Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Garden Gate and Spring at Southern Exposure

I recently enjoyed my last spring workshop at Southern Exposure.

Our assignment (after lunch, of course) would be to create a garden gate to use inside or out.

We arrived early to take a walk around the farm.

Daffodils were in great abundance...

...and there were even some other floral sightings!

As usual, the bird baths filled with flowers were my favorites.

And of course, there is always a lurker or two on the path. This fellow seemed rather harmless.

Southern Exposure is a beautiful spot to walk in contemplation, with an array of beautiful statues, a bench or two to rest upon and even an arbor -- not yet in bloom but one to watch out for as the green approaches.

Our workshop was Garden Gate.

We started with a model of the demo and various ways it could be changed from season to season.

This indoor-outdoor "gate" came to us pre-made but for one who knows their way around wood, a saw and some paint it would be a matter of measuring six graduated slats and mitering the corners, connecting them and adding a support piece on the back. That would take longer than our workshop, so we were glad it was assembled and painted!

We distressed the slats with a heavy-duty sandpaper and then added a clear coat. The type we used was "low odor" but I would call it "no odor" and would be glad to use it again! Everyone worked with great concentration, yet there was the energy and joy that comes from creating with company that was infectious.

Then we were given several small bottles and a selection of flowers. Bottles were hung on the fence in whatever way we chose.


And then, done!

Of course, there was time for another visit to the gift shop -- and as usual, just walking in was a treat for the senses.


The gardens are open to the public and I suspect I will return this summer to photograph it in its full glory.


Till then I have lovely memories of good company, camaraderie in creation and especially those beautiful flowers.

I must remember to look back at this post when the snow falls!

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Thoughts on Living in a World of White

I had the privilege of attending a beautiful event recently. Rick belongs to a chamber music group here in the Lansing area that has the most remarkable concerts. They are held within an art gallery and the space is small and intimate. Only about 100 people can fit into the space and the concerts generally sell out -- and with good reason. The performances never fail to disappoint.

The organization had its end-of-year soiree for members, an event that included a lovely French-themed selection of heavy hors d'oeuvres and desserts (but I have to say, my macarons would have been tight competition for theirs!). For reasons you'll understand in a minute, they served only white wine. The food was bracketed a concert by a remarkable trio that played music by Faure, Debussy, Ravel and several others. A stunning evening.

The event was held in someone's home in the part of the city I call Izzoland. Tom Izzo is our basketball coach and lives where the big houses are because he is paid several times more than the university president. (There is something VERY wrong about that fact, I might add, and I don't care how much you like basketball.) We walked up a long, curved driveway in a wooded lot when we arrived and when we entered the house we (or at least I) gasped.

It was an avalanche of white, with a huge bank of two-story windows that stretched across the living and family rooms, overlooking a pond and wooded area that might just convince me to like winter if I lived with that view. Maybe. In autumn it would be to die for.

But as I was looked about the room I couldn't get away from white overload. Almost everything in that space was white. White carpeting, white furniture, white marble, white counters. The only accents were the beige trim, shiny black coffee tables and the occasional painting on the wall, along with a china cabinet with beautiful pieces that were -- yes, white. There wasn't a hint of clutter. They could put the house on the market today, no staging required. It was very contemporary, very sleek. Extremely elegant. Very not me.

Now, I like white. In fact, two of my favorite blogs, Jacqueline's and Susan's, are decorating/antique blogs and their use of white makes my heart sing. Karla is one of the quintessential "paint it white" bloggers and it looks great. All three of these women (and I'm sure many others) work with a white palette in large part, but there is a charm to it. You can call it shabby chic or call it lived in or loved or filled with personality and soft plush, deep cushions, gentle edges and warmth.

But when I was looking at this marvelous house with its very hard, stark edges I had a stunning realization about myself.

I couldn't live there and there were more than a few reasons why.

I have a cat that periodically hurls and never on the patterned rug or the kitchen floor, but always on the lightest carpet in the house (it was an admittedly bad decorating choice, considering that the family room is also the back-door and garage entry room. It is also the room where people congregate at a party because it is by the kitchen and small and folks seem to like that. Consequently it has seen more than its share of spills.)

Which brings me to wine, specifically red wine. I just like red wine too much to be worried about spilling all the time. And I would spill because that's just what I do.

Can you imagine our Cork Poppers doing this on a white carpet? Maybe the first couple of pours -- but by the sixth tasting, we'd definitely be living dangerously.
Then there is the cat again. Lizzie is black and white, as you may remember. She generously leaves white fur on all my black clothes and black fur on anything white. Oh, if I had white furniture and a rug, well -- you can see the dilemma. ("Vacuum!" you say. Let's just say my vacuum has been broken for two years and so twice a month when people come to clean -- sort of, the messy stuff -- they take care of that. Then I try to live neatly till their next visit.)

