Saturday, 23 February 2013

Am I Becoming Like My Mother?

My New Love: White Linen Tablecloths

My mom loved a beautiful table and had drawers of colourful linen table cloths, and even a specially sized table protector for under her tablecloth.  Because of ten-plus years of babies, toddlers, and pre-schoolers in my home, I was slow to appreciate the charms of a table cloth, thinking only of how it would be pulled of accidentally, and the spills.  Even when everyone was old enough to sit at the table without summersaulting and knew some table manners, we didn't have a table cloth because I couldn't find one big enough for the giant sized dinner table my family had stored in basements for generations. I think it looks funny when the table cloth barely covers the table, and most modern round table cloths would barely cover ours. Then last year, our local kitchen store, the Seasoned Kitchen, brought in a huge round linen table cloth in grey here. And for my birthday this year, I bought another one in white linen.

Even ironed, linen looks a little rumply. The more these are washed, the softer they get. Did you hear me, a modern woman, admit that I iron table cloths? And pillow cases. When your first toy is a tiny pink ironing board and iron, the conditioning is hard to shake.  Important note: sweep the dog hair from under the ironing board before draping the table cloth over it!

I find that whenever one of the table cloths is on, there is an instant home feeling in the house. I know this must relate to my mom's love of table cloths.  They bring a softness to all the hard wood of the dining area.  Also, they allow me not to paint the chairs, the patina of which I have come to love, especially when the old black leather chair seats are covered in pretty cushions. By the way, the patina of the table was altered in the 80's, when my parents converted the table top to a giant coffee table and had it refinished. Now it doesn't match the legs or the chairs. Another good reason to cover it.

One obvious rule for using a white table cloth in my home: eat hamburgers in the kitchen. And put a placemat on top for safety.

Here are some of my other rules for the table, to help make dinner an occasion, which my family members now appreciate so much they complain when one is missing:

Telfer Table Rules

1.  Beeswax candles must be lit every night.  (These are made by local orthodox monks. A few extra are sold in a tiny local store.)  If you have old silver candlesticks, even better.

2.  Fresh cut flowers at all times. My favourites in the winter are hydrangeas from the florist because of their greenish white colour and long life (if you trim them and replace the water with warm water when they start to droop.)  In the summer I prefer fresh cut roses from the garden.  My husband insists on keeping the flower arrangements low so we can see one another.

3.  Cloth napkins.  I can brag about my environmental virtue by saying that we have never used paper napkins in our almost 25 year marriage. These ones are by April Cornell.

4. Placemats:  safety reasons already mentioned.  Still, no ketchup.

5. Tablecloth! Oh, and having two table cloths lowers the anxiety about spills. Now there will be a clean one for tomorrow and I don't have to stay up all night doing laundry and ironing. (I told you I was becoming like my mother!)

6. And for my youngest teenager: set the table with the knife, fork and spoon in the right order and even neatly. Not so neat above but I try not to be a terror.

7.  T.V. off. Sometimes we like quiet music, but usually not.

8. Do not answer the phone if it rings.

9. Don't eat your dessert until your mother has her piece in front of her. (That's me, not wanting to serve second pieces of cake or pie before I've had one bite.)

10. And one other little trick I recently learned: if I put the chairs on the diagonal, everyone has room to push their chair back comfortably.  Charlotte Moss says this size of table can seat six, and with the chairs this way, it can.  It aslo has four leaves, but I don't have a table cloth that big yet.

I think my mom would approve of this tablecloth, and of course I wish I could still invite her over for dinner, now that I appreciate the things she always did. I guess I am a slow learner in the household arts.

Tuesday, 19 February 2013

A Bloomsbury Life: Take Your Life to Eleven

Here is some inspiring life advice from one of my favourite blogs.
As I am too busy doing school work and working on my poems and visiting my son to write blogs this week, I thought this would be a perfect substitute.

A Bloomsbury Life: Take Your Life to Eleven: I know you are like me. I know you want to squeeze as much out of this crazy ol' life as you can. And so this post is for you, but al...

Thursday, 14 February 2013

Snazzy Valentine's Cookies

Cookie Recipe

This recipe is from a cookie book my parents had in the 1980s and I don't know where it is anymore or even if it is still in publication. Luckily, I wrote it down in my wedding present recipe book twenty-five years ago and have been making these cookies at least once a year ever since.  All my children love them.

