December 28, 2010

Boxing Day Blizzard of 2010

It floated in innocently enough. A few flurries here and there, nothing terribly problematic. They faded. A few hours passed, and they began earnest, and eventually with a vengeance. I had run my errands on Christmas Eve and had stocked up so I didn't need to make a run to the grocery store for milk. The kitties would be happy. I would have milk for my coffee. It could do whatever it wanted out there. And, not unexpectedly, it did.

By Sunday evening on this Boxing Day 2010 - a wonderful British holiday tradition you should check out if you don't know about it (and it has nothing whatsoever to do with pugilistics) - the winds were howling like I'd never seen or heard out here in the country. The neat thing was I could literally see the winds since they were whipping the snow into a complete frenzy right outside my windows! There were moments with the way the winds were sweeping through the trees, and all around the house, swirling the snow, that it literally was like I was watching white mini-tornadoes! Seriously...their velocity and twisting motion was staggering. I was glad I was able to watch it, as if it was some kind of weird, white, Weather Channel documentary, from the safety and warmth of the house. Phew!

By morning, the snows continued, but the bulk of the accumulation was already well on the ground and roads. Other parts of the Northeast well might have been more inundated than we, but for this upstate New York region, my county and my town got the brunt of the storm in these parts, according to the local television newscasts. Twenty inches, possibly more, 5-foot drifts. It was more than enough.

The view (above) out my front door yesterday morning, after the storm had passed and the sun emerged.

For all the years (half a century-plus) I've lived here (all of my life, actually), I've seen big snowstorms and blizzards. This was one of the big ones, for sure, but I'm not sure it was the biggest I've seen. It was big enough, though. Ususally our weather here in upstate New York follows the flow of the jet stream, blowing across the land from west to east, or from the chilly North of Canada. This blizzard, was, in fact, a true Nor'Easter - a storm, whether rain or snow, that moves north along the Atlantic coast, picking up moisture from the ocean as it spins counter-clockwise and dumps its rains or snows onto the land mass of the Northeast in its path. How quickly the front moves along, and eventually, off the coast determines how much rain or snow those of us in its path, even 100 miles inland, ultimately receive. A lot in the case of the Boxing Day Blizzard.

The good news is we knew it, or at least something, was coming at least two days in advance. Fortunately, I didn't have to go anywhere or do anything and could just wait and watch and let it play out. Unfortunately, others who were traveling for the holiday weekend didn't have that good fortune. Certainly, the havoc this blizzard wreaked on the transportation system in the Northeast was significant, and will take days to untangle, but, to be honest, with storms like this, it always is. What amazes (and amuses) me is that people are so upset by it - as if they are entitled to the utmost in travel convenience at all times. Hello, folks? It's winter. It's the Northeast. It snows here...a lot sometimes. Ding! Ding! This storm was forecast, so I don't get what part of winter weather and preparation for it they don't understand.

It takes time to clear the roads, although to the credit of the highway crews in my town, in my county and in my state, they were plowing before dawn on Monday morning. In the interest of full disclosure, I spent some time in my life - more than a decade, in fact - working for a highway authority - yes, that would be government - so I do know what goes on with these operations. I appreciate those guys (and some gals) who drive the plows and clear the roads more than I can say. We take completely for granted the safety and convenience they provide and, to be honest, while the taxes we pay here in New York are the highest in the country, it's times like this, when those folks do their jobs so efficiently and effectively, that it takes just a tiny little bit of the sting out of that financial burden. In my corner of the globe, they are worth every penny we pay for them.

If you find yourself traveling in a part of the country where even a dusting of snow or ice completely paralyzes all travel for days on end, you'll know what I mean and appreciate that while it can slow or even stop us cold briefly, things do get going as quickly as Mother Nature and the resources we allocate for plows and plow operators allow - and it's pretty darn fast, all things considered.

Dawn this morning, two days after the Boxing Day Blizzard of 2010.

It's no secret that winter weather can be very tough here in the snowbelt of the Northeastern US, but we do know how to cope with it and cope we do. I just wonder why those who are caught out by it don't get that program every time some overwhelming volume of snow seriously impedes the free flow of air, rail and highway travel. With patience, as soon as Mother Nature allows, we'll get her white mess out of the way. And we'll do a far better job of managing it faster here in the Northeast, and in New York, than many other parts of the country can. You can thank me and the rest of us in New York later for our tax dollars and highway tolls at work to make everyone's trip just a little safer and a little easier.

December 25, 2010

Merry Christmas!

At the risk of having this little corner of blogland become a place where I post only on holidays, I thought I'd better upload the early dawn photo I took this Christmas morning pronto!  I am here to assure you, my loyal followers (all 12 of you), that all is well in Country Contemporary-land...just the usual busy.  I also have been wrestling with technical computer challenges too boring to discuss, but suffice it to say there are not enough USB ports on my PC to make uploading my latest digital photos a speedy process. (What I'm really saying is I have to remember to upload photos before I connect to the internet because I don't have enough ports to do both simultaneously...and I keep forgetting to do that...sorry.  I'm hoping Santa might find a shiny new laptop leftover in his bag for me so I can escape these sad operational constraints...I'll inquire about that...maybe I'll get lucky.)

Today, however, I just did the deed, added a few more photos to the files so I could share them with you this morning.  The first is the aforementioned pre-dawn (or breaking dawn) photo of this very Christmas morn here in the country.  I could see it was evolving into a real beauty and deserved capturing for posterity.  (Apologies for the slight fuzziness...tough to get those long, dim exposures to be clear without a tripod to hold the camera rock-steady.)  The others, well, they're just for fun to mark the occasion.  My little Christmas gifts to you all...enjoy the day!

Here are a couple of errant tiny reindeer looking a bit puzzled as to how they ended up outside my home. I think they got away from that incessantly flying sleigh...

And, finally, a bright red cardinal on a painted wall pocket I found last year at Goodwill for a song (I use it for displaying seasonal greens outside the door).  I find it provides a cheerful crimson contrast to all this white stuff on the ground.  And speaking of birdies, I did, in fact, refill the actual feeder just outside my window to the brim with oiled black sunflower seeds and a pair of peanut suet cakes last night.  Now my lovely, fine-feathered cardinal (and chickadee and finch) friends will be pleased to find their favorite tasty Christmas meal awaiting them this morning.  It's the least I can do for them.

And, for those of you in need of a fine chuckle after these endless weeks of holiday shopping, food prep, and just general anticipatory anxiety, I direct your attention to the wonderful blog, The Blushing Hostess Entertains, for Catherine Coughlin's very amusing take on entertaining that transient Santa person...

Merry Christmas to all!  

November 24, 2010

Happy Thanksgiving...and THANK YOU!

Just a quick note to wish everyone who passes through here, whether just once or more frequently, a very happy Thanksgiving.  I'm so very thankful for my blessings and for the ability to share the things I love and care about here in blog-land. 

I wish for all of you a most happy holiday full of bountiful food and blessings to you and yours.  Thank you!

November 18, 2010

Betwixt, Between...and a New Tag Line

No sooner am I apologizing ad nauseam for not posting in recent weeks, and here I am with a second post in two days!  Never check a generous impulse, I've heard, so just go with it, gang.

One of the things I have been thinking about lately is the name of this blog.  I think Country Contemporary is still good to go here - I'm a contemporary person and I've been back living in the country, in a contemporary house, no less, for the better part of the year, so I think the title is a keeper.  The tag line - "Life and Style from the Urban Home from a Country Girl at Heart" isn't so accurate any longer, though.  I remain a country girl both at heart and, again now, in fact, but the urban home from which I originated the blog, and in which I actually "originated" in life from the age of about 4, is about to become someone else's urban home.  That meant the tag line needed, like some of the features of that wonderful midcentury urban home, to be updated to reflect the reality of these modern times.  So I changed it (the tag line, not the house, alas).

Here at Country Contemporary, the tag line is now "Life and Style from the Country Home of a Formerly Urban Girl."  It's still accurate, but more accurate and current now.  I've been back in the country since March and I was a bona fide urban girl, having been born and raised within city limits. 

