Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Off to Maine

We're driving to Southwest Harbor today. Harris wanted to come along and decided to pack himself in a box, but we told him he needed to stay here and keep his brothers and sister in line.

I'll try to post from Maine but there are no guarantees!

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Recent Adorableness: Harris

Is he contemplating his infinite perfection or choosing the next terrible thing he will do?

Harris is an enigma wrapped in fur.

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Seaside Lobster Party

Here are some photos from a lobster party we attended in Magnolia, Massachusetts last weekend. 

White tables overlooking the sea: 

Magnolia's rocky coastline:

This couple loves to garden and they do a spectacular job:

Atlantic view, rocky shore:

Instead of a beach, there's a terrace at the shoreline:

The party was catered by Woodman's of Essex, long famous for their clams and lobsters. I had a few hors d'oeuvres, and then chowder, a couple of steamers and mussels, lobster, corn on the cob, and coleslaw. (Note: At least I didn't eat the rubber bands.) For dessert, I had watermelon and sampled three kinds of cookies. So I was too full to take advantage of the musical ice cream truck that arrived in the driveway, stocked with every frozen treat one could imagine. Alas.

Lobster trap buoys:

A distant sailboat viewed from the lawn. It was a perfect summer afternoon on the North Shore.

Friday, August 11, 2017

My Curtains and Lemons! It's Making Me Bananas

The best things in life are free. I need to remind myself of this because I just spent $400 on lace curtains from a company* in England, woven on old Scottish looms in 95% cotton. I'd spent days poring over patterns online and making up my mind. I chose a fairly simple, all-over floral pattern in a shade described as "cream." They were having a sale, so $400 was an excellent deal for Scottish curtains. At least that's what I told myself.

True confession: My current lace curtains are in such bad shape at the hems that I've opened the larger holes with scissors so the cats won't get their heads caught. No one can tell but me and the cats, unless they go around inspecting my housekeeping (which no one should ever, ever do). I didn't want to live like this anymore. So you can imagine how pleased I was to order new curtains and how it felt like Christmas when they arrived.

That was last Friday. I opened the box with anticipation . . . and was horrified to discover that they are not cream but yellow! They are the pastel yellow of bananas, whipped butter, or lemon chiffon — bright, obvious, cheerful. The design and quality are what I expected but, boy, they look terrible against my old white woodwork, and they even clash with our warmer, golden-yellow walls, being a different, cooler yellow.

My curtains match my breakfast.

I've written to express my disappointment and will summarize the response here in future posts. Since they were custom-hemmed (to 78"), I was not hopeful, and indeed, I was told they were not exchangeable or returnable. Yet I persisted: the photos on the website do not show the curtains as looking yellow at all. And the color  name "cream" doesn't suggest yellow in the least. They seem to understand: they told me they are sending me samples of curtains that a true off-white, and we'll continue the conversation from there, perhaps resulting in an exchange. I'm trying not to get my hopes up, but we'll see.

I had corresponded with customer-service representatives Kate and Zoe for help in choosing the right pattern and confirming the length for custom hemming. It never occurred to me to ask how cream "cream" was. Lace curtains are usually available in two colors: white, which is often a chemically brightened white that looks too blindingly new. The other choice is usually described as "natural," "cream," "ivory," or "ecru."

To me, "cream" is the lightest of these color options: a soft off-white. And that is exactly how these curtains look in all the photos:

Do these look yellow against those white windows and walls? 

I honestly wasn't all that fussy about the color; knowing they wouldn't be bright-white was fine with me. I would have been satisfied if they turned out darker than shown, so I didn't stress about it. The reps had told me there wasn't time for me to request samples by mail while the sale was on.

But yellow? I can't make that work. If you have a use for six lemony 78" x 59" panels, let me know.

Lace curtains are out of style — Grandma — in America if not the U.K. But in an old-fashioned room, I don't think anything looks as beautiful or appropriate, especially when they are billowing in the breeze. For city dwellers, lace provides privacy while allowing sunlight, and their intricate patterns are rarely overpowering. I find them downright bohemian these days, being so rare. And most of the grandmas I know have heavier, more elaborate window treatments anyhow: pinch-pleats, fancy valances, shutters, blinds. The modern alternative to lace is voile sheers, which are inevitably cheap polyester that does nothing for me, even billowing in the breeze.

Twenty years ago I had loads of options for lace panels in the US, but today's pickings are slim. There are two types: 100% polyester from China that looks like what it is, and finer cotton laces from Scotland. The latter are sold by a handful of dealers in two price categories: if you're lucky there will be a couple of garden-variety designs for around $100, or you'll have to splurge on finer, fancier designs, exactly like the antiques in historic house museums, in the vicinity of $300 per panel. That lace is arguably original rather than reproduction as it was woven on the same Scottish "Madras" looms used in the 19th century.

