Category Archives: House
Borrowed Flowers VI: Soap Stories
A Merry Christmas Day to You!
Some moments in the new house feel like camping or waking up the morning after an airline loses your suitcase – not sure where things are, not sure why I forgot to pack a few table knives.
But moving day went so well, three strong guys and one equally strong young woman swiftly loaded all the labeled boxes, furniture, outdoor chairs, and pots with plants into a truck and a huge trailer. By noon we were on Bainbridge, and by early afternoon our belongings stood stacked about the new house.
The mother of my young friend came right over and set to work unpacking boxes and shelving books in the living room, and our younger son arrived from the airport to help. (I am so grateful for every bit of help we had!) Our old friends who live on Bainbridge – a quick seven-minute drive to their house – welcomed us that evening with a festive meal.
The weather couldn’t have been better – moving day dawned clear and the sun has been constant since then – five days and holding. Because of the house’s orientation, early sunshine pours in our bedroom and upstairs, fills the living room and kitchen all day, and late in the evening disappears into tall trees.
When I started on my walk early this morning – the air cool, sky clear – buses and bikers passed me heading to the ferry, city bustle in a small town. The walk is a gradual downhill through town toward a newly opened piece of protected land, tranquil with trees, grass, and benches. I pass houses and gardens along the way, get glimpses of Eagle Harbor and early morning scullers, spot herons working on fragile-looking nests in a tall stand of trees, and circle back uphill to home.
In spite of surrounding houses, each of our windows reveals huge firs and deciduous trees just-beginning-to-leaf. A Japanese maple with golden-green leaves shelters our neighbors’ porch. Birdsong begins early, loud and lovely all day.
From my work space I look out at the remains of old garden plantings, and what our younger son called “some serious rhododendron business about to begin.” A wizened, but budding crabapple, a climbing hydrangea, lilac and daphne shrubs (small and scraggly, but still fragrant), and lily of the valley emerging from moss grow in the few feet between a narrow deck and fence. Invasive ivy, Scotch broom, and blackberries hang over the fence from the vacant (for now) lot next door.
Our younger son left Vivian Russell’s “Gardens of Inspiration” on the table where he ate breakfast. It’s really fun to encounter books anew, and no matter the small scale of this garden, maybe because of the small scale – I’m inspired!
Red House Bainbridge
In the middle of remodeling the Bainbridge house last December, our builder wrote from a holiday trip to Hawaii. He hadn’t been working on our house at all, but said his daughter had, and he attached a photo of the painting she made with a new watercolor set.
I love the painting in many ways, the perspective, the texture of roof and indication of clapboards, the dark door (still being negotiated at that point, but to become “Deep Mulberry”), and the leafy tree, blue sky setting. The young artist gave me permission to use her picture here, and I’m happy to post it – it seems to capture the spirit of the place.
More from there!
Down to the wire now – nearly ready for the movers. Our comfy home grows bare and hollow with rugs rolled up, shelves still dotted with photos and undealt with objects, but emptied of books and most dishes.
Boxes scavenged from recycling bins teeter in stacks everywhere –– Paul Newman’s stenciled face above one-liner labels about food for people and pets, small beer cases, and many, many Amazon swooshes. There are also filled-to-the-brim big bins ( iPhone auto-corrected into “bug buns” for a moment of levity).
We took a break a weekend ago to see “Leaning Into The Wind” – a new movie about the Scottish artist Andy Goldsworthy who makes art with the natural world in the most endearing, non-destructive or intrusive ways. When I try to figure out what I love so much about him, his sense of wonder and his “stick to” stand out, along with the way he, by drawing attention to the details, expresses the emotion we feel for the planet’s beauty.
The film shows him interacting physically with his environment in ways we’ve not seen before – creating a striking line of rain-soaked leaves up a set of steps next to an Edinburgh street, climbing five or six feet up through a brambly hedge, and leaning into a violent body-stopping wind high on a heath.
After the movie my husband allowed as how it was time to traverse the seemingly impenetrable Northwest thicket of firs and native shrubs enclosed by our driveway circle – “there it is right out our door and never been crossed!” And I kept thinking how Goldsworthy would make something of this current house habitat – he’d pile his boxes artfully, stick the chunks of blue tape (indicating a possession to go) with more rhythm and consciousness.
But, like much of Goldsworthy’s work, that construct would be ephemeral – for as a friend wrote recently: “I hope the worst of packing is over and you can just get ready to unpack!”
