Archive for September, 2009


I should probably be reading, but I’m too busy being COLD. I really do think that fall is beautiful, but today is gray and damp and kind of unpleasant. It’s the kind of fall day that I block out of my mind when I look forward to changing leaves and pumpkins. Part of my problem, I think, is that I can’t quite believe that I need to make the switch over from AC to heat. My thermostat is still set at 77—as in, the AC will come on when the room rises to that temperature—a laughable goal now that it’s currently 64 in my living room. This reminds me that I should really get my furnace checked out before winter. I got a little complacent last year—trusting it even though it’s only four years younger than I am—but the winter before that the whole thing died on a Friday in FEBRUARY and Ricky and I almost froze to death before anyone could come fix it. You know what makes cats really friendly? A desperate need to absorb and conserve body heat.

Anyway, on to the promised contradiction: I’m eating a rice cake—and not just a regular rice cake, but an organic brown rice cake—spread with Nutella. I think that I learned this trick from a certain former roommate who had rather convenient connections to a health food store, but it’s both delicious and amusing. Look, I’m dieting. Wait, never mind. I’m just covering anything that I can find in my pantry with spreadable chocolate.

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It’s really beautiful here tonight. I think that we’ll soon be getting into sweater-weather, which sounds fun for now, even though I’ll never want to see any of my sweaters again by February. I ate three apples today. My front yard is totally covered with damp leaves. I’m feeling very autumnal.

I’m astounded, really, by how much I love living here. I never wanted to live in Wisconsin. I didn’t not want to live here, either—the idea had just never occurred to me. But after living in Charlottesville and then, again, in St. Louis for a while (and let’s not forget the trailer), I couldn’t give up on the idea of getting back to New England. In that mental file of beautiful images that we probably all carry around to call up in hard times, the first ones for me are always the same—always from my time at Wellesley. They’re the kind of images that elude description, probably because they’d sound unremarkable to anyone else—the clarity of winter nights, the stillness that can happen even in the heart of a city, the blaze of autumn leaves after everything else has gone to gray. But these memories—melancholy and exhilarating at the same time—move me so much that they make my heart ache, move me so much that I’m afraid to conjure them up too often or put them into words because they might lose that power over me.

But these are the kinds of things that you can never really go back to, anyway. I’ve learned that by now, I think. So, while I keep my notions of the perfection of the New England seasons close at hand and close at heart, I’ve been filing away other perfect moments—in my mind, in my writing, in my photos. I took this picture of my favorite spot in Madison not for me, but for you. I’ve already got it in my head.

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dinner? progress? both?


I’m making progress towards cooking again, and cooking more regularly. I may have undermined some of that progress by buying a box of frozen bean burritos at Costco. But I did make this salad, too–kind of from this recipe but obviously tuna-less–and I was pretty proud since it involved the steaming of not one, but two kinds of vegetables. It also allowed me to make use of the largest jar of capers EVER, also from Costco. Most of the ingredients, though, are from the farmers’ market. It makes me much happier to eat eggs that come from farmers who post pictures of their children hugging their laying hens, and it makes me even happier when those eggs are so much better to eat than grocery store eggs that they don’t even taste like the same thing at all.

Although I haven’t been writing about it as much, I’m making progress, too, in the room downstairs. My mom came last week and we went on a totally crazy Ikea mission. I meant to take a picture of her two-door Civic with SIX bookshelves bungee-corded into the trunk. It hasn’t rained here in weeks, but of course it POURED that day. The bookshelves survived, though, and I finally finished assembling them last night. Here’s a picture from a few days ago:


Things are coming together (there are even books on the shelves now) but I’m not sure when I’ll really be “done” with the room–I still need some baskets or boxes or something to stow some clutter, and the curtains need to be hemmed.  It’s so much better already, though–I’ve even been spending time down there, which has pretty much never happened before this week.

