Candles, Candles and More Candles

the family room coffee tableI commented on Facebook that I have a lot of candles and the attendant candle holders. Once I got to thinking about it, I was, truly, astonished.

I wandered about the house taking photos of candles and candle holders. I do, quite literally, have candles in every room of the house.

stained gloass and candlesI don’t light them as often as I should.

If I lit them all at once, the barn would probably burn down.

There is nothing, almost nothing, I guess, that isn’t improved when viewing it by candlelight. I know that I love how candles (and oil lamps of which I have more than a few) soften the harsh edges of life.

I’m always ready for the frequent power outages even if I do bitch about the lack of wifi.

candles on the bookcaseDoug, too, enjoyed candles and many of those that I now have were his.

It’s been a long time since I’ve lit the house up and wandered from room to room marveling at all that life has given me. I love my home.  I love my candles.  I love my candle holders.

social work candleI am too fond of stuff and, hopefully, my newly adopted meditation practice (more on this tomorrow) will help me loosen the bonds of stuff, but, mostly, I find my treasures to be blessings and not burdens. Mostly.


There’s a great purge coming.

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I’m a dish-aholic

I’ve touched on the fact that I’m inordinately fond of dishes and glassware, but I’ve never actually admitted to this addiction on the blog.

I Love Cobalt BlueI love dishes. It’s almost a sickness.  My kitchen cupboards are jam packed and the china cabinet doesn’t have room for much else – though I’m holding out for more moriage dragonware plates.  Besides dishes, I have a fair amount of tea pots and tea cups – one set a gift from a friend who died a few years back.

I have multiple sets of dishes and pretty much use them all as circumstances dictate. A good many of them are cobalt blue and I’m completely in love with my blue and white “everyday” dishes.  While dishes, in general, please me, cobalt blue ANYTHING makes my heart sing.

Doug Birthday DishesBut I’m not exclusive to blue. There’s the delicately colored bird set with square plates I bought to celebrate Mother’s Day as my mother is as fond of birds as I am of dishes. [Square plates just rock my world.] And we can’t forget the brightly colored Mexican style dishes I bought to celebrate HMO’Keefe’s 60th birthday – bright red, orange, yellow and green.

With Doug’s death, I inherited some stunning Mexican talavera. Included are two lobster plates that I gave him one year for his birthday.  Doug was as fond of talavera and lobster as I am of shoes.

Of course, there’s the “good china” and matching stemware that was a gift from my father. I’ve told that story already.

I have a 4-piece place setting of some beautiful Lennox Christmas china that I use for Chef Boy ‘R Mine’s private Christmas dinner. For years, I wanted enough Christmas dishes to feed a large horde should one ever show up for the holidays.

The Ruby Red Christmas DishesA few years ago, I found some beautiful antique ruby red, cut glass dishes at Target. They were stunning and stunningly affordable.  Over three years, I bought 24 plates, 24 bowls and 4 goblets.  The goblets always sold out before I could get in to buy them.  It’s nagged at me for eons that I can’t provide beverages in matching glasses for the 24-person-horde that has yet to show up.

Yesterday, I went on an online shopping binge. In addition to buying more Christmas village pieces (that I certainly don’t need – but what’s need got to do with it), I found 20 goblets from various sellers to complete the Christmas dishes.  I am STOKED.  I am so excited about it that I’m resolved to invite 24 people over to the house this holiday season!

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It’s mine and I love it and I’m never moving and you can’t make me.

barnI’m busy procrastinating so I’m watching home remodeling shows.

Whenever I watch these tv shows, I see my house as others might see it.  I see all the problems and the dirt and the projects.  I see the mistakes.  I see my bad taste.  I see all of its flaws.  It’s like plucking my eyebrows with a 10x magnifying mirror.

But I love my house.  I can’t imagine selling it.  (Never mind actually finding someone to buy it.)

It used to be a barn.  Well, not even a barn.  It used to be an outbuilding used to store animal skins and drying herbs hence the name of West Virginia Fur & Root.  The Ex and I began turning it into a home.  We gave up after a decade and hired a pro, but ran out of money.

It’s a mess, but it’s my mess.  There isn’t one like it anywhere on the planet.  It’s quirky.  The layout is downright strange.  It’s mine.  I love it.

I watch these shows where people destroy the charms and quirks of their home to install the latest trend in home design.  Almost invariably, by the time the renovation is done it looks like every other project I’ve seen on these shows.

I think one’s home should be a reflection of the people who live in it.  I think every home should be infused and steeped in the character and quirks of its inhabitants.  I don’t like cookie cutter design and that’s what all these shows seem to showcase.

Since I have always planned this house as if I would die in it, I’ve never been concerned about its resale value or if someone else likes it.  Oh sure, we all want to hear nice things about our home, but I came to terms a long time ago with the fact that folks either “get” the barn or they don’t.

