Since I was a children’s book writer, I decided my office should be decorated in primary colors. My first office had a blue office desk, a tomato red IBM Selectric, a red trashcan from Conran’s, a red metal bookcase . . . children’s book art often used bright colors, so I had lots of posters and cards decorating my walls.
My house is filled with art. Posters, vintage paintings, even original illustrations from my own books. My biggest complaint is that we don’t have enough wall space! But I believe the eye stops "seeing" art after a while, so I change things up often. My office was no different. I wanted all new things to look at and inspire me. After carefully storing original art in old suitcases, I went shopping around my house. I found all kinds of neat things to frame.
A few things stayed in my office. One is the poster for Hollins University, from Ruth Sanderson’s picture book Papa Gatto. The wall color was inspired by the background of this poster. [It’s a wide shot, click on the photo.] The odd red and yellow thing hanging next to the poster is an old tin "driving" toy. The "hood" makes a perfect magnet board.
I also kept this Eric Carle Museum of the Picture Book poster from the Margaret Wise Brown illustrators show I attended in 2005. The scene is from The Golden Egg Book, illustrated by Leonard Weisgard, one of my favorite mid-century artists.
One summer at Hollins, I found a large folder of mint-condition farm animal prints by Leonard Weisgard, meant for a child’s room. The prints are hanging in our den, breakfast nook, and kitchen. The folder was too charming to put away, so I framed it, too.
My inspiration board also stayed. Lately I’ve been making vintage-style jewelry and hanging the pieces on the tack board. They look like art, don’t you think?
For more than 30 years, I’ve collected vintage prints, magazines, magazine covers, postcards, and other ephemera, much of it related to children or children’s books. I sifted through my files and chose images that "spoke" to me, with a palette that reflected the colors of my room. Below is a loose, orphaned page from a huge storybook illustrated by Feodor Rojankovsky. The scene is "Little Red Riding Hood."
This is a recent flea market find. It’s a wool felt pillow cover from the 1933 Chicago World’s Fair. I hung it from two small bulldog clips.
That strange-looking thing hanging from one of the dresser drawers is actually a black wooden tray. In keeping with my Virginia heritage, there are old "linen" postcards glued to the compartments: "The Legend of the Dogwood," "Apple Blossoms in Full Bloom," and a few with poems like, "In Old Virginia," and "Down In Virginia," which begins, "The day dawns early and lasts so long/Down in Virginia . . ." So it seems many days in this office!
I respect the integrity of vintage ephemera and never rip the covers off old magazines. Instead, I frame the entire magazine. Many magazines published in the 1930s used black backgrounds–even "cheerful" periodicals like Better Homes and Gardens. I framed two from my collection to hang above my desk: this June 1940 Child Life . . .
. . . and this September 1931 Nature Magazine. I love the dinosaur (tricerotops? stegasaurus?) chewing greens!
However, I do buy magazine covers. Jessie Willcox Smith art is so collectible, I have yet to see an intact magazine with one of her covers. This September 1932 issue of Good Housekeeping is one of my favorites (Jessie illustrated every GH cover from 1919 to 1935!)
Nothing goes to waste. The bottom picture is the back cover of a falling-apart 1934 Child Life–it’s a publisher’s ad! Above it in a float frame is a vintage bingo card.
Family photographs were welcomed into my space. My stepfather’s WWII navy portrait. Black and white snaps of my mother. The Great Lakes Naval Training photograph with both my father and stepfather in the same class. Above that photo, I hung four 8 x 10 photographs, a couple of me, a favorite photo of my husband, one of my mother and her siblings at our first family reunion in 1966.
I never place my computer in front of a window. Too distracting. But rather than look up from my monitor at a blank wall, I hung a vignette of postcards (the original Winnie-the-Pooh at the New York Public Library is a favorite), and, from my stepfather’s document chest brought back from Japan during the War, this unusual advertising sign from Weber Tire Company, where he worked for many years (between them, my parents held three jobs, my mother sold her sewing, and they raised a truck garden). Looking at this sign reminds me how rewarding my work life is compared to my stepfather’s.
Whenever I makeover a room, I change the switchplate covers and the light fixture. The original light figure in my office was a plain white globe. I love Arts and Crafts style and bought this fixture at Lowe’s. I think of it as art.
