June 26, 2013

unexpected beauty

It's hard to beat Vermont for beauty. With the exception of the dreariness of mud season perhaps, gazing out over the Green Mountains, or driving down the highway, or sitting in our living room can edge to breathtaking pretty much year round. When my brother came for a visit this winter and we drove one evening to a movie in Montpelier he gazed out at the snowy fields, red barns and white farm houses, little lights flickering in the windows and asked "Could this place look more like a post card?"

Even after a year of living here I'm still struck regularly by the vast expanses of green or the meandering streams that I pass daily, but it's the moments of unexpected beauty that I love most. A waterfall found right around the bend in the river we'd been playing in, hidden from sight unless you waded out into the middle, the sound of the river and the kids drowning out the crashing water.  Or turning down our road to find it shrouded in mist, silent. Green and white and hauntingly peaceful. A rainbow disappearing between to hills after a storm as I drive to the grocery store. Beauty that makes you pause the routine of daily life and just enjoy.

This morning I stopped at our village shop (remember, we only have one) to grab a bottle of water for Briton's camp lunch, every other water bottle in the house being found lidless despite a long early morning search. When I pulled up and hopped out of the car in the rain, I heard music. Beautiful, slow, welcome the morning music. And there, sitting on the porch of the inn across the street was a man playing the cello. Eyes closed, heart open, playing in the rain.

I hope you find a moment of unexpected beauty today.

June 24, 2013

day trip: fort ticondaroga

The lovely thing about having the grandparents come for a visit, aside from the fact that it's just nice to have my parents around for a good long stay, is that it give us an excuse to do a little bit of touristing. We're not really the type to shy away from playing the tourist in our own town (or state) but it's easy to think "oh we'll do that next summer. Today we'll paint a wall." Will and I have been meaning to take the kids to Fort Ticonderoga since we drove past it with out moving van but we've never managed to do it. So it's a good thing the grandparents are in town to make us go at last.

We took the slightly longer way there. Through rolling farm land and over one of the oldest (maybe the oldest) ferry crossings in the US to the fort. A long, hot (for here) afternoon in the sun of exploring and sitting on cannons and gazing out at the lake and watching soldiers march and fire and sew their own period perfect clothing.

My family went on a lot of these kind of excursions when I was a kid. Living history museums, old forts and villages. They kind of all blend into one long summer vacation in my mind and were, I'm absolutely sure, key in making me a history nut. Something I hope to pass on to my kids, who, with only slight bribing of a creemee at the end, explored right along with us and asked very good questions. Like, "Were there bathrooms or did they just pee off the wall?" (of course, what else would a ten year old boy ask?)

June 20, 2013

and it's summer

Laissez les bon temps rouler! (I've only been told once so far that I am "RUINING SUMMER" by making them read everyday. What a mean mommy!)

June 17, 2013

how to paint stripy steps without loosing your marbles: a tutorial

It's been a long time since I've written a tutorial. Not because we haven't been up to lots of things around the house but, well, they haven't been very tutorial worthy. What can I say about a wallpapered piece of plywood other than, um, wallpaper a piece of plywood? For the most part our projects these days involve either planting veggies or flowers in the yard or painting. We're on our second round of painting. In theory, all the rooms that didn't get painted last fall will get paint now. Except for Briton's room. Which we are not allowed to change. Whatever. If he likes half painted walls and a rug over plywood, so be it.
But the stairs. They took some serious thinking and planning. So I thought I'd share. Plus I love them. It makes me smile every time I look at them.

Our stairs are, barring the you may not change this floor in Briton's room, the only raw floors left after the great carpet removal of last August. The living room floor is painted, awaiting hardwood flooring someday, and the upstairs is bamboo floored. But the stairs were a little bit of a problem. At some point we'd like to put new treads in. Nice, solid hardwood ones that will match out kitchen floors. Except man, treads are expensive. Plus since the rise of the steps is also rough plywood, that will have to be replaced as well. Which makes it a big, expensive project. And not really one at the top of the priority list. I've had this stripy steps idea in my head almost since we moved in and the plan has gone through lots of possibilities. Carpet? Too expensive. And also too hard to find in stripes we liked. And also I hate carpet. Canvas runner? Too trippy. I can just see one or all of us falling down the steps when it gets worn and baggy. I almost went with the kind of tape they use on gym floors. Bright, colorful and practically permanent, but in the end, paint seemed the easiest option. And as a result of our many, many painting projects, and painting ideas, we had lots of little cans of different paint colors. Blue from the kitchen, pink that almost was in Evie's room, yellow from the bench, green from, actually, I have no idea where that green came from.

