Thought in parables

Home and garden, May 2015

My front-yard landscape is filling out in a clumsy kind of way, but its advancements since last year are noteworthy. Almost everything survived the long winter, which made me supremely happy. And we harvested about five cherries from the cherry tree in front, which I also consider to be a success. The plants are happy and thus I am happy. It is a simple formula.

Home and garden, May 2015
Lamb’s ear gone wild.

One mistake was underestimating how crazy lamb’s ear is. It is taking over the tiny plot I naively stuck it in. It’s time to divide and conquer.

My generous, stylish friend Cate bought me this beautiful vintage pair of Italian loafers. She gave them to me as a surprise gift, wrapped up in brown paper, before we sat down to dinner with friends. I am totally in love with these shoes, even though they pinch my gangly toes. I wear them to work as often as I can, in the (vain) hope that they will stretch. They are so perfectly narrow and charming; they make my feet magically look like the feet of a Russian novel’s desirable heroine, who always has two sexy, sexy qualities: (1) “tiny feet” and (2) “a soft, downy upper lip.” Ladies with barely-there mustaches were Tolstoy and Dostoevsky’s jam. Mercifully, I haven’t achieved that yet. But the shoes, ah, the shoes, they are perfect.

We are going on a brief summer holiday to Iceland next week; photos to come!

Also, this dog wants you to come over and play with her.

Dog life in May 2015
Edith!

Virtue and dwelling

Encroaching fig tree
Our bedroom; encroaching fig tree.

My mother used to say that keeping a beautiful home could be seen as her spiritual gift. She has a cornucopia of spiritual gifts, but I agree that hospitality and housekeeping are chief among them. And I use the word “housekeeping” not in the dim, 1950s housewife way; I think of it in the Marilynne Robinson way: housekeeping as a holistic lifestyle, the way that one dwells in a physical space, the way that you create and keep a home. (Accordingly, men engage in housekeeping as much as women do, even if they’re not participating in its most obvious elements, such as decorating and doing such “female” chores as cooking, laundry, sweeping, etc.)

But back to Mom: She has a great eye, which she passed along to Grace. I wouldn’t say that Kelsey and I are devoid of this eye, but we certainly don’t have its abundant powers, which are so clearly manifested in our mother and youngest sister. I aspire to this spiritual gift of the beautiful home, and so I study people like my mom and my sister, and people like Catherine, Stephanie, Ross, Matt and Liz, and Cate, who also have this gift. I want to know how they know what they know. How they can walk into stores that look crammed with junk and find this perfectly patina’d treasure. How they know what works and what doesn’t. How they show such control and restraint.

Can I have a beautiful home if I don’t have the great eye or the gift?

I don’t know, but I do see this ability — to make a beautiful home — as a spiritual gift. A peaceful, welcoming, lovely house shows fruit of the spirit. It’s not everyone’s gift and nor should it be; but I maintain that it is a gift and that it can work on souls with as much power as prophecy.

I read a few books on feng shui during my interior design-reading craze. Although I had trouble believing in many of its essential principles or suggestions (e.g., “Sprinkle sea salt on the floor where you sense negative energy”), the majority of the feng shui wisdom applied to interiors made so much sense to me, even as a western person. It makes sense that high ceilings make the spirit feel freer and lighter and that low ceilings make one feel trapped. It makes sense that mirrors open spaces and that the direction of windows can significantly affect one’s chi. I am fascinated by these tenets, because I have felt the truth of them in many spaces.

Alain de Botton writes in The Architecture of Happiness:

If buildings can act as a repository of our ideals, it is because they can be purged of all the infelicities that corrode ordinary lives. A great work of architecture will speak to us of a degree of serenity, strength, poise and grace to which we, both as creators and audiences, typically cannot do justice–and it will for this very reason beguile and move us. Architecture excites our respect to the extent that it surpasses us.

Buildings work and act on our hearts, whether we want them to or not. And this is why I believe in the spiritual gift of beautiful housekeeping and homemaking. We are beguiled and moved by the physical spaces we inhabit.

Now I just have to figure out how to attain this gift myself. Starting with finding a house with higher ceilings.

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As of Tuesday, I have read 100 books this year, a sizable portion of which were how-to books about keeping houseplants alive. My fiction numbers are down considerably from last year, a fact which I still blame on David Foster Wallace.