When I had hung the last picture, my husband came to the door of my office and said, "Aren’t you going to put a rug down in here?" "No," I said. I liked the wide, inviting sweep of my new floor. You see, my office is more than just a workplace. When a song I like comes on the radio, I get up from my task chair . . . and dance. I dance like nobody’s watching, even though somebody is.
It’s been my pleasure showing you my new office this week! I hope you’ve had fun and are inspired to make a few changes in your own home office. Please take a tulip, go outside in the spring sunshine, and dance a little on the sweet green grass.
After I moved the big stuff in my office, then came the fun part. "Fluffing." Arranging things I’d collected and bought in vignettes. Finding things in my house that made me remember my family, or made me smile.
Some things I cherish are furnishings. This early 60s TV stand belonged to my stepfather’s mother, who lived to be 100. I dragged the TV stand from house to house, storing it in the garage. At last its time had come. After painting it white, I store my collection of writers’ memoirs in it. Journals slip into the magazine pockets. On top is a vintage typewriter, an old pencil sharpener (gift from my sister), and a picture of my husband that has always been in my office.
My grandfather built this sewing chest for my mother. Instead of lengths of calico, it contains research for two books I may or may not write.
Bulletin boards are necessary, but not aesthetically pleasing. So I bought an old shutter ($6). My husband, used to my strange purchases, just loaded it on the truck. It is now leans against the wall as a bulletin board. Bulldog clips hold notes, prescriptions, and photos.
The wire rack above the shutter came from my vintage dish drainer. I liked its gridlike structure. Vintage cards are paperclipped to the wires. Below is the dish drainer. It sits on one end of the long dresser to hold papers to be filed. Next to it is a vintage lunch box and an old Brownie camera. When I was browsing thrift shops and junk stores, I gravitated to old green things. That shade of green is often found in vintage children’s illustrations.
Another view of the lunchbox, which came with a note inside. "I carried this lunch box for many years. My father took it to work before me." A glimpse of an old ashtray from Pumpernik’s restaurant in Miami and a German paper mache house.
The 1945 phone anchors the other end of the long dresser tablescape. It was my "office-warming" present to myself. I love its solid heaviness and its lines (it also works). The green flower frog holds an old "phone dialer." A green metal address flip file and a German "moo toy" complete the scene. After years of filling my office with stuffed animals, I liked the change to hard-edged items, old metals.
The top of the armoire. The child’s green and white suitcase stores my collection of "The Riverbank Review," my favorite children’s book review journal.
The birdhouse is actually an art piece made from a 1930s children’s art textbook, formed over a wooden birdhouse and shellacked. The roof is the rest of the book. I love the old paintbrush perch!
I paid too much ($20) for this old framed photograph. I wanted the frame, with its unusual arch at the top, but then I fell in love with the 1930s-era girl playing with blocks. My sister found my initial blocks. The turquoise McCoy vase holds spare change (very little).
A view of the hutch on my desk. Old toys along the top.
The old cutlery tray corrals office supplies.
My sister made the Golden Records clock. Unlike most of the old clocks I have, the red kitchen clock (with a 6 inch cord!) works. I keep my business cards in the little wooden truck.
The top of the tall dresser. The tin picnic basket stores DVDs. I love old Viewmasters (I have two). The rummy card game has wonderful graphics of Peter Rabbit.
I’ve had this little red wagon for years. It sits next to the chair in the reading nook. Currently it holds a set of 1952 Jack and Jill magazines.
I wasn’t sure what I’d do with this long wire wall basket when I bought it. I painted it black and it seemed natural to fill it with 1940s Horn Books and odd children’s books. The photo above is the graduating class of the Great Lakes Naval Training Academy in December 1942. My father stands at one end. My stepfather stands at the other. I wasn’t even a glimmer on the horizon (born in 1952), yet my entire destiny is in this photo. I had it framed but not dry-mounted, which is why it’s wrinkly. On the back is a drawing I made of my stepfather as a sailor, dated 1962. When I frame family memorabilia, I consider the intregrity of the piece over perfect framing methods.
I looked forever for a vintage wire trash basket. I have several wire things, including two 1940s wire file trays. In the junk shop where I found the Silvertone radio, I spied this apple basket. Perfect!
Today’s very long tour is over. You deserve a treat! Have a flower cookie. Leaf through the old book–I stumbled on this in my elementary school library way back in 6th grade. I had already decided I’d become a writer. Someday You’ll Write gave me hope . . . Tomorrow we’ll wrap up with a look at the art in my office. I didn’t buy a thing!
