Front yard, before and after

The (fuzzy) listing photo of our house, October 2013; when we saw it for the first time:


Front yard now, circa July 2015:

front yard, July 2015

Plants (and shutters!) make all the difference. I’m still scheming about how to improve the exterior. I desperately want a new front door (I can’t wait to toss that storm door), and I’d love to completely renovate the front stoop (get rid of that concrete and use slate slabs and beef up those skinny columns) and the old concrete front walk. So many plans, so few monies…

On having and holding books

Edith Wharton & puppy.
Edith Wharton and one of her many tiny dogs.

Those who really care for books are seldom content to restrict them to the library, for nothing adds more to the charm of a drawing room than a well-designed bookcase: an expanse of beautiful bindings is as decorative as a fine tapestry.

— Edith Wharton, The Decoration of Houses, 1897

Edith Wharton's library at The Mount. Photo by John Bessler from Edith Wharton: A House Full of Rooms: Architecture, Interiors, Gardens by Theresa Craig.
Wharton’s library at The Mount. Photo by John Bessler.

Edith Wharton knew a thing or two about books and about interior design, so I’m inclined to take her word on this one.

Despite my previously declared feelings about clutter, I have never regarded piles of books as “clutter.” Books are both beautiful and functional, and they are necessary inhabitants of every room. (*Book storage is my primary beef with The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up. Kondo suggests that you only keep about 15 books and that you store them in a closet, behind doors, which is utter barbarism to me.)

I’m very sensitive about bookshelves, too, which is perhaps why it took us months to find a solution for all of the books that are stacked in the basement. We found a perfect, narrow, rickety, white bookshelf at the Habitat store for the living room.

Quiet, simple home
Rickety white shelf on left.

For the basement, we bought this round bookshelf from World Market, which I love.

Latest furniture acquisition #nevertoomanybookshelves
Round bookshelf in basement.

And then last year, my dad and Guion built this wonderful platform bed for the guest room, which features built-in bookshelves underneath.

Guest bedroom redo
Platform bed with built-in bookshelves; handiwork of husband and father.

But we are getting to the point where we will need more bookshelves. We are running out of room to store the books appropriately, and it’s making me antsy and breathless.

In that vein, I am very particular about the organization of books on shelves. One of the biggest fights of our marriage was over the placement of our books and the organizational system that we would follow. (Celeste witnessed the whole thing; she can attest to our joint fervor over book storage. In the end, we reached a compromise that married my desire for strict organizational rules and his love of spontaneous displays of beloved titles.)

In my strongly held opinion, books should be easily found and accessible. Although I appreciate the aesthetic merits of a color-coded bookshelf, know that I’m going to judge you pretty hard for it. Color-coded bookshelves only tell me one thing: You don’t actually read (or further reference) any of these books, because books are not easily recalled or located by the colors of their spines.

That said, I’m all for celebrating the physical beauty of books. If you’re not in the habit of reading or referencing books you own, by all means, color-code your shelves. Because books are, in themselves, quite beautiful, and so I understand the aesthetic appeal of a color-coded shelf. I think this is why I’ve never been too frightened by the e-book revolution. Yes, big-brand bookstores are shuttering all across the country, but I believe that people will still hold onto their real books, because books are physically beautiful. Kindles are not.

There is great pleasure in displaying books in the home, and a room without books in it has always felt empty and soulless to me.

How do you display your books? Do you follow a system, or do you throw caution to the wind with book organization?

Home improvement weekend

My sweet parents came up for this past weekend to help us with a handful of home improvement projects. We had a lot of fun with them (and the pups), and we accomplished a lot!

1: Dad installed a disposal

Pyrrha consults while Jak installs our disposal.
Pyrrha was his constant assistant.

2: Guion replaced the hideous ceiling fan in the dining room with this giant paper lantern ($9 upgrade. Yeah, I’m going to brag about it)


Before (when we bought the house)
Before (when we bought the house)


New dining room light

New lantern

3: Bought a mattress, and Dad and Guion built a platform bed for the guest room! With little bookshelves!


Top floor tour


Guest bedroom redo
(Found the crazy, painted, Asian-inspired side tables at Circa.)

