Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Please Stand By

I really did expect to be posting by now.  I got the boys back to school, did a fair amount of work in the basement, then I got a wild hair to paint the dining room.  I told Mr. Blandings yesterday that next to marrying him, this project has offered more immediate satisfaction than any other.  I hope to finish Tuesday and should be back on track by the end of the week.  Details to follow.

Friday, August 26, 2011

152 Insights to My Soul

Thank you so much for your patience with my vacation.  This was my 100th post.  This rerun is 999.  Eight hundred and ninety-nine posts later my feelings about this blog and the people who come here remain the same.  This post originally appeared December 11, 2007.

Last night I watched You've Got Mail. As Kathleen Kelly had read Pride and Prejudice dozens of times, so have I watched this film. Movie. It's not really a film; no complicated sub plots, no symbolism. A movie. A romantic comedy. There is something about this movie, Nora Ephron's little Valentine to New York, that strikes a chord for me.

I'll take a minor character first. Parker Posey's Patricia. First of all, Parker Posey is hilarious. She's just engaging enough in the movie to not make you wonder why he was with her in the first place, but quite bad enough to make you wonder why he stays. And her name is Patricia, which is also my name. Very few characters, major or minor, in film or literature (or movies or books) are named Patricia. It's tricky. Formal and long and, for those of us who are Patricia, neither Trish or Patty nor Patsy or Tish will do. Even as the other actors in the movie are saying it, it sounds a bit uncomfortable, like they wish Ephron had chosen something different. And this amuses me.

And you have to like Frank. I mean, you have to like anyone named Frank as it is one of the all time great names. But I have had a crush on Greg Kinnear since he was on Talk Soup. And. Well, truth be told, I think he looks a bit like Mr. Blandings. Two thumbs up.

So back to Kathleen Kelly. All through the movie Meg Ryan says things that resonate for me. "Sometimes I wonder about my life. I lead a small life. Well, small, but valuable. And sometimes I wonder, do I do it because I like it, or because I haven't been brave? " It's just a movie, right? Not a film. But that is a very big question.

Then there is the whole exchange about finally saying the thing that pops into your head and how unsatisfied you truly feel once you've done it. My father taught me when I was very young that you can't take things back. I have a bit of a temper and am, unfortunately, one of those people for whom the mean thing does come fully formed into my head at a very alarming rate. And usually I hold it back. It's never my wish to be unkind. But every now and then my rage gets ahead of me and I say something truly awful and whether it was seven years ago or seven minutes ago I have the same sense of shame. And you see that on Meg Ryan's face at the restaurant.

Tom Hanks, our all-American everyman, who, when faced with his father's recovery from his recent split and quest to begin again, opines, "Oh right, yeah, a snap to find the one single person in the world who fills your heart with joy." Yes, that is something. It makes me well up every time, because I thought I wouldn't, and I did.

And she discovers writing. A life long reader, a devotee of time and space to piles of books, through her internet romance she discovers she is a writer. People ask me why I have a blog. "I like it. I mean, I read it. But I don't understand why you do it." It's confusing, you know, because I don't get paid. I don't really have a good answer. Except it brings me joy, and it gives me an avenue to write.

But why even start? Well, a year before my youngest would go to Kindergarten, a month after I read Margaret Russell's editorial page mentioning her new love of blogs, a few weeks after I sent some ramblings to an old and dear friend who typed back the word "blog" again, I went on-line. Like Kathleen Kelly. And at first I read. Then I read and connected. And then I read and connected and wrote. The risk was so great that my head felt like it just might explode from it. For what? It's not much of a medium for failure. How would you measure it? I didn't tell anyone I was doing it. Who would know if I had a little blog party and no one came?

But, like most things in life, I had the support of kind and generous women. The connecting does matter. Like a favorite coffee shop, it's better because my friends are there. I look forward to the whole experience every day - the writing, the scanning, the uploading, the publishing. And the waiting to see what you see, what I missed, what you like, what you'd pass on. It's a crazy sort of exchange, but as Kathleen states, "The odd thing about this form of communication is that you're more likely to talk about nothing than something. But I just want to say that all this nothing has meant more to me than so many somethings." So, on my hundredth post, I rejoice in knowing that, even though computers are too sophisticated to say "You have mail,"every time I log onto my e:mail and I see "(Mrs. Blandings) new comment on..." I am so happy you have stopped by. 