[A view of my former studio, now my 1923 sitting room]
I’ve learned this lesson twice: rooms, like people, have breakdowns when you ask them to do too much. We drop the ball when we multi-task beyond our limits–rooms throw a great big temper tantrum. They lie down in the floor, kick their heels and refuse to do anything. My former studio (above) was a perfect example: one small bedroom had to serve my ever-growing scrapbooking/mixed-media art needs, store art projects and vintage ephemera, store seasonal decorations, be a wrapping station, hold my winter wardrobe and clothes I clung to hoping I’d fit into them again (including the Dress I’m Going to Be Buried In–a size 3!), house photographs and family memorabilia and odd pieces of furniture, store 1000 stuffed bears and rabbits, and provide a refuge/time out room for cats that fought. What did my studio do? It exploded. I was too scared/depressed to set foot in there until I renovated it in 2008.
[Office while I was sorting books. Art projects from renovated studio wound up here.]
When I set up my office 14 years ago, it was just an office. I had two computers, a fax machine, phone, copier, stereo, and a small TV/VCR within easy reach of my desk. Then my husband bought a Chuck Norris exercise thingie. I bought a Pilates performer. The room is big–it could hold a few pieces of equipment. Then cats started showing up and the office became a sick bay/playground. I’ve already mentioned I went to grad school and the room became a repository for tons of papers and books. I watched TV in here after supper. When somebody was sick (or snored too much), he slept on the Aerobed in my office. In the fall of 2008, I was seriously ill and literally lived in here, night and day. I began to hate this space and it hated me back.
[Our dining room with office stuff]
[The library, about half full. Yes, the chair-and-a-half is covered with towels because of you-know-who]
[Labeled book stacks]
The first step in redefining your office needs is to clear it out! As you remove every stick of furniture, piece of equipment, every book and file, decide what should come back in. I spent two months clearing out books (15 cartons donated to the library), papers, and junk. Then it was time to paint and put in the floor and that meant moving out every single thing. 34 cartons of books and 16 dresser drawers of stuff were neatly stowed downstairs. Then I ran out of boxes. Also time. So the last stacks were set on the floor and labeled as to exactly where they’d fit in the bookcase (this almost worked–I couldn’t carry as many books up the stairs as down). Material from my office covered the dining room, downstairs library, master bedroom, and my sitting room.
[Close-up of bookcase ell–5 bookcases that were formerly scattered around the room. Board book collection neatly contained in a vintage green wire basket instead of the ugly milk crate]
But I had already shifted the bookcases into the ell-configuration for the sitting room and stowed comp copies into the luggage. Yes, that meant handling books not once, not twice, but three times. The "practice floorplan run" allowed me to weed out unwanted books and determine if the plan would work. It saved time on the moving-back-in end.
[Supply cabinet and filing cabinet behind reading nook]
So where the heck is all my stuff? For starters, my utility cabinet (as a former secretary I’ve always wanted my own suppy cabinet) pretty much stayed intact. The filing cabinet next to it holds the necessary papers from my 30-year career–more than 150 article/short story sales, more than 100 published books, and lots of canceled/unpublished material as well. I keep my files streamlined because my original drafts, galleys, mechanicals, proofs, and research are archived at two universities. Once you publish a body of work, check into the numerous universities that have collections of children’s literature (like the Kerlan). They are generally eager for original material.
[Drawer of mid-century classic children’s books in armoire]
[Drawer of stationery in the long dresser]
I’ve mentioned I replaced ticky-tacky bookcases and hold-alls with dressers and an armoire. Yes, I actually store books in dresser drawers. All the stuff that loaded down old desks and plastic bins is now in dresser drawers. My research files are in the drawers. My grad school stuff is in the drawers. How do I know what is where? Good question, considering I have the memory of a kumquat these days. I am in the process of taking inventory, drawer by drawer, suitcase by suitcase, shelf by shelf. The books are in categories, so I don’t need to record every title. The written inventory will be typed, bound in a clear plastic folder, and kept on my desk. (That former secretary creeping in again).
[Children’s literature alcove. Luggage stack holds magazines, review journals.]
[Work table alcove. The red-painted chair is my very first piece of vintage furniture–bought 30 years ago. Stripped it wrong and painted it with 15 lumpy coats of red gloss. My grandfather made the toy chest in the back, now holds comp copies.]
