it," he thoughtfully noted.  And that's when "Home Sweet Apartment" really clicked for me:  I really had created a home here, not just filled and decorated a rented space. 
The pink and aqua needlepoint became a more subdued and not-very-Val-like red and yellow in 2007, so as not to overwhelm Mike with my pink-and-rainbow-loving tendencies.  Our studio apartment was so tiny, it was hard to do any real decorating in it at all, so the yellow and red actually didn't bother me too much.  When you can roll out of bed in your home-sweet-apartment and land on the kitchen floor, or open the bathroom door while sitting at the dinner table, the color combination of a sampler's matte and frame isn't your biggest homemaking concern.  Besides, the sweet sampler watched over me and Mike, this time hanging from the apartment's built-in mantel, during all our goings-on for four years the same as it had when it had been pink and aqua for me before.  Home was still love-filled and our favorite place.  Be it ever so humble, you know.   
Today it became pink again, though, and I don't see it changing after this.  It finally looks just right to me.  I covered the yellow matte with the dotted pink upholstery fabric that I had used to cover the captain chairs in my little circa-2002 pink and aqua corner.  I repainted the red frame black.  And I removed the glass-front since I don't trust this apartment's wall to hold its weight.  While I continue painting the mantel and fixing up the wall around it, at least this much is done.  That I figured out a way to incorporate the old chair fabric makes me especially happy.  
"Lighten up, Val--It's a sampler," I know, but when I look at it, I remember the journey it's accompanied me on and think of it as a witness to the past twelve years.  When Mike and I eventually move on from renting, I will pass it on to its next owners with a prayer for their own resilience and contented refuge in home.  
Sweet, indeed. 

Tuesday, May 7, 2013


I turn thirty-six years old today.  I am the rare soul who loves to grow older.  I've loved my thirties and can't wait to be forty and have been saying since I was a kid, "Can you imagine being eighty or ninety someday!?  Knowing everything you'll know by that point and having learned that much and experienced that much and finally being able to see how so many of the pieces and story-lines of your life all fit together?!  Wow!"  Wow, indeed.  My older brother will be forty in February and has long been lamenting his "advanced" age, but I myself love it. 
We all had a sweet visit over the weekend.  My mom loved her paper dolls, yes.  As predicted, right after the "Oh my gosh!" and "Vally, how did you FIND this?!" came "There's IDA!  Oh, I remember her!  I always remembered there was an Ida with dark hair pulled up on top!"  :)  My younger brother and his wife announced that they're expecting their first baby in November.  Aunt Laurie and I sat at the dining room table with mugs of hot chocolate Sunday night and looked through a stack of old Country Living magazines that Mom had found at the flea market the day before.  Mom made my traditional birthday cheesecake (made with lemon gelatin) and wrapped my gifts in a pink polka dot paper.  (My brothers groan and make fun of me because I take so long to unwrap presents, but I admire the gift wraps and bows and cards so much and always save a scrap of each wrapping paper from birthdays and Christmas.  They thought and hoped I could open my gifts during the twenty-minute intermission during the hockey game they were watching Sunday, but alas, no, so they turned on the radio to listen to the next period while I finished.  ["Brothers."  :)])  My older brother gave me my traditional birthday bag of rhubarb from his garden.  My uncle showed me his new camera.  My cousin Mark and I caught up and watched a couple shows on the Food network.  My dad and I laughed at the fact that Mom is all excited about the "new" shade of blue she and Dad have been repainting the house this past week even though it's looked to the rest of us like the exact same blue since 1978.  My nephew regaled us with sports trivia, and my niece's ever-growing refrigerator collection of grinning cat drawings--each one labeled "HELLO KITTY!"--still has me and Mike giggling.  
I'm not 100% yet but am feeling much better.  Thank you.    I hadn't been sick since around New Year's, so that was a great good-health streak for me.  And I have a few more days to rest before returning to work, so this should be a restorative week.  
Last year's rainbow birthday cake took forever to make, although it was so fun and cheerful, it was worth it to me, but I needed rest more than rainbows this time around, so tonight's dessert for me and Mike was two slices of carrot cake from a local coffee shop.  
And especially since I never found pink Tulips for Easter or my beloved Daffodils at all this spring, I treated myself to a small bouquet of orange Tulips this afternoon.  It rained here almost all day, so orange was the way to go today.  Here's to another year of trying to shine brighter and to be better and wiser and kinder, both to self and others.  Here's to thirty-six

Saturday, May 4, 2013

A Dozen Cousins, Two Gnomes, and a Frog

"Ida was always my favorite," my mom says whenever the subject comes up.  "I remember she had dark hair and it was up on top."  Mom always tells me about her beloved "A Dozen Cousins" paper dolls the same way, with the same smile and the same words.  "There was a Fred too, I remember."  I've been hearing about Ida and Fred and the rest of their family my whole life.  And then:  "I always thought that was the sweetest idea for paper dolls:  All the cousins all different ages."  And finally, and here you may imagine me mouthing the words sitcom-style along with her as she says them:  "I wonder if kids still play with paper dolls?  Boy, your aunt Laurie and I used to!  For HOURS.  We'd make extra clothes for them too.  Mom would let us cut up the Sears catalog for the pictures. . . ."  

I spent years trying to find a set of these old paper dolls for her.  The one time I saw a listing for them on eBay, the bidding reached $200 by auction's end.  They're never at the flea market.  I've only seen a few mentions of them online.  Luck was with me recently, though, when I found an online seller with an uncut set of the dolls.  Fiiiiiinally!  For less than Mike and I usually pay for a pizza, dark-haired Ida and Fred and all the rest of the cousins were on their way here and will soon be an early Mother's Day present. 
And they are sweet, indeed, and so "Mom."  My mother has three brothers and three sisters and grew up with many cousins in her daily life, as well, so I've always understood that part of her affinity for these dolls, but now I can see why she loved them even beyond that.  Such darling details in these old illustrations. 
Like mother, like daughter:  I would happily wear just about any of the dolls' clothes.  I am honestly surprised, now that I see them, that Mom never embroidered a red-threaded "Valerie" onto the fronts of my undershirts when I was a kid. 
I get to go home to visit my family this weekend,   and the surprise paper dolls are part of my goody bag for Mom.  It is an informal tradition that when Mom, Aunt Laurie, and I get together, we exchange what Louisa May Alcott in Little Women called "bundles":  Sometimes notes we didn't have time to mail pre-visit, flower seeds in the springtime, small tins of cookies, usually notecards and stickers for all our letters to each other, almost always silk flowers from Aunt Laurie, small handmade scrapbooks, thrift shop finds of vintage linens and tea cups and coffee mugs, sometimes a framed photo from a past visit for them from me, tiny bottles of cake decors and sprinkling sugars for cookies. . . .Both Mom's and Aunt Laurie's presents this visit includes gnomes, of course, and toadstool-shaped pencil sharpeners from Target's dollar bins. 
While Mom's little gifts are blue and red, Aunt Laurie's are aqua and green, as is also tradition.  The grocery store sells these 50¢ paper lunch bags in different colors, and I find myself buying them over and over again for small gifts.  Aunt Laurie's got jazzed up with "her" gnomes and frogs this time. 
I was supposed to go home yesterday but have been battling a cold all week and didn't feel good enough for the trip yet.  Hopefully, by the time I see everyone this weekend, I'll be able to enjoy it more--and laugh with Aunt Laurie over her frog-prince without falling into a coughing fit.  :)
Here's to family, dear Ida and Fred and all the rest included.