Monday, July 30, 2012

houzz - improved?

As I may have mentioned, I'm a big fan of houzz. Where else can you find dozens (maybe hundreds) of images of professional-quality design that help you answer those unanswerable questions - How do I arrange living room furniture around three doors? How many different colors can I paint my kitchen cabinets and not look crazy? How small a bathroom can I make look cute instead of claustrophobic? Should I paint my living room walls purple?  

(The answer to all of these questions is "yes," by the way.)

In addition to searchable photo files, which you can assemble into your own "ideabooks," houzz offers illustrated articles by a group of approved writers, talking about everything from what to do with brass hardware to how to lay out garden beds to fascinating drapery ideas. I saw this ideabook the other day, on decorating a dining room. I think the stuff she found is cute, and I like the idea. But I think it could be a little more bargain-priced, and I thought I might be able to help with that...

She started with a nice sideboard in a happy color:


But it's $800.  This one from Amazon has even more vibrant color, and is $199:

Granted, that's not cheap, but it's quite a savings, and this piece has a lot of style. (The distressing is a little aggressive for my taste, but I guess that's what the kids are doing these days.)   Alternatively, if we're going to spend a couple hundred dollars, why not buy a real antique?  This beauty (complete with velvet-lined silverware drawer; please ignore the stereo components) is $100 on the DC-area craigslist:


Then she found this harvest dining table:

While it's not what I chose for my dining room, I really do love this style. But it can be had for less than the $1995 Williams-Sonoma is charging. For example, this expandable table from World Market is $699:

That's still a lot for a dining room table, I grant you - more than I was willing to spend. I think if you want a retail item, you pay retail (and maybe wait for a sale). But if you are a bargain shopper who is willing to do a bit of work, and think broadly about your requirements, there are always options.  Obviously, I love craigslist, and for this post I've stuck to just my local craigslist (to be fair about what's available).  And this little number is $100 and 68" long:

The article then suggests a set of "timeless dining chairs." These babies, in white, are $475 each:

I agree that this has a sort of vintage-gone-modern quality to it. But that seems like a lot for chairs, to me. I think I'd go for this Tolix-style number. They're $99 apiece at World Market:

(Overstock has a similar item - without the distressed finish - at $200 for four, or $180 for four in white.) If the industrial look is not your thing, you could go for these French bistro-inspired pieces (which have a bit of timelessness to them, I think), for $260/pair, also at World Market:

Next, we have a $999 bar cart:

I know this early-twentieth-century style cart has come back in in a big way. It doesn't really appeal to me (perhaps because I don't drink or serve liquor).  If you want one, of course, the thing to do is find a REAL vintage one. Way better conversation piece. And did I mention the price?  But this actually retro piece is $95 on craigslist:


Then the article throws in a few tabletop items. Now these I like!

Of course at $90 a glass I think they're a little dear. (I wouldn't want to be a guest and break something worth that much!) These have a slightly different look, but I think they're quite elegant too, and they're rather more reasonable, at $20 per flute:

Next we have a $329 hanging set of pillar candles:

I think this is really lovely (this idea it even figures into a photo I had saved). But again, $329 seems like a lot. On Amazon, I found this wrought iron candelabra for real taper candles. It's Amish-made, which means exceptional craftsmanship, and at $19, you could buy two!

Our friendly ideabook then suggested this rug (in the blue, I believe):

It's a nice rug. But in the 7x9 size, Ballard Designs will charge you $699 for it - and it's just woven cotton! Personally, I'd go for something with a lot more color - as well as less white and more pattern, since it will inevitably be home to many crumbs. If you like the modern, this one from Overstock is hand-hooked wool, a bit bigger than 7x9, and $333:

If you'd prefer a synthetic for the dining room and want to go for the color, this one is yet larger and just $213:

Just a few days ago, Overstock had a version of this (the "overdyed" look) in purple. I've also seen it in fuchsia, turquoise, and chartreuse, which I think would be excellent. Worth checking back!
Next the ideabook has plates that I'm going to ignore, because I don't like them. We all have plates already. And then it has this, from West Elm:

I have seen this item before. I think it is stunning. At $99 it is more than I will spend on a trinket, because it's not something my dining room needs. But at that price, it is reasonable as a splurge. There's no point in a budget option - if you love it, buy it. The end.