[On my work table: a Mexican child’s chair my sister gave my mother 40 years ago, my Jiminy Cricket milk cup with "winking" eyes, and a Sunshine Toy Cookies tin–Toy cookies were way better than animal crackers]
While the office is used for work, I’ve divided it into stations. My desk station. My reading nook, where I go over galleys and proofs. One alcove holds a vintage enamel-topped table. I may do some scrapbooking here, but I also draw. And color (no better way to relax). The other alcove stores part of my children’s literature collection. My yoga mat is tucked in here, too. When I get stiff, I can throw my mat down and do a few poses.
Whew! That’s quite a tour. Stop by the ironing board for milk and cupcake. Sorry there’s only one cupcake (you’ll have to fight over it) and it’s slightly smushed. Tomorrow we’ll look at details, the loving touches that make any office personal and homey.
[Above: the inspiring view from my desk, Before. The enormous white board kept me on schedule. It’s gone now.]
I grew up in a one-story ranch house, but always wanted to live in a two-story house. I loved attics with its connotations of trunks of period clothes and bedrooms tucked under sloped ceilings. As an adult, I’ve always lived in a two-story house. I like looking out at treetops when I wake up. I also require a lot of light. It’s no surprise that when I stay at Bell House in Colonial Beach for a week-long writing retreat, I book the third-floor room with its two widow’s walks–worth the 36-stair climb with my luggage, research, books, and laptop. At Hollins, where I teach in the summers, I always ask for the same upstairs apartment in the Guest House. I would rather share a kitchen than give up the light in the bedroom I use an office.
[Above: Getting ready to paint. The sloped ceiling just blends in.]
When I was getting my MA at Hollins, I wrote a paper on secret spaces in the novels of Elizabeth Enright. My professor told me about Gaston Bachelard, 20th century French philospher, and his book The Poetics of Space. That book was like turning on the light in the attic!
Here is what Bachelard says about houses: "The house shelters the daydreaming, the house protects the dreamer, the house allows one to dream in peace." He discusses the virtues of attics: "Up near the roof all our thoughts are clear." He says, "[Stairs] bear the mark of ascension to a more tranquil solitude. When I return to dream in the attics of yester-year, I never go down again."
[Above: the view from my desk. Now I can see the architecture of the room.]
As a children’s writer, it makes sense for me to have my office up near the roof, a place I ascend to (hopefully) think clear thoughts. My office is a 400 square foot space over the garage, connected to the main house with its own hallway. The ceilings are sloped and there are two dormers that create alcoves. I always planned to build a window seat in one, but the alcoves serve other purposes. Additionally, there is a double window along the wall near my desk. The room is filled with light, which makes it hard to take decent pictures. I get both the morning sun and the long afternoon light. At night, moonlight throws a white rug on my new wood laminate floors.
[Above: the wall desk my stepfather made me, one of the "light sky" painted pieces. His navy portrait hangs above.]
[Above: my beloved Trixie Belden/Ginny Gordon collection in the Whitman cello edition, my "song flute" from 4th grade, a picture frame I bought at Grant’s in 1961]
When the office was painted white, you couldn’t see the architectural detailing in the sloped walls. I chose to paint it Homestead Resort Gold (a Lowe’s National Historic Trust color)–the Homestead is world-famous resort in Virginia, dating back to 1766. As a Virginia writer, I wanted to honor my heritage, even to the wall color. Because I had so many white pieces of furniture, I painted a few pieces sky blue (Ralph Lauren, Light Sky). Black and vintage red provide accent colors.
[Above: the radio. I’ve moved the child’s director chair to take this shot–still too much light!]
[Above: the library book chair]
The vintage luggage is mostly warm brown, which is repeated in the child’s director chair (used for library books) and the 1960 Silvertone console radio. I found this crammed in a cobwebby corner of a thrift shop. It was $40. I had my husband remove the turntable in the center drawer. He also finished the cabinet. It holds my copy machine, with heavy reference books in the album slots and turntable drawer.
[Above: two "legs" of my U-shaped desk. One computer is for the Internet; the other for writing. If the Internet computer crashes, my work is always protected.]
My desk is rather utilitarian, but it’s U-shape works best for me. I topped the hutch with my collection of Fisher-Price "radios," "TVs", and "clocks," bought for the charming graphics.
