Stuff and Nonsense: 2019


Christmas On The Island & Crafting

I run a library book club called Book Scents. Every few months we gather to discuss a feel-good novel, eat pastry, drink coffee, and make a craft inspired by the book. For example, in December we read Jenny Colgan's heartwarming holiday novel, Christmas On The Island and made a stove top potpourri simmer inspired by both the novel and the season. It was a simple craft, but everyone enjoyed putting it together and there was excited talk about what other spices or fruits might be added. Apple slices, for example. Or gently bashed cardamom pods.

To make this craft, I purchased bags of dried orange slices, cinnamon sticks, whole cloves, and freeze-dried cranberries from I also found whole allspice and star anise at a local Asian grocery for an extremely reasonable price. Excluding the cinnamon sticks, the spices were portioned out into plastic shot glasses (leftover from another craft) so everyone received half a shot glass of each. I heaped the orange slices, cinnamon sticks, and cranberries into big bowls and we passed them around, crafting our own individualized potpourri blend as we discussed Christmas On The Island.

Freeze-dried cranberries were used strictly because I knew people would be leaving this out on windowsills or tables and I didn't want anyone to find their potpourri had gone green and fuzzy. As I have not yet simmered mine, I don't know what will happen with the freeze-dried cranberries, but I half expect they will dissolve into goo.

I'd arranged an assortment of season scrapbook papers and washi tape on a separate table and, at the end of our discussion, everyone had a chance to decorate their jars. Then we ate cranberry-chocolate scones (first -- and fab -- attempt by a group member!) and satsumas and wandered well off topic into holiday plans ... which is to be expected at this time of year.

In March we will discuss Abbi Waxman's "quirky, funny, and deeply thoughtful" book The Garden of Small Beginnings. I have not yet decided on the craft. Maybe pots of gardeners hand balm?


New Colors For Little Brick Ranch

Having put up with the raspberry, teal, and putty-colored walls of our old house for far too long, I fully expected to fall in with the 10s Graying of Everything when it came to choosing colors for Little Brick Ranch. Indeed, my initial palette was full of cool grays with blue undertones to coordinate with the refinished floors and painted trim.

While gray is definitely on the scene, the more time I spend in Little Brick Ranch considering all its possibilities and getting a feel for its personality, the more my cool blue grays have shifted toward soothing green grays. And then Benjamin Moore's Hudson Blue walked into the bedroom and announced it was staying ...

Final Benjamin Moore color selections:
  • Bedroom: Hudson Bay CC-810
  • Guest Room/Office: Green Tint 2139-60
  • Zen Room: Gray Cashmere 2138-60
  • Entry & Halls: Marilyn's Dress 2125-60
  • Hall bathroom: Tea Light CC-610
  • Living Room: Sweet Innocence 2125-50
  • Dining Room: Balboa Mist 1549 & Cumulus Cloud 1550

I'd describe it as a greige-y earth palette?

The painters have already begun prepping the stained woodwork and cast iron baseboards. While there is a lot for them to do -- the wallpaper is extememly attached to the plaster walls -- they should be finished by this time January and Little Brick Ranch will be that much closer to being home.

In a fit of I-can-do-DIY last weekend, I tried removing the wallpaper in the dining room and was surprised at how very easy it was. Then I noticed the wood paneling underneath lurking beneath the paper and was full of nope. As the paneling is in good condition (and we don't want to know what's behind it), the plan is to fill and paint over it.

It will be an improvement over what was there, I promise you.

Yes, that is a corner cabinet from the Brockway-Smith (now BROSCO) millwork catalog. Most likely the Framingham Corner Case M-1572. There are two of them in the dining room and I think they are wonderful ... but I'm still going to paint them white.



Tea at the Phelps-Hatheway House

I recently had the pleasure of attending a tea in honor of Jane Austen’s birth anniversary at the Phelps-Hatheway House in Suffield. The afternoon began with a tea tasting led by a representative from Rishi Tea. We tasted Quince Eucalyptus and Cinnamon Plum, both organic caffeine-free botanical blends. The Quince Eucalyptus (a blend of quince, eucalyptus, ginger, black pepper, yuzu) was both bright and citrusy, but there was an underlying astringency I did not find pleasing. Much better was the Cinnamon Plum, a blend of plum, currants, hibiscus, and Saigon cinnamon. Already a fan of hibiscus tea, I was really taken with the perfect balance of flavors. Cinnamon Plum is definitely moreish lets-brew-a-whole-pot-just-for-me tea.