So next the ideabook has placemats, which I also do not like. I'm generally not big on placemats. For casual table-covering (i.e., not a tablecloth), I'd go for a runner instead, and I really love sari-print. Maybe something like this, from Saffron Marigold:

Or this:

They're both $35-$55, depending on the size. Given that the suggested placemats are $23.80 apiece, seating 8 would run you $190.40 - a lot more than a really pretty runner! OK, next we have a $249 wall mirror in "natural wood":

Ikea used to have that great big leaning mirror for $99. I can't find it on their website now. I think that would be a nicer alternative. World Market also has a fancypants 46" mirror for $100:

But if you want a mirror to lean on the mantle or hang on the wall, I would go antique. Like so:

Thank you, again, craigslist. That 38" wide piece is just $40. (I think it's upside-down, though.)  Next up: lamp.

I love lamp
. It's very pretty. It's $335. This $47 one from Target is pretty darn similar:

Well, you also have to buy a lampshade.  So, a couple more dollars.  That brings us to the $499 dining bench:


It's a nice bench. But we can do better. For $100 on craigslist, you can have this super-fantastic item:

If you want the modern shape, World Market has this one for $200:

And Ikea sells this nice solid-wood bistro-style bench for just $70:


Now we move on to one of my favorite subjects: wallpaper. The ideabook offers a printed grasscloth that's quite handsome:

It's also so expensive the designer doesn't even post the prices on his website. That's bad. I have a few suggestions, from my favorite (family-owned) wallpaper distributor, Eades Wallpaper. First, I think the room still needs more color. So I like this (budget!) option, at just $23/roll:

A word of caution - this might not be the paper to choose with the red rug and the red buffet, unless there are also several other strong colors in the room. It would look like Christmas all the time. If we wanted to go really fancy with the paper (but still nowhere near as pricey as the ideabook suggests), there's this option, with metallic gold details, for $38/roll:

Depending on the scale of the dining room and how the wallpaper samples looked when I got them home, I might go with just one wall in the paper, and color-match the paint for the other walls to the paper's background. Alternatively (as I did in my dining room), one could paper everything above the chair rail, and paint below.
I think everyone's already good on plates and flatware, so I'll skip those. The next suggestion in the ideabook is $34/panel curtains from West Elm:

I can't complain about the price. They're nice-looking, too.  I'd also consider Ikea's gray linen, or the green velvet.  (These are fun too.  But we'll have to concentrate carefully to get all our colors to match!) 

And finally, the ideabook suggests Ikat napkins:

I like Ikat and those are very pretty.  But personally, I prefer white cloth napkins so they can be bleached. Plus they wouldn't clash with my table runners!
OK, I'm done with my little internet decorating treasure hunt. Anyone else want to play?

Thursday, July 19, 2012

home again

We spent the last weekend visiting with my husband's family.  His parents and one of his brothers still live in the house where he grew up, and his sister and her six children (including our six-month-old godson) were visiting.  Another of the brothers was also there the evening we arrived - it was a pretty good reunion.  We also managed to squeeze in a trip to the town where I grew up (two hours away), and hitched up a U-Haul trailer and picked up the few things that remained of the near-legendary storage unit that for six years held the things removed from the huge and crumbling house my mother left (in foreclosure) when she flew back to her childhood home on the West Coast in 2006. 

Strange business. 

We are now not only the owners, but the proud possessors (non-attorneys can just ignore that last bit, I suppose) of a number of delightful family heirlooms.  In my basement is my great-grandmother's Lane cedar hope chest, waiting for my sister to fetch it when she has a place to bring it to.  (It's in amazingly good condition - I would say it doesn't even need to be stripped.)  Next to it is the same great-grandmother's corner china cabinet, which is waiting for my brother.  It's also in amazingly good condition (the storage unit was home to mice, birds, and mold, alongside my mother's furniture and servingware - which were slowly robbed by some of the malicious and petty folk in the town where I had the curious fortune to grow up). 

