Monday, August 26, 2013

All that we need to make us happy is something to be enthusiastic about. ~ Charles Kingsley

One afternoon while sitting with my grandmother on her and Papa's front porch swing, flipping through the pages of a wildflower guidebook together, Grandma confided that sometimes when she couldn't fall asleep at night, she would try to think of a flower that began with each letter of the alphabet.  It has probably been almost thirty years since she told me that, but like Grandma, I've never been able to fall asleep easily either and I often find myself employing her alphabet trick.  Flowers tonight, I hear myself thinking.  Anemones, Bachelor Buttons, Camelias. . . .Some nights, it is birds, and sometimes they come even after the flowers if I'm still wide awake.  Auks (thank you, Laura Ingalls Wilder and The Long Winter [my favorite book in her series] for that one), Baltimore Orioles, Chicadees, Doves, Eagles, Finches, Grackles. . . .I'm not too strict with myself with my twenty-six-item lists.  I often skip Q and X, no matter the subject.  More often that not, the flowers, birds, places-I've-been, and words-in-Spanish aren't enough, and I decide to alphabetize my gratitude list or Things-I'm-Looking-Foward-To list.  It is not a bad note to end the day on, and there are certainly worse ways to fall asleep than by reflecting on all the good and sweet in one's life.   

A is for a big salad, I will tell myself tonight.  My mother-in-law recently bought us huge restaurant ware-type salad plates, and we used them for the first time tonight.    B is baking.  My third (and maybe final) attempt at meringues has been in the oven about three hours now.  This batch looks okay but isn't thrilling enough to me to bother with again.  Catching up on sleep.  That's always wonderful.  Sleep usually is on my list somewhere.  David Bowie:  Starman, an impressively well-researched biography by Paul Trynka.  There is so much glorious detail in this book.  As a boy, Bowie, along with his friends and apparently like so many children in post-war London, used to play in former bombsites, digging in the dirt, imagining, and unearthing little treasures lost until then to the war.  "It was unbelievable," one of his childhood friends is quoted as remembering.  "There were these huge spaces from the bomb sites, and ruined houses, which seemed like mountains to us, covered in Buddleia:  they were our plagrounds."  I will think of David Bowie every time I smell or see powder-scented Butterfly Bush now, and I like knowing that he probably remembers his childhood whenever he catches a whiff of the flowers too.  Dishes have been washed and are all put away.  By the end of the week, all the piddly and naggy little errands that have been on my to-do list for ages will all have been run, so E is errands all the way.  Fresh air.  (Months now of) Good health.  I cut back on sugar last fall to see if it would help my immune system, as I had read that it would, and who knows, but I have gone cold-and-flu-free for quite awhile now, so maybe. 
Heart-shaped leaves.  I prefer blue Morning Glories to any of the other colors, but their heart-shaped leaves always charm me.  I have tomorrow off from work.  Just hearing about a friend's maybe-possible-I-hope-we-can-go travel plans.  Knowing a letter likely reached my parents over the weekend.  One of my new loves:  Linen-scented candles, particularly Glade-brand's "Clean Linen and Sunny Days" ones.  My grocery store carries these for just a few dollars, and the scent is so relaxing, as if I'd just carried in a basket of laundry that had dried out on the line.  A movie I'm looking forward to watching (When Do We Eat?), thanks to Heidi who mentioned it on her blog a couple weeks ago.  Nancy Drew.  I bought the first ten books awhile back and just finished (re-)reading them.  As a kid, I was introduced to the Bobbsey Twins and Trixie Belden books by my mom.  I don't remember when I read my first Nancy Crew books, but it's been fun to dive back into her world of sporty blue convertibles and classic sheath dresses.  Organizing to pay bills this payday.  I'm determined to have one of my student loans paid off by spring, and I've been getting real satisfaction from playing the little if-I-pay-this-much-toward-the-balance-I'll-only-owe-this-much-but-if-I-can-pay-this-amount-the-new-balance-will-be-even-lower game.  Plans for next week include a visit home to my parents  Quinoa, since I keep seeing recipes for it that I look forward to trying soon. 
A gift from a friend of a mini Silvertone radio that not only plays both AM and FM, but also looks vintage and fits onto my little corner shelf in the kitchen.  I will think of her every time I play it, making it even sweeter.   Stuffed meowed at me this afternoon.  He rarely "talks"--he is silent most of the time and saves his few meows for Mike--so to hear anything besides the jingle of his collar was sweet.  Time to myself tonight and tomorrow.  Updating aunts in letters and email tonight.  Vanilla soy milk.  Creating another faux wallpapered wall tomorrow, this one pale green with bouquets of pink roses--the wall beside the mantel and that the wing chair will be against.  I might skip X as I usually do.  I never thought to ask Grandma what she came up with for the hard letters.  Maybe she fell asleep before she reached them.  Maybe that was the point.  :)  Y will be the 80s song "Your Love" by The Outfield since I've had it on repeat-play this past week.  And Z--Z, I can do, Grandma, if you've listened all the way to the end --Z is for Zucchini-Tomato Tart, one of my favorite dishes and one that will be my supper later this week.  Any recipe will likely be wonderful, but I just throw sliced zucchini and tomatoes into a pie crust with feta or Parmesan cheese and maybe some olive oil and bake it about thirty minutes.  (If you could be my guest at luncheon, Nancy Drew, I'd serve you this tart with your oft-mentioned iced tea and fruit salad.)    