Emerging in the eighties, these cookies aren't heart smart or anything like that, but neither is cheesecake, another wonder food containing cream cheese I discovered in the eighties.
The much used cookbook.
Here is a readable recipe:

Cream Cheese Butter Cookies 

1 cup butter, softened
75 grams (3 oz.) cream cheese
1 cup sugar
1 egg yolk
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 teaspoon freshly grated orange peel
2 1/2 cups flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 + teaspoon cinnamon

Heat oven to 350 degrees.

Cream the butter, cream cheese and sugar. Separate the egg, (and save the egg white for your dog or a healthy omelette.)  Add egg yolk, vanilla and orange peel, grated on the finest grater. (I find freshly grated orange peel gives these cookies zing. I have never made them with the dried stuff in the spice section.) Mix.  Add the flour, salt and cinnamon; stir together either before or while piled on top of the dough before mixing in.  Turn on low so the flour doesn't go flying.

If your butter was really soft, you might want to chill the dough for an hour or so before rolling it.

Put it onto a floured surface in two or three batches in balls you have made with your floury hands, and with a floured rolling pin, gently roll out the dough. Be careful not to roll it too thin or the cookies will be crispy. A good solid 1/4 inch is about right.  Use a heart shaped cookie cutter to cut out the cookies and carefully lift onto an ungreased cookie sheet.  Bake for 12-15 minutes, depending on how cold the dough is and how hot the oven is. I find 12 minutes in my oven bakes the thin cookies perfectly with just a bit of gold on the bottom. I don't like them as well crisp.

Let cool on cookie sheet for ten minutes before lifting them with a spatula onto the cooling rack.

The recipe says makes 48, but I get 36. Maybe my cookie cutter is bigger. The plate below is a side plate, to give you an idea of their size.

Do not ice! Icing would ruin the subtle orange, cinnamon and cream cheese flavours.

Aren't the orange flecks cute? These cookies are addictive.  I can't eat any other kind of sugar cookie anymore; they have ruined me.  But I can eat them with chocolate, just once a year.

Denman Island chocolate with a cookie, styled by my daughter.
If they all get gobbled up at once, don't worry. You have enough cream cheese left for two more batches. Enjoy!

Happy Valentine's Day, though these cookies are good anytime.

Tuesday, 12 February 2013


Using Lamps

In my house, I like the lights on, unlike other members of the family who will remain unnamed at this time, especially at this dark time of year. Like Psyche, I won't listen to anyone who wants to keep me in the dark.  I want to see who is around me! And I love table lamps for bringing the light to reading height.  

If I were a millionaire, I would have Christopher Spitzmiller lamps in my home.

From New York Social Diary
Being one of the 99%, a poet and a teacher, I make do with what I can find in my small town and what I salvaged from my parents' house.  I know a pair of lamps is what I should have everywhere, but so often only one is available, or I dither for too long on say, a pair of sea urchin lamps, that I miss out.

This one is from my grandpa's house. The original drum shade had gold edges and Jackson Pollack-esque drippings in green all over it. It was so groovy but eventually it got a bit beat up. I have yet to splatter paint the new shade, though it has received one flying splatter of spaghetti sauce. 

This one was a wedding present and is now on my desk. These first two are real pottery clay.

 This little one is on the front hall table.

And this one is on my dresser, which you have seen.
This one is from my parents' house and needs a bigger shade and a contrasting wall colour!  From the 1970s, it too is made of clay.

These are a pair on the bedside tables. I love how they have tri-light settings, for reading and romance. And I love the subtle pattern on the inside of the shades that you can see only when the lights are turned on.

Without me showing every lamp in every room, I think you get the idea of how I love electric lights when I can't have sunlight. I won't stand for the cold glare of compact florescent bulbs, though, and I forgot to stock up, so I guess we will be driving to Bellingham soon.

Chinese New Year is here, and pancake day, so that means the days will be getting longer and the lights will be going on not until after dinner, at this northern latitude, soon enough.

Sunday, 10 February 2013

I Love Books

Bookshelf Love

Practically the first thing we did when we moved into our new house was have bookshelves built for the living room. As an open-concept house, this one had few walls, and no long walls where, in previous apartments and our first house, we had placed three or four Ikea Billy bookshelves together, which I think is the way they look best. In this house, with the only long wall split by the focal fireplace, we decided built-ins would look better.

Then we had some crown installed across the top between them. Before I start listing all the things not quite right in the living room, let me say that these shelves and the books on them are at the top of my things in the house for which I am grateful list. With four degrees between the two adults in the family and a houseful of avid readers, it is hard to make room on the shelves, and sometimes I give books away, but then regret it later when I am looking for them. (I see one shelf in the upper right full of photo albums. Surely they can go somewhere else.)

