March 19, 2016

The Fainting Couch

     

     Whether you call it a lounger, a fainting couch or a great place to read a book, chaise lounges have been around for a very long time. Different from the regular couch, this piece of furniture is usually open on one end and may or may not have a back. I have wanted one for years. It doesn't matter that I don't wear a corset and am not short of breath so I really don't need a fainting couch, not for fainting at any rate. I can still imagine I might for other reasons. Instead I picture myself putting up my feet in the afternoon to read or daydream or perhaps catch a little cat nap after a delicious cup of tea. When the old rescued gliding rocker I have had in my studio for years gave up the ghost I knew what I needed to replace it - my own fainting couch.

My old rescued glider

     As I got serious searching for the perfect chaise lounge the first thing I discovered is that no matter how they are made or the material used, they can be incredibly expensive. There was no way I was going to spend somewhere in the neighborhood of three thousand for an elaborate Victorian restoration piece. I didn't want anything that elaborate anyway. My studio isn't that large and it houses all of my office, computers and desks. I needed something smaller and less ostentatious. There is an old lesson I learned a long tome ago: Price is often based on the customer. So I thought like a tight-wad consumer. It's a fact that men's t-shirts are far less expensive than women's. This is true of many things. Fancy microfiber cleaning cloths are quite pricey in a special housewares shop but, at a discount department store, in the automotive department, they are a fraction of the price. I started searching online with this attitude. I happened across several beautiful wicker lounges, lovely pieces for relaxing in your sun-room. They all were marked for indoor use only. I wondered, what did they charge if you planned to put the thing out in the yard? I bet it's much cheaper.
      I was right. Much. Now I narrowed my search. Since I am handy with a sewing machine and can make my own cushions and pillows I can use that skill to keep the cost down too. (Except for foam rubber. Damn, it costs more than the chair!). At any rate I could make whatever cover I wanted myself. I really like wicker, but I also didn't want a piece in my space that looked too much like a lawn chair. I finally found a chair that fit my needs perfectly and started looking for the right fabric.

The right fabrics

     All week long I plotted and planned how I would deck out my chaise lounge. Did I want only a cushion upon it? Maybe it needed a ruffle? I cruised photographs online for inspiration and built a picture in my mind. It has been well over a month since I sprained my ankle badly and even my sore foot seemed to be imagining restful afternoons gently elevated for some healing time.
      Today it finally arrived. How exciting! It came in a massive container, in the rain, in a box that would not fit through the front door. So there I was, unpacking the pieces and dragging them indoors. Every inch was wrapped in cardboard and plastic wrap, but finally I got to the chair. With my careful planning the cushion fit almost perfectly, needing only to have the end trimmed into a curve to fit into the chair section. I arranged the pillows and decided to add a battenburg lace tablecloth I have had for years beneath the cushion like a dust ruffle. I put on tea and sat down. Heaven.

 My fainting couch

      I have spent the last two afternoons relaxing with some hand sewing and one of my cats, who loves the lounger as much as I do. Now there's room for the both of us to relax.

Miss Secret enjoying the lounger

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March 12, 2016

A Couple of Antiques



     On March 4th my husband and I celebrated our 36th wedding anniversary. It doesn’t seem as if we have been together that long. I have been joking all week that we have been married longer than I have been alive but the truth is that until I met him I’m not sure I ever felt completely alive. Now, after all those years, he is a part of me and every aspect in my life. He is my closest friend, my lover, my confident and sometimes my conscience. He bails me out when I handle the finances badly and is generous in unexpected ways. He makes me laugh every single day and fills the house and my life with music. He shares and understands my compulsion to create. Every one of those things is very important to me. More than anything he makes me happy.

     To celebrate our time together we took a day to do one of the things I adore, namely antique shopping in a village not far from where we live. It’s about an hour’s drive, although we still manage to get lost on our way out there every time into beautiful Pennsylvania Dutch country. We leave the suburbs for green rolling hills, cow pastures and silos and no computers or televisions. On our ride in the car we turn off the radio and enjoy being together. We talk - that would be mostly my part - and unwind. At the end of our ride we find Adamstown, Pennsylvania, purportedly The Antique Capitol of the World. I’m not sure if that's true but there certainly are plenty of places to spend the day browsing amid the aisles of old fashioned collectibles and knickknacks.


A beautiful stained-glass panel. An anniversary gift from my husband.

     We like to make our first stop at The Mad Hatter shop. Inside this converted hat factory there are rows of glass cases for those who love old jewelry and trinkets interspersed with areas of collectibles and tons of pieces from the fifties. It always makes me smile to see things like those shiny aluminum drinking glasses like the ones we had as kids, and blue glass Noxzema bottles, which graced our medicine cabinet in my home when I was a child. Although I’m not sure those aluminum glasses were good for us, there was never any glass of fresh lemonade any more chilling on a summer’s day than the one in that metal drinking vessel.


Vintage Aluminum Glasses

Old Noxzema Jars



Dresden rosebud candle holders.

     From there we like to visit the Lancaster County Antiques Market for a more hands-on experience. This shop is a co-op where many dealers sell their antiques and a great place to be able to pick up the items and enjoy the feel of them. Most are not in glass cases and since I like to get my hands dirty antiquing, this is one of my favorite shops. The shopkeepers are warm and interactive and I love visiting there. 


