Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Keeping (and Changing) Traditions


This week is Thanksgiving, and it is a holiday that everyone can celebrate.

It isn't about religion, and it isn't exclusive to family; it's about spending time with people because we want to, and being grateful for how much we have. Yes, that part often gets lost in the shuffle, but whether we announce it at the dinner table, or whisper it to someone after a glass of wine, we all know that we are lucky to have people to care for, and who care about us.  

Our family spends Thanksgiving with dear friends, and that has become a new tradition; they are our other family - our new normal. It is warm, welcoming and comfortable; I could wear my pajamas at the dinner table, paint my toes (not at the dinner table), and they wouldn't mind in the least. I like that.

Lives change, and as much as we want our traditions to stay the same, they can't. We are allowed to feel sad when we can't do them anymore, but we can always make room for new ones, which is kind of exciting when you think about it.

It gives us an opportunity to try something else, to find out all over again what we do (and don't) like. And, they don't even have to be big, gigantic, extravagant traditions, they can be small, dollar-store ones, that are imperfect, and not quite thought out until we decide they should be. There is no limit to how many we are allowed to have, and we can change our mind whenever we want.

I remember trying to uphold the tradition of going to a Christmas Tree Farm every year. It was fun driving through the countryside (well, sort of, I think it was New Jersey), sipping hot apple cider with our frozen, mittened fingers, and trying to find the most perfect tree in the forest. But, as time went on, it felt more like something we had to do, instead of a nice day out; we would rush out of the house early, the drive seemed to take forever, they would run out of cider, and someone always complained about lying on the ground trying to cut down the too-big tree with the world's smallest saw.

Then, one year I realized we didn't have to do that anymore; our new tradition became a trip to the local hardware store, a tree tied onto the roof of my car by a very nice person, and a cup of hot chocolate at the local cafĂ©. It isn't a picture storybook afternoon, but it is a tradition, it makes us happy, and it is a far more peaceful way to start off our December.

Why not spend some time thinking up new traditions? One's that suit you, your friends and family now. Have them at random times during the year, not just around the Holidays. Ask everyone what they would like to do, or what they wish you did more of together. You might be surprised, and it might be simpler than you thought......

                      Have a lovely Thanksgiving!

Photograph borrowed from www.decoradventures.com

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Coloring Your Winter


A friend is coming over to my house to gather some pine branches from the trees in the yard; an easy decoration to share when your garden thrives on random acts of pruning, and the occasional dose of neglect. We will probably have a cup of tea, I will bake something yummy, and, if it stays this cold, I will definitely warm the house up with the wood stove.

When I read this back, it sounds very idyllic, when really, neither of our lives are, but we are easily pleased, and we like spending time outside. She said, it's more fun doing it together, and she is right; even if it is below freezing, and the pine trees are much less than perfect, it will be a happy few hours. 

I never understood seasonal decorating until I came to New Jersey, and I realize now, that aside from it being a way to celebrate the holidays, it is a way of cheering us up when the days get really gray. Nothing grows, and by January, the color green feels like a distant memory that may, or may not have ever been true.

So, we decorate the outside, and we smile at the sparkly lights and the giant candy canes. We wait for the inflatable snowmen to pop up, and we find ourselves watching for the next burst of color down the street; perhaps judging just a little, but being secretly grateful for the distraction.
I am always amazed at how much work goes on to getting it just right; seemingly ordinary people spending weeks creating the most extravagant of displays, and coordinating lights in a way that would prevent me from ever flipping the on-switch. (I suspect there may be some math and technical skill involved, which could be why the whole process eludes me).

I love to see these homes, but my favorites are the more subdued displays; porches filled with red plaid, a wreath on the door, and oversized presents piled into an old sleigh. It feels like home to me (not that we ever had a sleigh on our front porch) but it looks comforting and warm, and when the day is so cold and gray, it makes you feel that you would always be welcome to stop in.

Decorating in the Winter isn't about whether you choose to have a dancing Santa Claus on your roof, knit a scarf for your tree, or hang a wreath on your front door, it's about adding a bit of color to the outside world, and putting smiles on the people driving by.