My prize out of the lot was an antique library table that my mother actually purchased somewhere or other, and once mentioned wanting me to have.  Because it's shallow and relatively tall, I thought it might offer a design solution to our long and narrow sun porch, which 'till now I have just piled with junk I didn't have another location for.  (A great first impression for people walking in the back door.)  Of course, the library table was in the worst shape, with its top at an odd angle (I've peered underneath and not seen an obvious cause, but I expect I can fix that), and its finish in terrible condition.  I've already chemically stripped it, and a thorough scrubbing, re-gluing bits of loose trim veneer on the legs, patching uneven spots in the stain, and waxing the whole thing are next. 

And we picked up a few treasures from my in-laws', too.  The super-awesome white-painted cabinet I remembered (repairs proceeding this week, with a vigorous repainting next - I may share pictures), and the tall TV cabinet.  It's too small for a modern TV on the inside, but it has lots of room for the VCR, stereo components, and some movies, and the hulking plasma sits comfortably on top.  It puts it about five feet higher than the decorating pros say it's supposed to be, but it kind of gives a movie theater appearance, I think.  But I also ended up with some lovely vintage water glasses, a small side table my DH would not agree to part with (I endeavor not to acquire occasional furniture, which I find has a tendency to infest, but I do admit the finish is rather pretty), and the most beautiful Bible I've ever seen.  It's an English translation of the Vulgate, with a deeply-embossed leather cover (that's nearly come off - I need to figure out how to repair the binding), leaves deeply browned with age, and intricate pen-and-ink illuminations.  It's huge, too - weighs at least five pounds.  I can't display it until I fix it, but I'm going to have to find a very special place for it. 

Despite my fascination with antiques and home decor, these items were probably not the most interesting take-away from the visit.  As noted above, we met my nephew and (only) godson, who has Down's Syndrome.  (I have mentioned him here before.)  He is an absolute doll of a child - amid the considerable din created by his five older siblings, he is invariably happy and relatively quiet.  (Not because he's glassy-eyed, either - he's very alert, looking at all sorts of things, moving around all the time.  And he does some amount of talking, he's just not very loud, and basically never fussy.)  I got to feed him, change him, and try (unsuccessfully - though I am usually pretty good at this) to get him to sleep. 

Obviously this somewhat contravenes my usual "no babies" rule, but I assure you it has not been lifted.  Just today I have had to dodge an invitation by a friend to visit her imminently-due new baby (given I didn't even know she was expecting, I think we can agree that she's not a close enough friend for it to be profitable for me to treat her to my "I don't do babies" speech).  But I have been in a more resilient frame of mind lately, and hanging out with the baby seemed far less onerous than subjecting all of my in-laws to the speech.  Plus, when it came right down to it, I didn't find that it upset me to hold him.  I didn't make a big show of it - his mother needed help, and I wasn't doing anything.  Not so complicated. 

Besides, the baby himself (though he is only six months old, and unlikely to achieve significant intellectual development) strikes me as belonging on the side of Those Who Know.  For those prancing naively and self-aggrandizingly about tiring the world with talk of their blessings, I can summon up no patience, which can be trying when significant patience is called for.  (And with such people, it very often is.)  But I find it easy to take seriously the lives and perspectives of those who know suffering and loss, even when they don't agree with me (as everyone always should).  Although the baby will probably grow into one of the most happy and grateful adults I'll know, he still gets plenty of credit in that department. 

Actually, he's not the only one.  I know the typical rule is that the vocationally anomalous (childless couples, older-than-expected singles) are ill-advised to return home to small-town America, where their lives will not be understood, and they will be constantly pressured to conform (even if it is impossible) to a too-standard idea of what their lives should look like.  I can see the logic of this rule.  But it is not consistent with my experience.  I work in, and live outside, a small but quite snotty city.  It appears to be composed entirely of yuppies (yes, I know I am one myself), who are bent on achieving - or perhaps I should say acquiring - whatever they want, and certainly whatever everyone around them has.  Friend buys a house?  You buy one.  Friend has a baby?  You get pregnant.  Can't get pregnant with a baby?  Buy one.  There's not a lot of just living in whatever one's circumstances are. 

