[narcissism, vanity, exhibitionism, ambition, vanity, vanity, vanity]

19.2.09

Perennial

Noted, today: the year's first perennial shoots have pushed through the winter mulch. It's not so much that hope springs eternal, or even that spring does, but that perennials just are the gardener's great friends -- not necessarily showy or fancy, but the ones who come through again and again.

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19.12.08

Because One Renovation Wasn't Enough


gingerbreadhouse
Originally uploaded by quiet.eye.
With the help of a brilliant friend, today Jane and I made a gingerbread house.

I think this is the most ... normal ... thing I have ever done. "Normal" meaning: the sort of thing some people just do, and enjoy doing, as part of a certain tradition at a certain time of year.

It felt weird.

It was fun.

It might have felt weird because it was fun.

Then again, maybe not.

I was not, I hope, too obsessive about the roof tiles.

It tasted good, though.

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16.12.08

Some Good News

USA Book News selected Samuel Shem's THE SPIRIT OF THE PLACE (which I reviewed here) as the best book of 2008 in the general fiction category. Hooray! It's great to see a book get the attention it deserves. I'm also selfishly glad about this, because I loved the book, too, and it's nice to have one's passions confirmed. It is the sort of thing that makes crazy love seem not so crazy after all.

Sometimes I think publishing just is passion.

Anyhoo.

Another book on the list, First Snow in the Woods, which took first place in children's books, is on its way to my house as I type. At least from the marketing material, the book seems to fits with some (still vague and ill-formed) ideas I've had lately, about kids and nature, and overparenting as a form of neglect.

This has something to do with the development of a capacity to be "at home" while "away," to be at home in the world; and also, just as crucially, especially at mid-life, the capacity to feel like home can still be excitingly undiscovered territory. (This is harder than it sounds.)

The poet and animal trainer Vicki Hearne talks about the necessary and reciprocal and mutually enriching relationship that can obtain between "home" and "away," the quest and the hearth. It seems to me that one could make a good case for hothouse kids as one symptom of a larger, related poverty, a poverty of epic, in our ideas of the good life. More specifically, I mean a lack of resources that would help to make sense of perfectly ordinary but underappreciated qualities that one often finds in "unruly" or difficult-to-domesticate personalities, which is to say in people with affinities for epic, like sincere enthusiasm and largeness of heart and vulnerability to being impassioned.

Shem's novel has much to say about this as well, but in an more complicated way -- how sometimes leaving home can (alas) be pretty much the same as not leaving, and how sometimes coming back can precipitate a greater revolution of consciousness than going away.

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11.12.08

Writers' Rooms

Photographer Eamonn McCabe has done a series on writers' rooms.

I have always enjoyed photographing loners. When I was covering sport it was boxers in their gyms. Now I'm older, I enjoy photographing writers, poets and artists. The one thing they all have in common is that they work alone.

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9.11.08

Bechdel's Rule

If a movie doesn't have at least two women in it, who talk to each other, about something other than a man, it's not worth seeing. Apparently this rule is thirty years old. I have managed to miss it entirely. This may explain, however, my general and longstanding antipathy to the available fare in mainstream movie theaters.

As usual, Bitch Phd has a good post about why the dialogue part matters. In a nutshell: Dialogue is where the narrative heavy-lifting happens. When characters are talking, they are explaining motivations, broadly construed -- the principles that order and produce meaning inside the universe of the film. As BPhD says, "They are illuminating the world they live in by describing it." What isn't discussed remains outside the order of the film because doesn't make sense within the film's universe. Having women talk to each other onscreen about something other than a man -- how refreshing! So many novel narrative possibilities open up.

(Discovered this material while surfing the internet, longing to find the wherewithal to do some actual work. I am unconfident these days, the person at the end of the diving board who keeps pacing back and forth, who can't summon the nerve to make the leap into the water. Do I owe you email? I will get back to you tomorrow. Today I'm working on getting into the swim, as they say.)

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6.7.08

Greener Electricity

We just switched to renewable electricity. Wind!

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27.6.08

Envirolet

Link saved for another day: Envirolet waterless composting toilets. Cheaper than a septic system, environmentally friendly, and apparently easy to install.

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Good thing my blood pressure's 90/60.

Once a week, I get an eco-bag full of vegetables from a farm in East Greenwich. The veggies are local, fresh, organic, and they don't require a jumbo jet's worth of fuel to get to Providence. But I have no control over what's in the bag or how much. This is a problem when I've got, say, a bagful of spinach, a pile of dandelion greens, 25 radishes and a handful of sugar snap peas. Sometimes, the farm distributes recipes, which helps with the cooking dilemma. But mostly I'm on my own. So I've devised some flavor rubrics and a method: chop, slice or otherwise transform the vegetables into bite-size pieces and throw them in a pan with some hot olive oil and...

Salt, lemon, pepper.
Salt, garlic, basil.
Salt, cilantro, cumin, turmeric, coriander.
Salt, salt, salt.

I could toss the result with pasta or rice (maybe add a chopped tomato). Or put it all in the food processor and have tapenade. A can of beans could be added in either case, for more protein. Or grilled chicken. The point is to get a method together that will result in reliably good, easy-to-make meals even when the farm sends an unusual vegetable ...