Thursday, August 25, 2011

On Second Thought

In case you were wondering, Mr. Blandings thinks I am amusing, but takes almost none of my advice.  The minutes that are mentioned here absolutely exist.  This post originally appeared September 19, 2008.

Dear Mr. Blandings,

I agree.  Perhaps I should give the Duck Club a try.  The dead-mouse-in-the-olive-oil story notwithstanding, I can see that it has a lot to offer.  I appreciate your showing me the minutes dated 1972 stating, "Wives' opinions are considered irrelevant and will not be considered in matters of decor."  Still, I have enclosed a memo to the members for them to consider a few changes.  A spit and polish if you will.


To:       Members, Fontana Farms Duck Club

From:  Mrs. Blandings

Re:       The Benefits of Good Design

Gentleman, I hope you do not think I am interfering in your peaceful retreat, but I am enclosing images of a John Stefanidis project in Scotland that I thought you might enjoy. While originally uninterested in your clubhouse, this rustic gem has provided a bit of inspiration.  I think you will agree that it could serve as a model for your renovation.

The tackle room is simply charming. The rustic, industrial lighting, cubbies for supplies and a well-stocked bar would surely be a welcoming sight. I'm sure you won't mind if I store a needlepoint project or two bottom right.

The living room is chic and cozy.  The graphic display of the black and white prints in their sleek silver frames really pops against the wood, don't you agree?  And fresh flowers are always a nice touch.  

A small print in the kitchen would be a bright and cheery way to start the day, and, as you leave at o'dark-thirty to begin your blood quest, this would certainly lift your spirits.  Mrs. Milledge could make her delicious, homemade jam right there while you are away.

No need to sit around in the evening watching T.V.  Once these simple changes have been made, wives and children can enjoy the Duck Club, too.  We can play charades.  What fun!

I'm sure you will agree that the entire membership would benefit.  If, however, you are determined to move forward with the original plan, which is, if I understand correctly, clean out the refrigerator and order two pleather recliners, Mr. Blandings is correct.  Nebraska Furniture Mart is just the spot.

All images courtesy of Rooms by John Stefanidis; photography by James Mortimer.  

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Sometimes I Look the Other Way

This was the first essay that I wrote for the blog; it was originally published September 5, 2008.  I have yet to set foot at the duck club, but there are new and fabulous mattresses in Colorado.

Out to dinner last Friday night we dined with the most delightful couple. Both ensconced in successful careers in New York, he declared he was a Missouri boy born and raised and longed for home. When asked if she fought the move she turns her head just slightly to the side and replies, “I loved New York, but I loved him more.” Delightful.

As we shared the minutiae of the week over gourmet burgers, Mr. Blandings extolled the beauty and serenity of his duck club. The bounty of her land and her ponds; the joy that the work that she requires is so satisfying. When our friends asked if I enjoyed it, too, his eyes sparkled as he said, “Four years and she’s never been there. Never put her foot on the property. Has not laid eyes on it.”

Incredulous, they asked why. Why, indeed. Like any woman who is aware that her husband would rather spend his time in the company of another, I am curious of my rival. Curious to know if her beauty is greater than mine. Curious to know if she makes fewer demands. Is her company more charming? More soothing? Somehow more satisfying?

But beyond the curiosity is the fear that any, or all, of these things are true. The girlfriend who came right before me adored the outdoors. She and Mr. Blandings fished together and skied together and camped together. I’m sure she could pitch a tent and bait her own hook and clean her own fish. There was a gap between us, neither would perceive the other as competition, but I was always very much aware of what she had that I did not.

Mr. Blandings has declared from the first that he does not mind that I do not care to go outdoors. We are more the opposites-attract kind of couple than the separated-at-birth kind of couple. Sadly, I fear I have influenced him more than he has influenced me. I believe almost all of his traits to be more attractive than mine. Better. Purer.  Not the least of which is enjoying being outside. I think people who long to be outside are superior to those, like myself, who do not. And yet. And yet, I enjoy my controlled environment. Briefly, in spring and fall, I like to have the windows open, but all of us have a touch of allergies and then there’s the dust and suddenly the sashes come down with a thunk.

