Wednesday, November 27, 2013


          In addition to wishing you all a Happy Thanksgiving, this Pilgrim crier who makes me laugh with his enthusiasm and red nose is a shout-out to my dad, who had an ancestor on the Mayflower. I think that makes him a Daughter of the American Revolution.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Caveat Emptor

          "How cool," K and I said to each other when we first looked at the mechanicals of the house we ended up buying. "They are using an on-demand water heater for the entire house hot-water heating system. How green. How economical."

          How wrong. Well, maybe it works in California or Florida, but here where the winters consist of actual Cold Weather, the on-demand system for heating the house works only when supplemented by a couple of space heaters per room.

          So, not very green. Not very economical. And not very warm.

          December 2 is the day we are looking forward to now. On December 2 (O blessed day!) we will get your standard boiler hot water heating system. By December 3, we should be completely thawed out.

I thought this Roman fountain made to look like a satyr, maybe, with a drippy nose was
hugely funny when I photographed it. Now, I am feeling the drippy-nosed satyr's pain.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Think You for Your Service

          Okay, here's what I believe is happening:

          We have access to so much information these days. It washes over us even when we aren't paying attention. There are words (and images, but my primary concern in this rant is words) everywhere. So so many words. Words words words words words.
Pretty soon one word seems as good as another, especially since they just float by in the constant rush of words we process every day. Who has time to evaluate whether they're the right words, or the best words, or even the words that make sense? Who cares? Proofreading? Pfft—as extinct and useless as the dodo.

          Me, I love words. I love their nuance. I love their expressiveness. I even love their odd little spellings. I like the shadings of meaning that come with words: glimmer, glisten, twinkle, shine, sparkle—each means something slightly different. Each helps to build a specific image. I adore that. I adore how I can shade meaning with just the right word. I like the words I read to be the right words, not the almost-right ones.

          I know this is a peccadillo on my part—possibly a character flaw. I don't expect anyone else to share my passion (although I do expect to be treated as gently as one would treat anyone else suffering from a harmless obsession). I have learned to accept the fact that, for most people in their relationship with words, the difference between the fire and the fire-fly, to paraphrase Mark Twain, is neglible. Close enough.

          But sometimes you probably do want to get the words right. Like when you're being all patriotic and we-love-our-service-men-and-women. At those times, you probably want to thank them for their service, not think them.

          Because, you know, words actually do matter.

This ad appeared recently in the local paper. I've blurred the business
name because I'm sure they feel terrible about this blunder, and
I don't really feel the need to taunt them for it.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

How to Buy a Work of Art, First Grader Style

          I acquired my first painting when I was 6 years old.

          It's entirely my dad's fault. He should have known that if you are an artist, if you hang out with artists, and if you insist on buying their work when you see something you like (well, more accurately, trade, because Dad always had more of his own work than he had ready cash), you will teach your impressionable daughter that it's perfectly acceptable to acquire art by cash or barter.

          Especially when she has ten whole dollars of birthday cash in her pocket.

          We were visiting one of Dad's friends, and, as I said, I had this wad o' cash.

          And Jim, Dad's friend, had this painting. He'd just finished it and hung it in the living room. It was the first thing I saw when we walked in the door. It was spectacular. It called out to me. It said, "Nancy, you must own me. I was made for you." I was, in short, ensorcelled. I'd grown up around art, and I liked a lot of things I saw in the studios and homes of Dad's friends, but this was the first thing I'd ever wanted to own. The first thing that ever spoke right to me and demanded that I take it home with me.

#7 Feldspar Cove, by Jim Terry. I love this painting. I would say I love the painter,
but frankly I'm still a little scared of him.

          So I did what Dad would do. "I really like your painting," I told Jim. He thanked me, gruffly, for he was a gruff kind of guy. "I want to buy it," I said. (I didn't have any good art to trade, like Dad would have, but I thought Jim would probably take money for his work as well as trade.)

          I didn't think this was a particularly funny thing to say, but the adults all cracked up. Finally Jim said, gruffly, "Well, how much will you give me for it?"

          I didn't know much about negotiating, but I knew you never open by offering top dollar, so I said, "Six dollars." The minute the words were out of my mouth, I regretted not offering seven. I was afraid that Jim would be offended by such a low offer, for he was a gruff guy, and gruff guys, I thought, were probably easily offended.

          I was not wrong. The adults all laughed again, and I thought, "Well, you screwed that up, Nancy; you insulted him. And anyway, it's a really great painting; it's probably really expensive. I bet he wants at least $25 for it. Which is way out of my league." So I swallowed my disappointment and ran out in the yard to play with his kids.

          When it was time to go home, Dad walked out to our car holding The Painting, a funny little smile on his face. "Here," he said. "Jim says that if you liked his painting that much, you should have it."

          #7 Feldspar Cove has been with me ever since. I still love it, both for itself, and for its gruff painter. Maybe he heard his painting call my name. Maybe, on that memorable summer day, he was simply made of pure grace, giving a dumb kid who'd just made the most lowball offer in the history of art sales ever her heart's desire and a story to go along with it.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Made From Cool—And Yarn

          What is it about guys knitting that makes me go all weak-kneed?

MADE FROM COOL - Knit with it - from PREMIUM by JACK & JONES from Fashion Films - Moda Filmleri on Vimeo.

          To be honest, Christopher Walken has always creeped me out a little. He plays the Seriously Depraved with a little too much joy. A little too much This Is Totally Who I'd Be If I Weren't a Famous Actor Who Plays Bent Characters.