When I worked in here before the redo, I couldn’t wait to end my day at 7:00 p.m. or so. I’d switch off the computers and practically run into my sitting room to escape the clutter and feeling of unending (and often unsatisfying) projects. (My sitting room is another upstairs room, but small, feminine and cozy.) In just two days, I feel my thoughts opening up and out. Almost as if the roof isn’t even there.
Thanks for dropping in! Sign the guest "page" if you’d like (I can see someone has already been here). See you here tomorrow!
. . . to my new office! This week I’ll show pics and describe how I tore out an old office that was no longer working for me and created a vision I’d been keeping inside me for more than a year. The new office reflects my new direction in writing . . . and where I am at this time in my life. So welcome!
You may recognize the vintage child’s easel I bought a while back. Once I decided I was going to do this make-over, I began picking up things at junk shops and antique malls. Most of the time I didn’t know where they’d go in the grand scheme of things. But I had a rule: everything had to pull its weight. The easel is from the early 50s. The top part scrolls to different scenes and the alphabet.
We can’t have an office-warming without goodies! This vintage child’s ironing board almost didn’t make it in here. As I arranged and "fluffed," I could not find a spot for the ironing board. Unlike my other childs’ ironing boards, this one isn’t attractive folded up so I couldn’t hang it on the wall. I was about to relegate to the garage when it said, "Please, give me a chance!" "Where are you going?" I asked. "And what will you do?" "Put me right here beside the big dresser," it said. "I’ll hold incoming mail." And so it will. When it’s not holding cookies.
Here is my office Before. I have a lot of these shots, but this one gives you an idea of how messy and cluttered it had become over the years. Trouble began when I went to grad school. I had another life in this room. To accommodate those books and notebooks and files, I just added tacky little bookcases and plastic hold-alls. Pretty soon I couldn’t walk. It didn’t help that I had a cat tree, litter box, food dishes, a tarp to protect the carpet (futile), and two exercise machines (used for bookstands). Every year I’d weed out books and paper and files, but the stuff crept back. The only way to really clean out my room was to move every single solitary thing.
When I began planning my office re-do last year, I decided that I’d go for a vintage look, which is in every room in the house but this one. I believed my office should be all business. It was . . . and boring. When we moved in 14 years ago, I decorated the room in Early Children’s Book. Lots of Mary Engelbreit. Publisher’s posters. Toys based on children’s books.
But I’m not that same person any more. I still write children’s books, but my work is heading in a new direction. I’m settling into the novel genre, using my Southern/Virginia background. I wanted my office to reflect that. So . . . out went the Mary Engelbreit, the children’s book character toys, the posters, even original art from my own picture books is in storage. The cat stuff went when Xenia died. The exercise equipment went to the shed. My biggest problem was storing comp copies. I’ve published over a hundred books and often receive 25 comp copies. Do the math. I’m drowning in books. I had a bunker of comp copies under my desk. So I began buying vintage suitcases to store them.
Then I decided the ticky-tacky bookcases and plastic hold-alls had to go. I decided to purchase old furniture painted shabby white: two dressers, an armoire, a boudoir chair, and a 1960 Silvertone console radio joined the pieces I already had. Some bookcases would stay, of course, but I rearranged the furniture into "areas." My desk/work station area. A bookcase/reading chair nook. A project station in one dormer alcove.
Well, enough for today. Have a cookie. Browse the bookcases. Have a seat! Tomorrow I’ll be back!
Painting the trim in my office.
Buying more flowers and planting them.
Buying a rug for my office, wrong color, returning it.
Buying another rug for my office, still not right color, returning it.
Getting bright idea to paint entire upstairs hall and woodwork.
Going to Lowe’s.
Going to Lowe’s
Going to Home Depot.
Going to Lowe’s.
Painting upstairs hall which has 17 doors.
Husband was busy, too.
Raking bird garden.
Putting down mulch in bird garden.
Painting his entire shed (I picked the colors).
Having a small ceremony to bury the ashes of Xenia (Dec. 9, 2009) and Mulan (Apr. 24, 2007).
The cat angel is for Mulan.
The plaque is for Xenia.
Goodbye for at least week!
My office is officially closed as of this post.
When I come back, writing will feel really great!
