House Rules

Rules we abide by (or ignore) in our own houses can be complex and mysterious in origin. Where do we get these notions that fill our home rulebook?

My mother is the source of some of my rules: no ketchup bottles or milk cartons on the dining table, and from her Irish roots, “if you kill a spider, it will rain the next day.” She believed houses should always have fireplaces but no overhead lights actually used. We lived in a 27-foot trailer for some time, so I’m not sure that rule worked out for her, but I’ve remembered and obeyed it.

An old neighbor of long ago, the one, who had four little towheaded boys when our towhead joined the neighborhood line-up, was the source of several tricks and truisms. (I was so new to both homeownership and motherhood at the time that I readily absorbed her rules.) She declared that if the toilets weren’t clean, the house wouldn’t seem clean, and recommended at the approach of unexpected visitors to pull out the vacuum. A vacuum in the middle of the floor signals a cleaning in progress!

My old friend who lives on Bainbridge Island taught me about counter wiping. We joke about it, but it’s true. A nurse, she knows germs. Also, she possesses Scandinavian blue-and-white clean genes, and her house can sparkle – with towels and sheets fresh from hanging on the line outside, cut flowers on the kitchen table, homemade preserves.

No shoes in the house is second nature to anyone who has lived in Alaska.

From my very good high school friend’s mother, I learned to always leave a house or a cabin clean when departing. Dirty windows block a huge amount of light. That’s longtime Anchorage garden writer Jeff Lowenfels’s rule to encourage light for houseplants – and lifted spirits for humans.

My painter friend taught me to shut the shades and close out the dark each evening, a ritual I love here where the winter nights are even darker (not now thankfully!).

The rules for how to hang paintings come courtesy of Don and Julie Decker, the owners of the Anchorage gallery where I used to show. The museum rule is the center of the painting at about five feet above the floor – the Deckers could masterfully eyeball that height. It’s so easy to hang things too high, and as our younger son said to me recently, it looks weird once you notice.

Cheryl Mendelson in “Home Comforts: The Art and Science of Keeping House” taught me her way to make beds – to add an extra flat sheet over the wool blanket, then fold the top sheet over that – protecting the blanket. Mendelson’s book contains 854 pages and many rules – great stuff really – how to “properly” wash dishes by hand, how to light a fire, how to clean most anything in a house.

And same with Ellen Sandbeck’s “Organic Housekeeping,” a gift from Mrs. Hughes, I read it from front to back, and the rule I remember is no sponges (“bacterial incubators”) for dishes. Ever. Maybe.

Rules. Are these rules about rigidity or about comfort? You must have them also. Probably some of yours contradict mine.

But we all know what rules are for, right?!

Scizzors,chore lists

What’s the Idea?

Where do ideas come from? That’s another thing we talk about in The Workroom.

Maira Kalman, an illustrator and author I admire, describes the initial process: “Through visits to museums/sites/institutions, reading, research, sketching, note taking, photo taking, and a general three-week immersion, I find my way to a story.” Such a brief statement – and such an important concept – to allow all that gathering time and activity before beginning.

Rather than actually doing one’s work (but better than surfing for news of Cate and Will), Maria Popova’s website “Brain Pickings” is a highly recommended but dangerous rabbit hole for reading about how creativity happens.

There I discovered James Webb Young’s little booklet, “A Guide to Producing Ideas” originally  written in 1940 for graduate students and active advertising practitioners. I guess we have to think Don Draper, but his ideas resonate for any person desiring to think creatively. The booklet is slim and well worth the $6.26 on Amazon ($4.40 Kindle).

Young’s sections reflect acknowledged steps in the creative process: preparation, incubation, illumination, and verification. It makes encouraging reading, particularly about the gathering stage. Toward the end, Young briefly restates his five-step formula for the “process or method by which ideas are produced”:

First, the gathering of raw materials – both the materials of your immediate problem and the materials which come from a constant enrichment of your store of general knowledge.

Second, working over these materials in your mind.

Third, the incubating stage, where you let something beside the conscious mind do the work of synthesis.

Fourth, the actual birth of the Idea – the ‘Eureka! I have it!’ stage

Fifth, the final shaping and development of the idea to practical usefulness.”

But – it’s not just the idea we need – Hugo Lindgren) wrote about what else we need in a New York Times Magazine article last January (here). He says: “Ideas, in a sense, are overrated. Of course you need good ones, but at this point in our supersaturated culture, precious few are so novel that nobody else has ever thought of them before. It’s really about where you take the idea, and how committed you are to solving the endless problems that come up in the execution.”