To be perfectly honest, the radishes make me a little crazy. I have no idea what to do with them.

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19.6.08

I write on walls.


What a book is.
Originally uploaded by quiet.eye.
You can, too. All it takes is a good line, some letters, krazy glue (of course!) and -- this is very important -- a level.

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17.6.08

Housework in the News

CNN reports that doing housework is sexy (if you're a man).

The NYT has a long article on housework sharing, too. The most complicated part of the problem is that, due to prevailing and confused norms about gender roles, women tend to make decisions about jobs and partners that do not, in the long run, favor equal sharing of household tasks. Here is the saddest line: There comes a point where the origin of the cards you hold becomes irrelevant, and you have to play the hand you are dealt.

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12.6.08

The Alice Ball House in New Canaan

Recently the NYT carried a story about the plans afoot to demolish a historic mid-century house designed by Philip Johnson in New Canaan, CT. Even the local preservationist, who is generally unhappy with the idea of demolition, can't quite think his way out of the McMansion mindset.

"This is a space that has to be experienced directly," said Gregory Farmer, a preservationist at the Connecticut trust, which lists the Ball house as one of the state’s most threatened treasures, "a space that’s experienced at a very personal level rather than something that’s very impressive to someone passing by on the street. Driving by, it looks like nothing."

Driving by? It looks like nothing? See, this is the problem. These people don't live in actual neighborhoods. They live in houses on roads. And "curb appeal" refers to the impression you get as you zoom past each house in your SUV. Grr.

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9.6.08

Lovely peonies from my neighbor


peonies
Originally uploaded by quiet.eye.

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27.5.08

On the Other Hand

Of the dozen rose bushes I planted earlier this spring, eleven have "taken." Each has or promises to have four or five big buds, which -- I know, I shouldn't count my roses before they've bloomed -- means perhaps forty blossoms. Yay.

The basil, cilantro, lavender and thyme are coming along. The daisies, likewise. Hostas, irises, even the first-year peonies are all doing wonderfully. Still no shoots from the three sisters patch, but I'm hopeful.

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24.3.08

Popping Up


First Flower
Originally uploaded by quiet.eye.
The spring's first flower in the backyard. Jane is five years old today.

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21.1.08

Not Just For Doorstops Anymore

Fresh green idea for broken external drive: turn it into a secret storage box.

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15.1.08

Some Great Green Ideas

Turn styrofoam packing peanuts into a cute new beanbag chair. (From Danny Seo, Daily Danny.

Stuart Haygarth's Tide Chandelier, made from plastic junk that washes up on the beach.

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8.1.08

Krazy! Glue!

Note to self: Next time something gets wobbly or broken, before you even think about calling the handyman -- the very thought of whom will send you into months of desperate procrastination -- TRY A DROP OF KRAZY GLUE.

Have just fixed many weird and wobbly items throughout the house with about ten drops of the stuff. Marvelous. Now the whole house feels more solidly put together. Formerly wobbly or crooked things are perfectly straight and tight.

I am a krazy kompulsive person, yes, yes, I am.

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19.12.07

Aesthetic of the Mended

In the interest of keeping stuff out of the landfill, I've been trying for some years now to stretch the useful lifetimes of our belongings by repairing things rather than replacing them.

Repairs are time-consuming and sometimes cash-costly, too. My cobbler wanted (and got) $45 to replace the heels and soles of my six-year-old boots. You can buy new (cheap) boots for just a little more.

Jane's clothes routinely fall apart. I suspect most kids' clothing manufacturers assume kids will outgrow their stuff faster than it will disintegrate and they set their production standards accordingly.

Thing is, with all this mending and repairing, we look a little ... mended and repaired. I think, actually, that this is okay. Matt has "work clothes" that look fine. And my work doesn't require me to look like Jackie O.

But I have a new appreciation for my grandmother's insistence on taking obsessive care of one's things. "Keep it nice," she always said. Because fifty years ago, it was Wrong to Throw Things Away if you hadn't worn the hell out of it. Not a bad way to go, if you ask me - but it takes some doing. Including the mental work of resisting the social push for new looking things.

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13.12.07

How-To (Saved for Later)

How to install a ceramic tile backsplash.

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8.11.07

One-Hour Thanksgiving

Recipes just in case you're in a rush. The folks at Shelterrific gave it a whirl. Verdict: Just dandy.

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12.10.07

I Guess I Didn't Do Such A Bad Job, After All

Holy upholstery! Our living room is a featured entry in Domino Magazine's home design contest. We're number 40 in the slide show.

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4.10.07

Robert Louis Stevenson Struggles to Decorate His House

Writing from Samoa in 1892 to Sidney Colvin, Stephenson tried to describe some wallpaper he wanted: "The room I have particularly in mind is a sort of bed and sitting room, pretty large, lit on three sides, and the colour in favor of its proprietor at present is a topazy yellow. But then with what color to relieve it? For a little work room of my own at the back, I should rather like to see some patterns of unglossy -- well, I'll be hanged if I can describe this red -- it's not Turkish and it's not Roman and it's not Indian, but it seems to partake of two of the last, and yet it can't be either because it ought to be able to go with vermilion..." (Quoted in A Color Notation by A. H. Munsell, 1919)

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30.9.07

Yurt Alternative

On eBay, you can buy the ultimate piece of cold war kitsch: an underground house built by the US government to withstand a nuclear attack.