It's not that way in small-town America, I find.  Everyone there knows someone who just never got married (not "not yet," never); a family that never had kids; a family whose kids just turned out sadly; a couple whose marriage ended badly, not in a rain of affairs and high living, but just in heartbreak; someone whose child died tragically, too young; someone who can't find a job, or was grievously injured, or is sickly - any number of things.  It's not easily concealed from one's acquaintance, not lightly glossed over with substitutions, and no one in a small town can live anonymously from his neighbors, the isolated person "with problems" while everyone else has a magazine-cover life. 

What's more, because these crosses are known and accepted, because they're borne by people the townsfolk have known for twenty years (or eighty), and sometimes by people who are models of joy and love, they're not shameful.  Maybe people say, on occasion, "It's too bad, they never had kids," but that's in more or less the tone of, "It's too bad, corn isn't on sale this week."  Their lives are their lives.  And in addition to the various family members, guests at my in-laws' this weekend included two delightful ladies: my husband's "unofficial aunt," who never married, and a friend from my in-laws' parish, whose husband of almost forty years died this year, and who was kind enough to let us stay with her (since there was no room at my in-laws' house).  We had to check his obituary to be sure, but she and her late husband never had children. 

While I think of my childlessness as casting a shadow over a great number of conversations - the new acquaintance who ask, "Do you have any kids?"; the acquaintance of long standing who discuss their children without interruption for an hour; the actual friends who want to know about infertility and treatment - neither the one woman's childlessness nor the other's life-long singleness was even an issue.  Not mentioned, not tiptoed around, and casting no shadows on either of them that I could discern.  They talked about their lives, and the town, and the weather, and religion, and politics - just themselves, who they were.  They're in their seventies, so I suppose they've earned it. 

In fact, at one point, with my SIL particularly harried over the challenges of bedtime, my FIL said, "Don't worry.  The first twenty-five years of marriage are the hardest."  Everyone laughed, and I turned to the delightful lady we were staying with, and asked, "What do you think?  Was that your experience?"  My father-in-law didn't hear her answer, which was, "Oh, no.  It was always wonderful, for us.  We got along so well.  We loved all the same things.  We just loved being with each other."  She retired in her fifties (her husband, who was a few years older, had already retired) so they could travel together.  She had been a professor at the local state university, and published the most widely-used textbook in her field - by far the most significant career of any woman in her generation living in that town.  But we had to ask her where she'd worked.  The one clear thing anyone meeting her would recognize is that she is kind.  And she didn't mention this, either, but my in-laws told us that she gets up every morning at six to go to the cemetery and pray the Rosary with her husband, at his grave. 

I know I'll get trapped in my small universe again in no time, but for a short time, I have to be reminded that reality is larger than whatever I'm struggling with.  And I have to say, I'm mourning my lost youth these days, but I really look forward to being old. 

Saturday, July 7, 2012

mixed babies*

Two stories...

The other night, two nights ago actually, I had a dream.  It was at the end of the night, almost morning, almost time to wake up.  I dreamed I was expecting, in the late stages of pregnancy.  And then I had the baby - the dream included labor; it was an odd, dream version of labor, not completely logical, not including all the facts that even I know would be included, but the story continued its natural progression.  And so then I had the baby, a take-home baby, and I was still me, still infertile, with this shocking unexpected baby.  And I didn't know what to call him.  Everyone wanted to know his name, and I couldn't figure it out, which surprised everyone, and bewildered and distressed me.  But I just worked on it in my mind, and it took me days.  And in two or three days - a shockingly long time, for someone who so knows her own mind about these things - I decided that his name should be Christopher.  And then some time after that I woke up.

