Paper Chase

I kind of have a thing for paper.

Stationery of all kinds—note cards, correspondence cards, letter paper. Invitations—oh yes! They are irresistible, at times.

Don’t even get me started on paper cocktail napkins; I can’t help myself. The poor Mister simply shakes his head. He used to ask how many napkins I could really use in one lifetime especially since we use cloth for every meal. He gave up when he discovered I’d given over an entire kitchen drawer to my stash. They’re organized chronologically, if you will, by season or by holiday. Of course, some can work year round, like the pineapple on lime green ground. I actually bought the Pierre Frey ocean-themed ones to take to the beach this summer. The Christmas ones aren’t even in this drawer.

And just so you know, I can stop buying them anytime I want to.

Heart’s desire

It’s time to plan a party; it’s been a while.  The Mister and I used to host a couple of large parties every year as well as small dinner parties, book club meetings, Bible study groups, and, of course, family birthday parties and children’s parties.  I loved having people over no matter whether it was a formal, sit-down affair, a buffet, a potluck, or cake and ice cream.  Sadly, since we have moved, that hasn’t been the case.  And I have to admit, it’s mostly my fault.  I’ve spent way too much time mourning our old house, which was ideally suited for entertaining.  Still.  The best parties are always about the people, not the place.  So, after watching Julie and Julia yet again, I was inspired to plan a Valentine’s Dinner. 

After all, the Childs’ dining room looked pretty small.  valentine pic
valentine partyAnd, the party looked like a lot of fun!   I love the big red hearts, the paper chain, and, the red roses!  Menu suggestions, anyone?

What am I forgetting?

Our accommodations in Peru are rather, um, basic.  We’re not staying here at the Presidential Palace, after all.
Our digs will be much more humble, and that’s to be expected—one of our tasks in Chimbote is to build a soup kitchen.  What that means for me is that I need to pack more than the black knits, scarf, and toiletries that I usually throw in my bag “the morning of.”  For instance, if you like coffee, bring it.
NTC_Original6stk  Bring cream and sugar, too. Hot water will be available.
coffee mateIf you don’t really fancy corn mush for breakfast for eight days, then you’ll want to bring instant oatmeal, or grits, perhaps.
There’s a strong chance that guinea pig will be served at least once. DSC01197 There’s a one hundred percent chance that I will not eat it, so it’s good to have a jar of peanut butter tucked into my suitcase.
Then, we also have to bring towels and bed linens, work gloves and work clothes.  Batteries.  220 converter.  Sunscreen.  Hats. Bug spray.  Gifts for the children we meet.  Cameras.
What am I forgetting?
Oh, I know.
Chocolate almonds.

Antique of the Week

If you love antiques—and I do—this is a great time of the year.  For starters, today concludes Antiques Week in New York—a time when amazing shows and auctions abound for serious collectors of American and European antiques.  If you are interested in primitives or country, then you are probably looking forward to Heart of Country in Nashville in February.  I won’t be attending either of those events this year, but I will be tromping through the fields at the Reninger’s extravaganza next month in Mount Dora, Florida.  There’s no black-tie gala preview, but there are acres of wares, and many a find is hidden amid the dreck.  Antiquing is one of my favorite pastimes, but with all the treasures and “scores” have come a few “hard lessons learned.”  I have concentrated on collecting American country furniture, but I have English things as well; they are generally much more affordable.  So, will I manage to post an antique every week?  Will they all be from my own collection?  Too soon to say, but below is the Sheraton cherry chest I bought at one of the first shows I attended.
IMG_0679 Originally, this chest was placed along the wall in our front hall, where amazingly its drawers were left empty!  On to a house with less storage space, and the chest held a position in the dining room, holding linens and a few serving pieces.  A sideboard later, and the chest is in a bedroom, where its contents are chiefly socks and pajamas and exercise clothes.
The chest is cherry; the secondary wood is tulip poplar.  The top is one solid board.  The paneled sides were what first caught my eye when I glimpsed it in the back of a panel truck. I knew it was a Southern piece; my heart was beating hard as I examined it in the sunlight.
It’s had a few minor repairs, but the finish is original.  The cockbeading around the drawers and the elegant legs are really lovely.  I bought it on the spot, and was enormously pleased when I came home and found a remarkably similar chest in the Cheekwood catalogue, The Art and Mystery of Tennessee Furniture.

I’ve been its caretaker for 16 years now.  No regrets.
We’re leaving for Peru in only a few days, but I have a few posts lined up to publish while we’re away.  Here’s hoping that the technology all works, if not, I’ll be back in February!  Thanks for reading!