With properties like this, who needs Ativan?

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28.8.07

Well, Obviously

Unequal sharing of housework causes anxiety and depression among women who do the lion's share of this work.

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2.8.07

Not-So-Big House

The NYT looks at tiny homes.

A big landscape -- lots of sky, plains, etc. -- may demand a small house. With big windows.

(Where do you put the books? Oh, right - on your iPod.)

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19.7.07

Psoriasis


fingertip
Originally uploaded by quiet.eye.
This popped up this morning. I've got a blister on my thumb, too. Haven't seen these in quite a while. Life's a little stressy, I guess - what with the vandals, the gas company, the ditch in front of the house, the guys pulling up at 8 am with dump trucks full of rocks...

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13.7.07

Apples


Apples
Originally uploaded by quiet.eye.
So, yesterday, as the stone & brick guy started to dig the footing for the stone wall behind the driveway, a cry goes up: "We hit the gas!"

Two fire trucks and five National Grid guys later, we discover that our gas line is not ... oh dear ... up to code where it connects to the house.

Except that it is up to code, at least according to the building inspector.
But he's not the gas company.
And the gas company can turn off the gas.
Something is fishy here.

Anyway, the long and the short of it is, we need to sink a new gas line. We've got about an inch and a half through which to run the pipe (the house has no basement). The people who do this for a living are here now, and the initial signs are not encouraging.

On the bright side, those are the apples I picked this morning. They are sweeter than they appear, with a sort of macintosh-like flavor, but crisper. So. They are putting a hole in the wall now and tearing up my brand new floor discussing some other possibilities. There is nothing else for it. I am going to make a pie. Oh yeah, no gas. Never mind.

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12.7.07

Main Room


diningroom
Originally uploaded by quiet.eye.
MJ calls it "the library in the garden".

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Apples


grannysmiths
Originally uploaded by quiet.eye.
Granny smiths in the back yard.

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Kitchen


kitchen
Originally uploaded by quiet.eye.
If you look closely, you can see the "coffee corner" way in the back. The old brown sign says: The Best Coffee in Town.

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Library


library
Originally uploaded by quiet.eye.
The books go up!

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Trike in the Yard


trike
Originally uploaded by quiet.eye.
I love this picture.

(You can't see it yet, but there's cilantro in the pot. We have three of these old pots - I used to dislike them but they're growing on me.)

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2.7.07

Home Ownership

Wow. I am sitting here, in my own kitchen, looking out at my own backyard, and it hits me: This is our house. Ours. All of it. (deep breath)

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How to Remove Latex Paint from a Ceramic Tile Floor

Here's a tip: Use EZ-OFF. Yes, the oven cleaner! Spray it on, wait 30 minutes, and mop it up. Easy, off - just like it says. Another discovery: Muriatic acid will remove the paint from the grout.

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How to Remove Latex Paint from a Hardwood Floor

...without refinishing the floor or damaging the finish (much).

You will need: a steam cleaner, bamboo skewers (like the ones you use for kebabs), disposable wooden chopsticks, rags, rubbing alcohol, sponges with softish plastic scrubbers, toothbrushes, dish soap, buckets, warm water, cotton balls or pads.

Mop up any big spills while they are still wet. Hit remaining streaks, drips, and splotches with the steamer. Pour a little rubbing alcohol onto the stain, the rub it with a cotton pad until the paint starts to dissolve. Use the sponge to mop up the paint as it comes up, otherwise you'll just spread the old paint around on the floor. If the paint doesn't soften, hit it with more steam and alcohol, then try the toothbrush. If that doesn't work, try pushing gently at the edges with the chopsticks (don't break them in half; use the blunt side).

For paint that has seeped into grooves between the floorboards (a problem on pre-finished wood floors, which we have upstairs because they were brand new when we bought the house and we thought it would be wasteful to remove them - another story), use the pointy tips of the bamboo skewers to push the paint out.

We did this all last week, with lots of help from friends and family. Each room took ten hours.

There's still paint in the hallway and in a few places downstairs, but we're getting there.

Incidentally, we would have simply refinished the floors and sent the bill to the insurance company, but we didn't have time -- the vandalism happened six days before we were going to move, and the lease on our rental apartment was up.

Six days to repaint and clean the floors -- plus we still had to complete two bathrooms and finish installing the kitchen cabinets. Six days.

Everyone pulled together, and with a lot of help from friends, family, and our wonderful builder Bruce Eddy, we did it.

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26.6.07

An Open Letter to Sears (AKA Sucks)

Dear Sears,

Here is why I will never, ever order another appliance from Sears
again.

Several weeks ago, I placed an online order for a refrigerator and
a dishwasher. My credit card did not go through. I received
several emails to this effect. When I resubmitted the credit card,
it went through. But even though the purchase was successful I
continued to receive emails AND phone calls to tell me that my
card had been declined.