I've known a local (expensive) lace curtain seller for about 25 years, and since last year  I've been telling him in person and by email and voicemail about my interest in buying his curtains. He has not replied beyond vaguely saying he'll get back to me. I'm giving up. Perhaps he's out of the curtain business although they are still advertised on his website.

I felt lucky to find this English company.* They have a variety of patterns in all price categories, and will hem to custom lengths. I'd like my curtains to hit the floor, which is de rigueur these days. But in each of my three rooms there is a big cast-iron radiator underneath one window, making that elegant look impossible. But I recently realized that those radiators have been there for about a century, so my shorter curtains must be more period-appropriate in here after all.

I'll post again when I receive the samples, which will likely be after we return fromvMaine. I'll also post on some other long-postponed little home-improvement projects that are happening, and tell you why I've finally gotten off my duff to spiff up the place. . . company is coming!

* I'll reveal the company's name, or not, depending on how things go from here.

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Bandana Day

I'm declaring today Bandana Day. When the going gets tough, the tough accessorize, so we all ought to have at least one piece of colorful cloth in our wardrobes. Tie it around your neck, hatband, or purse, stick it in your pocket, or wear it on your head. Wave it in surrender, knot it into a hobo bag, or drop it strategically to make a new friend. You will certainly find a use for it and it may even take your mind off North Korea.

I gave myself an idea:

Harris agreed to model my bandana and enjoyed chewing it between takes. He felt it added to his already-considerable rakish charm, and he is all about accentuating the positive . . . and biting bandanas.

Toffee took a different approach, demonstrating its usefulness in espionage:

Bandanas may be trendy, but it's a revival of a classic, as opposed to merely being different and weird for the sake of difference and weirdness, like the cold shoulder sleeve. Until recently, basic bandanas were found in army-navy and camping stores, and pretty ones were buried amid the hankies in vintage shops.

So while they are having their moment we should stock up for the rest of our lives. I'd start with one of the beautiful basics from Madewell ($12.50), in fine, soft Indian voile, nicely hemmed, in a range of colors and block prints:

Men can usually find variations on classic bandanas at J. Crew. While there aren't many available online, they sometimes have more styles in stores:

J. Crew carries silk and cotton bandanas for women, including Liberty prints, starting at $14.50 and heading skyward for Italian silks (but, remember, one rarely has to pay full price at J. Crew):

And if you just can't wrap your brain around tying a square, J. Crew has a hefty cotton rectangle in red or navy bandana print:

I think Anthropologie has the most beautiful bandanas, in cotton ($18) or silk ($28):

I have that one, which is cotton. And now I need to check out these silk ones:

This one would be good with navy-striped tees:

This goes with nothing I own but I think it's beautiful:

Here are a few more, just because they're so pretty

If you really want to invest in bandanas, Hermès has a few 22" squares for $185:

The bandana prints seem surprisingly pedestrian for Hermès, but it's worth going to their website just to see their playful, endlessly unfolding House of Scarves, where you can admire such beauties as their reissue of the Jardin de Maharani 36" twill in new colors:

And Fleurs de Giverny:
See? It's hard to think about fabric squares and worry about North Korea at the same time. 

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Recent Adorableness: Toffeepot

I spotted this spongy, bouncy ball abandoned behind a fence of a shop on Newbury Street, and I knew Toffee would like it. We cleverly used our umbrella handle to reach it. Toffee claimed it as soon as he saw it, and dribbled it across the living room with his front paws, soccer-style. Later we heard it bouncing in another part of the house so he's figuring out the basketball thing.

Saturday, August 5, 2017

Postcards from a Lake House: Out and About

Last weekend we visited friends who have a lake house in Connecticut, and did a little shopping and sightseeing in the area.

Our first stop was this farm stand, which was in the middle of the farm, not on the road, as most are. Most of the vegetables are kept in covered bins. You lift their lids to see what's left, help yourself, and pay on the honor system. Everything was delicious: tomatoes, peaches, peas, and lettuce.

Chickens on the farm:

As we drove home, we saw a neighbor on a bike who flagged us down, looking perturbed. She said she'd been riding along earlier when a black bear raced across the road just in front of her. It didn't see her, which was good, but it might have hit her had she been farther along.

I decided I needed to see a bear. I became more alert to my surroundings.

On Saturday morning, we were heading to a plant nursery having a half-price sale when we stopped at an estate sale on the way. (Being alert, I saw the sign.) There was a lot of depressing furniture and intriguing power tools. Also an extensive collection of albums, 33s, 45s, and 78s. We resisted, although there was a stack of Russian gypsy music, which I like, along with a few "madeleines" — Alan Sherman ("Hello Muddah, Hello Fadduh"), Herb Alpert ("Whipped Cream and Other Delights"), Herman's Hermits.