I really wanted to pull all of this together in order to have a space for sewing, but I don’t see much sewing in my immediate future. I didn’t expect this semester to be so busy–I guess that I never really do–but I feel like I’m in class all the time. Beyond salad and bookshelves, I’m not getting anything done. I’m going to try to fix that this weekend. I know that I didn’t need to get into these crazy redecorating and reorganizing projects immediately after prelims, but it actually feels like a pretty good time to try to sort some things out. I work better when I really feel like my house is a calm and clean space, so that’s actually kind of an important goal for my general sanity…which has seen better days. Things seem really hard this semester–even little things, like cooking–and I’m tired far too much of the time. I don’t know if it’s just post-prelims burnout or my inability to adjust to a morning class schedule. My car randomly decided not to start this week and I wanted to push it into the lake. I’d probably be buried up to my neck in dirty laundry if my mom hadn’t decided to do some of it for me. I don’t know that things ever really feel easy, but I’d like them to be better than this. It’s a goal, at least. Like hemming the curtains. Maybe someday.

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progress Iprogress IIIprogress II

Many hours of cleaning and hauling and the room now looks like this. My mom will be here in a few hours, so it’s a good thing that I managed to clear a path to the bed…oh, and move the giant heaps of stuff off of the bed. Now they’re in the corner. And the garage. And the books are all on the piano, threatening to topple over and kill a cat or two. I have too many, anyway, and my mom is bringing the Tabby for a “visit.” Her last “visit” lasted about nine months before I pawned her off on Ricky (mommy was in Canterbury).

But here’s where I am with the room now: I’m almost down to just the pieces that I want to keep. The couch is nice, I love that black and white pillow, the piano has to stay, the bed has to stay, the sewing table is the whole reason that I started this madness, and the chest (at the end of the bed right now) is something that I really like but may have to move out to the garage or something if space gets tight. It’s full of quilts, though, so it’d be nice if it ends up working in here. The dressers, currently huddling next to the bed, will be gone soon. I think that I’m going to put the table where they are and make that the sewing corner. The new bookshelves will go either to the left of the couch, on the wall next to the horrid cabinet (maybe I could find a shorter one to go under it as a kind of solution to the ugly?) or on the right-hand wall, next to the piano (not ideal, since they’re a little to deep and would block about three inches of the precious window). Two would fit on either side, but I really wanted three. Maybe I can squeeze on in next to the TV cabinet or by the sewing table? The TV cabinet would either have to go on the wall opposite the bookshelves (hard to see from the couch, but I don’t use it much anyway) or maybe under the cabinet-o’-ugly. Again, that solution isn’t terribly practical since it would block access to the breaker box, but that wasted space annoys me.

I’ll keep sketching, but at least my mom has somewhere to sleep. And her plaid toy dog, seen here (blurry-like) on the bed–it’s a childhood toy of hers that I ended up with, and which lives in that room mostly so that it can be here when she visits. I’ll take a better picture of it another time.

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“Billy” bookshelves

ikea boxes

Some boxes to put on them for the storage of ceramic shoes, etc.


A new spot for my TV and some more storage.


Something for the great wall of ugly.

I sold my dressers today, two days after I realized that they really, really had to go. Unfortunately, they’re sticking around until Saturday, but at least I’m going to be rid of them soon. I also sold a table and chairs earlier in the summer, which further clears my garage and expands my Ikea budget.  Let the planning begin. Here are the Ikea things I’m thinking about for the room. I have a small “Billy” shelf already, and it’s held up for six years. I think that these are my best option for lots of storage and a clean look. I love these red boxes, but I might get white ones or something in a natural material if the room starts looking too Christmas-y (it has green carpet). Ricky has this PS cabinet in red in his house, and I’ve always coveted it.  It makes a great little TV stand, and it’s just so cute. I’ve also always loved these curtains, although they would be terrible with my upstairs colors. Downstairs, maybe? The greens might be off, but I think that having something bright and colorful–on top of getting rid of all the dark clashy wood–will really help. Now that I’ve moved the dressers to a corner (on their way out), I’m already fonder of the piano, which no longer forms part of a long, clashy wall of wood and stands out a little better on its own.

My mom is coming tomorrow. To sleep in this room. I’d better get back to cleaning.

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Wednesday Farmers’ Market


I want to talk about pretty and delicious things. But first, I want to admit that I have absolutely no idea where the apostrophe is supposed to go in the phrase “Farmers Market.” There are lots of farmers, so it shouldn’t just be “Farmer’s.” I think that it kind of belongs to them, even if it isn’t for them, so it’s probably possessive: “Farmers’.” But I’m just not sure.