Then I received a call to tell me that the dishwasher was out of
stock, even though the website clearly said that it was IN stock.
This call came at 8 in the morning. The caller was not even
apologetic.

We scheduled a new delivery date. Shortly thereafter I received
another call, to say that the dishwasher was still not available
and could not be delivered for another four days. Good grief,
Sears! If something isn't available, don't you think you ought to
say so on the web site BEFORE someone tries to buy it?

Meanwhile, on the day that the fridge was supposed to arrive, I
waited all afternoon for the delivery and into the evening. No
one called me to let me know where the delivery was or even if it
was still coming. The delivery was ultimately an hour late. When
it arrived, there was no way to tell whether it was exactly what I
ordered or not because the order number I received did not
match up with any number on the fridge itself, and THERE WAS
NO DOCUMENTATION WITH THE ORDER. No receipt, nothing.

Just now, I have received a call from your automated service to
remind me of my dishwasher delivery on Friday. I could not
complete the call because your robot thinks I ordered TWO
dishwashers, not one. When the robot tried to connect me with a
live operator in order to fix this problem, I was disconnected. I
called your customer service center and the woman I spoke with
confirmed that I have only ordered ONE dishwasher but she was
unable to confirm that this screwup with the phone system,
which is YOUR FAULT, will not result in a missed or further
delayed delivery.

You ought to be better at what you do. Next time, even though
their products are more expensive
, I will be ordering my appliances
through an established local company, Wickford Appliance, as
they are known for their excellent customer service and the
remarkable absence of idiots on their staff, which is more than I
can say for you.

Never again,
Diane Greco

UPDATE: I cancelled my order and got a better one, same style and IN STOCK, for less at Wickford Appliance. It's coming on Monday. Hooray!

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24.6.07

Vandalism


Vandalism
Originally uploaded by quiet.eye.
This happened early yesterday morning. The whole house looks more or less the same way.

No excrement, no swastikas - it's the small things, you know?

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4.6.07

Earthships

Link for a less busy day: Earthships, homes made out of tires and tin cans that make their own utilities.

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3.6.07

All The Little Things

We're closing in on our final punch list. With the reno almost over, it's tempting to try to forget about all the crazy little things that came up, the head-shaker problems that went beyond things like the price of the new fridge and the make and model of the windows. Problems like what to do with the circa-1915 cast iron cookstove. Not to mention the stuff we found in the oven, which was also circa 1915. The back wall of the house, which was ten degrees off plumb. The handmade rolled-copper range hood with the pull-chain that started the fan, sort of. The load-bearing iron beam that was not soldered or bolted to anything. The corner of the foundation that was not and had never been square. The tree that fell down; the others that didn't but could have. The slate floor. Removal of said floor. With hand tools. One square at a time. In an unheated house in December. The ancient underfloor radiant heat, & the $700 repair bill when the pump died on the first day of November when we had a tenant. The kitchen that required the cook to walk halfway around the house in order to join the dinner party. The twin staircases that were not only redundant but also out of code. The open shelving in the kitchen - nice mahogany, but no doors. Anywhere. The stackable washer-dryer that did not really dry anything. The attic stepladder that bent, but did not (thankfully) break. The fridge in the alcove off the entryway. The entryway that opened into ... another entryway. The toilet tucked under a shelf. The mechanicals tucked into the unfinished and rather spidery crawl space, and the little rickety ladder that led into it. The leaky bathtub...

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2.6.07

Bookshelves


Bookshelves
Originally uploaded by quiet.eye.
We built these! They're extra deep, to accommodate the art books. I think the brown background looks nice behind them.

Lots of sanding, priming, and painting in my future.

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Long Bookshelves


Long Bookshelves
Originally uploaded by quiet.eye.
We built these, too.

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Long View


kitchen2
Originally uploaded by quiet.eye.
Here's the view into the kitchen from the other side of the "great room."

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Kitchen


kitchen1
Originally uploaded by quiet.eye.
We got the Ikea problem sorted. Kitchen's coming along...

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1.6.07

Our Pests

Q. So, if you had to guess what sort of insect would build a nest on one of our window sills, what do you think it would be?
A. Why, a paper wasp, of course.

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24.5.07

IKEA -- Swedish for I Have a Headache

We ordered an IKEA kitchen. We received a completely different IKEA kitchen.

Some pieces are missing - just never arrived. Some we apparently forgot to order. Other pieces are included that belong to someone else's kitchen, and judging from the size of the pieces, this person is much shorter than we are.

And some pieces are completely mysterious.

Ugh...

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23.5.07

Suicidal Gardenia

Well, here's the thing: Last winter, knowing nothing about gardenias except that they smell nice, I bought my mother a gorgeous blooming gardenia from Whole Foods. Sadly, she did not have the window bed in the nursing home, so the gardenia turned brown after several weeks. Her roommate put the plant in the window to revive it, but someone knocked it over and whatever wasn't already dead fell out of the pot. I took it home and nursed it through the spring. It was just starting to look respectable when some of the leaves turned yellow.

What is wrong with my gardenia? I asked the Internets.