In fact, I lived in the city until about age 36, when I bought my first country home.  I had been spending a lot of time in the country over the course of about eight preceding years.  I had renewed my childhood passion for horses and riding that was interrupted in my teens for all the usual reasons that derail horse crazy adolescent girls - school work, extra-curricular activities, boys, etc. - and because we lived in the city, the likelihood that we'd be keeping a horse in the backyard wasn't high.  I pleaded with my dad for that, but to no avail.

After an interruption of a few years, I resumed riding a bit during college, but, once again, the realities of life - working for a living and still residing in the city - interfered with the time I'd have to spend indulging in my long-held passion for equines or the ability to be near where horses needed to live. 

Fortunately, in my late 20s, a dear friend gave me a gift of riding lessons at a wonderful facility in the country near where I now sit typing this and, essentially, it changed my life.  More accurately, it returned me to my long-held passion and I took it from there.  After about two years, I purchased my first horse with an income tax refund I received one spring.  The rest, as they say, is history. 

Eventually, as my career progressed and my fortunes (read: bank account) grew, I made the executive decision to move closer to my passion and farther from the office after about six initial years of horse ownership.  I knew, after spending those intervening years learning the landscape and the culture of the community, that this was where I in horse country.  But for a period of about five years that reluctantly but necessarily brought me back to the city more recently, I lived, happily, here in the country for 15 years.

All the while, I kept my post office box in the country.  I knew I didn't want to give it up even though I'd later moved to another country home several miles away.   I've had that box for more than 20 years now and I've used it continuously for business and for less important mailings, like magazines and such, that I didn't need to receive instantly.  I'd come out to the country - only about 30 miles from the urban home - periodically to retrieve the mail.  The box kept me connected to the community, to my great friends of many years who are my real support system, and, most of all, to the horses.  Now, since returning to live here earlier this year, I use that box as my primary address again.

By choice, after 25 years, I don't own horses any longer, but they remain central to my existence, to my sense of my identity and to my sense of calm and happiness.  I know that wherever I live, I must be in or near where they are so I can see them, watch them, pat them and just be around them, and so this formerly urban girl can always remain a country girl at heart...and in reality. 

November 16, 2010

Pumpkin Teapot Redux

It's official.  I am a blogging delinquent.  I readily admit it.  That's supposed to be half the battle, isn't it?  Well, I'm 'fessing up.  Yup.  I'm not proud of it, but sometimes life just intervenes and demands that one pay attention elsewhere.  So that's what I've been doing.  I'm sorry to have neglected my duties here in blog-land.  I promise I will try to do better.

While I've been off the blog airwaves, I've been a busy girl.  I've spent the past six weeks (yes, more than a month) engaging in an array of activities.  All the while it has been autumn, which, as I might have mentioned previously, is my favorite time...and it's my time.  One of the things I did was celebrate another year's passage.  I don't feel a whole lot older than I did six weeks ago, but the calendar doesn't lie.  It wasn't a "big deal" birthday - no zeros in this one - so I spent it enjoying a lovely dinner at the home of a friend who kindly invited several other dear friends of mine whom I've known for 20-30 years.  I took it as an opportunity to celebrate our friendship more than I cared about acknowledgement of my birthday, and I think that's how I'll look to celebrate the occasion in the years ahead. 

There were no gifts (thank goodness - I have more than enough "stuff" and deaccessioning the excess has been my modus operandi lately), but one very dear friend brought along two bottles of Veuve Clicquot champagne, which was an instant treat.  If you haven't had to good fortune to taste it, I highly recommend it.  I think it's just about the smoothest champagne I've ever had...totally, utterly lovely.

One of the things I've enjoyed about this particular autumn is decorating my country home.  Now, mind you, I'm not talking the kind of decorating that you'll see on the other blogs, with lovely tablescapes, and mantles and accessories that reflect the autumn colors - I've got some of that - but, more importantly, for me, this year, is bringing out my accumulated autumnal decorative items that I've acquired over a lifetime of house and homekeeping = the Halloween pumpkin candle holders, the little wooden Thanksgiving turkeys, the orange and red leaves, the leaf plates, etc.

A few years ago, in a fit of frustration I suspect, one of my cats had too close an encounter with a special autumn keepsake that my late mom gave me for my birthday some years earlier.  It was a sweet, ceramic pumpkin figural teapot and I treasured it, because my mom was not a big "stuff" person, but she knew I liked things to celebrate the seasons, so she found it, chose it, and gave it to me as a surprise.  She was like that.  One day, I hear a crash/smash and the next thing I knew, I was picking up broken pieces of ceramic teapot that had fallen off a shelf and onto the hard, cold stone of the slate dining room floor. 

My fond memories of my mom's sweet gift were shattered along with the teapot, but it was a risk I took in putting it out within reach of an errant, furry paw, so, this year, I decided to try to track down a replacement on eBay.  It didn't take very long before I found the exact replica of my teapot online in a fixed price (not auction) listing, so I could "buy it now."  I thought about it for a while, saved the listing to my watch list, and one day, as my birthday (and Halloween just prior) drew closer, I threw caution to the winds and bought it.

Even though it's not the actual teapot my mom purchased and gave me, it's my teapot's identical twin, so that's close enough.  I still love it, perhaps even more because my mom chose it.  Now I have it again in my home to remind me once a year of all the things I love about fall...and my mom.

Cheers...and thanks, mom.   

September 29, 2010

Autumn's Arrival

Welcome to autumn in the Northeast.  While the actual autumnal equinox arrived on schedule, the changing colors are about a week to 10 days earlier than is typical for this area.  Usually peak color arrives in/around the first week of October, but leaves have been changing here for the better part of the past three weeks, it has been so dry with a few chilly nights, so here we are.  Suddenly, it has been unseasonably warm and balmy, so I'm enjoying the last few days of Indian summer...the temps will revert to more seasonable cool and crisp, but I don't mind.  I love the warm and I love the's the frigid cold I'm not so crazy about!This is the view from my window and I can see it now as I type, although the image above is one of afternoon sun...I'm looking south and west is to the right.

I'm so very tardy in updating here on the blog, I'm afraid, and I apologize.  It has been a very busy month-plus with things moving along rapidly both on the home front and in the country.  I know I've promised photos of the updates to the family home (about to be sold - fingers crossed!), but I literally haven't had a moment to shoot and post them.  Perhaps later this week, but in the meantime, "please enjoy the music while you're waiting..."

August 4, 2010

Wonderful Webb Weekend

First, let me say I'm delighted to see a few new followers here at the humble blog.  I suppose if I was a fanatical blogger, I'd be cross-posting all over the place to attract new followers, but, while I do love to write, I'm a bit flat out lately, so things have been pretty sporadic here.  I intend to change that, but for a while longer, it'll be catch as catch, welcome newbies, and I hope to make it worth your while to stick around.

As you regulars know, I do post about hearth and home and thereabouts, but from time to time, I make little forays into other arenas...mostly music, because that is another piece of Life that makes breathing and getting up every day and going out into the world (or staying at home in my own world) worth doing. 

Last weekend, I had the distinct pleasure of hearing one of my favorite artists perform live, right in front of me, about 15 feet away.  He's a household name in the world of 20th (and 21st) century songwriting and a familiar name to many who are just fans of good, solid, popular music.  Yet he's almost unrecognizable to the average man or woman on the street.  If he walked up to a stranger, I'm pretty sure he or she wouldn't have a clue who he was (although they'd find him a handsome fellow, I'm sure), but if they were alive in the 1960s-70s and you said to them "By the Time I Get to Phoenix" or "Witchita Lineman" or "Galveston" or "McArthur Park" or "Didn't We", it's more likely they'd know the name of legendary songwriter Jimmy Webb.  I've certainly known it for years (yes, since the 60s and 70s) and I've loved the incredible musicality and intelligence of his songs - they were wonderfully sophisticated musically and lyrically, yet completely accessible and singable, a combination of attributes that never fails to grab my attention and hold it fast.

So when the opportunity to see and hear Mr. Webb perform his own works live in a very small upstate New York venue arose at about this time last year, I seized it.  How often does a legend in music perform at a nearby 300-seat venue?  Not very, so how could I not go?  Unthinkable to miss such a rare opportunity.  It was a real thrill to hear him perform and yet, somehow, I knew I had to return for the second evening of a two-night run because I find that's when I can get beyond the "newness" and the unexpected and can pick up on the nuances of the performance, and of the man and his music, to borrow a phrase from that wonderful Frank Sinatra recording.  (Sinatra was a Webb fan, too, by the way, who always introduced him as "that wonderful kid, Jimmy Webb," as the writer of "Didn't We.")