I am now plotting for when my second son moves out next fall: I will move all the Billy bookcases from the garage up to their room and create a long wall by rearranging the beds!  Where to store books is an ongoing concern.

Don't you think the spot between the bookcases would be perfect for wallpaper to match the dining room, which is just left of the left bookshelf?

Here is another bookshelf I love, in an apartment designed by Albert Hadley.
House Beautiful
These are backed with wallpaper. I don't think you can see but ours are backed with bead board.  These ones do what you are supposed to do: add a few object to let the books breath. I never seem to have space for that.

My mom grew up with no money for books, but was an avid library user. I think that is cool, and as my bookshelves fill, I am trying to become a more regular library user myself. I also know about ebooks but never think I will get used to their uncoziness.  Hey, I am a poet, and poetry will always be published by small presses in books, I predict wildly. Still, I can't get used to the sight of bookshelf empty of books.
House Beautiful
This room is called a study, but what would you study in here but the shape of the vases?
And here is something that makes me really mad: bookshelf wallpaper.

I can understand not having money for books, but having money for wallpaper of books before books? I just don't get it. I can't imagine what my mother would say to that.

Here are a few little tricks I have tried after reading decor magazines and books, but I don't recommend them.

First, I reorganized my books by colour. People notice as soon as they walk into the house. But try finding a book by theme, genre, or author, as I used to organize them, and good luck to you. Many hours of frustration have ensued.
Second, I took the glossy paper covers off most of the hard covers in an effort to de-commercialize them and make them look more old fashioned.

The Matthew Arnold books really are old.
The not so obvious problem here is that in my mind is the picture of Angela's Ashes, The Courage to Teach and all the rest with their paper covers on. Now they are doubly hard to find!

I guess this summer I will go through them all again, put their covers on, and rearrange them by some method other than colour. Sure it will look more chaotic, but life will be calmer.  I like this work, because I get to hold each friend in my hands and love them up close, one at a time. You can't do that with an ebook.

Sunday, 3 February 2013

The Perfectly Imperfect Home

My Favourite Decor Book

Several times in my blogs I have referred to Deborah Needleman's book The Perfectly Imperfect Home. I thought it was about time I showed you what I'm talking about.

Undecorate and House Beautiful Kitchens are from the library, but I own The Perfectly Imperfect Home.
As a teacher and a writer, I read a lot.  I read poetry, Y.A., non-fiction about poetry, education, and other serious topics, and increasingly, as I become more interested in how to make my home feel right, decor books.  Because of generous subscription gifts from my mother-in-law, I have been reading Canadian decor magazines for most of my married life; more recently, I have read House Beautiful as well, but never saw a connection between those magazines and my rental apartment, or beginner spec house.  Then Frances Schultz wrote about this book on her blog, and I ordered it, because I love Frances Schultz's taste. 

I read it, and then I read it again and again. Perhaps it is something about the premise of the perfectly imperfect that drew me in. As the daughter of a perfectionist who taught me how to set the table and make my bed, I recoiled from perfect decor as though it meant stress and ridicule.  But Needleman's tone is light and self-deprecating.  Also, my learning style is linguistic, so I don't learn much by looking at pictures without having what is going on in them spelled out for me.  Her topics are didactic and helpful, and often humorous, even gently satirical. I like how she starts with lighting, and the quirky titles of the chapters, like "A Bit of Quirk" and "Cozifications."
Part of the Table of Contents.
It was in the ottoman section on p. 78 where I learned that I could recover my old ottoman, and in Excellent Bed Linens, or the index at the back, where I learned I could get a good linen duvet cover from Restoration Hardware.  I wish she had chapters on curtains and rugs.

However, perhaps the biggest reason I cling to this book is the illustrations by Virginia Johnson, a Canadian artist. I realized after looking at them for countless hours, that I had seen many of these rooms in magazines before, and that now, through the watercolour paintings, I could envision my own home, whereas with sharp, digitally enhanced glossy photos, I could not.

Virginia Johnson illustration of Miles Redd room.
 Do you see all my sticky page holders? That is a sign of a loved book.
Another Virginia Johnson illustration of  a Miles Redd room.
How many hours have I stared at photos of these rooms in magazines? 

Yet I never really imagined how my rooms could be like those.  Suddenly, in water colour, I could see a green sofa like mine, and a green lamp that I could buy in a local store. The pillows, with their suggested patterns, could be like some I could find or make.  Maybe I don't want my walls that dark blue, but I could paint them in high gloss, or not. 