People are often asked what they've learned from their loved ones or their favorite teachers, and it seems that peoples' first thought is the grand life lessons, but Grandma's little alphabet trick is one of the things she told me that I most appreciate.  Some people get up to watch television or read when they can't sleep, but Grandma stayed-put and made mental lists of pretty things.    Pansies, Queen Anne's Lace, Ranunculus, Snapdragons. . . .It makes me smile now to think of garden-loving Grandma's silent recitations.  To know that the sun will come up eventually, even if sleep doesn't come at all, and to decide to focus on the happy and beautiful in the meantime:  This is a lesson worth passing on too.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Beginning to Look Like a Chair

The wing chair is certainly looking more chair-like, but after three weeks of choosing needle and thread over long walks, I'm likely looking overstuffed too.  :)  Now that I've finished the patchwork part of the chair, I'll head back outside.  Around 5 a.m. this morning, after a long night working on this and determined to make it my last night of making patches, I finished the patchwork on the chair. 
On a roll, I decided to keep going and cover the chair's [wings? I assume] and the strip under its cushion in the pink rosebud fabric I'd set aside.  And Stuffed, who had been barricaded from "his" chair most of the month, promptly jumped up and settled in for a nap as soon as I'd removed the last straight pin.  
I'm taking a break for a couple days while I plan out the rest of the fabric and rest my hot-glue-blistered fingertips.  The moment I added the rosebud fabric at either side, the chair looked like a true chair again and not so much like a wing chair I was in the process of maybe destroying by adding handmade patches to its back-rest.  'A bit of a relief, that moment.  I've never done this before, this revamping of a whole chair.  Cotton batting!  Needles!  Threads!  Upholstery trim!  Hot glue!  Limited lengths of vintage fabric pieces that really had to be measured-twice-cut-once. 
I'm beyond pleased.  Maybe I can someday sell chairs and couches redone this way, I was telling Mike the other day.  I could get a vendor spot at the flea market with my furniture pieces and maybe some pillows. . . .  I had already drafted a few versions of future business cards in my head when Mike snorted, "Yeah.  Just see if you can finish one chair first."  My mom and I have had an in-joke since first seeing Dirty Dancing ages ago that we break out in moments like this.  When lead dancer Johnny excitedly tells Neil Kellerman his ideas on how to "shake things up a bit" with the final show's choreography, Neil obnoxiously cuts him off as he begins to dance and says, "Woah, boy!  'Way over your head here."  Mom and I have adapted that to "Woah, girl!" and we say it to each other whenever one of us tells the other of her latest plans.  My business cards were definitely a "Woah, girl!" moment, but if I saw this chair at a flea market, I'd want it, so maybe someday. . . .It is always sweet to experience these moments that make you fantasize a bit and see a maybe-different-maybe-someday vision of yourself and of your life. 