When I saw that Mr. Webb was to return to the area this summer, to another small town nearby, for another two-night stint at an even smaller but very special venue, I knew I had to be there again.  In addition, he had just released, on June 29, his latest CD called "Just Across the River" - a wonderful compilation of some of his best known tunes sung as duets by Jimmy himself and a handful of accomplished friends and much-admired artists like Glen Campbell, Willie Nelson, Vince Gill, Linda Ronstadt, Lucinda Williams, Jackson Brown, J.D. Souther, Michael McDonald and Billy Joel.  It doesn't get much better than that - the songwriter singing his own works with such renowned artists - so I had to go to hear him perform (just on his own with a piano) again.  I wanted to here his stories of these tunes and these artists and whatever else he was inclined to impart to his audiences, because he is a grand storyteller.  

Here's a link to a clip with Jimmy talking about the new CD and a few song clips from the recording.  If you're a Baby Boomer of a "certain age" like me, I think you'll find a whole lot here to make you smile...and sigh over.  If you're a bit younger than my generation, trust me when I tell you that many of these tunes are and will remain the standards of a certain era in American music.  They have stood the test of time and they are well worth hearing anew:

Jimmy Webb - Just Across the River

Yes, I'm mostly a jazz, jazz/pop and standards fan, but, well, you know good music is just good music.  As Mr. Webb said in an interview recently, "There is no drug in the world that makes you feel as elated and empowered as really good music being played right in front of you."

Amen to that...and to the fine musician that is Jimmy Webb.

July 20, 2010

What a Nice Way to Celebrate...

Hey gang (all 11 - correction - now 12! - of you, my intrepid followers),

I don't normally post about various events, giveaways, etc., but I'm making an exception here since I just noticed that Mary over at Urban Farmgirl is hosting a 100th post giveaway this week - a wonderful gift certificate from White Flower Farmhouse (which, oh, BTW, is located right here in New York, at Peconic on beautiful Long Island).

It can be overwhelming to deal with all the opportunities to participate in various weekly and monthly events, and to sign on (comment) to be entered in other bloggers' giveaways, but I think this one is a lovely way to celebrate having achieved 100 posts on her blog.  I started a year ago and I'm not even close to that total (life intervenes, alas), but I have to admire her accomplishment, and I do like her midwestern sensibility, her sense of simple style and that of White Flower Farmhouse, as well. 

To sign onto her giveaway click on Mary's button below and give it a whirl!

Good Luck! 

July 17, 2010

A Better Battlesh- Uh, Bathroom

It has been exactly a month and one day since I last posted, so I caved to a little pressure and finally took a few photos of the newly repainted guest bath, one of three in my urban home.  Strangely, this bath has more square footage than the other two and - are you ready? - it's in the basement!  It was built as part of the original construction during which several rooms were created as finished living space in the basement, including a large family room with a fireplace, a guest bedroom which was at one time was my room and is currently my office, this bath and wide hall connecting them with the unfinished furnace room and another small unfinished room with a long workbench, etc., so it is a circa 1958 bath.  It was painted twice since, I think, until I finally tackled it a week or so ago for a third go at new color.

The floor is the original solid black and greyish-white speckled 1-inch tile, and, unlike the two main floor baths, it actually has sheetrock on the walls.  (The other baths are all tile - I mean classic, mid-century modern all tile, floor to ceiling, in baby blue and dove grey, and peachy rose pink with a hint of dove grey, respectively.)  I actually like this bath the best of all in the house.  It has built in cabinets (also original) topped on the counter and curved side shelves with striking grey/black/white marble-like Formica laminate. Who'd have guessed that 50+ years later it would actually be trendy again (well, almost trendy)? Apologies for the grainy quality of the last photo, but you get the idea.

I must say, after 50 years, it was fun to put a bright, crisp new face on the old bath walls, which were a sort of creamy, off white that desperately needed freshening.  Given the black and white of the tile and laminate counter, and the and bright, shiny silver chrome of the vintage chrome towel bars (also the originals, in like-new condition), I had aimed for a nice, soft, spa-like light grey - a sort of freshwater pearl tone, but I think I ended up with something a little closer to battleship grey!  I'd tell you the color name, but I actually mixed it myself from a gallon of an off-white and a quart of solid black - both reject cans I picked up at Lowe's for a total of $8!  I just put some of the off white in an empty paint can (which you also can buy at the store - so cool!) and added a bit of black until I reached the depth of color I wanted, then I added a bit more - a little too much more, but not so much that it didn't work at all, so I just used it.   Still, even though it was a bit darker than I originally planned, I very much like the effect of the darker grey.  It tends to define the walls a bit more and makes the room feel a bit warmer, I think.  I don't have time to redo them, so I'm going with it!

The only new items (apart from the paint) I added to the bath redo were four new door pulls I found very inexpensively, also at Lowe's, to replace the original chrome ones that for some reason just didn't quite work for me any longer:

The knob is Belwith's Pewter 1 1/4-inch Southwest style and, at $1.97 each, they just seemed to incorporate neatly both the silver tones in the bathroom and the darker shades of black and create a little visual interest on the cabinet doors, as well.

On the wall is an interesting abstract landscape I picked up a couple of years ago at Marshall's.  It was inexpensive - $25 - and is essentially a photo reproduction of a painting, I think. I don't usually buy art that is so commercial, but something about the color and texture of this piece appealed to me at the time.  I never really had a great place to hang it, but it's so durable (just laminated on a heavy board - no glass or frame), I thought it would work nicely in this newly painted bath.   It's really just there for staging purposes, but maybe I'll leave it for the buyer as a "bath-warming"  

I'm still hard at work spiffing up the house to show to prospective buyers, so here's hoping this little face-lift for the basement guest bath is just the ticket that convinces one of them that they just have to live there!

June 16, 2010

Progress Report

As usual, I'm woefully slow at posting here, but, as previously mentioned, I'm in the midst of getting the family homestead ready to show to prospective buyers.  It has been a long haul (about 3 months and counting), but I'm rounding the bend into the homestretch.  I promise to post some photos of the place when it's show-ready, but in the meantime, I'll just share one of the backyard from last summer.  The leaves are green again and the petunias are in bloom...enjoy!

May 22, 2010

The Purples of May - Irises

I took an extra minute this morning to take a few photos of the lovely irises - purple, yellow, white - that surround the country house. I love May in the Northeast - it's the "purple month" to me - all those glorious florals - lilac, iris, rhodadendron, azalea - emerge and remind us that Spring is about bright, rich colors and renewal. So, while I continue painting at the city house (and I finally chose the color to transform the tired aqua/turquoise kitchen - yes, you guessed it -Benjamin Moore's Berkshire Beige again!), enjoy the flowers blooming in the country that greet me every morning...



May 12, 2010

Just a Musical Note

I was saddened to learn of the passing this weekend of the marvelous singer and actress, Lena Horne, at 92.  She was a stunning woman and she was arguably the very first African-American woman to blaze a trail to real show business stardom in an otherwise all-white entertainment business in the U.S. in the mid-20th century.

My dad was a big fan of Ms. Horne's as a singer, so I grew up hearing her voice and seeing her on television appearances in the 1960s, knowing all the while that she was indeed a very special performer.  I have a lot to thank my dad for, especially with respect to influencing the musical tastes that were shaped in my childhood and which I still enjoy.  I've always been a fan of what I call "Great Girl Singers" and Lena Horne was among the first that I saw on television and heard and truly appreciated. 

I'm very sad that we've lost Ms. Horne, but I'm very glad I was introduced to her wonderful talents as a singer and actress as well as an activist for the rights of people of color when I was so young and impressionable.  As an homage to the immense talent that she embodied, I've added a tune by Ms. Horne to my playlist here for you to enjoy and to celebrate her long and well-lived life.  She will be much missed, but she always will be much admired.

May 8, 2010

Adventures in Preparing the Family Home for Sale

Yikes!  It has been a month since I last posted.  Sorry for the huge gap, but, as I mentioned previously, I've been very busy working on getting the family homestead ready for sale.  So far, I've repainted the living room, dining room and open stairway hall (leading to the basement - an original design feature). 