Lizzie on white cushion. You will be pleased to note that now there is a navy fleecy thing covering that cushion. Because she likes that chair and we'll get on a lot better if I don't have to use the Helmac every time someone stops by.

Then there is the clutter issue. Now, I know these folks cleaned up for a party. We all do. But I'm not familiar with something called "bare surfaces." They make me nervous. Consequently, when you walk into my house, you can see my life story. You can tell my passions by the books on my shelves (I didn't see any books there, but I suspect those were in another room. I hope they are.)

You'd figure out that I love Paris, art and creating, theatre, biographies and England and that I have very diverse tastes in reading. That I collect things and have the collections passed on to me from my mom -- Hummels and Doulton figurines, cut glass and seasonal whatevers -- bunnies in spring, snowfolk in winter, Santa at Christmas. There are photos everywhere and too much art on the walls. But I don't really care. It's what I like.

One of my fave Easter pix. Note the stuff stashed into the china cabinet, the wrapping paper rolls in the corner and a desk that has too much on it. What you can't see is the art stuff on the windows behind Greg -- color samples, papers, baby wipes, a serious selection of glue and a basket of paints. Real life, folks.
You'd know I love things that have been around the block a few times -- my Stickley table and lamp, a cut-down claw foot coffee table, the odd trinket here and there. The cat thing is obvious with some of the cat collection on display (the rest in other rooms). You'd know I don't care much for new tech with my old square heavy TVs (which, to be honest, I wouldn't mind bagging but they work so well) and yes, I still have a VHS player.

The art room/office is organized (except for a few piles here and there) but no one else would ever be able to see that. I like to look at things I've done, so they're all on display. Not prettily, necessarily, but there. And I love my friends' work, too -- so yes, that's here, too.

Art room shelves. Organized? Yes. Spacious? No.
And please don't open my kitchen cupboards unless you are willing to perhaps be attacked by an landslide of Tupperware. (Or, in the case of Rick last week, my Laurel Burch mug, which now -- sans handle -- has been moved to the art room where it holds paintbrushes. It was a gift and it's pretty. I can't toss it.)

I lose things in my house. The elegant satiny jacket I wear only when I get really dressed up disappeared from October until last week. It was found in Rick's closet. It took me three weeks to find my favorite blue pants after they came up from the laundry. And just a couple of days ago I found my tennis shoes that were missing since October. Don't even ask where those turned up.

And we won't talk about the basement and garage.

Coming home from the party I was reminded of the movie I saw the night before on TNT. It was called "Holiday." Cary Grant was a happy-go-lucky guy who wanted to make enough money to be able to live his fancy-free dreams. While on a holiday he meets a woman whom he discovers -- when going to meet her father -- is very wealthy. He arrives at their penthouse and enters through the kitchen, thinking it must be the front door (because that huge facade where the taxi driver left him off couldn't possibly be their house.) The kindly butler shows him into a massive room that makes Downton Abbey look like that little dump in the country. He meets his finacee's father (who expects him to enter their family business) and her siblings -- the sad and unfulfilled party-boy brother and the black sheep sister (Katharine Hepburn) who has her own digs in this palace -- a cozy set of rooms with a burning fireplace, comfy furniture, all the toys of childhood and lovely things all about. She has his whimsy, spirit and a zest for life that is stifled in this mansion. And, as you might expect in the end they get together.

I wondered if our hosts had that cozy space, the place where they kick off their shoes and if they leave them under the coffee table rather than neatly stored in shoe boxes or a rack in the closet. And, that when someone discovers them there the next morning, they'll not think ill of them for doing so. A spot where they can leave up the jigsaw puzzle or the incomplete craft project, the model train or the tacky macaroni art made by a grandchild and filled with love. I suspect they might. They were warm, lovely people. And I hope they do, because they deserve to live, to have a black cat (or dog) and drink red wine or eat pasta with red sauce in front of the TV.

But I couldn't live with what I saw. I want my sheddy, pukey cat and red wine. I want to know that if I come in from filling the bird feeders, no harm is done should some seed stick to the soles of my shoes. And I most certainly need to live surrounded by things I love, out there for everyone to like -- or not -- at their choosing.

You will note that sheddy, pukey cat with claws has bonded with the new rug. It's much nicer to pull up than the cardboard on her "scratchy box."  We are in negotiations.