When my mother died, more than 20 years ago, my sister and I asked our aunts, my mother’s sisters, if they wanted something of hers. One aunt went immediately to the china cabinet and took my mother’s favorite and most valuable carnival glass pitcher. Another aunt claimed a carnival glass fruit bowl that I had bought my mother as a birthday present. And the last aunt asked me bluntly, "Where’s the quilt?" Numb with grief but not so dumb that I’d let her have our most precious family heirloom, I said, "We haven’t found it yet."
I was lying. I’d spirited the quilt away to my house. I’d wanted it since I was ten, when I first saw it. The quilt was our family history stitched together, some patches frayed, but most still firmly anchored.
I’m sorry the photos aren’t better. But you can see it’s a crazy quilt. It was sewn by my grandmother–my mother’s mother–and her mother-in-law–my grandfather’s mother–circa 1916. Crazy quilts are usually made of sumptious fabrics: velvet, satin, silk, lace. The few maroon velvet patches in this quilt make me wonder if my grandmother had cut up an old party dress. There are a couple of satin strips, frayed to a web of silken threads. Tiny lace insets here and there may have been snipped from a petticoat.
The summer I was ten, my mother unfurled the quilt on our living room floor. My grandmother had died on Easter Monday that year. My grandfather was very sick and would be gone with the October leaves. My stepfather’s father would go to his final rest in August. It was a year of funerals. It was the very last time I would see someone "laid out" at home, an old tradition. But in between the sadness, this amazing quilt appeared.
At first glance, this is a somber quilt. The fabrics are shades of brown and black muslin, dark blue cotton, dark green flannel. But the embroidery! A garden of fanciful flowers show off the needlework skills of my grandmother and great-grandmother. The centers of some flowers are filled with an intricate stitch that looks like crochet. Forget-me-nots nod over violets. Roses bloom among daisies. I remember my younger fingers tracing the variety of stitches that connect the patches–daisy-chain, feather, ladder.
That summer, my mother and I studied the names embroidered among the flowers. We picked out "Robert Dellinger and Pollie Dellinger," my grandparents. I’d always thought my grandmother spelled her name "Polly." We found my grandmother’s mother-in-law, "Christiana Dellinger" and her father-in-law, "Aquilla Dellinger." I remember laughing over that ridiculous name. My mother knew most of the names, but not all. Together we touched the date my grandparents were married, "Mar. 2, 1914."
My grandparents were born the same year, 1892. (That makes me sound positively ancient, to have grandparents born two centuries ago!) They were both the youngest of nine children. They grew up two miles apart in Shenandoah County, Virginia, in the lush Shenandoah Valley. My grandmother, who was forced to work in the fields along with her brothers and sisters, married my grandfather to get away from home. I don’t think she loved him. He adored her, however, and took her to his mother’s house in Conicville to live. Christiana Dellinger was a sweet, kind woman. My grandmother loved her more than her own mother. I can picture these two women–one who had been a child during the Civil War–working on this quilt. Christiana probably told my grandmother stories about the people whose names they stitched on the patches.
Around this time, my grandmother became pregnant with her first child. It was a girl. She named her Frances. Frances was born with a cleft palate. Living in a place barely touched by the 20th century, there were no hospitals, no surgeons. Unable to nurse her infant, my grandmother held Frances until she died a few days later. I wondered if my grandmother stopped working on the quilt then. One name is unfinished: "Raymond Ross." Raymond, my mother’s cousin, was born shortly before Frances made her brief appearance on earth. I imagine my grandmother too sticken with grief to finish the name of the boy that had lived while her daughter had not.
My mother was born in June, 1918. The Spanish influenza had taken Christiana, her grandmother, a few months before. My aunt Lelia was born a few years later. Then my grandfather gave up trying to find work in the Valley and moved his family east, over the mountains, to the town of Manassas. At some point, someone had backed the crazy quilt in brown calico. The quilt was put on a closet shelf. And there it stayed until my mother rescued it the summer of 1962.
I aired the quilt a few days ago, laid it out across our bed. It seemed to sigh as I unrolled the cotton sheet I keep it wrapped in. The dust of nearly a century ago mingled with twenty-first century dust. I traced the petals of an intricately embroidered flower, the name of someone long dead. The stitches connecting the scraps of fabric are still holding strong. Remember Me.
. . . this writer makes jewelry.
My entire house is a wreck. My office looks like a furniture store fire sale. Two days from now, the floor man will come to cut the carpet away from the molding so I can paint all the trim. Monday he and his crew arrive to rip up the carpet and install new floors (they don’t know they’ll be working around pieces we can’t move–my four-piece desk, file cabinet, utility cabinet, six bookcases, two dressers, and an armoire–my husband and I can only carry out eight or nine smaller pieces).