Deconstructing My Workroom
In my small workroom two mismatched and battered metal file cabinets form the base to a desk. They want painting because in the new house, my even smaller work space will be right off the kitchen and much more in view.
So for several days (encouraged by the inviting blue plastic banker’s boxes provided by my new neighbor), I emptied the file cabinets. Paper, each piece once deemed important enough to archive, seems manageable and orderly when contained, but multiplies into a mess when liberated.
Some disposal decisions are clear. I don’t need years of sales reports from the gallery on Bainbridge (but they are nice to encounter), don’t need every greeting card ever received (but keep anyway). It’s hard not to keep a handful of airletters from my landlady in England with stories of my time there, or copies of emails from our sons, written from Antarctica or South America, or a marketplace in Nepal. Rereading slows things down. But the recycle pile grows.
So much paper, torn out magazine articles about houses or writing or artists, a file of little notebooks, worn and bent, once carried in a purse – it’s tempting to dip in to see what times they record – small originals of paintings, old show invites, newspaper tear sheets of garden articles, rejection letters dashing hopes, and happy words of acceptances.
A stamped envelope, addressed to my painter friend, makes me think I should stop and send her something. I discover an idea for a Christmas present, and walk in a little circle in my room, wondering where to safely put it.
One drawer contains the files from when we built this house, they should remain, but I debate the fate of the wrinkled-with-raindrops original drawings of the garden layout. Then I wander to a window to see hellebore, snowdrops, daffodils, and a ribes pink with blossom – that garden drawing come to life.
Approaching the rest of the room I realize that, over the years, things belonging together (office, framing, and sewing supplies, paintbrushes, tape, scissors, ink, rulers, colored pencils) have dispersed and migrated around this small space. Gathering them together with their kin is my goal as I assign these tools of the trade to their transport boxes. I put off tackling framed things squirreled away here and there.
And I’m derailed from this task in the same way I get distracted from real work – phone calls, appointments, things needing immediate (or so it seems) attention. I’m happiest the days I make a list full of small requests that, with focus, become accomplishments by the end of the day.
Isn’t that always the way, moving or not!
“Dostadning” – The Doing
Sort of. What was an idea for a couple of years – a dream or dread depending on attitude toward change – is suddenly a reality. In mid-April, a moving van will come and take many of our belongings to a little house in Winslow on Bainbridge Island.
“Sort of” because we don’t have to clear out everything by then. To start, we’ll take what’s needed to make the Bainbridge house comfortable, leaving bare bones here till the end of the summer. This house is small, but that one is smaller. And the accumulations of 12 years here, on top of what we brought from Alaska, won’t all fit.
From Margareta Magnusson’s “The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning,” I know that’s a good thing. Last fall I wrote about Magnusson’s book before it came out, and now have read it twice. Enlivened by Magnusson’s little ink drawings, it’s a charming, humorous, practical, slim tome by a wise woman aged “between 80 and 100 years.” As she considers disposal of all the possessions cluttering our houses – and making them home – she admits, “my vice is really things.”
Magnusson says the idea of spending time with objects one last time and then disposing of them isn’t sad to her. But when it is, she remembers: ”I really do not want to give my beloved children and their families too much trouble with my stuff after I am gone. That is why I want to tell others about death cleaning, and how wonderful it can be.” Dostadning describes “a permanent form of organization that makes your everyday life run more smoothly.” Who doesn’t need that?
So after these years in the woods on the bluff we move to a town – within walking distance to restaurants, movie theatre, bakery, grocery, library, clinics – and will have close neighbors. My brain is full of plans of all sorts, lists, decisions, the complexities of privilege and possessions.
I debated long about how to keep “Her spirits rose…” going in the midst of it. Because I am both excited about the move and daunted, I think I need to keep doing what I do – write about it, draw about it.
Thank you to you faithful readers, I appreciate you! More to follow…
“Dostadning” – Death Cleaning
A friend recently hired a professional to help organize her house, not because she was downsizing, but because, as the expert suggested, she needed to “right size.” My friend liked this guidance through finding order in her home, discarding and shredding some things, repositioning others.
So there’s a word for such activity in Sweden – the country of hygge brings us dostadning, a word which combines death and cleaning – not scrubbing the bathtub, but a gradual, before death clearing out of possessions. According to the buzz of articles surrounding artist Margarita Magnasson’s book, “The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning: How To Free Yourself From a Lifetime of Clutter,” dostadning is a common practice in Sweden.