Our friend was drawn to a heavy drill-press, although she already has one; she is handy. It was $25, so I suggested offering $20, and they hauled it to her car. (My husband got a nifty measuring tape with a level for $2.)

At the nursery, mugs of cut sunflowers were busy with bees:

Fresh, local lavender bundles:

The owners told us they'd watched two male bears fighting just up the road a few days before. One was estimated to be 600 pounds but the other was a youngster, only about 300 pounds. Bears grow to be huge in New England, perhaps because we have so much nice garbage.

I really wanted to see a bear, or preferably two. At a safe distance. Instead I saw lots of plants I couldn't recognize. I think this must be allium, but of normal size, not the crazy-big ones they plant in the Public Garden:

When the gardener rolled a cartload of plants to the car, he spotted the drill press in the back and exclaimed over it. He wanted it. Our friend told him what she'd paid and he wanted it even more. So she traded it for some plants and we filled her car:

On the way home we stopped in Falls Village and watched the Great Falls:

Three men were swimming just below the falls. It seemed like a good place for bears to hang out, but no. Back at the house, I kept looking out the windows and scanning the woods from the porches without success.

On Sunday morning, there were no bears in Millerton, New York, when made a pilgrimage to the Harney's Tea Shop. I've long wanted to go there: we enjoy their teas and I hoped to get some blends that aren't sold around Boston.

There's a small room where they sell loose teas from giant canisters behind a wooden counter — just as they do at Mariages Frères in Paris. Our friend, a longtime Harney's fan, told us that one of the Harney sons married a Frenchwoman who does marketing had a big impact the family business. I've noticed similarities to Mariages Frères and I approve.

But Harney's does Mariages Frères one better. While we were there, a Harney son and another employee were at the counter, not only discussing various teas with customers but also brewing samples for them to taste. Harney's sells sample packets of loose tea for $2 (enough for about three cups of tea) so one can afford to explore and be adventurous.

We had to restrain ourselves because we'd recently stuffed out cupboard with tea from Paris. So we mostly bought samples, including Red Hot Cinnamon Spice (by far their best-selling tea; we had to see what the fuss is about), Soho, a tea with chocolate flavors, and a few others. And then we saw this wall and caved and bought tins of "Scottish Afternoon" and "Vanilla Black."

These days I usually buy our Harney's online; they have an informative website and shipping is often free. But it was great to talk face-to-face with an expert and sniff and see and taste some teas.

There is a two-story antiques coop in Millerton with some interesting stuff:

I admire creative taxidermy but a mountain goat and a boulder require a special living room — not mine. They are not sold separately, alas.

The three of each remembered some of these Life magazine covers, which were always piled on my parents' sofa table the way New Yorkers pile up on mine. I remember thinking, as a child, that Ann Margret should have brushed her hair before her cover shoot. I knew better than that.

On the drive back to the house I looked hard for bears, but I never saw any.

Friday, August 4, 2017

Postcards from a Lake House: Inside and Out

Here are some photos of a beautiful house on a lake that we visited last weekend:

A long, sloping lawn takes you from the house down to the lake, through a stand of tall old pines. A stone wall is the backdrop for a very colorful and interesting garden:

Coneflowers (echinacea) are my new favorite flower:

A view of the lake from the lawn:

There's a boathouse right on the water, with a porch where you can sit and watch the boats go by.

Here's another spot to sit and view the lake:

We liked to read and doze in these antique rockers on the porch:

Off the kitchen, this stone terrace overlooks the woodsy property along one side of the house:

A close-up of some of the pots:

The house was recently renovated to be a larger, year-round home. Every detail was carefully thought through, and the results are beautiful but always comfortable and unpretentious.

There's a lofty new living room that uses wood recycled from an antique New England barn:

The original living room  has a rustic fireplace and is now the library:

I packed a book and a couple of old New Yorkers in my weekend bag and discovered that the house is filled with good books and New Yorkers. What was I thinking?

The vision for the renovation was "Arts & Crafts meets Shaker." The dining room feels timeless, warm, and welcoming, with simple furnishings, a stunning rug, and a Scandinavian chandelier to add sparkle.

At dinnertime, you can see the blue evening light on the lake from the windows:

And there were candles everywhere, which made us wish that our cats were not so flammable:

I can't show you the kitchen because all of my photos show someone working or munching. But here's one of several pretty guest rooms, furnished with antiques and quilts (these are from L.L. Bean). There are paneled walls in many rooms, preserved from the original house:

I'll have more photos from our visit tomorrow.