Of course, there are things I’d change if I could. There are projects I hope to get to when time and money appear in droves.  All in all, though, I’m quite happy with where I live which is a good thing, because I’m going to live here happily ever after.

The Zen of a Good Sofa


The old sofa with a cushion so threadbare I took to covering it with an afghan my great-grandmother made.

The old sofa with a cushion so threadbare I took to covering it with an afghan my great-grandmother made.

Buddhism, and other traditions, teaches us that contentment lies in losing our attachment to things and situations that are transitory. I think that’s good advice even if I’m attached to all sorts of things.

Home is my happy place. I’m way too attached to the structure and many of its contents. I’ve given up trying to explain it to my satisfaction much less yours. There are all sorts of reasons why being here makes me happy is true even if objectively my love for this heap is probably misguided.

How transitory is something, my sofa for example, that’s been with me for nearly 30 years? The very fabric of it is soaked in the years of my life as a wife and a mother. The sofa witnessed my newlywed years and my divorced years. It held my son and kittens and puppies. It is the perfect sofa for reading the Sunday paper with its curved back and high arms. Stretched out upon it, I daydreamed and plotted, read and wrote, loved and lived. It witnessed the barn’s transformation and was moved from room to room as room function changed with each step forward in the barn conversion.

He didn't see it until it arrived and soon fell it love with it too.

He didn’t see it until it arrived and soon fell it love with it too.

It’s a sturdy thing. It was bought during the Great Sofa Search of 1984. I scoured Wisconsin for a sofa to place in the house I was beginning a new life as wife and mother. Nothing was right. I searched and searched. I visited Huntington, WV a few weeks before Thanksgiving to visit my parents and found the sofa in a furniture store. I went back to Milwaukee and tried to find it there. I did, but as it turned out, it was less expensive to buy it from the Huntington store and have it shipped to Wisconsin.

It was pricey. The Husband was shocked. I was adamant. I’d done enough shopping by then to know that perfect sofas are hard to come by.

It was background for all sorts of photos it didn't star in.

It was background for all sorts of photos it didn’t star in.

It was made by Key City Furniture in North Carolina. I believe they’re still in business. All of their furniture is made to order and each piece is infused with quality workmanship. There’s a reason my couch is 29 years old and just as comfortable as the day a confoozled truck driver delivered it to my Wisconsin home. Usually the truck drivers delivered to stores who then delivered it to the buyer. The guy was shocked to find nobody but my husband and I available to help him off-load it. He wasn’t supposed to have anything to do with taking it off the truck, but upon learning I was pregnant, he and The Ex wrestled it into the house. It’s a behemoth of a sofa.

It’s a beauty – all over-stuffed curves and delicious serpentine lines.

That first day I took photos of it to record it’s arrival in my life never imagining that nearly three decades later I’d again be taking photos of it in a new reincarnation.

The new fabric.

The new fabric.

The years beat the fabric up. Mind you, it didn’t look 29 years old, but it was frayed and looking a bit sad. About ten years ago I began pondering the idea of reupholstering it. For those of you who have never delved into the world of upholstery, this is not something you do to save money. You do it when a piece of furniture is perfect save for its fabric. I quickly learned I could buy a new sofa for what this adventure would cost.

I didn’t want a new sofa.

If I could have gotten the same fabric, I would have, but I couldn’t. It was a beautiful brown tapestry that made me smile until the upholsterers carried it out of the house a month ago.

I looked and looked at upholstery grade fabric. I began to despair.

The latest incarnation of the Beloved Sofa.

The latest incarnation of the Beloved Sofa.

My mother found the new fabric at a craft supply store. It’s beautiful. As my best friend said, “It’s rich without being formal.” The name of the fabric is patchwork elegance. It’s velvety chenille of black and gold and silver and caramel and cream, diamonds and squares and scrolls and starbursts and medallions with a fleur de lis or two here and there. It’s just stunning. The chenille makes it cuddly, the design makes a statement and all of it makes me happy. It suits the room.

The upholsterer finished it within ten days. The weather and my ice encrusted road kept it hostage. Every time I called to schedule another delivery which would be cancelled due to more snow, a staff person would tell me how well it turned out, how beautiful it was, how people wanted to buy it.

With this winter that won’t end, I began to fear I’d never get it to the barn. A window of opportunity opened as did my car windows when the temperature soared to 60 and the snow began melting. I called and scheduled delivery for today at 2 pm. They were late and I began to fret, but by 2:30 it was sitting in my living room.

It still feels like an old friend with new duds.

It still feels like an old friend with new duds.

Oh, it’s beautiful. It’s nice having my old companion back. Tonight I’ll put some soaring opera fraught with love and longing on the stereo, sip a glass of wine or two, and ponder all that we’ve seen together in this world of attachment and longing and the desire for contentment and happiness. Sitting on my beloved sofa, I will finger the Tibetan prayer beads and consider the Zen of a Good Sofa.