Anyway, one of the perks of my early schedule this semester is that I can go right from class to farmers/farmer’s/farmers’ market. The Wednesday market is my very favorite. Madison is an amazing place for markets–there’s one almost every day of the week during the peak season, and some of them go through the winter, even (indoors, selling mostly potatoes, bread, soap, and meat, as far as I can tell). They all have their own characters. The Saturday market is the one that everybody goes to when they’re visiting, going to a football game, or craving a spectacle. It stretches all the way around the capital square and has everything–ostrich meat, pesto, gourds, houseplants, cookies shaped like cows, gourmet popcorn, beef jerky, millions of cheese curds and tons of produce that none of the tourists seem to care about (after all, who can really eat leeks or fennel at a Badgers game?). It’s kind of amazing and, after about 9 AM, kind of horrible, like being on a very slow and very crowded moving walkway where you can’t change directions or move horizontally. It’s not a great place for actual shopping, I find, because I get paralyzed by the crowds and end up buying crazy things while forgetting the stuff I really wanted. Sometimes I go to the Sunday market in Monona (about 2 miles east of my house) which is small, but convenient for basic things like eggs. The Tuesday market in the hippie/grad student part of town is predictably crunchy, but also good for small shopping trips. My favorite of all, though, is the Wednesday market. It has the best of the Saturday market–my favorite houseplant dealer, my favorite orchard, and my favorite bread–and enough vendors so that you can always find Thai eggplant, mint, parsnips, or something else that goes beyond lettuce, carrots, and tomatoes. It’s never too busy or too hard to find parking. They even have donuts.

Today I bought mint, dill, parsnips, and red straw flowers. I have a strange relationship with cut flowers–I love them, but I can’t stand to buy them because they die so quickly. As a result, I tend towards the kinds of flowers that can be dried and kept for weeks, if not months. The dill went right into tzatziki for lunch–vaguely Ina Garten’s recipe–but scaled back in salt, fat (no sour cream, 2% yogurt), and quantity (I just used a small pickling cucumber and enough of the other ingredients to look right). I don’t know why I had never thought of grating the cucumber before–it was perfect with my Costco falafel (46 pieces for something like $8).

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This is what my basement currently looks like. I wasn’t kidding when I said that I’ve been losing the war against this room ever since I took exams. See those bags? They’re full of books. Books for which I have no shelves. But that’s only the beginning.

I spy: desk chair that belonged to my dad as a child, Lane cedar chest full of quilts, my great-grandmother’s wicker sewing box, two antique lamps, the most annoying structural beam ever (thanks for holding up my house, but you’re seriously in the way), drop ceiling (not currently full of cats, but check back later), books, more books, bag of white plastic hangers that belong to my mom but have been moving up here over the years, sewing machine, hat rack…and the piano. We’ll talk about that later.

Can you bear to see the other side? Here you go:


Seen here: printer (works), dvd player (probably doesn’t work), VCR (definitely doesn’t work), Game Cube (WTF?), hulking TV, yet more books, a blue vintage slip, basket full of bills and such (that’s probably why I messed them all up this month), Ikea couch (the uncomfortable twin of its replacement, the upstairs Pottery Barn couch), painting of goldfish that I actually love but that looks terrible here above the empty spot where a chair used to be (moved it out to the garage).

And one more… I saved the best for last:


The artificial light does NOTHING for this room or this knotty pine, but it’s only slightly less terrible in the daylight. That rustic cabin feel is so me. Here’s my new sewing table, though (MORE BOOKS!), along with the biggest eyesore in the room–the circuit breaker box. Back when my wiring wasn’t up to code, the fuse box used to fit in the cabinet. Now it doesn’t. My electrician had to saw the bottom of the box off to put in the modern wiring, leaving this lovely mess in the middle of the wall.