Just before I started painting, a very dear friend of many years - a contractor who has built high-end custom country homes for more than 30 years - had a few days between projects just when I needed him, so he came with his son and colleague and took care of several interior challenges and repairs that were just a bit beyond the limits of my capabilities.  (I do have a few power tools, but I know better than to tackle things that I haven't done before when there is both a time imperative and the prospect of financial return on the line!  When you need first-rate quality, call a first-rate contractor!)

Here's a peek at the painting work in the living room, featuring the newly repainted walls and tongue-and-groove paneling. 

The paneling, which is prevalent in these three areas of the house, was original and had been a pickled natural redwood, so it had a pale beige tone.  It held up well, but after 50 years, there's just no easy way to make it look fresh, clean and crisp, so I made the executive decision to paint it.  That's the sad news, but the good news is that it looks great in its new coat of Benjamin Moore's Berkshire Beige, which is the color I also used on all the window trim and baseboards.  I couldn't be more pleased with the paneling here in the living room, dining room and stairway hall - it is just what the space and these paneled walls needed to look bright and new again, and the color is the perfect complement to the wall color, Moore's "Clay Beige," which I actually chose to complement the trim, not the other way around!  The spaces sparkle again and that's what they need to do to make the house easy to sell. 

I'm not that worried since it's a great house in a great neighborhood (location, location, location!) and I already have interest from potential buyers, but spiffing a house's appearance up as much as possible always helps maximize the sale price.  Repainting tired rooms in soothing, neutral tones is a very cost effective thing to do yourself whenever you can to prepare a house for sale.  Can you tell that, among other things, I've been a realtor?  I've been in some pretty sad looking houses that people have put on the market in my realtor days, so, needless to say my house will sparkle in every way possible before anyone is allowed in the door to see it!

One of the other improvements that I'm making is to replace some very dated appliances.  Fortunately, I stumbled upon an incredible sale last week, so I purchased a double electric wall oven to replace the old one (in that oh-so-fun chocolate brown finish that was so popular in the 1960s) - and the best part was that I got the new ovens at HALF PRICE!  That was such a terrific coup, but the only trade-off is that they won't be delivered (and installed) for another month.  Oh,'ll be well worth the wait.  Then, yesterday, I went to see a stainless steel refrigerator that a local dealer had for half the usual cost of such a popular item - another score!  I happened to see the dealer's listing for this fridge on Craigslist two days ago and I've done business with them in the past, so I knew they were reputable.  Needless to say, I zoomed over to their showroom and bought it on the spot yesterday. 

They'll bring it next week, will take away the old one (yay!) - also in that lovely chocolate brown - and even will replace a switch on the washer I bought from them 20 years ago that was broken when I moved it back here five years ago.  (I haven't used the washer more than 7 years since my subsequent houses already had washers, so this one, while 20 years old and a front-loader, still has plenty of life left when I move it to my next home, or sell it to a friend who is in need of one, along with the dryer - both are in great shape.)

I won't bore you with the gorey details of removing a 500-gallon underground fuel oil tank (unused for several years) and will let the photo below illustrate, but that was one of my home improvement adventures during the past week.  Two young guys and one small backhoe made relatively short work of getting the tank out of the ground (a few hours and out it came), but it left me with some regrading and remedial drainage work to do next to the foundation of the house.  Not unexpected, but not exactly the most fun job on the planet.  Still, a load of mulch for the planter, a layer of lanscape fabric and some nice gravel for the drainage bed between it and the house should remedy that situation.

So, as you can see, I have been going nonstop here at the homestead, but not so much that I haven't enjoyed seeing the arrival of Spring unfold over the past month.  The forsythias were glorious and the lilacs and lily of the valley are now in bloom in the country, and I'm eagerly awaiting the emergence of the irises that surround the east side of that house.  All things considered, life right now is pretty good.


April 6, 2010

A new home...for a while

By popular demand, I'm posting a shot of the country house to which I've moved temporarily. It's a wonderful place owned by a dear friend who has lived out of state for more than a decade now.  I remember walking around it when she was having it built 20 years ago and marveling at its post-and-beam construction. 

It's a passive solar design and stays quite toasty most days (when toasty is desirable) and with just two bedrooms and two baths, it is the perfect size for me for now. 

This is a view to the west.  The doorway you see isn't the front entry but is the den/bedroom on the first floor.  The front entry is around to the right in this photo, on the north side of the house.   The master bedroom and bath are in the loft on the second floor, and its tall double windows are seen above the double windows over the kitchen sink, to the left of the den door, in this shot.   It has a wonderful open plan with living/dining and kitchen occupying most of the first floor, along with the aforementioned den and adjacent full bath, closets and stairway to the loft and basement.   The windows on the left side of the building in this image frame the view to the south that I posted last time.

Downsizing from four beds/three baths was the plan and this is a wonderful transitional home to give me a good sense of what I will look for later in the year as I plan to relocate permanently to a warmer climate. 

Yes, folks, the time has come for this born-and-bred Yankee to follow the sun to a land with very little snow.  The plan is to head eventually to South Carolina permanently before the year ends.  

Why choose South Carolina (vs some other state)?  Several reasons, actually, as I find it offers a number of  lifestyle options that I have craved for quite a long time.  First, I have several friends and acquaintances of many years who either have moved permanently or who spend winters there, so I will arrive with something of a social network well started, if not firmly in place.  Second, I am, and have been since childhood when I first began to ride, a horse person - it's in my DNA - and the world of horses and horse sports are an intrinsic part of the culture where I'm headed.  I don't plan to own horses again, but I need to be around them and have them be an important part of any community where I live.  Third, as I approach my later years, the cost of living in the Northeast is simply becoming too onerous for me.   Fourth, I really am not a fan of snow.  I've grown up with it as an unavoidable component of my environment, but those aspects of it that I found entertaining as a child, are no longer appealing.  It's heavy, it's obstructive, it can be dangerous on roads and walkways, and most of all - it's just plain cold.  I want to enjoy my life, not be a slave to it, so I have resolved to go where the cost to simply exist is not so confining as it has become here and where the weather doesn't torture me with cold and snow.  Finally, the South appeals to me.  It has a wonderful, genteel pace and a fascinating history.  Quite honestly, I can make a home for myself just about anywhere, so I'm choosing the South. 

Sure there are aspects relocating to the South that might prove challenging for a dyed-in-the-wool Yankee, but as with living the Northeast, there are always concessions to be made wherever one chooses to live.  That's a given, but I've reached a point in my life when it's well worth it to me to trade off  for good the bitter cold and shoveling ungodly amounts of snow for a much hotter summer, but a much more temperate winter.  It's pretty much that simple, so I hope to be whistlin' "Dixie" with a smile before the year's end.

March 28, 2010

Happy Spring!

Just a quick update mid-move.  It's going fairly well.  Lots to do at the family homestead and lots to do at the new digs.  For your enjoyment, here's a view of my view at the new home (temporarily) of Country Contemporary:

It's a view to the south from the house...rolling hills, fenced paddocks...a landscape that I truly love.

It's a bit ironic, I think, that I've been moving from a contemporary (well, mid-century modern) home in the city to a contemporary home in the country, literally.  It really wasn't my thinking when I named the blog, which was more an attempt to characterize my sense that I was, in fact, a "city-gone-country-gone-back-to-the-city" girl.  But, Fate has a funny way of laughing at you, or at least bringing you back where you belong, so I'm not resisting it in any way.

Soon, the trees and shrubs will be budding with blooms.  I'm looking forward to that and to the warmer temperatures that teased us into thinking they were here to stay a week or so ago.  They'll be back by the end of the week, which is a huge relief, and the birds are telling us it's time!

Speaking of Spring, and birds and sweet things of the season, Mary over at the Litte Red House blog is having the perfect little giveaway to celebrate her 700 followers.  We 10 here at Country Contemporary are probably her followers, too, but just in case you haven't been there, or haven't been there lately, check out her offer which continues until March 31.  Hey, you never know!

March 10, 2010

Movin' On

It has been a busy few weeks, with the promise of more nonstop fun in moving in the next month or so as I gradually pick up and pack up for my relocation back to the country.  I've been moving boxes, the contents of my kitchen cupboards, linens and some clothing in anticipation of moving some furniture.  The items not going to the country house eventually are going into storage in anticipation of another move later, so this is only the beginning. 