Count down

January 2008, journal entry

“A deep hollow lies between our house and that of our backyard neighbors.  My father would call it a gulley, a word not heard much these days outside rural America. The real estate agent may have called it a creek bed, and, in fact, a stream does run through it most of the year. After a big rain, it’s a regular freshet. The family that lived here before us cleared a good bit of the sloping backyard, but it will never be a lawn. The lot is heavily wooded. Kudzu is always creeping forward. The steep incline of the far side of the creek bed is covered with poplars and mimosa and ivy. I think there are a few wild dogwoods in the mix. In the summer, it forms what Eudora Welty so brilliantly called a “curtain of green,” providing privacy for us and for our neighbors. Idling on the back deck, I feel as if I’m hidden in a tree house. It’s a place I wear shorts without anxiety. In the evenings, sound carries and bounces around the hollow. Sometimes I hear laughter and music and smell the smoke from a charcoal fire. I imagine I can hear ice clicking in sweating glasses, and I wonder if I’d like to be at their party.

Instead I find myself at a summer party alive with Latin music. The dry and dusty air is heavily seasoned with the smells of sweat and roasted beef, from a cow slaughtered only hours and feet away. Tonight I am one of 25 gringos hosting a fiesta for the poorest people of Chimbote, Peru.

DSC01274 More experienced gringos than I estimate as many as 500 parishioners are present, each patiently seated in a straight back chair, awaiting the beef and yucca we serve on Styrofoam plates.

DSC01275 The youngest in attendance are the nursing babies; the oldest may be in their 80s, although it’s hard to tell.

DSC01279 Age comes quickly in Chimbote. Women in their forties look sixty, and women older than sixty are rare in this difficult place.


Tonight, however, the live band blares La Bamba, and I dance with old men and children. Little boys run up to me with clasped fists, crying “La Cucharacha!” in an attempt to frighten me, prompted by my husband, who is also making his first visit to Peru.


It’s hard to believe that only a few days ago, we were dreading this trip, wondering aloud why we were spending so much money to go to Peru. And now, we both dread leaving.”


We return one week from tomorrow.

Good Buy Girl

My name is Town and Country Mom, and I am a Target shopper.  Recovering, Target shopper, that is.  What is it about that place?  When my children were little, I would go, list in hand, intending to buy diapers and detergent and baby socks and a birthday card.  I would come out with those things and a mirrored tray and a pair of whale print rain boots and a new book and some sort of holiday decoration and . . . .  Truly, a $40 list became a (mumbled) amount on a weekly basis.  The good news was that I always had enough quota for my Junior League donation.  The bad news was, well, I was spending money that could be used in a better way.  So, I put the brakes on, stuck to the list, and have learned that when something “off list” catches my eye to think along the lines of just because I can doesn’t mean I should.  There’s a surprising rush of freedom that comes with exercising a little self-control. 

And, then, there’s clearance.  So, without further adieu, here are my “off list” finds of last night. 

cheetah print shoe $11.  B001R1SX3M_16__SX400_SCLZZZZZZZ_V249334318_

$18.  For Little.  She thinks they are sooo cool.

 navy cardigan

$23. Cable cardigan in navy cotton.

Thinking about pink, white, and green as well, but they are so not on the list!

you've got mail$9.  One of my favorite romantic comedies. 

Whenever I change out the window or re-merchandise our little store, Go Fish I pretend I’m Kathleen Kelly, Meg Ryan’s character in this sweet, if completely unbelievable, story. 

So, there you have it.  My confession.  I’m back on the wagon.  One day at a time.

Off again, on again!

I have renewed respect for my family.  We have survived a little over a week without internet service.  I didn’t think we could do it; and, yes, we did have access to cyberspace at work and at school.  Still, it was a bit of an inconvenience.  Yesterday, however, our service was restored, and our ancient (c. 2004) desktop was permanently retired.  I think we’ll manage just fine with laptops.  Best of all, my wonderful Virginia cherry washstand—my first antique purchase--is no longer a computer desk!  I am enjoying planning how it will be used in this corner of the kitchen.  For now, I’m letting it “breathe.”


Truly, it wasn’t such a bad thing to be disconnected for a few days.  I was able to focus on the projects I wrote about earlier, and I was able to re-organize the closet under the stairs.  This closet becomes a crazy catch-all during the Christmas season, so it is delightful to have it fully operational again.  The bins are from Lowes.  I’d rather the bins all had the same trim color, but I couldn’t wait long enough for the next shipment.  I’m not sure which is the worst of those two traits—caring that closet storage containers match (also known as perfectionism) or being in such a hurry to finish (impatience).  I suspect the latter; what do you think?

closet bins closet bins

Either way, I’m flawed; but, happily, the closet is working just fine.  And, thankfully, so is the internet.