This room is a problem. A big problem. It’s as big, in fact, as the combined area of the hallway, bedroom, and living room upstairs. One quarter of my house, and nothing to be proud of. This is why it remains hidden–neglected while I obsess over how to arrange the antique books on my upstairs shelves. I keep the things I love upstairs, constantly editing them and curating them. And then I dump the things I don’t want to see for a while down here. I want to make this empty, awkward space into another room in my house that I really love. I want to love it the way that I love my bedroom–the way that I sometimes sit in bed at night for a few minutes just looking around, enjoying the paint color and the carefully chosen pictures and objects I’ve placed all around me. I want to have that same degree of care down here, so that I don’t just use it as a dumping ground. I know that it’s ok, as rooms go. When it’s clean, it’s perfectly livable. But it’s not convenient, it’s not functional, and it’s not pretty. All of these things matter a lot to me.

It’s been easy to leave things as they are, especially as the remainder of my time in Madison ticks away–the room has been ok for three years, is it worth it to change it all now?

Yes. I took out all of the mismatched folding bookshelves that lined the wall (and which were insufficient anyway because they don’t use the vertical space in the room). I emptied out all of the drawers in the Art Deco wardrobe and dresser because I’m selling them on Craigslist (they might even be going away tomorrow). I liked them when I bought them at an estate sale–especially because I got them at the end of the day for almost nothing–but they’ve never been right in this space. The wood tones clash, and they’re just too boxy. I took my aqua painted desk out to the garage, even though I love it. I banished a chair that only cats ever use. Soon, I should be down to a table, a tv, a couch, a chest, and a piano. And then, with profits in hand from the sale of the dressers, I will go to Ikea with the following goals: bookshelves, concealed storage options for the bookshelves (I need to keep those extra ceramic shoes somewhere), and curtains or something to conceal or at least break up the great wall of ugly. It’s better, I think, that this room isn’t all flat white drywall without interest, but the knotty pine is just the absolute opposite of anything that I would ever choose. It’s not terrible with the carpeting–which is new and clean and lovely–and I think that once all the clutter is gone, I will be able to make something out of it by bringing in a lot more white and some serious organization.

The piano will have to wait for another day.

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This collection was an accident.

My grandparents collect brass things of all kinds. For my grandfather, it’s really bells. Cow bells, Indian elephant bells, ornate standing bells like small gongs. Bells shaped like apples; like women with full skirts; like candlesticks. Clusters of tiny bells and heavy solitary bells. Bells from Niagara Falls–from Arizona–from many places we’ve been and many more we’ll probably never see. My grandmother collects just about everything else–as long it’s brass. Victorian-style boots (disconcertingly close to life-size). Boxes, baskets, and small dishes. Novelty ashtrays in the form of slippers, frogs, and whales. Animals of every size and description–small bears and giant mice, llamas, leaping dolphins, and geese. These collections fill shelves on every wall in every room in two houses–Grove City, PA and Homosassa, FL. My grandparents tried to count the bells once, and gave up.

In order to keep these collections going–and to provide birthday presents, Christmas presents, Father’s Day presents, and Mother’s Day presents–my mom and I are always on the lookout for bits and pieces of brass. The strange thing about this never-ending quest is how often you see the same brass bells and the same brass animals in far-flung thrift stores and estate sales. Often, I keep a little stash of bells or animals for a few weeks or months, until my mom collects them and carts them off to Pennsylvania or Florida (far too heavy to mail these things). I have a particular weakness for the apple bells–and the rarer variants, like pears. I always give them up in the end, but I love their varying shapes and sizes, from something like an heirloom varietal to giant globes like the Honeycrisp apples that fill the farmers’ market in Autumn. I love the tiny leaves that some of them have, sometimes crudely rendered and sometimes carefully cast and carved with veins and ripples. I love them because my grandfather sees these things too–loves them too.

The first of these brass deer–the larger one, on the left–has an imperfect and corroded foot, rough and tinged with verdigris (an excellent companion for the one-eared wooden monkey that I bought for ten cents). I kept the deer, partly because of its foot and partly because this fondness for all things brass seems to be creeping into me, whether by genetics or just by contagion, by searching out and bringing home so many of these things. I wasn’t looking for any more deer, but I kept finding them anyway. I have a larger, Asiatic sort of doe that I also kept even after the last time my mom collected a batch of summer-birthday-bells. And then I found this little matching pair, buck and doe, for $3 in a plastic bag. I suppose that they’re kind of Christmasy. I love them, though, both for their intricate, dappled hides and for the graceful animate counterparts they inevitably bring to mind.