     We visited the Heritage Antique Center which is what I would call more of a collector’s haven. Many items are encased in glass shelves, which seems responsible, since they have cases of war memorabilia and antique weapons such as muskets and flintlocks. Their assortments are lovely and many are in mint condition. My husband especially enjoys this shop because of the combat pieces.

Milk-glass shakers

     Along our way we have seen elaborate mermaid fountains that stand fifteen feet high, extremely ornate lamps and Victorian estate furniture. There are campaign buttons for past presidential elections and milk glass galore. I love that we find simple old pieces like mixing bowls and toasters far better than those made today and usually for less money. We find these shops filled with treasured items and history. When we are spent, we stop for a late, hot lunch and after another shop or two start our ride home, tired and content. In the back seat we always bring back a pretty trinket or two, maybe an old book or a pretty vase for flowers. I love getting home and finding a special place amid my own collection of our lives together to add these few new, old pieces and give them some more life and love. I love shopping and romance and we always combine the two on our visits there.  It’s the perfect anniversary day for a couple of antiques like us.


 Antique mixing bowls

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March 5, 2016

The Eight Step Garden Plan

     

     My yard is plenty big, unusual and a challenge to maintain. You enter the front door from one level and the basement in the back from another. In between there are lots of stairs. This has its advantages since it adds so much interest to the garden, but it also means dragging equipment up and down for maintenance and plenty more steps in any day of yard work.

The yard from the deck level last summer

     This early spring, as the bulbs begin to emerge, I'm feeling overwhelmed. Last year’s leaves and tufts of old grass are beginning to peek out from every corner and the whole yard looks a mess. Ordinarily I try to get a handle on it all as soon as the weather warms, but I end up stiff and exhausted and never seem to get to all of the details I would like. So this year I have devised a new plan with eight steps.
     Right now, in late February, a few buds are emerging and here and there we're seeing temperatures in the fifties. It’s not time yet for flowers and lawn chairs, but it is certainly warm enough for some raking and pruning before the weather turns hot. Since our springs and autumns are far too short here, I like to get a jump on the seasons. And so, now is the time to try out my plan.
     I started by walking around the yard with a new eye this year. I certainly can see all of the jobs I need to do, but right now I’m not focusing on the whole. Instead I am trying to see the yard in sections, or levels. Some parts of the yard are easily kept, such as the lawn in the back. It is fairly level and not very big. Mostly a good regular mowing keeps it neat once the winter leaves are gone. The garden sections however need more work and take up much more energy. They need weeding and the flowers need deadheading and that takes time. Even though the garden now requires much less stooping and kneeling in the dirt, due to the built in garden levels, it still is plenty of work.
     As I walked around the property I broke down the yard into what I figure will be eight, manageable areas and I made some notes. I also inspected some plants that I have in the yard that are unhappy. The biggest gardening rule I have learned over the years is “location, location, location”. If a plant is not in the right spot where it's getting the sun it needs, or the shade or enough air movement or space, I’m wasting my time trying to get it to grow well. I once put a weeping cherry in the yard and it did not fare well. When I replaced it with a river birch that likes wet feet and dry leaves, both I and the tree were happy. With this in mind I planned moving several plants.

My river birch from the deck level

      The plan calls for me to tackle one section at a time. Each should not take more than a day or two to get into good shape. I vowed that, as much as possible, I would stay focused until I was satisfied. Then I made a list:



     My first item is what I call the “kitchen level”. It is the uppermost area of the yard where most people enter the garden from the front. It is mostly a narrow path and not especially interesting, along the northeast side of the house, and opens to an area outside of the kitchen corner of the house. It’s there on that high level that I keep my trusty clothesline. Someone long ago planted a mess of ivy along the house and it always needs a good pruning. In the past I have not paid much attention to that level and it was the perfect place to start because of that. So I did.

The kitchen level (on the top right) last summer

    First I moved a large hydrangea from the top of the stone wall. It had stopped blooming three years ago and wilts all summer in the hot sun. I moved it closer to the steps where the soil is better and away from the dry, stone wall and then I brought up a climbing rose that was buried in deep shade down by the garage. I cut back ivy all along the house and ordered a huge trellis for the roses and made a little lattice section to fit under the stairs. I have threatened to do this for years, but never got around to it. I replaced the dead bulbs in the landscaping lights, pruned back the butterfly bush and raked well. It took most of the day and I learned a real lesson. Focus makes a huge difference.

Digging up the hydrangea


Hydrangea moved.



Trellis up



Ready for leaves and flowers to emerge



Lattice panel made from lumber scraps


    Instead of feeling overwhelmed because there was no way I could get to everything at once in my yard, I got one area done to my satisfaction and done with more detail than in previous years. Then I packed it in for that day. In the end I felt I had made a major accomplishment. Now, if the relocated plants are happier in their new digs, a part of my yard I didn’t mess with much should look much better. It's only one section but I'm good with that. So far I'm liking my plan!
     I'm ready to move on and tackle my yard with more focus and hopefully better results overall. Let’s see what happens!

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