Once I get myself and the kitties out of the city house, I'll be spending quite a bit of time getting it ready for sale.  There's a lot to do between the move and the preparations, so you'll forgive me if my posts are brief and photos, well, I'll try, but make no promises about posting them. 

I'll have lots to tell when the dust settles, but it will be a while, I suspect.  Please be patient.  As soon as I can (and when I need a break from the fray), I'll share as much interesting info and images as I can amid the chaos of the start of this next phase of my adventures in life.

Until then, as those annoying voice mail messages advise us, "please enjoy the music."  I'll be back to report from the front as soon as I'm able.

February 24, 2010

No Escape from Winter...Yet

While I sat happily in the Northeast, just beyond the clutches of the blizzards that bombarded the Mid-Atlantic region over the past few months, I suspected my relief would be fairly short-lived.  Yesterday, the hounds of Winter reminded us up here in the NY/New England region that they hadn't finished with us quite yet, and that persnickety ground-hog, Punxatawny Phil, was right on the money.  It's still snowing in my neck of the woods this morning (well, not quite woods, but close enough), but that should wind down soon. 

If it was December, I'd be celebrating the fact that we'd likely have a white Christmas.  Now that it's February, I'm celebrating that this accumulation of white stuff, while very pretty, isn't likely to last forever.  Spring is just around the corner...I think.

Here are a few views of the latest version of "winter white."
Knowing that snow was in the forecast, I went out into the back yard the other day and raked up the last of the residual leaves that had piled up in the corner against the fence.  Sitting in my kitchen, I saw them there as the last snows had melted away and they were bugging me.  So unkempt!  I pulled out a rake and ended up filling two brown leaf bags (for recycling) within a half-hour.  It felt so good to get out an do something physical in the crisp, fresh air.  It was fairly mild for mid-February - funny how high 30s can seem balmy!  I even found, as I progressed, I was too warm with a long-sleeved tee and a fleece jacket under my snow coat, so I took off the coat and enjoyed how my exertions had warmed up my muscles.

Because I am eagerly awaiting the arrival of Spring's first crocus, green grass, and warmer breezes, I added a new and optimistic tune to the playlist - perhaps it will hurry its arrival along.

Think Spring!

February 18, 2010

Mardi Gras: Laissez les bon temps roulez!

Sometimes my celebration of various holidays is consciously grand and expansive, like decorating several rooms in the house for the Christmas holidays weeks in advance.  Sometimes it's modest, understated and somewhat fleeting, as my celebration of Mardi Gras was this year, on February 16, hot on the heels of Valentine's Day.

Unfortunately, I don't have any strings of brilliant, metallic emerald green, purple and gold beads to celebrate Mardi Gras, but I do have this fun mug that I found at Goodwill a few months ago.

It's charming and it caught my attention initially because of the rooster design.  Like many people, I am partial to roosters.  I'm not sure I know why - maybe it derives from my affection for a restaurant that I had enjoyed many (like about 40) years ago in southern Vermont called Le Chanticleer.  I think it was the first time I realized that roosters and French country design and food were inextricably linked, and often were prevalent in kitchen design.  It's that "cockadoodle-do" rise-and-shine breakfast thing, I suspect.

Whatever the reason,  I found this particular rooster mug with its bright colors and confetti-esque, cheerful Mardi Gras theme irresistable.  Accordingly, it became the singular focus of my "minimal Mardi Gras" celebration this year.  Not being in the heart of the "Big Easy" (although I'm happy to say I have been there and I thoroughly enjoyed my visit) but very much in the heart of the frosty, freezing Northeast, I celebrated Fat Tuesday not with an alcohol infused "hurricane" or some coffee with chicory, but with some sweet, dark and rich steaming hot chocolate.  It was a warm, cozy and tasty way to celebrate the evening and the best part was there was no "morning-after" effect or confetti to sweep up the next day!

Of course, what would a holiday celebration blog post here be without a little complementary musical sound track to set the tone?  I give you the sounds of one of NOLA's favorite sons added to the playlist just for the occasion.  So, have a seat, pour yourself a cup of coffee with chicory (or hot chocolate or whatever libation you fancy for the occasion), relax and just laissez les bon temps roulez!

February 12, 2010

My Funny Valentine

Valentine's Day is one of my favorite celebrations of the year.  It's not because of the red roses, the chocolates, or the other expressions of love and affection, although those are quite nice, especially if one is on the receiving end of the gesture. 

No, I love it because after the quiet - and usually snow-covered - frosty month of January, a period of recovery from the visual excesses of the December holidays, Valentine's Day is a shot of bold, bright color - of brilliant crimson hearts against the stark February landscape.  I just like the vibrant "redness" of it and the sentiments of warmth and affection behind it.  It's a happy day for me, and even if one doesn't happen to have a Valentine to share it with, it's a little reminder that Spring and its signs of rebirth and renewal are just around the corner. 

When I was a child, my father gave me a few little tokens of Valentine affection.  I suspect my mother actually purchased these items on my father's behalf, but the fact that he gave them to me are the memories that linger.  As I grew older, he continued to give me Valentine cards - again, I'm sure thanks to mom - but they were sweet and endearing.  Both my parents are gone now, but I still have a few of the tokens that I keep tucked away in my box of Valentine keepsakes - a tiny, fuzzy, charming little bear wearing a small red heart and a pair of dear little tiny sachets embroidered with hearts - and a few of the lovely cards they gave me.  They are sweet reminders of them and that lovely day in February.

From my mother, I remember vividly the heart-shaped double layer cakes she baked for our Valentine's Day celebrations.  Rich, tasty, golden, butter cakes made from scratch with sweet pink, strawberry flavored frosting.  I still have her vintage, old Duncan Hines cookbook with that cake recipe, but I haven't tried to replicate it yet.  Maybe I will make it on Valentine's Day and revisit those wonderful, warm childhood memories of the people who affectionately launched my Valentine traditions.

To mark the occasion, I've added the beautiful standard, "My Funny Valentine" to my playlist.  It's performed here by one of my very favorite artists.  It's a song I learned when I was fairly young, again, thanks to my dad, who also shared with me his love for jazz and great jazz musicians.  It's a fairly simple, elegant arrangment - just trumpet and piano - so haunting and beautiful, and a heart-warming reminder of a special day to celebrate love in February.

February 6, 2010

Let Them (and Me) Eat Cake!

I haven't ventured into the arena of food/cooking/recipes here at the blog, but I do love to cook and spend most of my time in the kitchen (where I have the laptop).  Kitchens are my favorite places and I'm so fond of them that I've even contemplated venturing into kitchen design professionally.  It might happen yet.

In the meantime, however, I've been having a food craving lately.  Some years ago, a local commercial bakery that distributes to grocery store chains in the Northeast offered a wonderful cake in its product line.  It was called their "Nut 'n' Honey Round Cake."  It was a simple yellow cake with a chocolate frosting flavored with a bit of honey and topped with walnuts.  It was my favorite for years, so much so that I even asked my mom many years ago to serve that as my birthday cake.  (I'm sure she appreciated not having to bake a cake from scratch - which she did periodically and wonderfully.) 

The bakery stopped offering the cake to grocery stores some years ago and I've been sad about that ever since.  So, this week I finally pulled together the ingredients I'd need to recreate the cake.  I am not the world's greatest baker, so I opted for the easy, short-cut approach - boxed cake mix, even ready-made frosting - because I think the secret to this cake isn't in the "made from scratch" approach - it's in the blending of key flavors. 

I made the cake per the package directions, only instead of adding the full 1 1/4 cups of water needed to moisten the mix, I substituted about 1/4-cup of honey for 1/4 cup of the water.  (I had warmed about 1/2-cup honey slightly in a pan just to liquify it further, using half for the cake and half for the frosting.)  Then, I poured the contents of one ready-made milk chocolate frosting container into a bowl and added the remaining 1/4-cup of warmed honey to the bowl, and mixed it into the frosting with an electric hand-mixer.  The result was a slightly lighter and creamier (and tastier) frosting than the stiff blend that came out of the container, which made it the perfect consistency for easy spreading.  If you prefer a darker color, you can always use a dark chocolate flavored frosting instead.