The gorgeous Knitted Tree photograph is from: www.superforest.org

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Creating Your Own Vision

 
One day, I saw a picture in a magazine of an old movie being shown on the side of a building. I wanted to believe that the photographer had captured a sentimental moment; that the family often decided to spend their nights outside on the hill, drinking hot chocolate, and keeping warm under the most scrumptious of plaid, wool blankets. That the grass was never damp, and that there was always a heroine swooning over her latest leading man.

So, I pinned the picture to my office wall, and I looked at it every day, because I found it truly beautiful (and, I hope one day to watch a movie outside, on a hill, with hot chocolate and a blanket).

Turns out, it is actually a photograph by Tim Walker, an Englishman who is known for his extravagant staging and quirky, romantic sense of style; the children don't even live in the house, and I bet they weren't drinking hot chocolate. The entire scene was manufactured for British Vogue in 2007.

Yes I was disappointed, and for a few moments I wanted to take the magazine page off my wall, but it is still a beautifully composed photograph, and without it I would never have found a new artist to admire.

Finding things that make you smile, imagine, or dream, may seem silly or unproductive to some, but it really does help many of us move forward. When we are stuck, we are often advised to make Vision Boards; the theory being that if we can see it, we will strive for it, and it will appear. But sometimes I think that there are too many rules, and we start searching for the exact right way to do it; letting perfection get in the way of what should be fun and inspiring, and turning it into just another project, determined to show off our lofty goals and exceptional paper cutting skills. What if you don't do it properly, and you fail at Vision Board making? How depressing would that be?

I prefer to take a much broader, portable, more simple approach. I have wish-lists and pictures taped to my office wall, folded into a small box, and squirreled away in my handbag. This chaotic collection is my adaptation of a Vision Board. It includes crumpled articles about all sorts of heroes, pictures of places that interest me, words jotted down for a book that I want to write, random wishes, photographs of friends and family, a pile of candy hearts with my favorite words, a list of things to do tomorrow, a childrens book by John Lithgow, a scribbled question about buttons, and a post-it remembering the color of a new lipstick that I want to try.

My vision is simple; by imagining absolutely everything, I am bound to accomplish something.....

The photograph is a piece of the wall in my office (the image by Tim Walker is to the left of the middle, and what looks like the moon is actually a white thumb tack).

Monday, October 27, 2014

A Decorating Poem

 
She wants to move the furniture,
on a Sunday afternoon.
It's always fun to decorate,
but first she empties the room.

The room looks dull, so she gets some paint,
decides to tape off a square.
Big and gorgeous, chalkboard black,
perhaps she'll paint a pair?

The paint is drying, furniture is out,
the rug she brings back in.
It's old, it's small, but has to do,
now for the fun to begin.

She pushes the sofa across the room,
moves the rug at an angle.
Amused, she decides to vacuum the floor,
after finding a fork and a bangle.

Thought she was careful, but not enough,
looks down at the scratched wooden floor.
No need to fix it, just cover it up,
by moving the rug some more.

The sofa sits on the rug, looking big,
she sits on a chair next to it.
The chair is old, the fabric worn,
and now, she's gone straight through it!

She picks it up, and throws it out,
with a strength she never knew.
Another chair is quickly found,
lucky she has quite a few.

Another chair, another side,
the sofa is moved again.
She stops, and moves it back some more,
some more, then more again!

Decides to have a cup of tea,
to think of lots of things.
Looks at the mess, and dreams of poems,
of Cabbages and Kings.

Up she gets, and washes her cup,
determined to finish the room.
She checks the paint, and sees that it's dry,
sweeps the floor with a broom.

Brings in a bookshelf, some lamps and a painting.
pillows, photographs, china and tables.
Arranges flowers and washes the floor,
straightens the curtains, and opens the door.

The afternoon over, she smiles at the end.
Her home is now different, but not a penny did she spend.....

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Fancy Hanging Lights


I don't know if there is a fear of electricians out there right now, but there seems to be an increase in overhead lights that can be plugged in, instead of hard-wired to the ceiling. Of course, it is easier than wiring what you already have (and less expensive) and some homes don't even have ceiling lights to begin with (which I am still not used to, and I don't quite understand why they build them that way).
But, as much as I am all for quick and easy decorating, I wish these had been designed by real people, and not manufacturer's grabbing onto a trend, throwing it into a factory, and spitting it out at the public. 