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On the homefront


These are Trader Joe’s Organic Animal CRACKers. I cannot stop eating them. At first, they don’t seem that great. Floury, crunchy– kind of like the oyster crackers that come with chili, but shaped vaguely like camels. But then they sort of started to grow on me. Kind of lemony, barely sweet–I’ve eaten half the tub in three days. Let’s not talk about how many servings that is.

I’m still waging war against dirt and disorder in my house. I’ve dealt with the most alarming things–mostly my white slipcover that kind of ceased to be white–but there’s still a major closet explosion in my bedroom and heaps and heaps of books downstairs, waiting behind that door I shut. I have a perfect sewing table now, but it’s out in the garage until 1) I do something about the books all over the floor and 2) coerce someone into helping me drag it down the steps. I won’t say that I haven’t considered doing it myself. I have a history of trying to move things that are either far too bulky or far too heavy for one person alone–giant Chinese wool rug, my tv  cabinet, a cedar chest that I put in the front seat of my car by myself–but I think that even I can tell that oak table + steep stairs + concrete floor= death.

The biggest problem that I’m having right now is organizational. My house is just so small that it’s easy to quickly turn a closet or a drawer into a tangled mess. It becomes even harder when I bring in lots of new things–like prelims books–or return from a trip with a pile of clothes that need to find hangers. I need to work something out downstairs with bookshelves, since my office is way too small to handle all the books I have, and I also need to find a better closet solution.

There are two bedroom closets upstairs. This is the one that I use the most:


Good thing I know where my lobster skirt is. Too bad I can’t find anything that I could actually wear to school. Not pictured: mountain of clothing spilling out of a basket and all over my floor.

The other closet has a small dresser in the bottom half and is similarly crammed. On a daily basis, they’re both pretty horrible. I can never find anything because they’re so tightly packed. I rotate things out in the summer and winter, keeping the stuff I wear the most here, sometimes-worn things in the other closet, and out of season stuff underneath the stairs on another rail.

A brief tour:

Jewelry boxes all over the floor.

Shoes I never wear taking up space that could house the things I actually use.

Cashmere blanket dangling from the baskets (they contain bathing suits, gloves, hats, and other random things). I had to hide it up there to get it away from my goat-of-a-cat, who always makes a beeline for it and gnaws the fringe.

More scarves than clothes. What can I say–I have a problem. I thought about buying a scarf hanger that I saw on an infomercial, but that felt like crossing a line.

I’m planning on buying a pack of those new thin and fuzzy hangers that are supposed to take up less space and keep stuff from slipping onto the floor–both issues that plague my closets. My wooden IKEA hangers are pretty, but they seem to be really stupid, at least in a space like this. We’ll see.

On the bright side, I finished a little project over the weekend.


There is a lot of aqua in my house–and in my life. My mom refers to this as my “Tiffany box house.” In the spirit of trying something different, I painted my beaten-up Savers wooden tray “bright herb” green. It used to have a dark stain on it, which I never liked. As a result, it has spent the last few months under my couch. I think that the cats have been sitting on it under there.

I bought a paint sample jar for $3.99 at Ace Hardware and did about four coats. Now I have this:


I love it–for now, at least. It provides an excellent display space for a few of my many houseplants and a pair of ceramic shoes.

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December 1, 2002

“My cousins don’t have school on Monday. It’s the first day of the deer season. So concludes the experience of Thanksgiving in Grove City, all a blur of taxidermy, ambiguously related old men who comment on what a babe my mom’s cousin’s new woman is (in her lace up pants and teased hair), the dog stealing large hunks of cheese from the refrigerator, “8 mile,” the excitement of my great aunt’s new fiber-optic Christmas tree, boiling cranberries, peeling carrots, splattering chocolate frosting all around the kitchen, and, alone at 3 am in the shadowy house, pressing my face to the icy window, awestruck by the utter stillness of the snow-covered trees, finally realizing how beautiful it all is.”

Going back for another round this year–it’s been a while.

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