That said, the time has come to let go of a little bit. Letting go is difficult for me. I don't let go of people or things. Everything is connected with memory, with emotion. But the fact is, most folks other than I don't really care about my stuff. So maybe it's time to go back into the basement and fill up another 10 bags or more -- and then actually take it to Goodwill. (Because I know I will never price it all for a sale!)

Ah, the thoughts we contemplate and the lessons we learn between Faure and Ravel.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015



Panic and angst. That was what I felt the other day when I got a letter in the mail that my pulmonologist was closing his practice.It is the start of my series of worst fears -- that all my doctors, whom I trust and who have taken good care of me through a lot of rugged stuff -- will retire at the same time.

Dr. Kashyap was my dad's pulmonologist too. So, I should have figured he'd give it up before I did. Not that he looks so old. I figured he was probably a few years older than I am. Which would make him in the 65+ retirement zone, so why am I surprised?

But I trust him. He diagnosed a pretty weird kind of lung condition and has given me good guidance over the years. When I felt I would like another opinion to dig deeper, he didn't hesitate or take offense and referred me to an infectious disease doctor (we won't go into that here). That I am healthier now that I was when I retired a year and a half ago can be credited partly to me, but equally to Dr. K and Dr. Perry, my primary.

Dr. Perry -- I have no idea what I'll do when he goes. At my last physical I had a discussion with him about that and begged him to find a partner who was as compassionate and kind and thorough as he is and enough younger than I am so he or she will outlive me. I have a few years there, I hope. But you never know. What I do know is that when that happens, I'll completely wig out.

So, Dr. Kashyap's letter said to talk it over with Dr. Perry and find a new person and I'm definitely going to ask Dr. Perry to get his recommendation, if he'll share. But I feel in many ways that it is the end of an era and a sign that everyone is growing older, including me.

And I'm not sure I like that I see -- I'm really not ready for endings these days.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Road Trip -- Pennsylvania and Maryland

We hadn't planned on a road trip out East to Maryland but when Rick's Uncle Jim died we knew family was where we had to be. And, where we wanted to be. So we packed up and headed east.

We started with a short ride to Rick's Toledo aunt, Carol, for a delightful overnight and then headed to Chalk Hill, Pennsylvania, a bit east of Uniontown. We had no reservations but found a lovely "lodge" with a room overlooking a pond and with a small patio. Rick got in a short walk and I think I read about six pages of my book before the rain forced me inside.

No, I can't say the weather was divine. The next morning it was pouring. Let me tell you where you do not  want to be -- in a hotel room with Rick in an area that is filled with country roads and big hills -- and with a bicycle in the trunk. Can you spell c-r-a-n-k-y? But once we got out of the hotel and on the road, things lightened up a lot!

Claes Oldenberg's Apple at Kentuck Knob. Note forsythia -- spring is coming!

We weren't far from Fallingwater but the admission price was high. (If he'd been on the bike, I would have gone, but $25 each was a tad much for us on this trip). But we did go to Kentuck Knob, another Frank Lloyd Wright-built house. Well, we didn't go into that house either. But by then the rain had stopped and we enjoyed a nice walk through the sculpture garden.

(There was a reason for this, besides not really wanting to kick in for the admission that day. Many years ago, I was invited to a Frank Lloyd Wright Usonian home (similar to Kentuck Knob) here in Lansing. We didn't just get a tour of the house -- we saw the insides of closets and drawers, all the details explained by the people who lived there -- and then had ice cream. There's a bit about this story HERE when I wrote about the book "Loving Frank." I really didn't want that experience distilled by a visit to a place similar.)

Nonetheless, the walk was fun and fascinating, until it got a little too muddy to continue!

This is a piece from the Berlin Wall.

I need to do some research to see if the graffiti on one side was done in the East, the West or after!

This is Ray Smith's "Red Army." It was enormous. It was also probably two tenths of a mile away. I love my zoom!

From there we hit Ohiopyle on the Youghiogheny River (aka the Yough). The Cucumber Falls were moving fast on this rainy day (yes, it was raining again) but it was beautiful.

The whole area was gorgeous. And yes, we'll be back!

From then it was on to Frederick, Maryland, new country to me. We kicked off the visit with a crab dinner with Rick's aunt and two of his cousins. Oh, seafood to die for!

The rest of the weekend was family and I found myself both wrapped in warmth and love and frustrated as all get-out that there wasn't time to explore the Civil War-related sites and Washington DC (and their cherry blossoms) -- all within easy driving distance. That, and wishing I could discover the antique and art shops in the charming Frederick downtown. Another visit.

Road trip home -- all one day this time, due to commitments. But we know one thing. We will be back -- and we won't wait too long. Life is too short not to explore more!

And besides, there are a few crabs in Maryland that we haven't sampled yet!

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