Lighting a home isn't just about being able to see; if it was, then we would all just have cheap lightbulbs hanging everywhere, or a constant supply of flashlights in our pocket. We want it to look good, and, from a design point it should somehow enhance the room, instead of looking like some temporary solution on our to-do list. 

I love the idea of making decorating easy, but it is the execution and design of these lights that is wrong. They should come with instructions, and a lot more care, so that they really will look like the picture on the front of the box.
Let's be honest, every single one I have seen lately is hanging from a wiggly cord, looped across the ceiling, and dangling awkwardly down the wall, like a really bad Andy Warhol exhibit. 

So, in my effort to save you from the awful, fancy hanging lights, I have a few suggestions....

- Open the box before you buy it. If the cord is white, wrapped tight, and looks bent, don't bother.
- If you know an electrician who can add a chain to it, and/or a thinner/clear cord, then go for it.
- Please don't wrap the cord in fabric, but you can paint it if that makes you feel better.
- Consider where you are going to hang it, and how you will drape/hang/celebrate/disguise the cord. 
- If the photograph shows just a chain, and no cord, they are fibbing. It still needs electricity.
- Most of them do look better draped (in a designery kind of way) instead of pulled taut (like a bad facelift). 

p.s. If you have a fancy hanging light that you really do love, please send me a picture of it, and I will share it on my business Facebook page. 

Photograph was from Amazon but now it has been replaced with another chandelier.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Things in Jars

 
One of the oddest things that I love, and I don't quite understand why, is a jar (preferably with a lid). Yes, I'm inspired by art, nature, and everything else, but a jar to me is like the wardrobe that leads to Narnia; it is so ordinary, but its possibilities are infinite (and unknown). 
 
I will often buy something at the grocery store just because I covet where it lives (we don't really need the imported peaches, but the upturned sides on the small, round jar is hard to resist when the days are short and I need to grow a daffodil). 

Crazy as it sounds, jars trigger my imagination, and I don't even know why anyone would want to throw them away. Maybe if I ate a lot of jarred things I would feel differently, but for now it is a very manageable obsession, and I am always happy when I scrape out the last bit of whatever is stuck to the bottom of the glass.

To me, they are the perfect starting point to giving someone a present; the packaging is there without any effort, and all I have to do is fill them up with lots of goodies. On a practical note, it is also nice because I can put in smaller things that may get lost in a larger, more decorative bag. Somehow, a jar makes everything seem more important, and it is fun to look through the glass and see if there is anything that we didn't notice the first time.

Because I don't eat pickles (which come in really big, useful jars) I often buy new ones (jars, not pickles) at the store. Although they are meant for storing flour and dog treats, it shows that you really do like someone if you are giving them a present that is new, and not an old one that smells like something you ate with yesterday's lunch.

By the way, when I was looking for a photograph, I Googled 'things in jars", which I wouldn't recommend; my jar-filling ideas are definitely less macabre....

  • Winter Spa Jar - Lip-balm, Shea butter lotion, a bar of chocolate, and a body scrub.
  • Get Well Jar - Vitamin C drink sachet's, fuzzy socks,  tissues and a mug.
  • Happy Birthday Jar - Some of their favorite things, plus a balloon and some candles.
  • Housewarming Jar - Things from your pantry, layered like colored sand, to wish them good luck in their new home e.g. Flour - so they may never go hungry, Sugar - so life is always sweet etc. Write a label on the outside to explain what they mean. 
  • Firefly Catching Jar - A great last minute gift for a child (or grown-up) on a Summer's night.
  • Teenage Girl Jar - Fancy spa things, popcorn, diary, sleep socks and nail polish.     
  • Teenage Boy Jar - Lots and lots of snacks. 
  • New Baby Jar - Cute outfit, chocolate for the parents, and a rattle or soft toy. 
  • Gardener's Jar - Flower seeds, trowel, gloves, and plant markers.
  • Just Because Jar - Anything you think someone would like that will fit inside the jar.
p.s. Photograph of Firefly catcher, and instructions on how to make it, are from Southern Living.

