mourning

We announced the new incarnation of Proximity Magazine last night. For our inaugural issue, we chose the theme, “morning.” I’ve been mulling that over for the past few weeks, wondering what I might write, were I not one of the editors. I guess you could say I’ve had morning on the mind.

 

I could use a good morning, instead of this, its homophonic twin. I do not like pity. Sometimes I choose not to share bad news, to avoid the look people get in their eyes, the down-turned corners at the mouth, the silent “I’m sorry”s. But we’re in a season of grief in our household, in our close and extended family. And after a while, it shows. We are tired. We are sad. We are going through the motions through which we must go, when all we want to do is to sit with our favorite loved ones, hold them and feed them, and remove ourselves from the rest of the spinning world for a while.

We are lucky. We don’t need to share details for good friends to see that something is wrong. And so pots of soup appear on our doorstep, and pans of apple crisp, and bags of chocolate, and bottles of wine, and homemade bread still warm in its foil. We’re not at the center of all this grief, but we love the people who are — they are the ones who deserve this kind of tending. In our heartache for them, our edges have frayed; and so we feel grateful for (and a little undeserving of) our friends’ ample kindness.

My aunt was, among many admirable things, a birder. This is a morning-person’s pursuit. It’s something I’ve always liked in theory. I don’t mind rising early — but in practice there is a problem. I hoard my mornings. I want to enjoy them in solitude, indoors, cupped in the corner of the couch with a mug of coffee and a book. Mornings can swell with potential — anything could happen. They say anticipation of something can inspire stronger feelings than the thing itself, and mornings are all about anticipating the possible. I want my mornings to last all day.

The evanescence that is so peculiar to this time of year — as the leaves pause in mid-color, the air flecked with cool — is most obvious in the mornings. By afternoon the sun is hot and bright, but in the early morning chill, you can sometimes smell the fireplace fumes left over from the night before. The air feels crisp like stationery paper; the cool blue sky feels closer to the ground, the clouds hang low over the trees, and a there is a general sense of unsettling, as we approach that tipping point into fall.

This has always been my favorite time of year. Early fall, to me, is synonymous with the start of school, and the ripe anticipation of new beginnings. And so we warm ourselves with soup and bread, made by people who love us; and we see glimpses of our own loved ones in the smallest things — a bird’s call, a painter’s brush, a snippet of song playing on the radio. And we know the leaves will fall, and the skies will darken, and the ground will freeze. But it will all come back again. And we should hope to be so blessed to see it.

food + family

Last year, because our Christmas plans involved whirlwind trips to Austin, Houston, and North Carolina, we decided to take it easy and stay put for Thanksgiving. Because it revolves around food, family and gratitude, Thanksgiving has always been my favorite holiday — and the prospect of Thanksgiving dinner for two didn’t quite have the feel of holiday to me.

So we brought down the serving dishes from my grandmothers and Joe’s cousin Jeanie, the china from my great-grandmother, the glasses from my brother and sister-in-law; we used recipes from Joe’s mother and set the table with linens made by mine; and, by the time we sat down to eat, we felt sufficiently surrounded by food and family:

thanksgiving dinner, 2011

This year, we’d planned to head to Greensboro, NC, to spend Christmas at Joe’s parents’ house. But thanks to an ill-timed blizzard, once again we find ourselves staying put. This time, my parents live here, and my aunt and uncle will be in town. So, though we’re staying in Madison, it doesn’t mean we’re without loved ones nearby. However, it means Joe won’t be able to celebrate Christmas back home — only the second time that’s ever happened.

So, when we had my parents over for pre-Christmas chili a couple of nights ago, we found ourselves once again using food as a proxy for family, reaching for Joe’s mother’s cornbread recipe, the perfect complement to the perfect food for a cold, ice-covered day:

It was all so good that we’d eaten almost everything before Joe thought to take a picture. Almost everything, but not quite:

snow day

The second biggest snow storm in Wisconsin history blew through town yesterday, causing us to cancel our eagerly-awaited Christmas trip to North Carolina, but giving us a surprise day of doing nothing but eating, walking the dog, and watching the snow fall (and fall and fall and fall — for more than 24 hours!).

how Joe spent his day
how I spent my day

We lost power last night around 7. The power company warned us we were among 4,000 homes without power and likely wouldn’t get it back until morning, so we hunkered down with a houseful of candles, played some music, and whipped up a pot of rosemary orzo, the only thing in our house that wouldn’t require opening the refrigerator. (Lucky for us, though, we were only without power for less than a couple of hours.)

The snow emergency lasts through Sunday morning, and though the skies were blue today, the roads are still a disastrous mix of ice and slush, so they canceled school for the second day in row — and because Joe’s office closes when the schools do, we stayed home and spent the day digging our house out of the snow drift.

post-blizzard
digging out the driveway
poor, buried front steps
our cedar tree snapped and buckled in the storm
our snow-logged back porch and chicken coop
it’s hard to believe it looked like THIS three months ago.
the snow from the porch became snow mountains
for scale, Joe amid the snow piles
I was really happy about shoveling that driveway!
four hours of shoveling later, and we’re still smiling

withdrawal

It’s official. I’m an addict. (Luckily, I’m not alone.)