Then I laughed myself sick over this thread at Garden Web, "The Suicidal Gardenia." Most of it is hilarious. Here are some choice snippets:

"i cannot tell you the number of gardenias i have coddled and cossetted and pampered and prayed over. every year i tell myself that i will NOT buy another gardenia - but every year i walk into White Rose and there they are - heavily budded, the odd bloom wafting a fragrance sent from heaven. and, of course, i am seduced once again. one year i succeeded in getting a gardenia to produce about a dozen blooms - the ladies of the horticultural club who were touring my garden were simply ga ga over it. it was the centre of attention and i was unabashedly proud. i thought i had discovered all the tricks and techniques. ha! t'was a fluke. the plant kakked within weeks. i did it again this year - bought another gardenia - misted and threw acid at it - even coffee grains. the fourteen beautiful buds that came with it never did open and every morning it looked a little less perky, a little more yellow. finally, yesterday, i had a talk with myself. "self", said i, "you have enough trouble with the husband and kid and mutt without taking all this grief from a plant" i tossed it on the compost heap."

[...]

"I'm fifteen, and my great grandmother who lived next to us for years grew a gardenia. She never did any thing for it and it bloomed every year like crazy. Even after she moved out and it doesn't even get watered anymore, it still blooms. "

[...]

"DEAR JOAN, ONLY AN IDIOT WOULD SPEND THAT MUCH TIME AND EFFORT FOR A SIMPLE PLANT! MY FRIENDS RECOMMENDED THAT I TAKE UP GARDENING TO RELAX AND ENJOY NATURE. OVER THE PAST SIX YEARS I BOUGHT EIGHT BEAUTIFUL AND FRAGANT GARDENIAS, MYSTERY, FIRST LOVE AND ETC AND AFTER SIX YEARS THESE SIMPLE PLANTS HAVE TAUGHT ME HOW TO RELAX. AFTER SIX YEARS I TAKE FOUR VALIUM AND A HALF A GALLON OF SCOTCH AND STAGGER OUT FOR MY NEXT TRY [...] AFTER 3000 HRS ON THE INTERNET, GARDENING BOOKS AND HELP FROM THREE HUNDRED PROFESSIONAL GROWERS AND FOUR GARDENING CDS, HERE WHAT I HAVE LEARNED. THEY LIKE WATER BUT YOU HAVE TO KEEP THE SEMI DRY.THEY LOVE SUN BUT YOU HAVE TO KEEP IN THE SHADE. YOU FEED THEM OFTEN, DESCRIBED AS SOMEWHERE BETWEEN TWO DAYS AND TWO YEARS ONLY ON SUNDAYS WITH A BLUE MOON RISING. THEY LOVE NORTHERN EXPOSURE IF YOU HAVE THEM ON THE SOUTHERN. THEY LOVE ACID AND IRON UNLESS YOU GIVE IT TO THEM. THEY LOVE TO GROW SPIDER MITES,WHICH YOU CANT SEE, AND APHIDS. I HAVE FOUND IF YOU BUY OLDER PLANTS THEY TAKE LONGER TO DIE.MY FRIEND SUGGESTED THAT WHEN ONE OF THE PLANTS WASNT DOING WELL TO MOVE TO THE NORTHERN SUN WHICH HELPED A LOT. IT DIED QUICKER. WELL I HAVE TO GO NOW MY FRIENDS IN THE WHITE JACKETS ARE COMING TO PULL ME AWAY FROM MY BELOVED GARDENIA. IT'S OKAY I HEAR THEY HAVE A SALE ON GARDENIA IN THE NOVELTY SHOP."

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18.5.07

Entry


entry
Originally uploaded by quiet.eye.
Starts to look like a house!

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Tree Sconces


fauxbois
Originally uploaded by quiet.eye.
Faux bois sconces in the little alcove off the entryway. No shades yet. Paint is Benjamin Moore, "November Rain" (I think the color's pretty true in this shot but as ever, YMMV.)

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Registers


registers
Originally uploaded by quiet.eye.
Need paint.

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Bookshelves


bookshelves
Originally uploaded by quiet.eye.

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Bookshelves - Long View


bookshelves2
Originally uploaded by quiet.eye.
Another view.

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Stairway


stairway
Originally uploaded by quiet.eye.
With the antique window installed & prepped for paint.

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Sconces


sconces
Originally uploaded by quiet.eye.

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17.5.07

Tweet

When we work outside, the birds repeat the sound of the saw.

Note to self: Next time you design a built-in bookshelf extending the length of a room, remember that in an old house, there are no straight lines.

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28.4.07

Eco-Friendlier House & Household

Things to do once we move:

1. Replace as many lightbulbs as possible with eco-friendly fluorescents.
2. Buy a composter and use it!
3. Find a substitute for the little plastic bags we use for Jane's lunches.
4. Look into rooftop solar panels (for next year).
5. Assess transportation needs. Do we need a new car? What about a bicycle? A jogging stroller?
6. Plant new trees to replace the rotten ones we had to cut down (sigh).
7. Call National Grid and switch from coal-generated electricity to something greener.
8. Assess cost & environmental impact of window A/C units versus a new compressor. Last summer we only needed A/C for the two really hot weeks in July/August. But window units aren't especially efficient.
9. Do a better job shopping at local farmers' markets & using local CSA offerings...
10. Find ways to minimize the non-recyclable content of food packaging (e.g., coffee, frozen foods) and recycle or reuse the rest, especially the plastic containers

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23.4.07

A Hotel Called The Library

This hotel in Thailand is called The Library. It really does have a library. Also, a red pool. Hmm.