After the tea sampling, we retired to the "tea room" where we were served what were described as refreshments popular in the early 19th century and conversed at length among ourselves about Jane Austen and her delightful novels. We ate a variety of scones and quiches, plus cucumber sandwiches and a delicious (if anachronistic) Victoria Sponge.

The afternoon concluded with a tour of the first floor of the Phelps-Hatheway House and a brief vocal performance by one of our guides. All in all, it was an extremely pleasant way to pass a December afternoon.

The Phelps-Hatheway House & Garden highlights the luxurious lifestyle enjoyed by two wealthy 18th-century Connecticut Valley families until their fortunes collapsed. Suffield native Shem Burbank built the center chimney structure in 1761 where he and his wife Anna Fitch Burbank raised nine children. A merchant of British goods, Burbank’s business suffered during the American Revolution. In 1788, he sold the house to Oliver Phelps originally of Windsor, who served as Deputy Commissary under George Washington and later a successful land speculator. In 1794, Phelps commissioned the addition of a substantial wing decorated with imported Parisian wallpaper. A depressed real estate market forced Phelps to foreclose on the property in 1802 and move to Canandaigua, NY where he died in 1809.


(Hopefully Not) Bringing Down the House

I don't know what you do when you buy your house of dreams, but we immediately began ripping it apart. Oh, I apologized to Little Branch Ranch every time I unscrewed a light fixture or came upon my dad bashing holes in walls. I have promised the house it will be worth it in the end and, fingers crossed, I expect to keep that promise.

Whenever my beloved visits the scene of destruction he grouses that the house looks worse than it did when we bought it, when it was just "old." He is correct. Little Brick Ranch is 100% rocking the money pit look. But it's only a look. Little Brick Ranch possesses a very solid, maintained structure with a new furnace as well as newish roof and windows. Many of the changes and improvements we make will be cosmetic rather than structural. There are necessary system updates lined up -- the electrics, for example, are Very Nope -- but those are easy, if not inexpensive.

The kitchen, though, the kitchen needs everything.

Why, yes, that is a circa 1959 KitchenAid dishwasher! 

Goodbye, light-blocking wall that served no purpose except to hide the laundry area and back door. Goodbye, goodbye, goodbye. (I was, admittedly, a little shocked to walk in the other day and discover a missing kitchen wall. I swear, get my dad going and there are no brakes on the man).

Gonna spend the next three months tripping over the radiator.

The drafty cockeyed backdoor will be replaced with a super-insulated full lite door and all the remaining woodwork will be painted white to brighten things up. The radiator will Go Somewhere Else. In the meantime it is, as my beloved says, a big mess. A big, beautiful mess. And it's ours.

In case it isn't obvious enough we're not doing this all on our own, we have largely outsourced the basic fixes to a retired professional, my dad. Dad genuinely wants to help and, as a retired general contractor cum building and zoning officer, I like to think he knows his stuff. While Dad might be a wee touch too enthusiastic about knocking down walls and smashing cracked pink sinks, I know what comes after the destruction will be everything it should be.


Home Is the Nicest Word There Is

We closed on Little Brick Ranch yesterday. Ever since our offer was accepted back in September, I've felt superstitious about sharing details here. I wanted Little Brick Ranch so badly, you see. From the moment I walked into the house, I was smitten. A two bedroom brick ranch from the early 60s with less space and fewer amenities than our current house? A house with a complete tear-out of a kitchen? Heavens, yes. The heart wants what it wants, to quote the poet.

To write about Little Brick Ranch, to dare to tell the (not) indifferent universe how much I love the house, would jinx everything. So I have tried to keep quiet here and on social media. I constantly talk about the house out in The Big Blue Room. Just yak, yak, yak. Don't know how my coworkers (or therapist, for that matter) put up with me. Lynn, someone should say, SHUT. UP. NO-ONE WANTS TO HEAR ABOUT YOUR PLANS FOR A VEGETABLE GARDEN YOU DON'T OWN.

In my mind, talk about Little Brick Ranch is just air, impermanent and cheap. Writing it down, though. Writing it down makes it true and anything that true about love completely chaps the not-indifferent universe, bringing down all sorts of misery. Am I the product of a written culture? Heck yeah and riddled with the vestiges of Catholic guilt, to boot.

TL;DR: We are now the happy owners of Little Brick Ranch in all its flaws and glory.