The book won’t be released until January 2 but this Washington Post article gives the flavor (don’t miss the video of Magnasson encountering her daughter’s storage unit). Magnasson says this is an ongoing endeavor, suggests 65 as an appropriate age to begin, but admits it’s never finished.
Billed as not so rigid as the KonMari approach (you know what she’d do, making quick work of everything with black plastic trash bags), I’m curious about Magnasson’s method of dealing with copious, accumulated “stuff” in a house.
Because Magnasson is an artist I wonder if she addresses the particular muddle created by art-making, the tools and supplies, but also sketchbooks, drawings, unloved paintings that might live under some of our staircases (not naming any names or making any admissions).
Few words are less enthusiastically embraced than death and cleaning, so I do admit that reading this book – even writing about it before publication (!) – might be just another way to avoid actually doing the dostadning!
When an AAA tow truck driver named Geno came here last spring to charge a car battery, I asked him if he thought we could transport the Buffalito on a flatbed tow truck. (Our cabinet builder friend built the Buffalito in 2008, and I wrote about how it came to be here). Geno kicked the tires, looked underneath at the truck chassis, and said yes.
So, on a Saturday evening in early September, Geno came with a regular tow truck and pulled the Buffalito out the driveway to the main road. Early the next morning we walked down to watch him carefully position the Buffalito by the huge flatbed, slowly winch it up, and attach it securely with chains.
It was a sweet sight – early on a quiet Sunday morning – that small yellow caravan up high on the no-nonsense tow truck, heading down the road to a new home.
I had such bittersweet feelings – I loved the process of creating the Buffalito with our cabinet builder and have enjoyed the sight of it every day by a garden along our driveway. But times change, and it’s gone to a really happy home – a sunny spot at our young friend and her parents’ house on Bainbridge. They welcomed it by washing and ironing the curtains and giving it a thorough vacuuming.
Positioned just near the deck off their living room – someone reading or sleeping on the Buffalito’s bed or working at its little table could easily nip into the house. My young friend’s mom said it cheered her to see it from inside, adding “it will be used,” and that Lady Baby, Sweet Baby, and Baby Brother have anytime visiting privileges.
It’s an ongoing miracle to me that my young friend and her family live now on Bainbridge. She’s in Scotland studying languages at St. Andrews University, but will be back for the holidays.
And in the winter darkness, maybe a lamp will glow through the Buffalito’s windows to welcome her home.
Armchair Series – Flowers
When I asked my old friend on Bainbridge to send a photo of her armchair I’ve always admired, I was startled to see it had no arms! It does have a large, matching ottoman, and is covered in flowered chintz that seems classic in her old Swedish farmhouse. And then I found the same floral genre of armchair (the kind that places you in a field of flowers) in the book “In An Irish House.” It tickled me to find Sybil Connolly’s chair upholstered with fabric of her own design, inspired by the paper flowers of Mrs. Delany.
Armchair Series – Great Dixter
Last summer when we visited Christopher Lloyd’s garden at Great Dixter, I bought a postcard showing the “solar.” It’s a huge room with all the inviting elements – ancient beams, leaded windows, bookcases, and enormous, deep fireplace. On a worn Turkey rug, these two armchairs and an aged green sofa are arranged in a half-moon in front of the fire.
Armchair Series – Maira Kalman
Maira Kalman often paints chairs, “Comfy Chair” depicts a warm-pink wingback with doilies, and she illustrated the book, “Lucky, Plucky Chairs” by Rolf Fehlbaum, told from the chairs’ point of view. From a Design*Sponge story I learned that Maira Kalman’s New York apartment has white slip-covered armchairs on a black and white rug, in a white room (except for art and treasured collections). Her exuberant paintings come from a tranquil, blank-canvas living space.
Armchair Series – Indigo-Blue
These armchairs live in the sitting room of a 17th Century Northumberland farmhouse full of “characterful vintage,” but I discovered them in the pages of a British edition of “Country Living” magazine. The owner of the house calls a sofa and the armchairs, “indigo-blue rescues.” Together with a red Turkish carpet, low table with tea things and books, and fireplace, they soften the stone walls and wooden beams of an old building.
Armchair Series – Warmth
In addition to providing escape from the continual debilitating, depressing, mean-spirited news pouring out of the other Washington, the armchair project distracts from the iffy spring weather. Sunshine, we long for reliable sunshine! A yellow brocade armchair from a photo in “In An Irish House” provides it. My favorite part of the rattan armchair from Kauai is the little needlepoint cushion picturing flower-trimmed flip-flops.