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19.4.07

The Pitcher Inn, VT

Architect David Sellers, proprietor of The Pitcher Inn has taken old home restoration to a whole other level. The old structure is still mostly the same. But each guest room has been decorated to the teeth according to a various Vermont themes, from skiing to Chester Arthur. This place is definitely not the W, where the place is designed primarily to disappear while you're in it. Rather, the idea is, apparently, to inhabit someone else's extremely well-kitted out fantasy for a while.

Which has something to do with shopping. On the Pitcher Inn's web site, there's a blurb from some travel writer who remarked that staying at the Pitcher Inn was like "staying inside the J. Peterman catalogue."

On the other hand, if you feel like it, you can buy the furniture at the W, too.

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12.4.07

Paradise

I love Off the Map, a presentation (by PBS) of paradises made by everyday people. The web site is just like the works themselves - there's lots to pick up and play with.

Much transformation, also, of discarded stuff by curation - putting the item into an orderly context. The presence of order - just that - lends a meaningful aura to the object. These sites start with trash, discards, junk - but they are not junkyards.

(Note to self: compare with Vanessa Bell's Charleston house and Purcell's book about Owl's Head. Later: Also, My House, My Shack. Different ideas of home, of the "personal," the "intimate," and the relationship of all these concepts to some transcendent ideal, or paradise.)

Below: the book as termite paradise (identified, isolated, photographed and curated by Rosamond Purcell into an accidental work of art):



On the OTM web site, you can even make your own "backyard paradise".

Click 'n drag sure beats planning, sweat and aggravation, plus no heavy lifting and no bugs.

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28.3.07

Benjamin Moore's November Rain

For future reference: Although Benjamin Moore's "November Rain" looks yellowish in the sample bottle, on the wall it dries down to a pale, warm gray with a tiny bit of spring green. In direct natural north light, it looks off-white, neutral, ivoryish. It is absolutely lovely.

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21.3.07

Before & After

I look at the "before" pictures (which aren't, alas, digitized) and I think, who would ever buy that house? But the thing is, I don't think I ever really saw the house that was "before". I always saw the "after."

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Main Room


mainroom
Originally uploaded by quiet.eye.
The main room's still very much under construction but at least the drywall's up and (mostly) primed, and the double-doors are trimmed (you can see it if you look closely). Outside the frame, there's a third set of double-doors to the right. I can't wait til the wood floor goes in.

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Entry Hall


entry.hall
Originally uploaded by quiet.eye.
Here's the entry hall. The staircase with the antique window is to the right; the entry closet is to the left.

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Window


window
Originally uploaded by quiet.eye.
Here's the staircase where the antique window will go.

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Pantry Door


pantrydoor
Originally uploaded by quiet.eye.
Here's the same door in our kitchen. The light is low because I took these shots at 6 pm.

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Entry Doors


entrydoors
Originally uploaded by quiet.eye.
After much soul-searching, we settled on five-panel almost-Shaker they-don't-look-molded interior doors from Brosco. Some part of these doors is actual wood, I'm not sure which. They feel substantial and look good. Here are the doors on our entry closet.

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2.2.07

What He Said

"A book, then, that crumbles even while it forms."
-- Edmond Jabés, from Desire for a Beginning Dread of One Single End

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What She Said

"A baby, a body, a book, abode."
-- Anne Waldman, from the poem My Life A Book

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30.1.07

Another View of Restoration

The author is talking about the environment, but the definition might be applied to many things: "By restoration, I mean it in two senses, to restore biological systems and processes to health and to restore humans to a right relationship with the rest of the world. And this, I now believe is the central task, restoring humans to a right relationship with the Earth. "

Restoration of house = returning it to a "right relationship" with its inhabitants, neighborhood, & world (through use of solar panels or wind power, for instance)?

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26.1.07

Axe

"The book must be an axe for the frozen sea within us."

-- Franz Kafka to Oskar Pollak (1904)

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24.1.07

Tin Tile Mirror -- WIP



This sheet of vintage tin tiles arrived today. I'm going to remove the central 2x2 tile square, mount the remainder over a mirror on a plywood/MDF backing, and hang the assemblage between two sconces in our entryway.

I was going to paint the tiles, but I actually like the old chipped paint and the aged patina.

If you look closely, you can see that the sheet is two sheets, folded over each other -- so I've can make a second mirror to give as a gift.

The extra tiles (8 in all) will be cut out and mounted on wood strips. I'll affix hooks to the centers of them, and voila -- instant coat/towel hooks.

Using every bit of the pig, you see...

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22.1.07

Granite & Me

I never thought I'd be picking out a granite countertop. I never thought I'd buy granite, period. It's expensive, heavy, prone to stain if not sealed properly, and it requires annual re-sealing, which is a lot of maintenance for someone who can't even be bothered to blow dry her hair.