Lately I’ve found myself in the following pattern: I wake up, check Apartment Therapy on my iPhone, get up and make coffee, drag myself to the computer, check Pinterest and Design*Sponge and follow the bread-crumb trail of links from design blog to design blog to design blog, until I realize I’m late for work and hurriedly throw my unwashed hair into a ponytail. I’ve found myself openly coveting other people’s homes, disparaging the sudden spike in Chevron-covered pillows at Target (“now there’s a fad that’s passed its prime!!”), and worrying whether the breezy, beachy shade of faded turquoise I love is becoming too popular for me to love anymore.

I have always been a nester. It’s amazing how you can breathe new life into an old space simply by moving around what’s already there. When I was a very small child, I would rearrange my bedroom on what felt like a weekly basis. I would heave heavy dressers and bed frames across the floor until my spindly little arms were covered in bruises. I have always loved bright colors and patterned fabrics, and have long decorated my apartments with fringy tapestries and original art scored from flea markets and the like. I have always liked the look of a wall crowded with artwork, shelves with books arranged by color, big windows with airy curtains and lots and lots of light.

I have always enjoyed creating spaces on nonexistent budgets that feel warm and welcoming, places that feel like home. And I never — or at least, rarely — judged my ability to do so as anything other than sufficient. Until a handful of years ago, I only vaguely knew what “mid-century modern” meant, I thought “Chevron” was just a gas station, and I considered a wall covered in chalkboard paint to be among the most unique ideas I’d ever seen.

Then, last year, we bought our first house. Here I had a blank canvas — truly mine to do with as I liked! The opportunities were only as limited as my own imagination and my budget would allow. I quickly started combing through the archives at Apartment Therapy and other blogs of its ilk, in search of new ideas. I learned my color-coded bookshelves were trendy, and that they inspired hate and dismay among a large and vocal portion of the design blogosphere. I learned chalkboard walls peaked, oh, three or four years ago. And I learned a whole new vocabulary: “Editing” no applied merely to cleaning up words on a page, but also the knick-knacks cluttering up your living room; “curating” no applied only to museum exhibits, but to the adhesion of certain design aesthetics across entire homes.

I became obsessed. I carried color chips in my purse. I spent hours every night combing over the furniture section of Craigslist. I set up a Pinterest account and starting pinning like a mad woman.

Until last week, when I hit bottom. We were getting ready to host a friend’s surprise birthday party, and the sudden prospect of 40 people in our house caused me to fly into a home-decorating panic. I convinced my husband to paint the living room. And the dining room. And the stairwell. And the hallway. When he finished, the walls looked great, but the furniture suddenly looked wrong. “My god,” I thought, “have those bookshelves always looked so dreary? Has that chair always looked so dingy? Has the love seat always looked so Pottery Barn??”

The room felt cramped and thrown together. It felt juvenile. Had months and months of Apartment Therapy-browsing taught me nothing? Suddenly I hated my own house. Instead of inspiring me to try new things, every new blog post only reinforced the fact that no, I do not live in “Carl and Angie’s Bright and Spacious Bungalow” or “Zed and Fred’s Modern Loft with a Vintage Twist” or any of the other homes that are daily offered up for admiration and envy.

Utterly disgusted with myself and my environs, I Googled every incarnation of “narrow living room furniture arrangement” and clicked until my eyes bled. I bought and returned three sets of curtains, two rugs, and four throw pillows, never settling on a single one. I rearranged our living room five or six times in one night, and then again the next morning. I moved heavy furniture from room to room, up and down the stairs. And in the end, I gave up. Except for one bookcase and the record player stand, everything went right back to where it started.

I began showing up at work looking more and more dejected. “I hate my furniture!” I would tell Emily, my office mate. “I hate my house! It’s all wretched! Every last end table! Every last oak bookcase! What was I thinking?? Didn’t I know that oak was so pedestrian? Why did I buy those?!”

Emily raised an eyebrow. “Have you been reading Apartment Therapy again?” she said.

Rendered speechless by the sheer depth of my own despondency, I merely nodded.

Emily sighed. “You need an intervention,” she said. “You need a detox. You need one week without Apartment Therapy!”

I winced. “What about Pinterest?” I said, meekly.

“No Pinterest, either! And no Craigslist, and no real estate websites. None of it. Cold turkey.”

“But what will I do in the morning?” I said.

“You’ll make coffee, and you’ll take your dog for a walk. Do you remember that you have a dog?”

I realized Emily had a point. “Okay,” I said, collapsing into my chair. “I’ll try it.”

I admit, I cheated the first day. And the second. I couldn’t help myself — I’d posted a comment to an Apartment Therapy story about homemade paper flowers, and I wanted to see if anyone had responded. But I haven’t checked it for two days now. Or any of the other sites on my banished list. And instead of wasting an hour or two online yesterday afternoon, I took the dog for a walk. I found him in a dark corner of the basement, barely able to stand and covered in detritus. He perked up the moment we stepped outside.

Not surprisingly, so did I. I remembered what the sun felt like. And though I had to shield my eyes from its all-too-natural glare, I had to admit it was far more appealing than the flickering of a computer screen. On our way home, I noticed small green buds poking through our neighbor’s yard. The dog and I paused, and as I bent down to admire that bright shock of green, the first sign of spring that confirms the season of new beginnings, I realized something incredibly important — it was the perfect color for a rug in our dining room…