Almost every--if not every--patch here has some personal significance, which makes it all the sweeter.
My grandparents' old chenille piece and one of their quilt-top pillow tops, hankies from friends and family, a scrap of fabric from chairs I'd sat on in my first apartment kitchen with Old Friend, curtains from my former room at my parents' house, a bandana Mom found me for my birthday a few years ago. . . .The three roses in the tiny square patch at upper-right below were attached to a cross pendant my friend Sommer gave me for Christmas our last Christmas together.  I saved the cross, of course, but decided to add "her" roses to the chair, so now my Som is there too. 
The heart I made for the patch below reminded me more and more of my beloved Holly Hobbie as I worked on it, adding the rose, the stitches, and the orange trim above it, which reminded me of my dad, who still laughs at the fact that as a kid, I pronounced Holly Hobbie, "Hobbly Hobbly."  He still calls her that.  :)  I've found Holly Hobbie fabric to use elsewhere on the chair, and I'm sure a "Hobbly Hobbly" joke will be made by Dad when he sees it. 
Since most of my Old English Sheepdog things are still packed away at my parents' house, I didn't have any of my stash here to cut up for a patch, so I decided to try to make one.  The sheepdog below is okaaaaaay.  I did my best and gave it some grass and flowers to stand on, and I just said, "That's good enough" and moved on.  This has been a sweet project, but I'm also tired of it.  Have I mentioned I don't really even like to sew?!  The things we do for our visions.  :)  The white-striped dotted Swiss patch to the dog's right is one of the curtain-pieces.  The pink-dotted piece is the chair-scrap, and eagle-eyed blog readers will also recognize it as the fabric I used to frame my "Home Sweet Apartment" needlepoint
The coral-ey daisy patch and the one of the girl playing with her cat below are two of the only patches from the salvaged quilt-top I saved that I ended up using, after all.  Most of the girl-with-her-cat patch is covered by the seat cushion, but it was too dear not to use.  It is pretty threadbare and maybe wouldn't have survived being cut out and re-attached someplace else, so it's fine where it is.  The pink chenille at left was my grandparents'.  Gah!  I love this chair! 
I also represented Stuffed with the heart-patch below made of the green dotted Swiss fabric I used way back in June 2007, before I'd even first met him, to make him his cat-shaped toy we've come to call "Girl Cat."  I paid a visit to Mike that summer bearing a backpack filled with homemade apple pie, peanut butter and chocolate birthday cake, and the cat toy for Stuffed.  A tiny green dotted heart now to remind me of it all. 
The boy-on-the-beach/no-fishing patch above is one of the only other original quilt squares I saved from the old quilt-top I used as a grid for this.  Like the girl-with-cat square, it is threadbare and fragile, but we'll love it as along as it lasts.  It is too special not to save. 
Stuffed is content just to have access to his chair again.  And now I'll join him in it for a bit of rest. 

