Archive for April, 2010


The trees are in bloom—the only time in the year when my weedy, un-mowed yard outshines the careful work of my retired neighbors (who rake and bicker all day long).

No other house in this neighborhood has crabapple trees of this size—and probably for good reason. The sparse, tired-looking leaves that cling to each gnarled branch will begin to fall in just a few weeks and the trees will be almost entirely bare by the peak of summer. These are old trees—two generations older than I am—and nothing lives forever. I think of Wordsworth—Though nothing can bring back the hour/ Of splendour in the grass of glory in the flower—and so on.

But in exchange for these few days each year, I’m willing to put up with scraggly foliage and the thick carpet of slippery pink petals that will follow shortly.

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Speaking of Ikea, I love this bedroom—especially the throw at the foot of the bed, which I’ve eyed before. And the website, Ikea Family Live, is so much better as a source of inspiration than those hopelessly sterile—if endlessly tempting—Ikea showrooms. I can’t tell you how many times, under the influence of Ikea, I’ve wondered if my house would look better if I got rid of everything non-Ikea—antique secretary, antique quilts, antique books, green sea monster of unknown provenance—and just started over with all things sleek, white, and birch. I recognize that this impulse is deranged, but only because I am safely withdrawn from the thrall of those showrooms. Maybe they put something in the mac and cheese (man, I love Ikea fo0d). I would hate my house if it weren’t filled with strange bits and pieces that I’ve accumulated over time—like the things accreted around a hermit crab’s shell. These galleries of Ikea things mixed and mingled with things of more character—and more complex lines—may help to assuage my Ikea madness. And this purple-y room may also serve to improve my vexed relationship with my paler, though similarly-hued bedroom.

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I had some sort of an idea for a post when I took this picture, but I can’t remember it now. What did I want to say about this porcelain bear head and this earthenware sea monster head? That curious little green fellow came from a Madison estate sale—for some reason, much rarer here than in suburban St. Louis. I bought it for fifty cents with the intention of giving it to Ricky, but found that I couldn’t. I got a little too attached to it. Recently, it’s been making me think of this book, which I still haven’t finished since I’ve been making myself read The Remains of the Day (I have to teach it this week).

But back to estate sales—I went to one last Friday. I saw the signs on my way to teach and stopped by on my way back home. It was a strange sale, nothing like the other one that I’d gone to, several years ago, in the same somewhat-uppity part of town—on lake Mendota, across from the UW campus and somewhere near a strange asylum that, rather fittingly, can easily be seen from the room where most English department functions take place. That last sale took place in an unwieldy, probably late Victorian house with servants’ staircases, a maze of cellars, a dumbwaiter, countless bedrooms, and exactly the kind of dusty, crammed attic that figures into so much fiction. I spent an hour or more wandering and bought an overpriced Matryoshka ($7).

The sale last week, on the other hand, was held in an alarmingly ugly, probably mid-century house with terrible columns out front, red plush carpet and flocked damask wallpaper within. There were plenty of nice things in the house—a baby grand piano, some small and wobbly antique tables of the sort that always appeals to me (I had to restrain myself), ironstone and Delftware plates, carnival glass and depression glass. Evidently, the only recent occupant of the house was a man who favored tweed jackets and well-worn cotton buttondowns that could have passed for something out of J. Crew’s Heritage collection (if not for the vague scent of mothballs). I always gravitate towards the linens in any estate sale—small wonder that I have three cedar chests full of them in my small house—but the linens in this house were odd. Odd because they were all the same—cupboards full of twin, full, and king bedding, all of it exactly the same. Blue Pendleton blankets bound with satin (just like the ones that my Dad has kept for a half-century or so) and plain white flat sheets, no fitted sheets. Plain white pillowcases—a thread-count neither luxurious nor scant. Perhaps there’s something appealing in the minimalism of this standard-issue bedding, but I can’t imagine living with it. There was a singular pair of white eyelet pillowcases—where did that touch of femininity, so absent everywhere else, come from? Or else: where did it go in all the other rooms? I didn’t buy anything.

I’m reading about tea services, rag rugs, and Windsor chairs. I used to have three Ikea vases like the two in the picture above; Keats broke the other one. I used to have two white Walmart lamps like this one; I broke it by catching the cord the broom handle but like to blame in on the cats.

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search terms used to find my blog:

“j. crew”+”ballet flats”+starbucks

I don’t know who you are, but, dear reader, either you know me well already or we are meant to be soul mates.

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I love these, this, this and this. Apparently, white animal-shaped things are the order of the day. Of every day. This little white owl actually contains a truly awful Coty “Sweet Earth” scented candle. It has to be about thirty years old. I need to get the candle out–without burning it. I’m kind of at a loss. I thought about putting it in the freezer so that it would shrink or harden or something, but I’m afraid that all of my food will taste like scented owl candle. That thing is potent.

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I can’t explain exactly how much I am gratified by every one of these unfurling hostas (a green almost painfully bright in the saturated ground),

every one of these blooms (presently holding their breath through the gray and damp days until the sun coaxes them into a short-lived frenzy of pink),

every inch of bare ground that this thicket of sweet woodruff—-beauty fueled on by that sinister bone meal—engulfs,

every bit of green—and fuchsia and purple—that I have won back from the white marble chips, black plastic, and stunted shrubbery that I inherited in these same beds.

(and now I must attend to another matter: blueberry coffee cake, just baked. and tea.)

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Today was a gray, slow sort of day—although it began for me with a bracing bike ride in the rain to meet with the farmer’s market crowd for magic coffee and browsing. I bought ten pounds of small red potatoes, which I eat almost every morning, like this:

I bought five pounds last week, at the season’s first market, but I ran out by Wednesday. I’ve gotten into the habit of long, leisurely weekday breakfasts in the company of the mildly annoying hosts of the Today Show. I like to get up a little earlier now—I woke up on Friday at 6:45 without an alarm—so that I can linger a while in the morning. These breakfasts are the only real cooking I’ve been doing lately and the only respectable meal I’ve been eating in the course of most days. I’ve gotten lazy with cooking, although I did make two strawberry rhubarb crisps this week. In my defense, it’s a healthy-ish recipe and probably the only thing that’s keeping my from getting scurvy as I try to work through some of the odds and ends of my pantry. I don’t know how I ended up with so many cans of black beans. The rhubarb is in the same category; I still have another freezer bag full of pieces that I labored to clean and pack away at the peak of the season last year.

But back to today. With the exception of the brief shower that drenched me on my bike this morning and the overnight rain that—I deduce from the progress that my hostas have made in the last 12 hours—must have been much heavier, we’ve had nothing but clouds threatening rain for the entire day. I love storms—even the menacing St. Louis ones that turn the sky green—but I don’t like almost-storms. So I didn’t accomplish much today.

But I did watch this movie and you should, too—I loved it. It was beautiful. And the perfect antidote to this kind of day.

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