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Headed off this weekend to see my brother Win get hitched to my soon-to-be sister Tracy! Can’t wait.

Last ballet class

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Waiting our turn.

My adult beginners’ ballet class ended last night. First new year’s resolution: accomplished!

It was a completely fun, ridiculous endeavor, and I’m so glad I did it, particularly to have the time with Cate and Stephanie each week.

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Most of us, in the studio.

I felt like taking this class was a small victory for me: to have kept doing something that I was naturally terrible at.

I was talking about this with Jonathan last week. We both are quick to give up on things that we don’t have a natural ability for. This, obviously, is a personal failing, but it’s the way I am; I want to be instantly great at something (indicating that I am both prideful and lazy).

Ballet, as I have learned, is NOT something that I have a natural ability for. I mean, look at these robot arms:

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Me and Steph, being robots.

But I stuck with it, even though I felt mostly terrible about myself, and I think I improved on the most minute scale. And I’ve signed up for the second-level class, which will start at the end of March.

So, here’s to sticking with things you’re not good at!

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(With thanks to Stephanie, and classmate Sarah, for the photos.)

First ballet class

Click for source.

One of my 2013 goals is to take a ballet class. My friend Cate is apparently a sharp-eyed blog reader, and she sent me an e-mail a few weeks ago that said there was an adult ballet class at the city parks & rec center in January and that we should take it. “This is one of your 2013 goals, right?” she wrote.

Oh, right. It is.

Frankly, I was kind of dreading fulfilling this goal. Ballet is HARD, y’all. I took ballet for a handful of years, like many little girls, and I think I probably stopped when I was about 11 or 12. I don’t remember why I wanted to stop, but I think it probably had to do with a combination of factors, mainly, that a.) I was not flexible at all, and b.) my bossy personality often conflicted with the bossy personalities of my dance instructors. (Ballet teachers everywhere being famous for being the real-life, studio versions of Miranda Priestly.)

Over the past year, however, my interest in ballet has been reignited. Reignited! I sit around and watch snippets of ballet performances on the sly. I bought the New York City Ballet workout DVD. I am trying not to start a hoarder’s collection of leotards. I think I’d probably blame it mostly on reading Apollo’s Angels, which is just incredible. Also, three of my closest friends (Emily, Catherine, and Rose) were all very serious ballerinas, and I think I have always been a bit jealous of their grace, experience, and fluidity. So. I took up Cate’s challenge and signed up for the class, and then convinced Stephanie to take it with us, too.

Our first class was last night, in the brand-new dance studio in the sparkling, newly renovated rec center. The group is small (10 women, probably all within their early 20s and 30s) and our instructor, Amanda, is young, calm, and clear. We are all plainly nervous, but I think everyone seemed heartened by the fact that none of us looked like we knew what we were doing.

We jumped right into small ballet routines, with hardly any instruction or explanation at all. And it was fun! And confusing! I was relieved. I was worried that the class was going to be a jazzy pilates routine disguised as ballet, but no, this is ballet. We use all the French terms. We have a barre (which Stephanie and I get pushed to the front of, being the class giants). We listen to simpering piano music for an hour. It is the real deal—I mean, as real as you can get from an adult beginner’s class at the parks & rec center. But I am delighted and heartened.

I’d forgotten how physically AND mentally engaging ballet is. It’s not just the utilization of all of these weird muscles you never use; it’s also this intense engagement of the mind, trying to connect the mind with these strange muscles, and then trying to make yourself look like a swan in the process. I am thinking about all sorts of things now: the shape of my spine, the direction of my hips, the turnout of my feet, the flow of my arms, the arrangement of my fingers, sans thumbs…

I’m committed to not looking like a total gangly fool at the end of these six weeks. It will certainly be a challenge, but one that I’m looking forward to. Thanks, Cate, for making me follow up with my goals! More to come.

Babies, block parties, BBQ

Things that happened this past weekend:

Blue House cook-out

1: Win and Tracy came to visit! They both totally charmed Pyrrha (Tracy especially became her particular favorite).

Cate's Baby Shower

2: Cate is having a baby really soon and so there was a beautiful baby shower/garden party in her honor.