The big challenge, however, is how to get nice, neat, straight lines without going nuts. As it turns out, it's not as hard as it looks but I'll warns you, it is tedious. This is not a one day project. There is much sitting around waiting for things to dry, and then adding another coat, and then waiting some more. But that's good, Because while one stripe is drying you can still walk on the other parts of the steps. Which, unless you have two sets of stairs in your house or you don't need to get up them, is necessary.

So, here's how you do it.
First paint the edges of the steps with your base color. I used the white trim paint we are using all over the house. Sebring White from Benjamin Moore if anyone is interested. It's our go-to white for flat and glossy paints. I decided that I wanted the border to fall 8 inches from each side of the steps and used a ruler to mark that out, then painted about an inch over that mark. After the third coat had dried, it was time for.....another coat. Except this one is special and it's the secret to really neat and clean stripes (I wish I'd figured this out long ago)

Using regular masking tape, no need for the fancy painters tape here, I taped off the line at the 8-inch mark and then painted over the tape with the white. Why? Well, if you've ever tried to use tape to make a perfect line you know that, inevitably, no matter how much you smooth it down, paint is going to leak under. By painting the stripe line first with the white the paint that leaked under is the same as the base and the tape line is sealed in. Once the white was dry I added yellow on one side and dark blue on the other, painting out, again, slightly further than I wanted that particular stripe to go.(It's easier to see on the yellow, but obviously I did the white first)
Again with the paint several coats, tape, paint another coat (hint, don't just paint on the raw side of the tape, otherwise you'll have a weird line in the middle of your stripe and have to go back and touch it up. Lesson learned) then add a new color, until you've filled the space.
There is a lot of dry time needed here but since I chose not to use floor paint (too expensive, takes too long to dry and, in our experience, didn't hold up any better than trim paint) it wasn't too painful. I will recommend shutting your animals in a bedroom or outside each and every time you start to paint and leaving them there till that stripe is dry. Unless you want little yellow kitty footprints on your kitchen floor.

Just sayin.

A little note on cleaning. Because we've lived with painted plywood floors for almost a year now, I've had plenty of time to try out different cleaning methods and have finally struck on something that works. Most of the time my painted floors just get a good sweep and vacuum and then a once over with a Bona mop and wood floor cleaner. But about every three weeks I use a long handled bristle brush and give it a scrub with a mixture of hot water and just a little washing soda. Just a little. Otherwise there is a white film when it dries. I use an old pan and put about a teaspoon of soda in with the water. I follow up with a dry towel to wipe up the water (no standing water on wood floors!) and the floors look almost new. Since the part of the stairs people tend to walk on are stripy and not white, the steps stay pretty clean and have, so far, just needed sweeping.

So there you go. Stripy steps. Not the craziest thing we've done. Probably not even in the top ten (not even close to the time we took a bus and then a train and then another bus to that sketchy IKEA in London when Briton was a toddler. Geesh that was one long, slightly frightening day. )

June 14, 2013

reading on the go

I have a slightly embarrassing admission to make to you. One of my all time favorite book characters is not Emma or Elizabeth Bennet or someone from a serious and seriously depressing Oprah Book Club book. It's not even a character from an adult book. It's Henry Huggins. To be fair, he's probably my second favorite. My favorite favorite is and always will be Anne Shirley. But Henry is close behind her.

I read, and loved, all of the Ramona books growing up. How could I not? Ramona lived, like me, in the Northwest. Her family, like mine, didn't have a lot of money but did have a lot of fun. She didn't like to brush her hair, neither did I. She had a fixation over one of her classmates perfect ringlets, which she longed to tug with a great big boooiing and I had a similar fixation with the perfect blond braids of one of the two Emilys in my grade. It wasn't until I was a teacher that I read the Henry books and it wasn't until I was the mother of a boy that I really got them.