In the midst of all this chaos, I finished a nonfiction book. All my contractual obligations are over. I have lots of novel ideas to start working on. But–I can’t get too settled because in a few days, the computers and DSL router will be unhooked. What to do?
Make jewelry. Making Memories, a scrapbook company, has just released this line of funky jewelry components called Vintage Bloom, designed by vintage jewelry artist Jill Schwartz. Years ago, I was into beading, but a slight tremor makes fine-motor skills difficult. With Vintage Bloom, all you do is connect pieces with jump rings! I went from scrapbooker to jewelry designer in zero to sixty.
I made this Monday night, in the middle of the worst allergy attack ever. There was a haystack of used Kleenexes beside me when I finished, but I had made me this artsy, Bohemian necklace. Isn’t it gorgeous? (Click on the photo to see the elements–that flower is fabric, the rhinestone oval looks really old). It looks so pretty on my inspiration board, I may keep it there when I’m not wearing it.
See, that’s the thing about us writers. We get itchy when we can’t work. It helps to have another outlet to channel that creative energy. Even when we’re tired, even when we’re brain-dead from contractual projects, even when our house looks like Dorothy’s tornado picked it up and dropped it, even when we’re bleary-eyed from colds or allergies or insomnia . . . it’s good to keep a small project handy. Something pocket-sized. Something that only requires a few colored pencils, or a pair of round-nosed pliers, or a camera . . .
My husband painted my office all weekend. I was his designated runner. I ran to Lowe’s to get more paint (three trips). I ran to Panera for lunch, to Wegman’s for dinner fixings. I ran out for Seattle’s Best Coffee and homemade peaches and cream cake at a nearby cafe. All these Mercury-winged missions were accomplished in my trusty Honda Civic.
The walls of my room glow like a mine-cut citrine but the rest of my office resembles a crack den. So I sat on our front porch, allergies be blasted. I fell in love with this sweet motel chair (Lowe’s). I meant to put it on the back deck with the two blue grown-up motel chairs but the little chair landed here, to hold books or wee pots of pansies.
Persnickety is our Porch Cat. She showed up one cold December night more than five years ago, curled up in one of the porch chairs. I named her Persephone, but changed it to Persnickety when her personality revealed itself. ("Don’t give me salmon. I had it yesterday." "Don’t touch me. Pet me." "I want in. No, out.") When I sit on the porch, she lies under my chair and purrs.
While we sat, I watched my neighbor’s eight-year-old grandson. First he batted at a tennis ball his mother pitched. Next he flashed up and down the driveway on his quicksilver scooter. Then he zipped off and ran down the grassy slope, a cabbage moth twirling in dizzy circles around his head. He ran so fast he vanished in an eyeblink.
A minute later he came ripping back and hopped on his scooter again. "I’m not goin’ to the park!" he yelled to his mother. "I only am ride to the bottom of the hill." His careless use of verbs enchanted me. Away he tore on his chariot, his Trigger, his Indy racecar. Then he was gone, his rectangular bare back casting off the cares of the world.
It was time to make dinner. I hauled myself out of the chair, aware of the effort. Beside that fleet-footed boy, I am as ponderous as a brontosaurus. Gravity-bound, I lumbered inside the house, wishing I was rabbit-fast like I used to be. I’d forget about cooking and painting and fly over the April-green grass without a backward glance, leaving the cabbage moths giddy.
Not very inspiring, is it? All the stuff is out (nearly). My husband has taped the baseboard and spackled the nail holes. All is ready to paint. Which he should be doing any minute now.
I’m still working on a nonfiction book, due next week. I would love to pack one of my vintage suitcases and check into a B&B and dabble on a novel until this is all over. And come home to my freshly painted office, new floors laid, and the 50-some boxes books and papers unpacked.
Meanwhile, spring is still putting on quite a show outside. Redbud, pink dogwoods (and white), lilacs, cherry trees, and tulips have replaced the flowering pear trees, daffodils, and forsythia. Azaleas are starting to blaze. Because it’s been so hot this week, everything is ahead of schedule. We are all driving green cars.
My allergies, however, will not clear up early. They’ll drag on until the last squirrel-eared oak leaf has unfurled. Hope your spring is filled with flowers and sunshine!