          And yet…let him knit a Fair Isle sweater (stranding with both hands, I notice—the sign of an experienced colorwork knitter) and I get a little swoony. I fully believe this is Wrong and Bad and Twisted on my part, but—now that I know Christopher Walken can do two-handed stranded colorwork, his hotness increases dramatically in my eyes. I start to make allowances for the creep factor. I think to myself, you know, if more scary people knitted in public, knitters would get a lot more respect.

          This gives me ideas (à la Madame Defarge) you don't even want to hear about. But if you should happen to see a knitter, on the bus or someplace, knitting something black and spiky, with far too many arms, and poking annoying children and obnoxious adults with those sharp needles and smiling at the ensuing screams—well, that will be me.

          I believe Christopher will be proud.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

I Almost Had a Steampunk Kitchen

          One of the items we didn't possess when we moved into our new house was a kitchen table. We used the small wooden outdoor table as a temporary—and highly unsatisfactory—solution, and we started on the inevitable furniture-hunting slog.

          For K and I seldom agree on a piece of furniture, unless it's Stickley. I am captivated by handsome lines or fetching upholstery or, unfortunately, ethereal silliness, and fail entirely to notice that it doesn't go with anything we have. "It looks cool," I tell K, as though it's a good enough reason.* "It doesn't go with anything we have," K points out, and we move on to the next piece of furniture that I find captivating and K finds inappropriate.

          So imagine my surprise when we wandered into a furniture store on a whim and K pointed to a table and said, "What about that one?"

          "That one" was round and copper-topped, with three heavy iron Victorian-era** legs, and (be still my heart!) a cranked gear mechanism that raised and lowered it. I was utterly smitten, but it didn't look like K's normal style.
          "It looks so cool!" I said.

          "I know," K said. "It would look great in the kitchen."         

          "Are you sure?" I said. "You really want to buy a steampunk table for the kitchen?"

          "Of course I do," he said. "What's steampunk?"

See the crank? I'm in love with the crank.

          It also happened that we needed a light for over the table as well—maybe a fan/light combo. An idle perusal of some lighting websites revealed a steampunk ceiling fan. I lost my heart immediately.

          "K will never go for it," I thought, but I showed him the picture anyway. To my surprise, he didn't hate it. To my greater surprise, he allowed himself to be talked into it. He even agreed, grudgingly, that it would look über-cool hanging above the steampunk table.

          Unfortunately, it was only then that we looked at the specs and realized that the steampunk ceiling fan was too big for our kitchen. Sigh.

          I wonder if I can talk K into a steampunk sofa for the living room.

The fan I lost my heart to. Maybe you should buy one for your kitchen.
You can find it here.

*To me, it is. K disagrees.
**The Victorian era, is not, generally speaking, K's preferred design era.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

DIY Honey

This pretty little tribute to bees and honey is found in the Fred F. French building
(more photos here), which is worth a visit next time you find yourself in New York City.
          If you keep bees, and it hasn't been a disastrously cold and wet summer with no blooming things whatever, you will find yourself at the end of the summer, as K and Dad did, with hives full of honey.

Frames of honey.

          What to do with all those lovely frames filled with honey? Why, you buy an extractor, of course.

K, making sure the extractor is ready to use.

          Years ago, K and I extracted honey with a hand-cranked extractor. You will notice that the one K and Dad just bought is electric-powered. This is one of the lessons we have learned over the years: everything works better with electricity.

          To allow the honey to be extracted, you have to uncap the comb. Here again, electricity is very helpful.

K uses a heat gun to uncap the comb.

Dad loads uncapped frames into the extractor.

          K and Dad decided that extracting is best done on a really hot day in August or September*, when the honey is really runny. Otherwise, it takes a long time to spin the honey out of the frames, and another long time for it to flow down the sides of the extractor and into the honey jars. But, eventually, you do end up with this:

Homemade Honey. It is spectacularly good.

*Rather than on the cool October day they chose for the project.

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Moving House

This is what our house looked like just a couple of months ago. This is my least
favorite part of the whole homeowning experience.

          K and I recently shook the dust of Kansas City off our shoes and moved to another state. I had assumed that I would be able to continue posting regularly throughout the entire process, pretending that my life wasn't in boxes and chaos while telling amusing anecdotes about packing up a large house, moving it 600 miles and stuffing it into a much, much smaller house. After all, we've moved house a lot, K and I. We've upsized. We've downsized. We've moved across the country. We've moved across the ocean. We are pros. We know what to expect, how long it will take to find the power cords for all the necessary devices (two weeks to a month, depending on your unpacking speed) and where we packed the cleaning supplies. And yet, the eight years that we lived in Kansas City (eight years is a long time for us to live anywhere), erased many of the horrors of moving from my memory.

          I had forgotten that moving is a season in hell.

          I had forgotten how many things go missing.

          I had forgotten how even good movers will drop, scrape, dent, gouge, scratch and otherwise ruin your furniture.

          I had forgotten that, once you get the main paintings hung, you will spend the next six months arguing over where the rest of them go.

          I had forgotten how much stuff you need to buy for the new house, even though you just inserted a houseful of old stuff into it.

          I had forgotten the sudden impulse to burst into tears in the new grocery store because you can't find the cumin and the old grocery store was so pleasant and easy to navigate and they knew your name there.

Another perfectly good reason to burst into tears in the grocery store. Because, really—
an entire display devoted to a vegetable that is only rendered palatable by the application
of cubic yards of bacon? It is to weep.
         Sometime in early September, surrounded by partially empty boxes and up to our knees in packing, K and I made a vow. The moving van stops here. Permanently.