I am not an artist, but I guess there is something about water colour art in particular that opens up the imagination in ways that photography cannot.  Unexpectedly, creating a beautiful room seemed a simpler matter of colours, patterns and shapes, which could be achieved with not only the most expensive materials. It is as if the illustrations themselves say, "It is O.K. if everything is not perfect. It is still beautiful."
Virginia Johnson illustration of Steven Gembrel entry hall.

And for some photos I had not yet seen, how exciting it was to see them after the illustrations, and have them seem not so intimidating. Anyone can paint a hallway green, this page seems to say, whether it is  lacquered or not.

Sometimes, I follow the book like a recipe,which I know is not creative, but like I said, by creative talents are with the written word.
Pillow recipe.
I actually found the pillow cover on the left in a store in California and ordered a tiny "boudoir" one over the phone. They didn't know how high the duty would be and neither did I until I received it! I thought we had free trade between Canada and the United States, but it turns out these pretty little pillow cases are made in France. Oh dear, slavishly following even a drawing can be expensive.
"Boudoir" pillow on my bed. "Not Too Many Pillows."
Deborah Needleman is a perceptive decorator and convincing writer, and has chosen the best pictures for her book. I read it again every few months, even though I have it pretty well memorized, to pick up more tips on how I can make my house beautiful and how to live well in it.  I hope you have a chance to look at it, too.

Saturday, 2 February 2013

Where is the Best Place for a Desk?

Fitting Furniture in Small Spaces

In a room of own's own, of course. But what if there is no such extra room in the house? 

First let me say how grateful I am to have such a beautiful antique desk with a fold up top, which had once belonged to one of my husband's ancestors, to hide my creative mess.  I am indebted to my parents-in-law for letting me have it, and shipping it across the country to me.  In our old house I used a beat up old Ikea table covered in a ripped table cloth as a desk, but it did not survive the move.

My desk.
Also I should say that this is my poetry writing desk. I do my school work at the kitchen table.  I would not dream of bringing marking into my bedroom. Also, we have a litte built in desk area for the computer in the kitchen where I am sitting right now. Most poems eventually make it to second or third draft stage on the computer, but they like a private little place to be born. Lacking a spare bedroom in the house, however, the bedroom is the first place I moved the desk. 

Desk with rejected chair.
 We tucked it beside the window looking out on the rose garden, which was distracting, but lovely. It was easy to make metaphor involving birds and rose branches. You can also see in this picture the old paint colour, tea light, which felt too cold, especially in winter or in the morning.  The first chair I bought was too white and didn't suit the desk. In the picture below, you can see the unpainted dresser with what looks like lots of room behind the chair.

But when the top opens, resting on the slightly opened drawers beneath, the chair must move back to make room for knees, and the dresser suddenly became too close. Another problem was that the heating vent was below the desk in the corner, and the desk blocked heat circulation, not helping with the room feeling cold.

I decided that since one of the kids had grown up and moved away and the other two were teenagers, and the family room was now more of a music studio, with no toys, I would try my desk here, right beside the fire place, as seen in the blog about the ottoman.

Desk in "family room" with new chair and old ottoman.
Of course, it turned out to be louder here than expected, out in the open-concept area,  and I was writing on my bed on my lap more often than not. Furthermore, we had moved the chairs, which I am not going to show because I don't like them - more on that later - away from the window. They were now facing the fireplace and blocking the whole traffic circulation of the house.  Back to the bedroom by the window it went, with the same problems as before.

In a small-ish house with small-ish rooms, it seems there is a pre-ordained way the furniture must fit. Throw everything off by bringing in a piano or a desk and ask for trouble. We kept trying though, and put the desk by the door. Here there is no heating vent to block and no distracting views except on the walls.

Perhaps you can see the dresser on the left now. With the dresser painted, it doesn't feel like a wall of brown furniture. The duct tape is to prevent us from turning on the broken chandelier, which is now being fixed. I am thinking of recovering the seats with a pink paisley which matches the pink birds. 
Kravat from the echodesign book.  Yes, expensive, but it is just a little chair seat.

Or this colour, which matches the tail of the aqua budgie and the main paint colour of the house, in case the desk goes out again.

I am also thinking about painting the wood of the chair, which is browner than the wood of the desk.

The lamp is a wedding present from Saltspring Island. The china egg and piglet are from my childhood. It may be good feng shui to have this little pig on my desk, which reminds me of Wilbur, who said Charlotte was a good writer and a good friend and how rare it is to be both and gives me something to try for.

What great poems will be written in this corner by the door? How many exact coordinates are there in a house where the muses will align? Or is it just quiet and discipline, as well as warmth, that are required?

If you have a desk, where did you put it? If it isn't in the right spot yet, keep trying to find that spot.  Then tune in and wait for the words to come.