Piece of Cake

I’m quite sure I don’t spend as much time praying as I should.  My mind tends to wander, especially when faced with a menial task like washing dishes.  I like words, and so I often ponder why we say some of the things we do.  For instance, why do we say “when it rains, it pours”?  I mean, sometimes it merely drizzles.  And, why when reporting on dealing with a difficult person, do we say, “It was like walking on eggshells!”?  Really?  I think if you’re walking on eggshells, the damage has been done—walking on eggs, now that would take some skill!  Well, never mind; let me just say when it rains it pours.

First, I received—out of the cloudless sky—an interesting freelance editing assignment about the work of an, until recently, undiscovered contemporary artist.  My contribution will be to edit two essays by highly regarded and well-credentialed art historians, who teach and lecture at important institutions in New York City.  Sadly, their writing does not match their billing.  Extensive editing is required.  Re-writing.  A hatchet would do the job efficiently, but relationships (dealer, museum director, art historians) must be preserved, so I’m painstakingly using a scalpel and hoping for minimal scar tissue.  God help me.  

And this just in—an assignment of sorts to help a friend re-decorate a “problem” room at her house.  It’s a problem because She wants to approach the re-do one way, and, He wants to—not.  I love this stuff, figuring out a way to make everyone pretty happy and improve the space.  So, off to the fabric store.  Success!  Now, we just need a few sketches with paint suggestions and ideas for lamps and accessories.

So, into my lap fell two good and juicy projects, making me feel needed for more than clean laundry, and then, the Mister calls to say, “Guess who’s going to be in town on Wednesday, and who I invited to stay with us?”  Me (breathing deeply), trying to sound relaxed: “Um, gee, I don’t have any idea.”  Him:  “Best College Roommate Ever!”  Me: “Wow.”  So, this wonderful fellow will arrive and take Mr. T&C to dinner.  (I can’t go; it’s complicated.)  Then, they’ll return to T&C Manor for brandy and cigars, or more likely, cake and coffee.  Best Roommate will leave shortly after breakfast, but I expect it will be a late night.  We haven’t seen him for ten years, so lots of catching up and reminiscing, I’m sure.  I’m actually looking forward to the visit; and I know the Mister is, too.

In the meantime, I’m fluffing up the guest room, baking a red velvet cake, and researching Max Ernst, collage, and virtual simulacrums.


And I’ll be finding time to pray; I’ve got a lot to be grateful for.

Enjoying January

Initially I planned to title this post Surviving January, but that seems to be setting a rather low standard.  Better instead to enjoy this month of post-holiday celebration and excess.  The last couple of months of the year engage all the senses all the time, so January may seem rather abrupt in its stark simplicity.  With that in mind, here are some ideas to make the rest of the month, well, enjoyable.

Paperwhites are lovely to look at, and they have a distinct fragrance as well.  If you didn’t force your own bulbs, you can still buy the potted flowers at most florists and some groceries.  Crocus and hyacinth are available in some areas, too, and these have a milder scent than the paperwhites.

paperwhites white flower farm

Lemons brighten up some spots where Christmas decorations once caught my eye.  I use preserved ones in the front hall and family room.  Real ones in the kitchen.  Ina Garten, the beloved Barefoot Contessa, swears by drizzling lemon over almost everything to “brighten” the flavor.  Drizzle lightly.


Another bright spot for the Mister and me is ruby red grapefruit.  One for breakfast; half for lunch in salad—maybe with avocado; and half for dessert after dinner.  Heavenly.

grapefruit salad

Now, for comfort, cashmere socks.  Without a doubt these are on my top ten list of gifts to give and to receive.  For outside, add boots with a reasonable heel, which in my case means practically none, and walk tall.

cashmere socksfrye-paige-riding-boot,-$334_99 

Another item for comfort is a great handcream.  Neutrogena’s Norwegian formula is terrific—soothing and protective.  The Mister relies on it.  I love it, too, and use it faithfully before bed.  Throughout the day, though, I like something a little lighter, and my new favorite is L’Occitane’s Shea Butter hand cream.  I have one in my handbag and one in my top desk drawer.  My favorite scent is Acacia.

hand cream

If you’re staying in, then perhaps you need to check out It's a Golden Day and enter Bevy’s pink and green monogrammed snuggie giveaway!  She sure looks cozy!

And, finally, to truly enjoy January, I say Let’s eat up all that leftover Christmas chocolate!