Solving those endless problems – that’s the fun of The Workroom!

Work sign  ©Katy Gilmore  2013

Keeping On While Warmly Dressed

The artist Rembrandt van Rijn painted more than 40 self-portraits. Some of the best known he made later in life, like this one now on exhibit at the Seattle Art Museum as part of “Rembrandt, Van Dyck, Gainsborough: The Treasures of Kenwood House, London.”

Collected at the end of the 19th century by Edward Cecil Guinness (the brewery heir), these 17th Century Dutch and Flemish paintings are often huge, filled with gauzy dresses and clouds, rosy or porcelain-white cheeks, battlefields, hunting dogs, ship-crowded harbors, hats of every persuasion, and the fruits and flowers of trademark Dutch still life. It’s a rich exhibition, including Rembrandt etchings, and an extra gallery with paintings of the period from Seattle collections.

My clever friend visited the show earlier this spring and found herself inspired to add unexpected design elements to the quilt she is working on. I left thinking about Rembrandt’s self-portraits. How hard self-portraits are to do, how easy to avoid, and about Rembrandt living only a few more years after he painted the one at the museum.

So I made an attempt (harder to do than ever). The only commonalities with Rembrandt being a certain grayness, the many layers of clothing we wear for work (a fur-lined cloak for him, several sweaters for me) – and keeping on.

An Anniversary

This is the 500th post for “Her spirits rose….”

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I think I am silenced. (For today.)

The Workroom – An Invitation

The purpose of The Workroom is to help you put more creativity in your life, and be supported in making this a priority.

We will be a small group, beginning Monday the 17th, and participants have varied projects in mind. Not everyone knows exactly what they want to do – and even those who do have many decisions to make. The vision is to provide an opportunity for interaction and development. This isn’t an art class with painful critiques – we get rewarded for showing up and doing.

I will try to encourage work with frequent posts about lists, goals, time management skills, workspaces, dealing with stumbling blocks, definitions of art, and words of wisdom from artists and writers. Participants will use journals and their pages of our private blog while working on a personal project. Because I so believe in the power of creating, my goal is to help people learn more about how “making” is possible for them.

Ralph Waldo Emerson said: “There are no days in life so memorable as those which vibrated to some stroke of the imagination.”

There are still spaces, and if you are debating, and I can answer any questions, please contact me (herspiritsrose@gmail.com).

Join us as we seek those memorable days!

Her spirits rose…The Workroom!

Thinking about the new venture I wrote about here, it occurred to me that what I propose is most like a workroom – a place to go for creative endeavor. Not a workshop or a studio or an office – room titles definitely designated to particular activities – but a space, virtual in this case, where we go to work, to make, to be inspired, to see what’s going on. And our workroom has colleagues with whom to share the creative process.

I like to think about what’s in a workroom – a door for sure – bookcases full of inspiration and instruction – a table and a light – tools and storage – a welcoming place. The first session of “The Workroom” is definitely a beta effort – a learning process – and I’ve loved thinking about, and planning for it.

This session will run from September 17 to October 26 and cost $60. Because there is much to be learned from more experienced participants by the not-so-experienced, the group will be limited in size but not in skill level. While some will have already discovered a way to express their lives through work on a writing or art project, others might use this time and structure to begin to learn a skill like drawing or take a skill to another level.

We’ll have our own blog for The Workroom’s virtual space and learn how to negotiate the inner workings of a blog. (The blog can live on beyond the session – as community and resource.) The idea is that participants will set up and fill individual pages within our blog – a place for each to post about goals and progress – following the familiar arc of creativity – from loose idea and initial enthusiasm to specific thoughts and steady working.

To make that journey in six weeks, it is necessary to have a project fairly quickly in mind. When my young friend was 11, she said to her mom (in response to her mom’s vague comment about “not being inspired”): “if I waited for inspiration, I’d never get anything done.” Muses can only be wooed – not forced – but they do show up when we focus, and maybe for those who aren’t sure of THE project – this period of concentration on a small part of the big task might work – a real beginning.

Please email me (herspiritsrose@gmail.com) for sign-up details or with questions, and include a little about what you hope to get from our experience. I very much look forward to hearing from you.

Here’s to September and new beginnings!