I baked the cake per the package directions (using, in this case, two 9-inch round pans), then, after the cake cooled, I assembled the two layers, spreading black raspberry jam (rather than the frosting) between them.  (I love cakes with a tasty fruit jam between the layers.)  Then I frosted the top and sides with the honey-laced chocolate frosting and finished it with ground walnuts on top.  Voila!  I give you my quick-and-easy version of Nut 'n' Honey Round Cake:

I'm pleased to report that this version of my favorite cake tastes just as good as the original that inspired it.  Yum!

February 4, 2010

A Bright New Day

To accompany my impending change of domestic scene, I've changed the header image yet again.  I like this image a lot, in part, because I know the local artist, and also because it's a contemporary landscape depicting the Hudson River.  It reflects some of the spirit of this blog - country and comfortable in feeling, but contemporary and current in tone - at least I hope that's what is happening here.  Either way, change continues to be in the wind, so here's a bright new one to symbolize the bright new days of Spring ahead.

February 3, 2010

What Are They Thinking?

Since my last post was rather a long one, I'm going to make this one fairly brief, but I need to address something that has been bothering me for a little while now. 

I've had an opportunity in the past few months to be exposed to an inordinate amount of daytime television programming.  It's not that I watch transfixed, it's just there in the background like a musical soundtrack (although, admittedly, not necessarily as soothing as music).  It's just my "companion" of sorts when I'm working at home, cooking, cleaning, etc.  I keep it turned on and around because, occasionally, there are interesting segments that grab my attention, whether on a morning news or talk program, a cooking show, a travel segment, a home renovation/redesign segment, etc.

Something I've noticed a quite bit lately is that the latter - the home renovation/redesign programs - are not always espousing what I, in my infinite wisdom and experience in life (well, okay, I'm in mid-life, so I wasn't born yesterday), would NOT characterize as great good design.  At first, I questioned my reaction to some of these programs' segments.  I thought, they're putting this stuff on TV, so maybe I'm missing something here or they look better in person, perhaps.  But, no, honestly, I think some of the "solutions" these program hosts and/or their design "experts" are promulgating - indeed, in some cases, inflicting on these unwitting (but obviously complicit) residents or homeowners - is just unbelievably bad design.

Most of my objections surround the programs that purport to create great spaces out of found and repurposed materials.  I think it's a wonderful concept, but, more often than not, I think the designs and the projects tackled are just plain lame and badly executed.  

One needn't look much farther than the options on the blogs one finds online (not mine, but some of the ones to which I've linked) to find far better concepts, workmanship and finished products.  What is with these TV folks? 

I'll confess, a lot of the design work that I find unattractive is often executed by much younger folk - 20- and 30-somethings.  They mean well, I'm sure, but it makes me wonder what the producers of these programs are thinking?  Indeed, I'm wondering what these designers are thinking.  It's as if they've just stepped out of design school, but still seem to have the work ethic of students and none of the, as they say on Project Runway about errant fashion designer candidates, "taste level." 

I'm inclined to say this stuff ain't brain surgery, but, in some ways, it is complex and shouldn't be diminished.  I can say some of this with impunity because, among other things, I was an art major in college, I've done work professionally that involves making aesthetic and space design decisions, and I'm also a licensed realtor.  I've seen and done a lot in the big world in which some of these types of projects exist.

Making hard choices about shape, size, line, color, texture and placement is not for the faint of heart and takes time and careful thought.  The problem seems to arise when the designer looks for the "quick-and-dirty" solution, as we used to say in the printing production business, one that doesn't cost much.  Unless it comes from a place of solid perspective and the ability to reference those efforts that have stood the test of time as good interior design, the results often look know. 

What scares me most about this "instant" design approach that the television media, and some print media outlets, are foisting upon us is that unwitting viewers who ascribe some sense of intelligence and authority to this programming might be inclined to view it as worthy of emulation.  All I can say is, don't go there.  It's not necessarily, so don't try this at home!  If it looks cheap, it often is cheap (you've heard the one about the quack and the duck), so while it might appear to solve a problem expeditiously, it isn't necessarily good design, it's just a fast solution...and not usually a very good one.  If it is done on a "dime," look very closely and beware.  Good stuff visually (or functionally) isn't necessarily about cost, but there is an aesthetic price to pay if you assume anything can be done cheaply and it still will be viable visually.

As with everything you read in the newspapers, take what you see on some of the television design programs with many very large grains of salt and don't believe, just because they put it on the air, that it's worthy of design credibility.  As the Gershwins wrote in the song from "Porgy & Bess," it ain't necessarily so.

January 28, 2010

Sometimes Things Change...Really Change...Forever

Perhaps I spoke too soon in quoting the French phrase in my last post about things changing yet staying the same.  Sometimes they change...and it's really big change...and they don't stay the same...ever. 

When I began this blog in earnest, it was this house, this place where I grew up and to which I returned five years ago when my mother's health began to fail, that was the focal point.  It was with wildly mixed emotions that I came back here.  I'd left this house, for good I thought, a few decades ago, at the age of 22, never expecting, or necessarily wanting, to return here to live.  I was more than ready to go, eager to strike out on my on and create a nest for myself. 

Although my mother was quite sad about my leaving the family home and her loving care, I was moving only about 10 minutes away, to my first home of my own.  I lived there in that cute 2 bedroom Cape for 13 years, until the call of the countryside, where I spent a good deal of my time, had become so compelling, that I sold the first little house and bought my first house in the country, about 25 miles away.  I loved that house - a prim, side-hall colonial with 3 bedrooms upstairs and lots of interior shutters on the windows - in a picture-postcard, little historic hamlet.  It was a perfect first country home and I stayed there for seven more years.

I loved living in the country.  It was only about a half-hour from town, from my parents and work, so I was never far away or out of touch, and I commuted daily for another decade or so.  During that time, I began to crave just a bit more privacy and a bit more of the countryside to myself, so I sold the first country house and moved to a small farm.  Very small, comparatively, only about 3 acres, but it had a charming 3-bedroom house tucked down a quiet lane off a dead end, with a long driveway lined by mature old maples, surrounded by woods and fields and the two other neighbors no closer than shouting distance, at most.  Best of all, it had a huge (seriously huge) old barn and small adjacent fenced paddock.  Finally, once the stalls were rebuilt and the fences repaired, I could bring my horse home, and, eventually, I did.  It was the culmination of a life-long dream.  For me, it truly was heaven.

I was supremely happy, if periodically challenged, at the farm - something was always breaking.  Such is the way with old houses and old fences, but the horses (mine and a friend's), the kitties that I brought there or that were born there, and I were all content there.  It was one of the most wonderful times of my life.  But, as I said earlier, sometimes things change.  Of course, things always change, with predictable inevitability, as time passes.

About 15 years ago, my dad had died at 81 after a long, sad battle with Alzheimer's disease.  My mom, who had cared for him at home entirely by herself (her preference - she never wanted anyone else involved) at home, was 11 years younger than Dad.  She always had unfathomable depths of courage, strength and stoicism.  You'd swear there was pioneer or Puritan blood in her somewhere.  She also was the personification of the phrase "quiet dignity."  Incredible stuff to witness, but sometimes you're too close to see or perceive it as it's happening until you have the perspective of time.  So she was on her own here for another eight years after dad died.  But, as I said, sometimes things change and they don't stay the same.

 About six years ago, it was becoming apparent, as mom approached 80, that she wasn't as physically strong, or healthy, as she had been.  We talked about her moving out to the country with me, since, by then, I had stopped commuting into town and was at the farm.  She seemed open to the idea for a while, but when push came to shove, she finally confessed she didn't want leave her home.  It had been built by my parents and she had lived here for all of its nearly 50 years of existence.  As I mentioned in an earlier post, she always said it was my dad's house, but, really, it was her house.  Now, when faced with the prospect of leaving it, she realized she couldn't abide the idea that someone else - a stranger - would be living in her house.  That, for her, was unthinkable.  This place was her safety and her security.  As with many decisions she made, I didn't fully comprehend at first, but eventually I came to understand. 