Unfortunately, I’ve noticed Mr. Blanding has given up outside more than I have given up inside. Like our youngest son, he has a gift of making himself happy wherever he is. If I am inside, then he can make his way inside as well. Or could, until the purchase of his little slice of heaven about an hour and a half from here. I had been to a friend’s farm with him before. Newly married, we had a plan. He would fish; I would sit on the dock and read my book. Perfect, as both endeavors require quiet.

The dock, I noticed immediately, was dirty and a little splintery; care would be needed. Also, being by water it was buggy. I’m not sure you are aware, but spiders like bugs, so spiders, too. Deep breath, doing fine. “That spider is not going to bother you.” “I know, I know. I didn’t say a word.” Hot. A little hot. And, well, now sweaty. Fine, it can’t last forever. It certainly wouldn’t kill me to sweat a little. And then I saw the snake and announced, slightly strained but chipper,  that I was going to wait in the car. “Take your time. I’ll be fine. Really. No rush.” That basically was our last outdoor outing together.

Even indoors in an outdoor environment can be dicey. Seven months pregnant with our first son, we vacationed in Mr. Blanding’s family home in Colorado. And when I say family, I mean family; my boys are the fifth generation to tread its floors. It will celebrate it’s centennial soon. And it showed the first time we went. Once charming and rustic, it was then mostly tired and scary, but my husband could see only the magic of his childhood summers.

Edgy and nervous at the isolation (the noises that I was hearing out my window were not the reassuring city kind of noises, but more like, say, critters) we dropped our bags and headed out to dinner. Upon returning home, weary from travel and my burgeoning belly, we decided to go to bed. The mattresses were brand new in 1945. Soft and sagging, with the added difficulty of my out-of-proportion middle, we slid to the center of the double bed again and again until we resigned ourselves to the spot.

Around two a.m., bladder full, I lay awake not wanting to get up but knowing I would never be able to get back to sleep until I took a quick trip to the bathroom. Scratch. Rustle, rustle. Cripes, what now? “Darling, do you hear that?” “Hmmm? What? No.” Which was reasonable because then there was nothing. Rustle, rustle, scratch. “That, did you hear that?” “Hmmm?” Incensed, I flipped on the light. A mouse the size of my fist dashed behind the basket of pinecones on the hearth of our room.

Clearly, he felt as indignant as I that territorial lines had been crossed. Each time he ventured from behind the basket, I screamed and he ran back. While Mr. Blandings begged me to go to sleep (unlikely as I had still not gone to the bathroom) I cowered in fear. Again, my refrain of “I’m sleeping in the car,” brought action. We moved to another room, towel stuffed firmly under the door, mattress as insufficient as before, touching from shoulder to ankle while I lay awake all night listening for the attack. In hindsight, I admit it might have been a chipmunk. Cuter, but a trauma just the same.

A lot of women perform bait and switch tactics between courting and marriage. I was not among those. I was clear from the beginning that my philosophy is “Inside is best.” How can I visit the duck club and watch the slight relax of his shoulders as he approaches her? How can I witness the poetry of his cast and know that there is no place for me in it? How can I go to meet her knowing that she holds an attraction for him with which even I, his beloved, cannot compete?

So I don’t go. “It’s for the boys.” I declare as they load up to visit my rival. But each day, during the late summer, I begin to take my coffee and my paper to the patio in the cool of the morning. I’m not ready for the duck club yet. I’m easing in. Besides, I hear the bathrooms are atrocious.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Camp Closed

It seems fitting to include this as we are just back to school.  This follows up a post containing a "letter" from the boys to Mr. B which you can find here.  This post originally appeared August 29, 2008.


Date:     August 29, 2008

Re:        Camp Closing Procedures

To:        Staff

I'd like to thank everyone for another successful summer at Camp Blandings.  Besides the usual transition issues, the summer seemed to go well.  In general, the maturity of the campers seemed slightly better than last year.  We can only hope this continues to be the trend, but as we phase in a teen-agers over the next two years it's best to not be too optimistic.