3: After the shower, Mary Boyce and I flopped around on her bed and talked about people and things. It was rejuvenating.

Blue House cook-out

4: Ben’s parents hosted a very generous cookout at the Blue House (read: flank steak). Here are Ethan and Hannah, being cute before dinner.

Graves St. Block Party

5: The Graves Street Block Party was resurrected by Ross, who is the only person in Charlottesville who could have accomplished such a thing. No one else has his social prowess, his gracious and notable ability to bring people together and create community out of thin air.

6: I spoke very broken and embarrassing Japanese with the very kind and talented local potter, Ken Nagakui. I felt honored to meet him. He was so generous to me, regarding the vast amount of errors I made in such a small amount of time.

7: I had a slight increase of terror, thinking about how busy I am making my life. And yet I am happy. It is fall! My sister is getting married to one of my good friends from college in a few weeks!

First party success

(No photos, because hostesses don’t have time for such things.)

Last night, we hosted our first party at our new house. As Cate said, “You haven’t really moved in until you’ve thrown a party.” And so now we’re official. We gathered in the backyard to celebrate Guion’s birthday AND his amazing cobbler-making skills. I announce it freely: My husband is a way better cook than I am. It’s taken me two years to admit it, but there it is. Pyrrha did amazingly well with the whole party, considering we had 20 new people swarming her yard. By the end of the night, she claimed the picnic blanket as her throne and watched us, mere minions, flit about her.

Caleb is with us this weekend, having made his annual summer sojourn to Charlottesville. He is helpful and funny and speaks Guion’s language in a way that few other people do.

I am reading this oft-mentioned article right now and have been pondering its many ramifications; poor Caleb got an earful when he was helping me with the dishes. I need some lady-friends to talk to about this. I need those long, rambling nights with Rose, Cristina, Emily, Kathryn, Catherine

A small sampling of things I cannot do

Click for source.

Lent is all about reflection and about how we’re pretty much down in the dumps when we’re sans Savior. In accordance with that, here’s my seriously truncated list of things I cannot do.

I can’t:

  • Throw a football.
  • Do math above a fifth-grade level. (Probably. I haven’t tried. The only math I do on a regular basis is calculate tips, and sometimes I don’t even do that accurately.)
  • Eat chocolate without melting some portion of it into my clothes. Chocolate is really hard to get out of most fabric, kids. You’ve been warned.
  • Read anything, anywhere without looking for grammatical or punctuation errors.
  • Take politicians seriously.
  • Touch my toes. (Have you seen how long my legs are? I protest! They are too long!)
  • Dance.
  • Wear cable-knit sweaters. (But, really, who can? Welsh or Irish farmers may be the only ones.)
  • Pass a dog without wanting to pet it.
  • Watch war movies. See also: Talk about war movies.
  • Drive a manual transmission car. We got a 10-minute lesson from a car salesman in August, but I felt like we were all going to die in a jerky, fiery blaze the whole time I was behind the wheel and on the clutch.
  • Read music.
  • Watch golf for more than three minutes without crying out from desperate, desperate boredom.
  • Skateboard. Not that I’ve ever tried. Or have any desire to try. It is easily the most stressful form of transportation to observe.
  • Watch FOX News without my blood pressure spiking significantly.
  • Enjoy a trip to the mall.
  • Make crafts.
  • Hide my emotions from my face.
  • Open wine bottles without seriously messing up or losing the cork.
  • Let my feet touch the bottom of a slimy lake or river without wanting to vomit. I can walk barefoot on rocks in a stream all day long, but please, please don’t ask me to put them in the green slime. See: Trip to Rivanna swimming hole, circa summer 2010, in which I bailed and sat on a log near the very pregnant and beautiful Cate.
  • Kill animals or watch animals being killed. See also: Kill people or watch people being killed.
  • Tell a joke without making an allusion to Liz Lemon or a member of the Bluth family.

And these are just a FEW of them! I can’t do so many things. Lenten conclusion? Jesus is OK with this list.

Monday recap

Things we’ve been doing lately:

(Click on an image to enlarge it.)

Also, we *might* have found a house for next year! I’m so excited; it’s all I think about. Will let you know once we find out for sure.