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Patchwork Chair Progress

Since painting the mantel white Sunday, my vision for my patchwork wing chair that will ultimately sit beside it has changed a bit, and I've removed the bolder-colored patches and replaced them with softer-colored ones.  The past few days have been contented quiet ones--my favorite kind--that have found me cutting up some of my vintage handkerchiefs and leftover fabric pieces into patches and sewing them onto a thicker white backing fabric, pinning the new patches onto the original quilt's "grid" with straight pins, and arranging and rearranging them while Stuffed dozily watches from his new favorite nap-spot behind the box fan on the floor.  I have skipped my morning walks the past few days and been a hand-stitching homebody instead, stopping for sun tea breaks and meal breaks and email/online reading breaks, happily in the zone where you  finally see the way you wanted your project to look all along and you delight in every moment's work that brings you closer to getting it done. 
I'm still a long way from being done--I haven't covered the arms yet or done anything, really, besides the back-rest part here, but I can already tell that this chair is going to be one of My Favorite!  Things!  Ever!    so I am enjoying every snip and stitch. 
Our apartment feels a little homier each week lately, for some reason I haven't put my finger on yet.  Something just seems to have shifted recently, or a corner has been turned in all the decorating and arranging and organizing, but home really feels like Home lately, much cozier and more "Us" than it was even a couple months ago.  The bedroom is still completely undone with nothing on the walls, the landlord's window blinds are still up instead of the curtains I have in mind, and some boxes and bags from our August 2011 move-in are still stacked in a corner, but the rest of our tiny home is really coming together, and it's been sweet to watch that unfold.  Maybe the patchwork chair is absorbing some of the joy around it.  I've felt happier and both lighter and more grounded when I've looked at it this week.
Some of the chair's patches are from a battered old quilt-top of my grandparents'.  Others are sections of fabric I had saved after other projects.  The white dotted Swiss striped squares used to be my bedroom curtains at my parents' house.  A few of the handkerchiefs were from friends.  The original quilt-top I'm using as a grid by attaching my own patches onto was a $5 find at a flea market a few years ago.  Like most anyone who works with vintage items, and perhaps especially people who admire patchwork quilts, I wonder at the story behind each piece:  Was this once a child's favorite dress?  Did someone go for a walk with the love of her life while wearing that fabric?  In whose pocket or handbag was this lovely scalloped handkerchief, and to where-all did it travel?  Was that piece salvaged from a grandmother's tablecloth or a father's favorite shirt?  Was this gingham flower-and-giraffe print chosen for a little one on the way or for one who was already toddling around with blankie in-hand?  I'd love to listen to every single story.  I like to think that somehow, all the patches' original owners can see me as I admire and affix all these little pieces of their lives to this chair in my home now.  It's nice to believe that. 
I've already added my initials to a rose-covered quilt square here, and I think when I'm finally ready to declare the chair done, I'll embroider the date and a short note onto one last patch that will someday let its next owners know, if it won't be obvious to them already, that this was made with love.  

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Mantel Makeover (and Over and Over)