During the dream, I moved toward waking a couple of times.  (Those are the only dreams I remember - the ones that happen when I'm nearly awake.  I'll go years without noticing I've had a single dream; I'm sure I have them, I just don't remember them.  I rarely have nightmares.)  You know how sometimes when you're partly-awake, you'll have vague thoughts that reflect on the dream, that indicate you realize you're dreaming?  "That's not logical" or "I shouldn't be thinking about this" or, with a nightmare, "I should wake up and stop this," or whatever; but you're not awake, so you can't easily change the path of your thoughts and you drift back into sleep.  I think twice during that dream, I drifted far enough toward wakefulness to remember that I wasn't pregnant; that I'm infertile and this was all very unreal; and that entertaining a dream on this subject could hurt me and I would be wise to stop.  But I didn't step away from the dream, I faded back into it, and I was OK.

After I woke up, I lay there for a while, thinking about it.  I know the strange delay in choosing a name (I've had children's names picked out for years) was a direct expression about my ambivalence about having a child - that it's truly not a part of my life, and its lack has in many ways been definitive for me - and also my recognition (in the dream's reality) of how big a deal this was.  Also, I have no explanation at all about the name Christopher.  It's not a family name, I've never had any particular devotion to or fascination with St. Christopher, and I would not actually name a child that.  (Not that it's not a nice name; it just has no particular appeal to me.)

Second story...

A friend of my husband's from college started dating a girl who had just graduated from college.  He was ten or twelve years older.  His friends were all skeptical when the relationship started, but the two got married.  I met her only once, for ten seconds at another wedding, not long after they were married.  A few years later, a friend of mine went to PPVI to see Dr. Hilgers, and ran into the wife there.  Turns out they were also having problems conceiving (they had been married just a couple of years).  And she had gotten married at just 22!  (Sometimes I forget that I was 23.)

A few months later, we were surprised to hear their marriage was having real problems - we weren't sure on the details or how serious they were, but the fights sure sounded serious, with her saying that she'd never thought the marriage was a good idea.  Then they separated.  Then they divorced.  Not long after, she was seeing someone else (I don't know how long that had been going on).  It should be noted that these people are visibly devout Catholics, from Very Catholic Families - although, of course, such people can fall as well as the rest of us.

I wondered whether their marriage had just had too many difficulties, and infertility was just one burden too many (something I've thought about my marriage, too); would they have been OK, if they had been able to have children (and would children have occupied her emotional energy, such that she wouldn't have fretted herself to death about her marriage)?

While the annulment was still pending, the husband started dating a young woman I know - also very Catholic, and someone I like, but someone who has a lot of issues of her own.  I was inclined to think that both of them had chosen the relationship as a form of rebellion, because they were unhappy or unsettled, and knew they shouldn't be dating each other.  I didn't take it at all seriously.  Then I heard that they were engaged.  I was surprised, and apprehensive for both of them.  I knew his annulment had just gone through (and, obviously, they were dating beforehand).  It didn't quite work out in my mind.  And then I learned that she was expecting.  And he had to leave his job.  Which I assume dictated the timing of the proposal, and perhaps the proposal itself.  (I can't claim to know for sure.)

The obvious response (OK, the obvious IFer response) is, "Well, it wasn't MFI."  But of course, I don't know that.  It could be the mother (ha!) of all bad luck.  Not being able to have a child could have been the end of his first marriage.  Being able to have a child could be the beginning and end (if the marriage turns out fundamentally unsound, which seems possible) of his second.  I don't know that, and I wish them well, but their path so far has been extremely rocky, and they're just starting out.

I've written before about how it gives me a curious kind of solace that I'm not the only person who has to carry a cross, and we should all acknowledge our sufferings and try to bear one another up (rather than bore people to tears about our blessings and paint our lives as entirely rosy when that's nobody's reality).  Not to the exclusion of gratitude - but we can be grateful for the crosses, too, and still call them crosses.  I've written specifically about how I know that babies do not exactly present themselves as blessings for some people, in some circumstances.  But I've never written about (or encountered) a situation like this.  The irony really packs a punch.

It's not about the babies, is it?  There's a much greater reality afoot.

*No, this is not a post about multiracial children.  That's not really one of my areas.