Girl Talk, Home Improvements

The Thrill of the Chaise

For as long as I can remember, I’ve wanted a chaise lounge.  As a young girl I must’ve seen one on television or in a movie, because I imagined myself, grown up, sitting on my own chaise just like Cleopatra on her barge.  The glamour and luxury such a piece of furniture promised…

Each time I moved to a new place, my desire was renewed.  I could see myself on a rainy Saturday, sprawled out with a book, or dreamily napping on a lazy Sunday afternoon.  But a chaise lounge is not the most practical piece of furniture when you live in a small space.  And every chaise I came upon was either too big, or too ornate, or too extravagant.   I all but gave up my search.

Even before I moved into my house, the bay window in the dining room was crying out for a chaise.  The time was right and the search was on!  There was the pink satin one that looked like it belonged in the parlor of a bordello; another, so industrial with its straight geometric lines, was well-suited for a psychiatrist’s office; and the wave-shaped style was too avant-garde for me.  I felt like Goldilocks with the three bowls of porridge.

Two weeks before Christmas, I found what I was looking for online.  But there was a catch.  Actually two catches.  The manufacturer informed me the model was to be discontinued on December 31st and the only showroom where I could go to see the chaise was located in New Jersey.  How badly did I want this chaise, and was I willing to drive 260 miles to sit in it?

It was perfect.  And the navy blue jacquard fabric I chose strikes just the right balance between classic and chic.  I handed the saleswoman my credit card – Merry Christmas to me!

My chaise is ready and waiting to be delivered, but there’s been one final catch.  Work is so crazy that I haven’t been able to take a day off.  Do you know how long it takes to get a Saturday delivery?   So I must wait a little longer…

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Girl Talk, Writers and Writing

A Writer’s Writer – Carson McCullers

She was a rock star.  Her first novel, The Heart is a Lonely Hunter, brought her critical acclaim at the age of twenty-three and she made her mark on the literary scene of the 1940’s and ‘50’s at a time when the field was still overwhelmingly dominated by men.  Her body of work hauntingly echoed the themes of loneliness, unrequited love, and being different.  A southern gothic writer, she railed against racism and homophobia – and her message still resonates today.  Her name was Carson McCullers.

While living in a Brooklyn brownstone called “February House” with a menagerie of other writers and artists, she wrote The Member of the Wedding.  When she was in residence at Yaddo Artists’ Colony, she penned The Ballad of the Sad Café.  Later, as her health was failing, her home was a Victorian with a wrap-around porch and a view of the Hudson River, not far from where I grew up.  Each time I passed by that house, I imagined Carson, decades earlier, sitting on her porch, peering from her window as she sat at her typewriter, perhaps walking down South Broadway in the mornings.

When I came upon a grainy, 1958 recording of her reading from her work, I was awestruck.  There was a fragility in her voice, which quivered, as though she were about to cry.  That shakiness, along with her thick Georgia accent, conjured in my mind an elderly southern lady rather than a woman who, at the time, was only forty-one-years-old.

Carson McCullers left us a beautiful literary legacy.  Whether you’re looking for a thought-provoking book for yourself, or a good-read for your book group, her prose is lovely and her message will surely ignite great discussion.

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Girl Talk, Life Lessons

Wonder Women

Girl Power has created a whole generation of wonder women.  And I am grateful that so many of these ladies have had my back in times of crisis or as I was navigating a major life event.

I didn’t plan it that way.  It just sort of happened.

It started with the medical profession.  When my primary care physician was retiring, the doctor coming in as replacement was a young woman, just starting out.  I was told she was “good with women’s issues.”  She wasn’t just good, she was great.  Over the years, she referred me to a female ob-gyn, and a female surgeon who, in turn, recommended a female oncologist. When it was time to pick an eye doctor and I could’ve gone with the stern-looking older gentleman with the bow-tie, or the gal who was my age and dressed in smart Talbots separates, who do you think I chose?  And yes, my dentist is also a woman.  The bottom-line: I am healthy today because of the collective skill, smarts, and compassion of all these women.

Now let’s talk money.  After working with several young, fast-talking male financial advisors who left me confused and skittish about stocks and annuities, I got lucky and luck was a lady. My new financial advisor, a single woman like me, finally demystified the whole investing process and gave me confidence to boot.  Recently, I chose a well-known and successful Boston realtor – then a family member recommended an excellent real estate attorney, who in turn connected me with an accountant.  All three of these professionals are women and their collective acumen helped me move from a small condo to a house of my own.

I hope all this doesn’t sound like I’m anti-man.  Believe me, I like ‘em and I’m still hoping to marry one someday.  All I’m saying is that there’s a profound truth in that familiar quote about the iconic dancers Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers.  She did everything he did, only backwards and in high heels.

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Best of Boston, Life Lessons

Hear the Angel Voices

“Are you ready?” friends kept asking.  And it was starting to vex me.  Ordinarily, I would be ready.  But with a week left before Christmas, there were cards not yet written and cookies still to be baked.  Moving in November had really messed with my holiday preparations this year.

When a dear friend invited me to her son’s Christmas concert the final Sunday before Christmas, the left side of my brain flatly rejected the notion.  I had too much to do to spend a whole afternoon at a concert.  But the right side of my brain which, for southpaws like me, runs the show had me blurting out, “Sounds like fun – I’m all in.”

Intuitively, I knew I needed some Christmas spirit.  And an afternoon of Christmas carols sounded like just the thing.  But as I traveled the long, convoluted train ride to Dorchester I wondered if my time might have been better spent preparing for the holiday.  I was behind and still had so much to do before Christmas.

The concert was held in a beautiful old Catholic church with magnificent jewel-tone stained glass windows and majestic statuary.  Even thought I had not been there before, I felt welcomed amidst all the familiar symbols of my faith.