[I’m disappointed that my 4 month old draperies are very much the wrong color.  The search for the proper window coverings begin anew.]


It goes crunch.

Walnuts3I was 9 or 10 the year I bought my father a gift with my own money.  I remember it fairly vividly.

My brother and I were alone together in a grocery store at the Ala Moana shopping center in Honolulu.  My parents were elsewhere, no doubt procuring Christmas gifts hence my brother and I being trusted alone.

My father liked nuts.   And there, stacked in a high heap, were bags and bags of walnuts.  I can’t remember for sure, but I think they were 88 cents which seems high for 1969.  Then again it was Honolulu and walnuts were not, I don’t think, indigenous.

I whipped out my money, plunked it down and walked out with a gift I was sure would delight my father.  I was sure that newspapers across the land would herald the story of the good daughter who bought the most fabulous gift of all time for her father.  Walnuts.  From a grocery store.  In a shopping center.

broandmeI pledged my brother to secrecy.

Now my brother was the youngest and a whiny brat.  I was the oldest and a bossy brat.  I all but beat the need for secrecy into him.  And I wouldn’t have hesitated to do so.

So we all get home and I’m prattling on and on about the fabulous gift I have procured for my father.  I have even wrapped it and put it under the tree.  My father, a character, is teasing both my brother and I unmercifully.  Even at a young age, I knew Christmas presents were for Christmas.  I never wanted mine early.  The surprise and delight were the best part and delaying that just added to the joy.

But my dad starting working on Little Bro.  And to my brother’s credit, he held under hours of barrage of Daddy asking for just a hint.  He finally cracked (pun intended) and said, “All I can say is they go crunch.”

And the heavens rained down wrath and sorrow.

I sobbed.  I shrieked.  I wanted to kill my brother.  Really, what else would go crunch besides nuts.  He might as well said, “Father, my sister procured walnuts for your holiday gift.”  The surprise was ruined.  Ruined.

I was bereft.

My father wrapped me in his arms and cooed that he had no idea what the gift was.  He assured me.  I wasn’t buying it.  Between sobs, I plotted my brother’s demise.

Of course, it all turned out fine.  Of course, my father was shocked and delighted at the great surprise of walnuts.  And to this day, we say, “All I can say is it goes crunch.”

walnutfinalI don’t need  more ornaments and I’m limiting new acquisitions to the truly special.  This year I was enticed by a vintage style Kurt Adler walnut.  When it arrived, I remarked to the cat that it didn’t look much like a walnut, but the memories surfaced nonetheless.  And that’s the point of everything on my tree – memories and stories and the weft and weave of my life.

At my age, Christmas is more about memories than presents although I still strive to find presents that will knock their socks off.  I hope your Christmas finds you wrapped in lovely memories of all the people you have loved and do love.

Christmas Guests, Memories and Memorials

doug's tree guest room 016I’ve spent the day finishing HMO’Keefe’s Christmas tree.  I’ve been working on this for more than a week now.  It’s a pre-lit tree, but whole sections refused to light.  I checked bulbs, cords, fuses, the alignment of stars and planets, and everything else and nothing, nada, zip, could persuade the lights to work.

I decided to put up HMOK’s tree in the guest room primarily so his daughter could enjoy it when he comes to visit, but also because it is a slim tree and fit into the room like it should always have been there.  He was mildly annoyed when he got it home after buying it to discover it had colored lights.  He and I both prefer trees with either white lights or a solid color.  This one has red, blue, pink, white, green and gold.  It’s grown on me over the years and the multi-colors are great in the guest room.  I’m right fond of it.

But I was not fond of its refusal to work.  So, I trundled off to the Lowe’s and found an exact match for the lights.  Now, really, what are the odds?  So, I added more lights to the sections that aren’t working.  (Maybe next year I’ll take off the non-working lights, but I didn’t feel like wrestling with cable ties this year.)

doug's tree guest room 038I was so afraid that celebrating the holidays this year would be hard that I resolved to begin early so that if I did end up in the pit of sadness, my obligations to the family and friends would be taken care of.  Funny thing.  The more ahead of the game I got, the more I have enjoyed the season.  I’m still mourning HMO’Keefe, but I think I’ve moved to the acceptance stage of things and spend a lot of time reminiscing about our years together — particularly our Christmases.  We had a long-distance relationship for years, but regular as rain, I went to Boston or he came here.

He particularly loved the spectacle that is my house at Christmas time when I put everything out.  I felt I owed it to him and to me to make sure the house is at its Christmas best this year.  I’ve had a ball doing it.

doug's tree guest room 023Today, I fixed the lights and got out the boxes of his ornaments.  He was fond of Santas, kayaks, chili peppers, cowboys, and his daughter.  His tree reflects those things.  It’s a beautiful, funny, eclectic memorial to the man I loved.  I’m so pleased that his daughter is going to be able to sleep in this room with that tree when she comes to visit.