In order to be better prepared for next year's campers I am recommending the following:
  • A consistent policy on swim team.  The responsible party needs to be clear, either campers are always expected to go practice or practice is completely optional and attendance is determined by the whim of the camper, generally based on who will be there and what kind of snacks might be provided.  This year's counselor was greatly influenced by her own level of interest and energy which was based on who would be there and what snacks would be provided.  We need stronger leadership in this area.
  • It might be helpful if next year's counselor were a little more willing to spend time outside.  It is hot and it is buggy, but a more positive disposition might be in order.
  • While archery and marksmanship are not part of the regular curriculum, perhaps we should explore their addition to the schedule next year.  There seems to be a high level of camper interest in shooting, spearing and wrecking things.  Along this line, I believe pyrotechnics would be a popular offering.
There are a few general maintenance items that need to be wrapped up as well.
  • The sofa pillows in the mess tent are trashed.  While each camper claimed, "I didn't do anything!" all pillows are literally coming apart at the seams.  Please see they are repaired by the upholsterer immediately.
  • We are missing roughly 47 balls, the breakdown being something like this:  24 baseballs, 7 playground balls various sizes, 6 lacrosse balls, 8 golf balls and two tennis balls that were mainly used for playing with the camp hound.  Before restocking for next year please check all window wells, flower beds (especially the hydrangea and azalea bushes) and neighboring property.  They didn't walk away by themselves, folks.
  • The piles of books by campers' beds must be re-shelved.   Keeping campers supplied with books was often challenging, but I think we did a fine job.  Still, cabin floors need to be cleared so one can at least, well, walk through the room.

The policy of keeping the session free of worksheets and study guides seemed to work well for campers and counselors alike.  I recommend next year's staff replicate this year's staff's encouragement of brain deterioration and spotty retention.  

Thank you, again, for your help with a wonderful summer session.  As we say every year, "It went so fast."  We hope to see you next year.

Image, above, a view of the sunset on the inlet in Sag Harbor from the patio of our big city friend's home.  It is all that it appears. 

Monday, August 22, 2011

The Significance of Chintz Curtains

Last week it was all about the women; this week I plan to revisit posts featuring Blandings boys young and old.  This post originally appeared October 7, 2009.

Many years ago, when Mr. Blandings and I were first married, we went out to dinner with his father and step-mother.

Mr. Blandings the elder is old school. He mostly likes things the way they are, or rather, the way they have always been.

In a cozy restaurant on a winter evening we began to discuss a club to which the elder Mr. B belonged. I made an off-hand and stinging comment about the policy of having a separate dining room for women during the lunch hour.

As often happens, small sparks start large flames and he and I were heatedly engaged as our spouses stared quietly into their soups. In a firm voice he finally proclaimed, "When I am eating my lunch I do not want to sit next to a table of damn women talking about chintz curtains!"

As my Mr. Blandings felt my muscles flex to rise he put his hand on my knee and leaned in to say, "It's cold and they drove." We stayed. No one ordered dessert.

After seventeen years I better understand the roots of tradition and the minefields of dinner conversation. I am, however, still mystified that someone would not want to join in a conversation on chintz curtains as I find them irresistibly divine.

Images of Cecil Beaton's home, Reddish House, from Architectural Digest Celebrity Homes, 1977; photography by Beaton. The Aesthete posted on Reddish yesterday. I had already written this and should probably have pitched it. Sadly, I'm too lazy.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Great Sets

Thank you for the responses to the posts this week.  I've chosen to end on an up note; for those of you who were interested in my relationship with my mother and had not read the essay, "Growing Up," it is here.

I was late to Mad Men but now I am January Jonesing for the return.   This post originally appeared March 11, 2009.

Maybe it's because of this, but I'm a little weary of the straight and sleek.

Troubling times call for a little lift.

Follow my mother's advice - you may not be able to change your life, but you can always change your hair.

A shampoo and set or some such thing.  Some bounce.  An errant curl to toss out of your eye.