But I conceived this opinion before I had: an active kid for whom the etiquette of restaurants, like sitting still and not shouting, is an incomprehensible torture; a renovation that eats the disposable income we used to spend feeding ourselves in restaurants; and my irritating dietary restrictions, which take a lot of the fun out of eating out.

So I am cooking. A lot. And the countertop we have is taking a beating from knives, spills, bangs, bumps, and hot pans.

Originally I spec'd Paperstone countertops for our kitchen renovation. But these countertops are heat-resistant only to 350 degrees, which means that when I take the five-hundred degree cast iron pot out of the oven, I'm going to have to put it... Where? Oh, right -- on the large granite tile I bought for hot pans. Which is under the sink. Or in the pantry. Or in Jane's room. Or something. Oh, wow, this pan is hot.

Another eco-friendly alternative, Richlite, is $80 a square foot. Not cost-effective. Formica, butcher block, tile, concrete, corian -- all wrong for various reasons. So, granite: a stone good for tombstones and other icons of permanence. The woman at the store says it will last through many renovations. This is not a purchase, it is a marriage. It is so hard to reconcile this material with my affection for what is ephemeral and fragile, and with my efforts thus far to render this affection safely and cost-effectively in our design. Will the stone look bizarre with the junk shop aesthetic I'm trying to cultivate?

In another life, I must have been a bee, living in a paper house with lots of shelving.

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16.1.07

Small(er) Town

Sometimes now the New Yorker comes weeks late, well thumbed, with bits torn out.

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11.1.07

Light in the Kitchen


kitchen - in progress
Originally uploaded by quiet.eye.
Here's a view of the kitchen. Not much to look at yet, apart from the light, which comes in here from the east and south. Nice lemony light. Note the dark balloon framing around the windows -- that's original, from 1910. (The windows, obviously, are new.) The floor will be oak eventually.

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Overlook Window


Overlook Window
Originally uploaded by quiet.eye.
Here's the window (approx. 29 x 31 in) we're installing in the stairwell, where the sitting room looks over the staircase. We needed to install something in the overlook for safety -- JJ likes to climb. The window cost $65 -- yep, more than twice the cost of a $30 generic barn sash. But it's a real antique. And it's historically accurate for the house. And, best of all, I found it right here in the neighborhood, so it cost nothing to transport it, and the purchase was convenient.

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Wholly Vertical


main room - in progress
Originally uploaded by quiet.eye.
Our newly rebuilt back wall is now perfectly vertical. A big improvement over the sloping wall that looked like it was about to fall in. Transom windows -- not cheap, but a big win. There's a third set of doors and windows to on the left, beyond the frame -- the room is nice and light. Notice, also, the bare cement floor. It used to be 1980s-style slate, but we took it up ourselves -- with crowbars and chisels, no less. The floor will soon be hardwood (oak).

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28.11.06

Interior Decorating

More notes for our Big Reno.

I have two rules for decorating:

1. Start with the light. (This is also my architect's prime directive.)
2. All furniture and accessories must either be perfectly functional and neutral (e.g., sofa in ivory canvas) or they must tell a story.

Light. In the more public areas of the house, we've got an open-plan with light all through. North light in the front, south light in the back. Because of the open plan, paint colors can't just switch dramatically from room to room. But the light changes dramatically as you walk through the house, from cool bluish north light to wake-you-up south light (and lots of it). So we're stuck with neutrals throughout the open-plan parts of the house, though the neutrals vary slightly in terms of temperature. (Cool neutrals in the north light, warm ones in the south.)

Dominant color ideas: Sand. Fog. Seagrass. The silvery underside of silver maple leaves. The Atlantic Ocean on a clear day at one in the afternoon. Wet bark.

I wanted to incorporate little shots of color on the walls so the panels behind the bookshelves in the living/dining room will be a deep, rich brown. In the office, where the walls are a bluish neutral, the panels will be dark gray-blue. Like all the other trim, the bookshelves will be white painted pine. I hope.

In the private areas, I've decided to intensify whatever neutral is happening nearby. So the entryway is a medium ivory trimmed with white, and the powder room is a deeper velvety barley color (also trimmed with white, & white beadboard halfway up). White sink. Brown and white tiny floor tile. Antique bronze fixtures, maybe.

Ceilings are all white, so is the trim. Simple, clean, perhaps a little boring. So what. I like how it unifies things.

Floors - hardwood, or polished slate (dark). Where there's slate, we're covering with nice rugs (lighter).

Objects that tell stories -- stuff I've made, or collected. Paintings by my mother, by MJ's grandmother. Prints we've collected on our trips. Heirlooms. Framed photographs. Anything holds a memory or is a trace of something else. Records of all kinds, from vinyl to notched sticks. And things that work with a general "bring the outside in" motif -- leaf skeletons, pinecones, acorns, tree silhouettes, dried flowers, feathers, nests, hives (abandoned ones!), rocks, antlers, shed skins, even bones...

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1.11.06

Switchplates

Ahh. Brass switchplates in retro styles. Target also has a large selection of funky switchplates.

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4.10.06

Back to the Studs, Which Are Not So Studly

In the beginning, there was a plot of land. Some miles away, there was a carriage house. Around the turn of the century, someone said, Instead of building a new house, let's just move the one we have.