Henry is a boy after my own heart. In part because Henry is very much like the boy who has my heart. Briton is exactly the type of boy who would try to bring a dog home in a box on the bus or end up with hundreds of guppies in mason jars on the floor of his room. I totally identify with all the times his mother says "oh Henry!" in reaction to his antics. We've read and re-read the Henry books. We have them on tape and CD and MP3. Perhaps it has something to do with the fact that the house we lived in when he was born was one block over from the real Klickitat Street, or maybe it's just that Beverly Cleary is a genius at understanding real kids. But they have held steady for a long time as some of our favorite reads.

At almost 11, Briton has, in a way, outgrown the books. They are far too easy for him to read, really. He wouldn't want to be caught carrying one around in his backpack when everyone else is reading the Warriors series or The Hunger Games. But he's very willing to read them aloud. Because that doesn't quite count as the same thing as reading them.

The one thing I dislike about living here is that there is an enormous amount of driving. Enough driving that, for the first time since we started dating, Will and I have separate cars. Things are just far apart and not at all walkable. So between to-ing and fro-ing to school and the grocery store, which is in the next town over, and the bank and soccer and basketball we spend a lot of time in the car these days. We've tried listening to books on tape, but they don't seem to hold their attention the way they do at night. Instead, Briton has been reading to us in the car. Reading Henry Huggins. It's just the right combination of still-fun for him and young enough for Evie. And I doubt I'll ever grow tired of Henry. We're about halfway through Henry Huggins, with Henry and the Paper Route queued up as our next read-in-the-car book. And it's sparked a whole new renewal of love for Beverly Cleary in general. All her books are stacked together in the book nook, in order (roughly) because Evelyn would like to read them all this summer please and thank you. We're reading Ramona the Brave currently. And just as an FYI, I think Ramona may fall as number three on my best book character list. Clearly I'm hopelessly immature when it comes to book love.

June 13, 2013


She didn't eat her cupcake.

At school, it being the end of the year, they had an ice cream party. Plus her cupcakes. Plus someone else brought in yet more cupcakes. So by the time she got home she had "had too many sweets." But she still wanted us to sing. And she still wanted to wear the tiara. We took silly photos and measured her on the wall (she grew a tiny bit since the last time) and curled up and read a book and watched a movie of her choice and ate eggs and bacon for dinner because that's what she picked.

And now, seven. My sweet baby, a baby no more. A strong, wonderful girl. How lucky am I?

June 11, 2013

and a tiara

Evelyn turns seven tomorrow. Which is shocking. Shocking! Every year their birthdays seem to take me by surprise. I'm never quite ready for them to turn another year older. But I suppose all mothers are a little like that.

For years Evelyn, unlike Briton who always knows exactly what he wants for birthdays, has been very vague about gifts. "Something pink!" "A furry animal." "A new dress." This year, however, she's been very specific about what she wants (thankfully things that are easily getable) one of them being a tiara.

For her party, a fairy tea party in the woods (oh please let it be sunny!) we are making wings for each guest instead of goody bags and to make sure that all the little fairies feel...fairyish... Per her request we'll make wands and dance by the creek and have little jars of fairy dust and tea under the leaves unless it's raining, in which case we'll have tea in the livingroom.

And, she asks, can I wear a tiara? Because it's my birthday.

So amist making a fabric scrap table runner for the tea table and wings for twelve little fairies and a bunting (well, two) and cake, we needed a tiara. Which, surprisingly, was actually just the kind of project I needed during a busy, crammed, last week of school kind of week. Because if there are just a few scraps on the end of the table runner, the fairies won't notice. A little will do. I'd much rather curl up on the couch and embroider something special for my little, except not so little, girl.

Scraps of wool felt and some free hand (don't look too closely, I really don't know what I'm doing) flowers mixed up with ribbon and one o fthe fancy stitches from my trusty, lovely sewing machine and we have a tiara.

Now back to the wings.

June 10, 2013

small town fun

Last night, with a baked-from-our-chicken's-eggs (!) quiche in hand and Evelyn dressed to the nines (the rest of us went with normal weekend wear) we took ourselves down to the town hall for a potluck dinner, concert and square dance. For a village so small you might miss it if you blinked, we have an amazing range of talented musicians. Honest to goodness opera singers, people who gave up Carnegie Hall to come live in the woods. A local music series that is packed with mindblowingly great performers. Did I tell you about the time Marie Von Trapp's granddaughter led us in singing Edelweiss? Yes, really.