A full year and four months after my dad built this mantel for me and Mike, it is finally the way I want it and ready to display a few of our other treasures.  This is the mantel we were given for our first wedding anniversary present from my parents in April 2012.    My mom bought the wood for it, and my dad made it in just one day, in the hours before Aunt Laurie, Uncle Warren, and cousin Mark arrived from out of town for the weekend.  "Make it extra small for them," my mom had instructed my dad.  "They're in an apartment, remember."  And even though it goes goes against all his furniture-building instincts, he left the mantel unstained since he knew I would want to paint it anyway. 
It was the sweetest surprise, but since Mike and I hadn't been expecting it, of course, we hadn't rented a car for that weekend with enough trunk-space to accomodate a mantel, so it had to be stored at my parents' house another full year, until we rented a car again for our next anniversary trip. 
In the meantime, I worked on redoing the wall I knew would be the Mantel Wall.  The mantel is a little over three feet across, and this shortest wall in our apartment is only slightly longer, so this is the perfect spot for it.  Our first two Christmases in this apartment have seen our tree in a cozy nook area just to the left of this wall, so imagine this winter when our tree is beside this tiny white mantel and sweet pink wall!    But I'm getting ahead of myself.  I knew I wanted the mantel wall to be different from all the others in our home, and since we are not allowed to wallpaper, I worked around the rules by attaching a few yards of fabric to the wall instead.  This pretty print is Tanya Whelan's "Barefoot Roses."  I love it.  I nailed it up in a few spots and then decided to hot-glue painted yardsticks to its edges to make a border of sorts.  I didn't do World's Greatest Job cutting around the smoke alarm, but my mistakes aren't so noticeable in the end. 
By the time we unloaded the van--a van!  We took no chances this time--we'd rented for our anniversary and visit home to my parents this April, the wall was almost ready--I was still in the middle of hanging family photos and revamping my beloved "Home Sweet Apartment" needlepoint, but the fabric was up--and I was more than eager, after a year's wait, to finish the mantel that would grace it.  I bought a rose applique for the mantel's front, and while the combination of tape and wood glue worked its magic, I finally began painting.
First I went with the Sherwin Williams-brand "Captivating Cream" left from the hutch re-do. 
It was pretty, but I hadn't realized that the sides of the mantel's wall were almost the same shade as the now-cream mantel and yardstick-border, and it just didn't thrill me. 
By the time my birthday Tulips were resting on top, I had tried the leftover "Mesclun Green" from the hutch project.  I love bold-colored mantels.  There are some vivid Kelly green ones online that make me happy just to look at, and I've saved photos of gorgeous pink ones too. 
The green was a definite Strike Two, however, and after a couple days spent analyzing various shades of pink paint, I chose a couple, "sure" that if I didn't love one, I'd love the other and could use both for extra projects around the apartment anyway.  First up was Sherwin Williams' "In the Pink."  And by this point, Mike's parents' wedding portrait and my parents' high school graduation portraits were watching over all the action. 
This was too "Barbie's Dream House" pink for me, especially against the pink wall and now-pink fabric-border, so I opened the can of "Charming Pink."  And was not at all charmed, as is evident in the mess of a photo below.  It looked more white than pink when dry, but more unintentionally-faded-white than true white.  By this point, I was tired of the entire project and took a break from all things mantel-related for awhile.
Until yesterday, when I decided that white was the "obvious" way to go.  It would connect the white of the photos' mattes to the mantel, and the brightness would "pop" against the pink wall better than any other color--except maybe black, but this was too sweet a mantel for black.  I explained to the clerk at Sherwin Williams yesterday morning that I wanted a "real" white, not at all cream, not at all gray, nothing yellowed or faded or subtle about it, but instead a true white, and he instantly said, "You probably want our 'Extra White.'"  And he was right.  This was, I see at long last, what I'd wanted all along. 
It looks crisp and bold but still sweet and cottage-ey, it is striking against both the pink floral wall and the framed photos of our parents and siblings, and all the little things that have been set aside for displaying on the mantel will really shine against the bright white.  That patchwork wing chair I've been redoing?  It will be going to the left of the mantel, with the Christmas tree between them every winter.    With an overstuffed ottoman and a vintage rug in-front, and string lights.  And red hearts!  And trailing houseplants!  And!  And!  And!!
The white seems to show off the mantel's details best too.  Dad did such a beautiful job with this.
After straining back, arm, and neck all afternoon yesterday with paintbrush in-hand, I saw that I was finally done, and I called Mom late last night to tell her.  She completely "got" it and was so excited to hear the news.  "We told you you'd know the right color when you hit upon it," she reminded me.  I had shown her, Dad, and Aunt Laurie photos of the mantel during my birthday visit home a few months ago, and she and Aunt Laurie had said that it looked pretty already but that they could tell I wasn't thrilled with it.  I'm thrilled now, and it was a relief to be able to say so, especially after all the work and wait-time my family had put into this first anniversary surprise for us. 
So sweet! 
And now this dear little mantel and the space around it will get to be decorated, certainly a more relaxing stage than the painting one.  I'm mailing pictures to Mom, Dad, and Aunt Laurie tomorrow.  And I'm not even looking at paintbrushes today, I assure you.  My mantel is done!