Friday, October 3, 2014

A new use for old books ....

 
 
This week I reorganized two home offices; a client's, and my own. He was a businessman who had recently stopped commuting, and I was catapulted into the 21st century with the gift of a new computer and monitor (so fast that it makes me feel like Laura Ingalls being asked to choose what type of coffee she wants at Starbucks. Some days I feel like it is typing the words before I have even thought of what I wanted to say).

Although we are in this world of portable media, some of us still need a place to sit and work in order to stay focused. I am one of those people, and, apparently, so was my client; I can't travel from sofa to sunroom with a laptop, and actually get any work done. It took me years to understand the concept (discipline?) of working from home, and I know it could very easily be undone if I wandered around the house in my fuzzy pajamas, looking for the sunniest, softest, most comfortable place to type.

My client felt the same way; he wanted his job to stay in once place, and not share office time with his family unless it was absolutely necessary. But, he felt disorganized, and although his office had plenty of space, he felt the room was working against him instead of for him. So, this is what I discovered during this last week ....
  • If you have the luxury of working from home, then for goodness sake enjoy it, and make your space as efficient and practical as you can. 
  • Your chair and desk should be comfortable, and your back, neck and head should not ache at the end of the day. This sounds obvious, but if something hurts, you need to figure out why. If you have a bad back, then a new, ergonomic chair may be better than the traditional squishy one, elevate your feet on a stool if you need to, and adjust the size and glare of the text on your monitor if it makes you squint all day. 
  • Have what you need all the time within arms reach, and be flexible until it feels right. Jot down notes about what does and doesn't work for you. (eg. If you have to get up every time you use the printer, and you use it often, then maybe it should be nearer). 
  • Store away as much as possible, and consider the less obvious place for things; can you put your scanner and filing cabinet in the closet, or stack letterhead paper in a drawer?
  • Remove things you don't need, or use very rarely, and keep personal items to a minimum. I know this seems contradictory to what I usually say, but if it is a dedicated office space, then it isn't a place for excessive daydreaming. The idea is to keep it separate from your personal life. 
  • Do have motivating things in your office. Whatever your field of work, surround yourself with things or words that inspire you about your career, or remind you of your goals.
One of my own changes this week was to put my monitor on two books, because the new one that was gifted to me (thank you, you know who you are) was too low for my old desk. The irony of the solution wasn't lost on me; the books are from 1905, gorgeous, heavy and gold bound, but although I thumb through them every now and again, they usually sit with my favorite dishes in a glass cabinet.
Moved to my office for a practical reason, I now get to look at these beautiful pieces of art every single day.

So, whether you are catapulted into a new world, or doing the happy dance because you don't have to commute any more, make the most of it (and don't wear fuzzy pajamas while you type - well, maybe just now and again........)

Friday, September 26, 2014

Like Peas and Carrots

 
As soon as I earned my first paycheck, I started to buy clothes in green and purple. In hindsight, I think it was a reaction to wearing a school uniform that consisted of brown, cream, mustard and red; it literally took me about 20 years before I would wear any of my school colors again.
So, green and purple became my automatic favorites; in fact, I think I spent most of the late 80's wearing purple and green sweater's over leggings (well, that, and an over-sized graphic t-shirt inspired by Frankie Goes to Hollywood).

Now, I've forgiven my school, and I love it when I see unusual color pairings that just work (even though we sometimes think they shouldn't). The color trend is more about showing your personality, instead of following design rules, because really, rules are like words in the Dictionary; they are a wonderful base of knowledge, but they still need to be updated every now and again.

Like peas and carrots, these color combinations may not be your first choice, but they will always  have a certain unexpected charm....


 
 
Thank you to:
 A Sweet Pea Chef (Carrots), The Smithsonian (Peas), Chictopia (Dress) Acute Designs(Flowers) Pixi Wishes  Forehead Kisses (Cake), Pinterest (Door and Sea Glass)
 House Beautiful (Living Room).