I’m also excited that Chef Boy ‘R Mine will be here for 5 days this year.  I can’t remember the last time I had him for 5 days.  So, I’m in a frenzy to have the house clean and orderly, to make cookies, to celebrate all the time-honored traditions of an American Christmas.

doug's tree guest room 042The guest room is almost ready, and boy-howdy I’m glad my two guests don’t have problems with cat hair.  I’m pleased with how the room turned out.  I bought the furniture this past summer upon realizing it drove me crazy that my son and step-daughter didn’t have a proper bed to sleep in when they’re here.  The suite of furniture is gorgeous and suits the room perfectly.

Upon excavating and decorating the closet, I got the hidden writing closet up and running again.  I can’t wait to spend some serious time in there writing secrets and memories.

Hugging Lazzie Bear

big tree 010The big tree is finally up and decorated according to tradition. This is always a monumental undertaking, but this year the tree was especially recalcitrant.

The little tree is the kid-friendly one. This one is for me. Some people have scrapbooks – I have a Christmas tree. Every ornament on the tree, though mundane and seemingly uninteresting, has a story even if the story is only that it was on my first tree. Indeed, I procured my first ornament while still in high school. I love Christmas trees and this one is a lifetime of stories.

rositascantinaUnder the tree sits a Christmas Village consisting of 32 houses, several large accent pieces and a score or two of village residents. I have always put the village under the tree and the population of explosion of a couple years ago has stagnated. This year I added one new structure, Rosita’s Cantina, to honor Doug. But that one little café apparently was more than the town zoning commission could take. No matter how I arranged and re-arranged, everything would not fit and just looked terrible. I was perplexed.

thenewtreeskirtSince I am the Queen of Online Shopping, I ordered a new tree skirt which is, as is usual with me, a tablecloth. This one is a 90” round. I miss the ridiculous lace of the old one, but this has a beautiful damask texture. I’ll get used to it. But, baby, we got room for growth now! Um, actually no. Even though I added a bunch of new real estate, the village barely fits. It would seem the opening of a Mexican cantina is the sign that a town has all it needs.

lazziebearI love the walk down Memory Lane when I decorate the trees. As is probably true for most folks, most of the stories center on my child. My favorite story to tell is why there is a pink baby rattle on the tree, but my second favorite story to tell is the Lazzie Bear Event of 1987. It might have been 1986, but Chef Boy ‘R Mine demonstrated some mad running skills so I’m thinking he must have been 2 ½ at the time.

I had the most well-behaved child on the planet and it had nothing to do with my parenting, he was just a compliant, good-natured kid. So much so that I feared for him.

izzy still helping(He grew out of this in his teen years and I quit fearing for him and started fearing for me, because I was losing my mind with his behavior, but those are other stories. Back to the one at hand.)

He and I were in Lazarus, now Macy’s, and the full-on Christmas shopping frenzy was in place at the Huntington Mall. The place was crazy busy. Jeremy held my hand and stayed close without me having to tell him. He overwhelmed in crowds and wanted me to carry him, but I was laden down with too much stuff to comply. I feel strongly about folks dragging little kids around the mall and Jeremy usually did not go with me. I can’t remember why he was with me, but it was out of the ordinary for him to be plunged into the depths of commercial craziness. Neither of us were cranky, but we were both anxious to be done.

taekwondokidWith no warning at all, my compliant, well-behaved child took off at a run through the perfume department, through the jewelry department, hung a right at shoes, and launched himself airborne into the arms of one, very surprised adult wearing a white bear costume.

Lazzie Bear was the store’s mascot and for a price, children could have their photos taken with Lazzie Bear. The child had wanted nothing to do with Santa, but a large white bear trying to go on a bathroom break was the love of his young life. The smile on his face! The exuberant hugs! The myriad of kisses! The perplexity of the poor guy just trying to get to the bathroom and out of a hot suit for a minute or two.

Lazzie Bear doesn’t talk, so a patient clerk tried to explain to my son, who I was desperately trying to get to, that Lazzie Bear needed a time-out and Jeremy would have to wait awhile before he could sit on Lazzie’s lap. Jeremy was hearing none of it, still enveloping the guy in sweet, toddler love.

lazxziebearphotoI arrived on the scene, sorted out what was happening, and told Jeremy we had to go a different way to a different place and then he could have his picture made sitting with Lazzie Bear. Well. That was that. He marched me down the aisle, up the escalator, and we patiently waited at the empty Lazzie Bear booth for Lazzie to return. I have a sweet photo to remember the day by and I have a Lazzie Bear hanging on the Big Tree.

I hope you are making stories to tell this holiday season. Enjoy it and the children in your life. These are magical times.

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