That's when the fun began. Now that we've taken our house back to the studs, I can see a lot more of the house's history. It looks the way history often looks -- a record of decisions made under duress, from shortsightedness, cheapness, failure to plan.

To start, it seems the house was set down carelessly. The crooked back wall has never been plumb. The foundation is ringed all around with concrete blocks which, for some reason, have been used as structural elements. These blocks support the studs that in turn support the wooden header beams over the back doors. These header beams are holding up the second floor, which contains a cast-iron tub, not to mention the roof. Two of these enormous header beams are cracked, straight across the middle. In the front of the house, over the doors and windows, where you might also expect to find headers, there are steel beams. Steel. Two of them, mortared together with what appears to be toothpaste. Why steel, here? And not in the back? Hard to say.

The steel beams are resting on two-by-fours. It is a shock to realize, as I am standing there, that I truly do not know what holds this house up. Prayer, perhaps. God's good humor. God is certainly laughing. The house is a testament to the fallacy of "the original" as something worth "restoring." Restoration purists can kiss my nail gun. The only thing "original" about this house is the original cockamamie conception of it -- everything else just followed logically from that first crazy idea. "Let's move the carriage house, instead of building it new." There is no "original" house here -- just an original sin. And, just like the original Biblical sin, its consequences have extended and ramified.

Curiously, it seems the whole house was originally lined with beadboard. Even the ceilings were beadboard. Some of it is bright blue; in other places, it's navy. One section, possibly the oldest, is tucked up almost to the second-floor plate; it was painted gunmetal gray. Discovering it, I thought of Hegel: "When philosophy paints its gray on gray, then a form of life has grown old..." A new feeling blossoms -- a sympathy, of all things, for Gehry, for Wright. The "tear it down, make it new" reaction seems perfectly understandable amidst all this... stuff. All these bad decisions, piled on each other. How many imperfectly soldered steel beams are required to hold them up?

But, perhaps perversely, I want to preserve something of this record of human folly. As a historian, I like stories of folly; I'm partial to history in the satiric mode (to use Hayden White's typology). Perfect restorations of originally perfect houses -- do such things exist? -- now seem bogus, false. They seem like Disney.

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10.9.06

Worrisome

You go looking for trouble, you find it. That's true enough, I guess. Last week, noodling around with some writing I did way back when on breastfeeding, I was startled to discover, or rediscover, some distressing reports about environmental toxins and breast milk. In Europe, where breastfeeding is widespread, and maternity leaves are more accommodating of breastfeeding mothers, testing of breastmilk for toxicity is, evidently, commonplace. Not so here, and the toxin load in American women's breast milk reflects this lack of monitoring. I've got more to say about this problem, but not now. As a result of this reading, I got interested in toxin loads and rates of cancer incidence, and this brought me to SEERwhich has statistics on incidence rates of different kinds of cancer around the US.

Can we take, as writ, that some kinds of cancer -- cancers of filtration organs, like the kidney and liver, and fatty tissue, like the brain and breast -- are directly related to toxin exposure? We know toxins accumulate in fatty tissue, like the breast and the brain, and in the filter organs, like the liver, the lungs, and the kidneys. We also know that childhood cancers are becoming more common, and that children -- due to their size -- are uniquely vulnerable to toxin exposures. They are, perhaps, sentinels. And so I notice, upon looking into SEER's database, that the incidence of bladder cancer in Rhode Island (29-30 cases per 100,000) is significantly higher than the national average (21 cases per 100,000).

Rates of bladder cancer are important because the bladder, as a kind of holding tank for ingested fluid, is continually exposed to the environment. If it's out there, it's in here, too. The chlorine in drinking water -- that's a carcinogen. By itself, it poses enough of a problem. But it can also interact with other organic contaminants already present in the water, producing organochlorines including known carcinogens like trihalomethanes (e.g., chloroform).

So the watershed feeding the Scituate Reservoir, which supplies most of Providence's tap water, better be pretty pure. But I don't think it is. First of all, roads run all through it. Those roads are reasonably well-traveled and they are liberally de-iced in the winter. The sodium and chloride run into the water. I don't know how this material reacts when undergoes routine chlorination, but it would be good to know.

Moreover, the reservoir's drainage basin includes parts of Cranston and Johnston, towns where there's a lot of industry, and a lot of toxic chemicals. Some of them have been reported. It's not hard to find these places on a map; some are close to bodies of water that (though I'm no expert on the state's hydrography) seem to be part of the reservoir's drainage basin. I don't know how many of these chemicals leach into the water system, and I don't know which, if any of them, turn into organochlorines when the water is chlorinated. I know the water from the reservoir is aerated, which would in theory reduce the amount of toxins in the water by allowing them to vaporize -- but only if the aeration happens after chlorination, not before. (Plus, aeration sends these compounds back into the atmosphere where we can inhale them instead of drinking them.)

I know I'm looking for trouble. And I know that I used to live not too far from the Gowanus Canal, which might as well have glowed, it was so polluted. That didn't bother me, but the reservoir does. The cancer rates do. Hmph.

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