So I made the hard decision to sell the farm, lease a barn nearby with my friend so our horses could remain as stable- and pasture-mates, pack up 15 years of my country life and move back to the city to be with mom.  I knew as I had watched her gradually decline over the years that I probably wouldn't have that many left with her.  There were no other family members left in the area and my mom and I were very close.  If I had to give up a lifestyle that I enjoyed for a few years in order to help her preserve the one that she had worked all of her life to create and maintain, well then, of course, I would.

Fortunately, the real estate market was still strong in 2004 and the farm was such an appealing property, I accepted an attractive offer for it 10 days after I put it on the market.  That was a huge relief.  The even better news is that I've remained in touch with the very nice woman who bought it, who renovated the house exquisitely beautifully (something I wasn't yet able to do, but had hoped to), so we socialize periodically.  That means I get to visit my former home occasionally, genuinely admire the transformation the place has experienced, and smile with enormous satisfaction (and just a little relief) whenever I'm there.  Sometimes you don't want to go back to your former homes and sometimes you do.  That's one I always enjoy entering.

So I moved back into town to live with Mom - the house was plenty big enough for the two of us, and while the adjustment to the city noises was jarring for me for a few months, I eventually settled in, the kitties - shocked at not being allowed out - eventually settled in, as well.  She would never say anything, but I knew Mom wasn't well, so they were precious months - just over two years - that I spent here with her before she died.  After she became so weak and finally admitted she was in great pain, she agreed to go to hospital, where she remained for two weeks.  There the diagnosis of a terminal illness that I had long suspected was confirmed, but she and I soon made the decision to skip any extraordinary or invasive treatment or a nursing facility, and I brought her back home. 

Mom knew, having lost her sister almost a decade earlier to the same intrusive illness she suffered, that the available treatments were neither curative nor palliative and, for her, they not worth the inescapable discomfort.  She knew she was dying and conventional medicine did not offer sufficient quality of life and she didn't want any part of the healthcare system's dictates that assuredly would have robbed her of the quiet dignity and privacy that she spent most of her life cultivating.  I, too, knew well that it was her right to decide and that, above all, her home was where she wanted to be.  There - here - she could slip slowly and quietly away in the place that had always been her sanctuary, without any intrusions from the rest of the world.

I also knew, having cared for many large and small animals - patients that cannot speak - for most of my adult life, that I certainly could do what was necessary to care for one frail mother on my own here at home, and there was no question that's what I would do.  One day, one of the visiting hospice nurses who stopped by to check on Mom even asked me if I was a nurse.  She told me she inquired because she was impressed with my calmness and capabiliity.  She said most people can't deal with caring 24/7 for a loved one who is bedridden and dying.  It just seemed to me that you simply do what needs to be done.  It's been entrenched in me for decades that it's not an option to abdicate caretaking responsibility for one's pets, so it wasn't a huge stretch to do the same with people I love.  It was then that I finally understood so clearly why it was so important for Mom to care for my dad here at home, on her own terms, when he was ill and failing.  I was gratified and relieved that I was able to do that for her, too, so she could die quietly, just as he did in her care, at the one place that had been so special to her for so many years.

All of those inevitable life events and changes brought me to today and a decision I'd been mulling for a few years since my mom died a few years ago.  I've been here on my own for a few years and had become fairly comfortable again here in my childhood home.  I fill any space I'm in, and this one has been no different. 

While I could easily stay here, the reality is that it's far more house than either I need or want going forward.  While I'm not anywhere near old enough to claim Social Security, I'm no spring chicken either.  I've shlepped heavy water buckets twice daily through two feet of snow when the hydrant in the barn froze through the winter.  The bigger a house is, the more there is to do to take care of it.  Houses are like people, the older they get, the more you need to do to keep them humming.  I have felt increasingly that I want to lighten the load, downsize even more, and finally head toward a more temperate climate, especially in winter.  I know I can deal with two feet of snow, or whatever a house of this age and size throws at me, but I just don't want  to.  Been there, done that, and I have other things I'd rather do with my time and money, although I won't suggest I'll never lift another paintbrush or screwdriver, or indulge my passion for design or decorating again.  I just don't want to be overwhelmed by the magnitude of a house or its issues.  It has to be manageable for me now, and a decade from now.  This wonderful sturdy, mid-century modern ranch that has only ever been home to my family, is now at the point where it needs more attention than I want to invest in any house, and while I have filled its spaces, it is a place that always was designed for more than one person.  I need to be free of it and to free it to house warmly another family for its next half-century.  I'll just keep with me the good memories of having grown up and lived here, as I have with my previous three homes.

So, it is with more mixed emotions that I'm preparing the family homestead to be sold.  Earmarking furnishings and household items that were purchased by my parents - my mom, mostly - either to be stored or sold or donated or tossed.  The painting work I've been planning ultimately will not be for me to enjoy, but to prepare the house for sale instead.  It's always the way.  Everytime I tackle a kitchen-related project, I end up selling the whole house, so maybe I'll re-do the kitchen in my next house right away so I can enjoy it a while longer.  Either way, I'll chronicle the work and the progress, since we've come this far together.  When it's all done, it'll be a way of taking a virtual piece of this place, that has been so special to me and to my parents, with me always. 

As for where I'm going, well, I have a destination firmly in mind and a plan to get there, but it's a process, so I'd rather let that play out over time.  Suffice it to say it's a good bit warmer there and less harsh in winter than the frosty Northeast, and there are horses there, because it would be unthinkable for me to live in a place where they, and the countryside that surrounds them, weren't nearby.  In the meantime, the kitties and I will be heading back, temporarily, to the countryside nearby that I love for a little while until we make the "big" move later in the Spring.  It seems appropriate to move during the season of new beginnings. These next few months will be my next big life adventure, for sure.  Wait and see.

Sometimes things do change..and they don't stay the same...ever.  The reasons for thoses changes can be good or bad, or sometimes a little of both.  Whatever the reasons, it's the one thing about life that doesn't change.

January 13, 2010

The More Things Change...

The French have a wonderful expression, "plus ca change, plus ca fait rien" which translates to "the more things change, the more nothing happens" (or, figuratively, "...the more they stay the same").   (Sorry I'm missing the accent marks, but they're not copying from the source...oh, well.)  I am reminded of it because I was out over the weekend running errands and decided to finally use a gift card to a local True Value hardware store that I'd been given for Christmas...several years ago!  I knew I would use it on paint, but wasn't sure at the time what I would be painting.  Now I know.

So I stopped in at the hardware store that sells my favorite Benjamin Moore paints in search of the perfect "greyge" - that wonderful combination of grey and beige - a light taupe - that I've loved since I painted the living room that color in my first house, 30+ years ago.  I'd seen the color in a magazine spread - Glamour or Mademoiselle, I can't remember which - paired with fabrics in a strong rust color and I loved the way it gave a warm, cozy and calming ambience to a tiny New York City apartment bedroom.  I still have the page from that magazine in my files.  The color worked for me then, and it still does.

I found just the right color for my first living room (painted by former occupants a dusty rose pink at the time - yikes!) in the collection made by Pittsburgh Paints.  It was called "Deep Twilight."  I loved it in that living room for years.  I could change the colors of the upholstered furnishings, drapes and rugs, but they always worked with that wonderful wall color.  I still love it - just dark enough to be a statement, but not so dark that it is overpowering, but I hadn't used it since for an interior space.  The styles and rooms of my two subsequent homes made color statements that were already well established when I arrived and I was not so invested in remaking their spaces.

Eventually, however, about 10 years ago, I needed to repaint the exterior of my small, traditional farmhouse in the country.  Its stark white clapboards, while brilliant and classic in their day (early 1800s), had been repainted (and perhaps even replaced), but the years had taken their toll and they had become a shadow (a sort of dusty, dingy shadow) of their former crisp, white selves.  With matching white (well, dirty white) trim, there was nothing notable about the house's appearance or architecture - it all blended together, obscuring the special features that distinguished the mouldings around the doors, windows, rooflines and porch from the siding.  That's when I decided the white clapboards had to give way to my favorite warm and toasty taupe and I'd refresh the trim with a warmer tone of ivory.