Make sure it's a bit of mess to show you're not too much of a good girl.  The time is right.

Image, top, January Jones and Jon Hamm from Mad Men used without permission, but much gratitude, from AMC, Ingrid Bergman, Sofia Loren, Grace Kelly and Elizabeth Taylor, all from IMDB. 

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Freudian or Jungian?

I can't tell you how much fun I am having going back through old posts.  I'm like that person at the cocktail party who laughs the hardest at her own jokes.  This post was originally published March 7, 2008.

Frankly, you don't have enough time to hear about my mother. But, I was in Brookside on Wednesday, and World's Window, a symphony of imports and snappy gifts, was carrying some of these action figures.

Who says only those with a fascination for fantasy a la Marvel Comics and Steven Spielberg get to have miniatures of their idols?

Hero worship is all relative, right?

It is certainly your choice to be, or not to be, a collector of such kitch.

Not to be morbid, but maybe you would want only this, and nothing more.

I know Aesthete's Lament is a purveyor of the classics.

And, Mamacita would surely be persuaded to pony up. My question is, if Accoutrements put out a line of famous designers, who would make up your collection? (Ask the Blandings boys, it's all about the collecting.)

Nancy Lancaster? She would definitely come with this hat and coat.

Van Day Truex? And a place setting of Tiffany bamboo?

John Fowler? Crown included.

Albert Hadley? Glasses, for sure.

Billy Baldwin? Brown vinyl box.

David Hicks? "on decoration" firmly grasped.
Or maybe you would go with a more current crew. Kelly Wearstler; full wardrobe, including wigs.

Thomas O'Brien? Alone. Perfection. OK, maybe a Gio Ponti vase.

Steven Gambrel? Well, for me, yes. Could I stand to leave him in the box, or would I need to bring him out to help with furniture placement? He'd have his labradoodle, Dash, by his side.

Ruthie Sommers? Blue and white porcelain to pile around? Yes, Courtney would be camping out at Target to be the first one on her block. Fifty-one mentions. Sister, you might need therapy.

All black and white photos, except Truex, Influential Interiors, Suzanne Trocme. Truex from his biography by Adam Lewis. Wearstler, Modern Glamour. Thomas O'Brien, Inspired Styles. Gambrel, House and Garden. Sommers via Alkemie.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Roots of Addiction

I mention that the Mrs. Livengood of this post was one of my mother's best friends; I later realized she was one of mine.  It was her birthday yesterday and I thought we would throw some good wishes her way.  Krissy appeared in the previous post; she was helping me open my birthday presents.  This post originally appeared October 15, 2009.

You know those stories about celebrities who give their children controlled substances? And how you read these accounts and wonder, "What were they thinking?"

Well, my mother was a little guilty of this. When I was small and we lived in Atlanta my mother made a very good friend while we were on the playground. I, in turn, became very good friends with the friend's daughter as these things sometime happen.

While my parents' house was an ever evolving array of tasteful yet jazzy (probably department store) finds, Krissy Livengood's parents' house was not.

Krissy Livengood's parents had a pair of Wassily chairs. When I walked through their living room I was mesmerized by the slats made of leather. With every visit I'm quite sure her mother anticipated wiping my grimy fingerprints from the cool chrome. I could not resist running my hand along that silvery steel.

They were wonderful. I was in awe of those chairs. In my memory the room where they resided was always quiet, but perhaps my ears were ringing. While everyone else found it so intriguing that Krissy's father had one blue eye and one brown eye, I thought that merely a quirk of nature. The thing that made the Livengoods interesting - fascinating even - were those chairs.

We moved from Atlanta when I was eight, but the chair addiction was firmly established. Imagine my delight with Judith Miller's new book, Chairs. Over one hundred chairs, beautifully shot by Nick Pope, on big pages, presented in chronological order. Truly a chair lover's dream.

And a terrific red cover. Almost as good as having a Wassily of my own.

P.S. Mrs. Livengood, in true Southern fashion, has passed her chairs to her daughter. Who now goes by Kristin.

Chairs by Judith Miller was provided to me for review by the publisher, Conran Octopus. All photographs by Nick Pope. The Wassily chair is fourth from the top.