Shards of late afternoon sunlight streamed through the stained-glass windows, and I settled into my seat in the crowded church pew.  The young singers and musicians were middle- and high-school aged and they represented four different Boston choirs and musical ensembles.  As they gathered on the steps of the altar, I couldn’t help but notice that these youngsters were a diverse group – in age, in height, in ethnicity, each one beautiful and perfect in his or her own way.  I knew by reputation that they were talented and the moment they began to sing, their pure, sweet voices touched my heart.  This, I thought, is what angel voices must sound like.  A peace I had not felt for some time came over me.  Yes, I thought, I am ready.  I am ready for Christmas.

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Home Improvements

Ducks in a Row

I recently moved and all this change (read: disorder) has been jarring for a woman who inherited the cleaning gene and who’s so hyper-organized that I make a list of the lists I need to make.

This may be lost on those of you who don’t use a flat iron, but it took me four days to find mine.  Four days!  I should’ve marked the box that contained this miracle worker, magic wand “OPEN FIRST – Survival Kit” instead of “bathroom cabinet.”  Then there was the missing soap dish.  I was forced to put the slippery-when-wet bar in a zippy bag until I unearthed it.  But worst of all, when I opened the box marked “kitchen – coffee” there was the coffee maker but the filters were nowhere in sight.  Turns out they ended up as padding in a box that contained my favorite glass pitcher.

You’re probably wondering how such a list-maker extraordinaire couldn’t keep better track of what went into each of the 119 boxes that made the move.  I started out with a brand new spiral notebook, a package of fresh marker pens, bubble wrap, a mountain of newspapers, and miles of clear packing tape.  The plan was simple: number and label each box: #37 living room glass – fragile  # 38 dining room – good glass – SUPER fragile  # 39 dining room – Nanny’s stemware – EXTRA EXTRA FRAGILE.  Then I listed the contents of each numbered box in the spiral notebook.  But on that last frantic day before the move, things went terribly wrong.  Some of the boxes were numbered but not labeled and two of the boxes were labeled but not numbered.  Can you relate?

It’s been a month since the move and my ducks are finally in a row.  I’ve just about finished unpacking – for now that is.  But in a couple of months I’ll be gutting the kitchen and bathroom and, before the renovation project can begin, I’ll be packing up once more.

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Best of Boston, Life Lessons, The Brownstone

Opening a Door

All of my artwork has been removed from the walls, and I stand in a pared-down version of my living room, knee-deep in bubble wrap and packing tape.  Tomorrow when the moving truck comes, I’ll be leaving my home of the past 24 years.  This small brownstone apartment has been a haven for me, as well as a source of pride.

Built in 1888, my condo is rich with Victorian details, from the wainscoting and ornamental fireplace mantle, to the ceiling medallion in the living room.  A young woman has bought my place.  My realtor tells me she fell madly in love the moment she walked into the living room, awash in sunlight from the large curved bay window that overlooks Beacon Street.  The new owner is me, twenty-five years ago, and I am grateful that someone who loves this space, just as I have, will be living here.  To you, my younger self, who is about to cross this threshold with all your hopes and dreams, I say this:  each time you make yourself a cup of tea in your kitchen, watch the sunset from the roof deck, open your home to friends, know that one has come before you who knows exactly how you feel.  If you are half as happy as I have been here, you will be truly blessed.

As for me, I am ready to open a new door. And my new home has unique features of its own.  Two years shy of being a century old, this two-family house has retained much of its original detail and character.  Warm wood trim adorns each window and doorway.  Both the living and dining rooms boast bay windows.  The dining room’s built-in has lovely period leaded glass, and a butler’s pantry adjoins it with the kitchen.

This house needs no time, no holidays, no new memories to become my home.  It already is…  Like many older homes in the Boston metro area, this is a “family home” – with my brother living on the second floor and me on the first floor.

My arrival has my Italian-American next-door neighbors nodding in approval, “That’s nice,” they said, “keeping it in the family.”

“Yes,” I agree, “La familia!”

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Best of Boston, Writers and Writing

Honoring Jack

Pumpkins, large and small, adorn nearly every window box and doorstep in my neighborhood.  Along with the usual ghosts and witches, we here in the Bay State have easy access to the ultimate Halloween spectacle.  Salem may be a quaint New England town steeped in history, mythology, and magic – but Salem in October is way too touristy for me.

Instead, I take a day trip to Lowell to visit the grave of one of my literary heroes – Jack Kerouac.

The first time I visited Kerouac’s grave, it was just before Halloween, and the anniversary of his death.  I arrived at Edson Cemetery with a crudely drawn map that a kindly gentleman at the Chamber of Commerce had given me and, as I made my way along the neat little rows of tombstones and markers, I marveled at the extraordinary shades of yellow, orange, and red leaves underfoot and overhead.  Kerouac’s grave was an unassuming flat slab that was flush to the ground.  This is what it said:

 

“TI JEAN”

JOHN L. KEROUAC

MAR. 12, 1922 – OCT. 21, 1969

– HE HONORED LIFE –

STELLA HIS WIFE

NOV. 11, 1918 – FEB. 10, 1990

There had been many recent visitors to the grave, fans, and writers perhaps, because they’d left unopened bottles of imported beer, packs of Camel cigarettes, flowers, and sheets of poetry, some handwritten and some typed, in several different languages.

I sat on the ground and took out a bottle of champagne and my worn paperback copy of On the Road.  I purposely shook the bottle so that when I popped the cork, the bubbly came gushing out just like it does in the winning team’s locker room.  I took a small drink before pouring the entire bottle onto the grass, letting it soak right into the ground so he could enjoy it.

Then I opened my book to a random page and started reading.  There in that graveyard was all the history, mythology, and magic I needed.

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