Not much in the mood for snaxing today, but maybe later… Too much to do, too much on my mind! You know how it is.

My personal fashion icons

I’ve never purported to be fashionable. I tend to wear things until they wear out. I might dress like a soccer mom sometimes. Almost all fashion blogs are extremely boring to me. I don’t know anything about how to put an outfit together.

And yet. I really want to be “fashionable,” whatever that means. I am surrounded by many women who unfailingly rock whatever they are wearing. I envy them and simultaneously I love watching them wear just about anything. These are not famous people, but they should be, because they know how to wear the hell out of a garment.

To name a few of my personal fashion icons:

GRACE

Grace has been obsessed with fashion since she was a child. She wore my mother out by insisting on changing her clothes every few hours. When Grace was five, my mother finally gave up battling her every Sunday on what she would wear to church. So, little Grace showed up for Sunday school in a “101 Dalmatians” bathing suit, a pink tutu, and snakeskin cowboy boots. The kid was very forward-thinking.

Once Kelsey and I left home, Grace took over the giant walk-in closet that was supposed to be shared between the three of us. Instead, it’s now a bedroom-sized space for her gargantuan wardrobe. Kels and I like to joke that she has a preternatural sense of where everything is, despite the fact that it often looks like a disaster. If we happen to borrow a T-shirt from a folded stack of about 50 T-shirts, Grace knows. She comes into the closet, sniffs the air like a wolf tracking something, and says, “Did you take something?” (We swear she knew when we took some of her dresses and skirts and other enviable pretty things home with us when she was abroad.)

Grace is the person you want by your side when you venture into Goodwill or any other thrifting location. Scanning for gems in a thrift store might be her spiritual gift. She pulls things off the rack that look totally absurd and gross, but the minute she puts them on, they are transformed and she looks like a goddess. We all hate her for it.

Her style has evolved over the years and I think it’s become increasingly crazy, which I like. She is a huge fan of layers. Whether she’s layering vests or skirts or bangles, she likes to wear many things at once. She does not believe in minimalism when she dresses and yet she always makes it work. Grace, thanks for being my perpetual wardrobe inspiration and for always showing me how I can wear something better.

CATHERINE

So hot right now
L to R: Catherine, Emily, and Jonathan. All three of them should be my lifelong fashion icons, really.

From the first day I met Catherine at UNC, I have been enamored with her wardrobe. I always want to look exactly like her.

Even though I have never been to Europe, my general sense is that Catherine has a very European style. (She’s half English, after all, and has family in France.) Catherine is extremely cultured and elegant. She partakes in the finer pursuits; she is a gifted ballerina and violinist and speaks beautiful French.

Her wardrobe always speaks of this elegance, and yet it is very versatile. One day, she will wear a gorgeous dress from some Paris boutique; the next, she will look incredible in her running skort, t-shirt, and big earrings. I don’t know how she does it.

One of my favorite things about Catherine’s style is how she picks an accent piece and wears it with everything for a week or more. Sometimes it would be a pair of earrings. Sometimes a bracelet. Sometimes a lavender-colored pashmina. Regardless of the weather or the situation, Catherine would wear that one piece. She brought class to every environment. Whenever I see her, I am usually stunned by how amazing she looks. I think she can do anything.

ANGELA

So fashionable right nowAngela pretends like she doesn’t know about fashion, but she always looks 110% incredible, so I don’t believe her. I’ll give her a compliment about whatever fabulous thing she’s wearing and she just says, “Abby, stop it! I love what you’re wearing!” And I’m wearing some dingy T-shirt and jorts or something like that.

Angela excels at minimal outfits with a lot of personal panache. On their own, the separate items of her dress seem simple and plain, but when she puts them all together, she looks nothing short of magnificent. (It helps that she’s also exceptionally beautiful.)

COURTNEY

I think Courtney was probably an artist in her former life, because if anyone knows how to use color, it’s this girl.

I had the great fortune of getting to live with her during my senior year of college. CoCo was always busting up in the living room wearing something fabulous and making the rest of us jealous. Her use of color is inspiring to me and I wish I had her sense of how to combine things for maximum effect.

Courtney is also very capable with mixing and matching, as her 30-day project demonstrated. She has a way with clothes and should be soundly commended for it.