Winter inspiration

On a bitterly cold night, there’s nothing I’d rather be doing than sitting near the fire leafing through some of my favorite design books while the Mister reads the paper, the children finish homework or noodle around on the computer, and Maid Marian snores gently at my feet.  If I’m feeling thin, which is never the case this soon after Christmas, I might even make a pot of decaf and pull out some biscotti.   If I’m feeling industrious, I’ll make notes as I page through, either listing items to look for at the next Antiques Extravaganza or sketching some ideas I can copy or pass on to a friend.  Most nights, I just feel sleepy. 

My favorite new book is this first one, New Classic Interiors.  Thanks, Santa.

new classic interiors

The rest of these I managed to buy for great prices through Amazon used books, although the Colonial Homes Classic American Decorating is now quite expensive.

colonial style

colonial homes

I probably look through Classic Greenwich Style at least once a month year round.  I am always seeing new details in those rooms!

greenwich bookAnd, of course, just when I think I can’t take Maid Marian’s fur, snoring, bad breath, water bowl sloshing one more minute, I glance through Living with Dogs and know how much she adds to this family.

dog book  

I don’t like people who don’t like dogs—I just don’t.—Brooke Astor

Transforming Little into Little Lady

Routine returned to T&C Manor yesterday.  Lunches packed.  Children off to school.  Adults to work.  The afternoon unfolded with the familiar carpool, snack, homework schedule.  As the sun set, Big and Middle headed to Big’s basketball game, while I took Little to her first “cotillion.” 

Oh, the moaning and groaning she mustered up for me, namely “I bet I won’t know anyone” and  “How will I get my homework done?” (This has hardly been a concern of hers in the past.)  I let her have her moment of drama.  Little has spent most of her life trying to be as cool and as rough-and-tumble as her brothers.  Fine.  I was hardly a “girly girl” myself, and, honestly, I did not mind that she did not gravitate toward the pink and purple plastic items so aggressively marketed to her.  She likes basketball and reading and making art and music.  She wears dresses on Sundays as well as for any special occasion for which it’s appropriate but the rest of the time, it’s skinny jeans and a hoodie.  She says please and thank you.  She says excuse me rather than huh or what.  She doesn’t, however, know how to put on or remove a coat properly, and she could use some tips on wielding a knife and fork.

beachlifepic3 It takes some concentration.

Lest you think I’m derelict in my duties, I (along with the Mister) have given her plenty of tips and training, but, well, we’re her parents.  Our influence diminishes every day.  It’s time for the big guns, namely some charming instructors and a room full of positive peer pressure. 

poinsett club ballroom The Red Ballroom, where the lessons are given.

We entered the club with her still grumbling, but I could sense some excitement as well.  Lots of girls, giggling, rolling their eyes, wearing dresses.  Lots of boys, smirking, rolling their eyes, wearing navy sportcoats.  Friends finding friends. Yes!  I left to run some errands, and when I returned? Her posture was better.  On the ride home she explained the importance of a firm handshake.  And she thanked me for dinner, unprompted by the Mister.  Well, well.  I think there is hope for her yet.

And, don’t worry, we subjected our boys to the same course when they were in fifth grade.  I’m pretty sure they hated it, but one of them is already old enough not to regret it.101753

Larry Mondelo and The Beaver explain why they skipped Dancing School and mussed their good clothes.

A Place for Everything

“I will honor Christmas in my heart and try to keep it all the year,” pledges Ebeneezer Scrooge. Quite possibly Mr. T&C embodies this remark as no one else.  He loves Christmastime, and the close of the season is always a little bittersweet.  Although Christmas as a holy season lasts twelve days, concluding with Epiphany on January 6, practically—and for reasons of fire safety—it’s time to put away the decorations, or as we say around here, “Time to get ready for Christmas this year.”  (I know, but it works.)  So, years ago, we bought some Rubbermaid containers and labeled them for Santa’s eight reindeer.  Each year, when it’s time to put up the decorations, we start with Dasher and finish with Blitzen.  I keep a list of what is in every bin on the computer, and before we begin decking the halls, I print it out.  When it’s time to put it all away, I jot notes on the list and then I’ll update that on the computer in the next day or two.  It looks something like this:

Prancer (dining room):
old ornaments for silver bowl
fake pine boughs for sideboard
glass beads
antlers and greenery for side table
When we pull these items out, we put anything they might be replacing (candlesticks, knife tray) into the “Prancer” bin for storage during the holidays.  I know it’s hardly rocket science, but it’s a tried and true method for us.  IMG_0656
The reindeer bins in the playroom, waiting to return to the “Christmas Closet.”
Bonus?  Well, we can all name Santa’s reindeer.
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