This time it was Red Tail Ring. Who are not local but are related to (also amazing musically talented) locals. I'm not a big country music girl but I love bluegrass and that kind of 1930's music that filled the movie "Oh Brother, Where Art Thou." And this was that kind of music. Toe tappingly fun.

No one takes themselves too seriously around here. There was, and I'm not joking, a brain shaped jello on offer at the potluck. So no big poofy skirts (other than Evie) and no real professionals. The caller talked us all through each dance before we started and I'm sure we looked less than graceful, but oh was it fun. Briton was asked to dance by a high school girl (thank goodness for sweet high school girls!) which was the highlight of his weekend, not that he would admit it. And Evie pretty much never sat down, whirling and spinning and laughing, right in her element. We danced on the old sprung floor where they used to hold town meetings, surrounded by faded sepia photos of the town long ago and spindley wooden benches and less pretty yellow plastic chairs and I couldn't help but think Yes. This is why I love this place.

June 5, 2013

on not wallpapering

I am, I have to admit, terrified of wallpaper. It all stems from our second house and trying to rip what I thought was one layer out of the room that would become Evie's. It was not one layer. Or two. Or three. It went on and on and never really, even with all the tricks, sprays, tools and scraping, came off entirely. I vowed, somewhere amidst pulling tiny shredded bits of paper off that wall for hours on end, that I would never, NEVER hang wallpaper in my house. If not for me then for the sake of some poor woman fifty years from now who just wants to paint her daughter's rooma nice calming shade of minty green. It wasn't a hard vow to keep since I didn't like wallpaper anyway.

Except then I did start liking wallpaper. It's Orla Keily's fault. I'm a sucker for anything she makes and I have been for years. Including her wallpaper. Especailly her wallpaper.

But once I became a wallpaper fan I realized that the wallpaper I like tends to be of the $100 per small roll variety (of course) and that does not sit well on a tight, diy renovation budget.

A few years ago I solved both my wallpapering problems by wallpapering a 4x4 panel and hanging it on the wall. I can buy (or get as a Christmas gift!) one little roll of ridiculously expensive wallpaper and hang it on my wall without, you know, hanging it on my wall. IT worked brilliantly and we've loved having that giant Orla wall hanging since. But it wasn't quite right in our current living room. Not the right colors, not the right size. A big room needed a bigger panel.

Will and I puttered around on Pinterest until we found this funky, mid century modernish wallpaper and sent away to England for a single roll. Will built a new 4x8 panel and I spent yesterday wallpapering that. It's not technically "hung up" yet. Just leaning against the wall. We are mid drywall and paint on that wall so I don't want to put a nail into the wall until it's done but already I like the added color, and the fact that it goes all the way down. And the fact that I did not have to wallpaper the wall. Not that that's entirely out of the question. Because there is this cool paper I found for the book nook, empty frames for the kids to decorate....which would be fun...if I can bring myself to do it.

June 4, 2013

growing (and not)

Last Friday marked the one year anniversary of us driving away from New York and starting a new life in Vermont. It passed without much fanfare. When I mentioned it to Will he said "is that all? Just a year?" Which pretty much sums up how we all feel. I remember that I couldn't get enough of the green in the first weeks. Mosses and leaves and grass and the slime on river rocks, after the grey concrete landscape of the city I drank in the green every chance I got. I'm still a little like that. A long winter, plus a general love of green growing things means I spend a fair amount of time taking photographs of leaves and trees and moss (moss is pretty cool, after all).

When we first moved into the house I was dead set against cutting down even a single tree. "we have two ACRES of trees!" Will would say. "No. No cutting." He trimmed a little, cut a few down while I wasn't looking, thinned here and there, but it's been an ongoing stalemate.

Until I started my garden. And now I'm feeling a little ruthless about the trees. They are blocking the sunlight for most of the day. My tomatoes are looking sad and spindly, the onions are creeping instead of bounding. Although the lettuce seems to enjoy it. And the bees are so happy that they've filled their first super (time to get a third I guess. And maybe a fourth if they keep it up at this rate). I still love the trees. He is not allowed to take anything down that is a sugar maple or a birch. The sugar maples because, well, I like making syrup, the more the merrier. And the birches because I love them too much. For now. But we're going to have to do some (supervised by an experienced friend, of course) lumberjacking.

Last year we were (sort of) New Yorkers. Now we're lumberjacks.

Probably not that surprising.