CATE

Cate and Charlie. Source: Stolen from Cate's Facebook.

Mary Boyce and I were talking at church the other day about how we want to dress more like Cate. Cate just had a baby and looks like a rock star. She has the most incredible look that’s a mix of spontaneity and deliberate lines. She also dresses almost exclusively in whites and neutrals, which I find compelling and amazing. Because of Cate, I want to buy more white things. I foolishly think that if I only had more white pieces, then I’d look as fabulous as she does all the time.

Also. If I had a friend who was my male fashion icon, it would definitely be JONATHAN (see photo above with Catherine and Emily). He’s taught me the dire importance of tailoring. And I very often just want to steal most of his clothes (especially his shirts, which are amazing).

Do you have any friends, family that you’d consider your personal fashion icons?

Monday Snax

That is one fresh baby.
Welcome to the world, Leah Catherine! Dear friends Tara and Andrew welcomed this sweet baby on Saturday morning, just in time for Tara's first Mother's Day!

We had a full, busy, and sunny weekend and it was just perfect. I spent most of my weekend around dogs, which naturally made it a wonderful one; I had my volunteer orientation at the Charlottesville-Albemarle SPCA, which I loved. I can’t wait to go back there and walk some more attention-hungry puppies! After getting home, I took a two-hour walk with my beloved Bo. The next morning, I walked our rector’s dogs with Mary-Boyce and then we all went to go see the newest addition to our community, Leah Catherine! Such a sweet baby and SO much hair! Tara looked amazing and we are just so excited to get to hang out with her and watch her grow up.

Snax with a bowl of perfect strawberries:

The Princess Party. This is about a week late now, but I just wanted you to appreciate all of the gorgeous details from Cate’s royal wedding-watching party. Didn’t it look amazing? I feel very privileged to have received an invitation. We had such a good, thoroughly girly time! (The Charlotte)

Rainbow Gatherings. I have an abiding fascination with off-the-grid living communities and I love photo series of these groups of people. Photographer Benoit Paillé spent a series of years with people from the Rainbow Gatherings, which happen all around the world. The people are so haunting and unusual; so many of them look like they might have lived a thousand years ago. (Behance)

Super-Secret War Dogs Are Basically Bionic. This is crazy. Titanium teeth!? Headpieces with microphones so they can hear and respond to handlers’ remote commands?! (Daily Intel)

A Mother’s Day Report Card. A day late, but this is still hilarious. “Helping me with math homework: Average.” (Passive Aggressive Notes)

A Mother’s Prayer, by Tina Fey. A hilarious but heartfelt prayer from the funniest woman alive.  “When the crystal meth is offered, may she remember her parents who cut her grapes in half and stick with beer.” (Peonies and Polaroids)

Best Countries to Be a Mom. Is anyone surprised that Scandinavia rocks this list, too? #1, Norway. Iceland, Sweden, Denmark, and Finland are also in the top 10. The United States is not. (The Hairpin)

Around the Farm. I’m not going to lie: This is kind of our ideal life. Fairytale, dreadlocked children in a tractor? Homemade biscuits? Chicks in a bin? Bring it on. (Farmama)

House G. A sweet house in the Netherlands that was once an old barn. I’ll take it! (Wolf Eyebrows)

The Art of Disney Animation. A collection of sketches and proofs from old Disney films; makes you appreciate the artistry behind those chirpy little films you watched as a child. (Where the Lovely Things Are)

The Man Repeller on Makeup. Ever since Catherine told me about The Man Repeller, I’ve been hooked. Here the main Repeller herself shares her favorite makeup products. I love her. (Into the Gloss)

Gypsy Queen Marina. The strong brow and the devil-may-care attitude! I feel like she wears whatever the heck she wants and manages to look fabulous all day long. (Tales of Endearment)

This Is How We Do It. All I want is to be invited to one of Brian Ferry’s dinner parties. How magical. You can almost hear the sparkle of conversation in his photographs. (Brian Ferry)

A Beautiful Hair Story. A photographer documents the daily regrowth of her hair after cancer treatments. (Design for Mankind)

Meet Riggins. My friend Megan just got a tiny kitten and named it Tim Riggins, after the Friday Night Lights rebel heart-throb. Well done. (Thoughts from a Nest)