Off I went to the paint store with my old taupe paint chip in hand to find a Benjamin Moore color that was as close as I could get to that wonderful "Deep Twilight."  I found it in one of Moore's "America's Colors," a warm tone called "Berkshire Beige" (code number AC-2 - click on the link at the color name to check it out).  It seemed appropriate enough as the house was just a few miles from the border where the Berkshire mountains of Massachusetts were located - I liked the reference to the region nearby.  So,  up it went on the siding and - voila! - the house became more inviting and the newly painted bright white trim details suddenly popped out, defining more clearly the house's cheerful Colonial roots and its subsequent folk Victorian embellishments.  It was a resounding success.

Ironically, the style trends of the 1970s have, in some ways, re-emerged in the past decade or so. Neutral tones - what I'll call the "Pottery Barn palette" - again serve as pleasing backgrounds with strong accent colors now favored, whether black, navy, a rusty barn red or rich pastels, etc.  So I thought I'd go check out the latest in the contemporary color palettes over the past weekend to see if I could find a rich, new greyge/taupe hue to use to renew the kitchen walls of the midcentury modern ranch that has been my home for the past five years and my family's home for more than 50 years.  The old, dingy aqua - the only color this heart of the home has ever known that was so trendy in its day - finally has to GO!  Seriously.

I perused the choices - dozens of them - and pulled sample chips from the racks and scrutinized them.  When I'd finally narrowed the options, I stepped over to the rack with the aforementioned "America's Colors" and re-examined my old favorite, Berkshire Beige.  I held it next to the other chips and, don't you know, when it was all said and done, I went with Berkshire Beige yet again!  Nothing else is quite like it.  Other deeper taupe choices would have been too dark in this room that only gets sunlight from the east in the morning, and lighter tones just weren't colorful enough and wouldn't set off the light, natural maple wood that is hidden beneath the age/smoke/grease-darkened finish of the cabinets.  (Their restoration/rejuvenation is another major project I'll be tackling in the near future as well, after I paint the walls.)

I haven't started painting the kitchen yet, but, yes, I'll take some photos of the "before" stage before I do, so you can see the transformation.  I have no time frame in mind, though, and work and other imperatives take priority at the moment, but now that I finally have the color decided and the paint in hand, it won't be too long before I break out the dropcloths, rollers, and brushes, so stay tuned.

"Plus ca change...."

January 2, 2010

More Musings on Plaid: An "Aha" Moment

You know how sometimes you make choices - in this case, aesthetic choices - because something appeals to you visually?  Well, I just had a light bulb, "aha" moment about the new plaid background on my blog.  I chose it originally because it was bright and cheerful, but, actually, I was hoping I'd find a more traditional know, something with navy blue, a bit of deep red, hunter green, etc., because I love those jewel tones woven together to create a handsome plaid pattern. 

It occurs to me that I choose those deep, rich tones in many areas of my life and have done that for years. When I think of plaid I think of wool and warmth, of traditional homes and cozy firesides, stone walls and pine paneling...all that good stuff that speaks of hearth and home.  They are the colors of "tradition" - plaids going back centuries - often found in the historic 18th- and 19th-century homes found throughout the countryside of the Northeast, and they also are prevalent in the world of horses where I have "lived" emotionally since I was a child, when I first began to ride, and literally through much of my adult life lived in or spent in the country.  There are traditional plaids often seen on horse blankets, riding vests, and other forms of  horse stuff, or "equestriana" as I call it, that have always "spoken" to me visually.  They represent a very real sort of comfort and happiness for me.

So when I came across this particular blog background plaid, I embraced it, in part, because it was the only one offered *free* on the Designer Blogs site.   It combines tones from nature - sun and sky, grass and earth, spices and fruits - and  it seemed to be suitably cheerful for my blog page.  Then, just a few minutes ago, I had one of those wonderful, "aha" moments.  I realized that the colors of this particular plaid reflect the tones that defined my house since it was built.  I know this because I grew up here as a child. 

My parents had this red brick ranch house built in the late 1950s - it's shown, snow-covered in the image on my header - and my dad worked closely with the architect to create a creative but functional design for his young family.  My mom always said this was my father's house since she was too busy with two young children - I was 4, my brother was 5 - to focus too intently on much of its structural design.  Indeed, it has a semi-open interior plan with a soaring, 14-foot cathedral ceiling over the living and dining rooms and a hallway illuminated by clerestory windows above the open stairway to the finished basement.  There also are certain features - especially the huge, three-flue chimney clad in a decorative, light beige brick that defines and distinguishes the living and dining rooms that is suspiciously reminiscent of the turrets of a castle.  It's definitely very male..."A man's home is..."...yup, Mom, you got that right. 

Still, a childhood friend of my mom's told me a few years ago that even when she was a child, my mom dreamed of having a house with lots of "built-ins" and, indeed, she got them in the design of this house.  There are modest built-in blonde, natural maple bookshelves and wall cabinets in mine and my brother's former bedrooms (now guest rooms and/or my sewing room), built-in closets, and a built-in laundry (behind doors in the kitchen - my mom wanted no part of schlepping clothing and bedding up and down stairs).

My mom lived here for nearly 50 years, so while she always asserted it was Dad's house, it was, and still is, for me, really my mom's house in many ways.  After the house was built, she made more of the aesthetic choices, especially in its furnishings and paint colors.   My mom had a fairly clear sense of her personal style - she preferred clean lines - not too much make up and jewelry that was elegant in its simplicity.  She chose simple furniture pieces that weren't necessarily Danish Modern, but echoed its classic lines, which suited the design of the house perfectly.  She also was not a "stuff" person - she didn't want to have a lot of "things" cluttering up the rooms as decorative items, only an occasional pottery dish on a buffet or end table.  Even though she was an artist earlier in her life, there were few prints or paintings adorning the walls, except, of course, occasional small works of "art" that we created in school, but they usually were displayed in the kitchen.  Mom preferred to let the design of the house, its clean, uninterrupted walls, be the stongest visual feature.  She was of Irish and German descent, but one might suggest she had a very keen Scandinavian design sensibility.  (I also know she was practical.  She knew well that more "stuff" sitting around on walls and tables meant more cleaning and dusting - not something she wanted to increase if it could be avoided.)  Still, like most of us, she clearly was influenced by the finishes in the house and they informed her color choices for drapes, upholstery and paint.

That's where this blog background plaid comes in.  Much of the house reflects the use of natural materials -
there are paneled, tongue-and-groove partition walls in a grainy wood that has a warm, pale beige tone.  There are natural slate floors with smokey blue, aqua and green, charcoal grey, toffee and plum.  The kitchen cabinets are a light blonde maple and all of the hardware on doors and drawers, and on all of the door knobs and hinges throughout the house are a copper tone - pretty trendy stuff for its day.  Clearly, the colors inherent in this house are very much like those in the blog background plaid!  The plaid emphasizes the darker and medium earth tones, with the blues, greens and cream as accents, whereas the house tends toward the lighter tones with the darker hues as accents.

As I contemplated the warm hues of this plaid - here comes the "aha" moment - I realized that it could serve as the basis for reinvigorating the color palette here in the house.  I need to bringing things a bit more up to date and into the new millenium, but at the same time preserve the essential elements - the simple, elegant bones - of the house.  It's a midcentury modern ranch that just needs some freshening up, a careful makeover, but not too much "make-up."  It needs an infusion of new life, and I need to add a fair bit of my own style, which is a blend of traditional with modern.  I have already done that to some extent, but I have wrestled with how to address the kitchen color, especially, since it is still sporting its very tired pale aqua blue, circa 1969, I think.  The aqua color clearly needs to go (sooo 1960s), but I have been reluctant to make a firm color choice because it needs to be the right one for the space and for the house.  I want the room color to be warm and calm and also complement the wood cabinetry (which will be addressed eventually, as well), and the adjacent space - a former screened porch, now enclosed sun room (with the same slate floors as in the foyer, hallway and dining room, natural red brick side walls, a natural wood door and window trim surrounded by pseudo-wood paneling that also likely will be painted) that is an extension of the kitchen's dining area and leads directly to the back yard.

Now I'm sure the colors of that blog background and how they reflect the tones already found in the house probably are the subliminal reason that I was drawn to this particular plaid.  They're the same colors, but re-ordered and presented a bright new but not abandoning the blue, green and beige pastels and bumping up the rich earth tones - cinnamon, ochre, plum, taupe - aha! 

Now I finally have a much better sense of how to proceed, which colors to include and where to use them...and, if they were still with us, I think both Mom and Dad would approve.