Guest bedroom redo

And I fed my houseplant addiction, which I also consider part of the home improvement processs. Lovely starlight ficus for the living room (so that the maidenhair fern can live in its desired shade elsewhere):

Newest addition to my ever-growing family of plants. #ficus #starlightficus #houseplantfever

Home sweet home

We also just had a great time hanging out, talking, walking the dogs, watching “House of Cards,” and laughing. How lucky to have such resourceful, fun parents.


Walk with these 3 crazies. Sweet shades, @jfarkle.

Main floor tour (in throes of post-move disarray)

Clearly, I am not one to touch up photos before posting them, much less the subject of the photos themselves — in this case, our still unpacked and scattered new home. But I feel like these photos will be encouraging to me in a year or two, when I look back at them and think, “Wow, what lazy bums we once were.” At least, I hope that’s my reaction.

We couldn’t have done any of this without our totally amazing family, who sacrificed their weekends to come help us move, refinish furniture, clean, and paint many rooms (banishing traces of the ubiquitous yellowy cream!). They are all rockstars, and I want to cry just thinking about all they did for us. Bowing down with gratitude for Mom, Dad, Mike, Windy, Kelsey, Alex, Win, and Tracy! And to the Blue House Boys who helped us move and paint: Phil, Sam, Ethan, and Brooks — you rock. We are the luckiest.

That said, here are some photos of the main floor of our new house — exactly as it looks right now.

Living room in disarray
Chaos in the living room. Painted it white (including the fireplace); I think it looks approximately a million times better.
Fireplace painting in progress! #movingweekend
In the midst of fireplace painting. Many thanks to Tracy for her help!
First fire in the fireplace
First fire. Thanks to Aunt B for the screen!
View into kitchen from dining room
View from dining room, also used to be yellowy cream; now pale gray.
Dining room
Refinished Pratt family table! With many thanks to Dad, Mike, Win, and linseed oil.

Main floor bathroom

Pyrrha's room/nursery
Pyrrha’s room. There is nothing else in here but this random stuff.
Lemon tree
Please stay alive, little buddy! Lemon tree with one lemon.
Pyrrha's dominion
View of backyard from deck.
Neurotic watchdog.

There is lots of potential here, and I am currently feeling very overwhelmed by it all. To calm myself, I am internally repeating the truth that it is OK to have mostly empty rooms. It is OK to have mostly empty (scattered) rooms. It is OK…

The soul finds its own home

Click for source.

“That odd capacity for destitution, as if by nature we ought to have so much more than nature gives us. As if we are shockingly unclothed when we lack the complacencies of ordinary life. In destitution, even of feeling or purpose, a human being is more hauntingly human and vulnerable to kindnesses because there is the sense that things should be otherwise, and then the thought of what is wanting and what alleviation would be, and how the soul could be put at ease, restored. At home. But the soul finds its own home if it ever has a home at all.”

— Home, Marilynne Robinson

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

And with that, today I am headed to my old home to watch my sister get married to one of my good friends. What an unexpected blessing! The weekend will be one crazy, happy whirlwind, and I can’t wait to celebrate with and for them. See you next week!

Girls’ road trip

Upstairs hallway at my parents’ home.

Pyrrha and I are taking a girls-only road trip to Davidson tomorrow, to be with family and to help Kelsey with wedding-planning festivities. (Guion has to stay behind and do man stuff, like brew beer and eat beef jerky, or something along those lines.) This will be Pyrrha’s first road trip, and here’s to hoping that it goes smoothly! I am really looking forward to seeing the dearly beloved, crazy family, whom I don’t get to see nearly as often as I’d like. I also go home to mourn the death of Saul Bellow, the three-year-old betta fish. Saul, home just won’t be the same without you.

Will bring back pictures and stories, for sure. Have a lovely weekend!

Singing for the pleasure of the song

Click for source.

“Learn the psalms and ponder the ways of the early church. Know what must be known. Ancient fathers taught their ancient children, who taught their ancient children, these very things. Puritan Milton with his pagan muses. It is like a voice heard from another room, singing for the pleasure of the song, and then you know it, too, and through you it moves by accident and necessity down generations. Then, why singing? Why pleasure in it? And why the blessing of the moment when another voice is heard, dreaming to itself?”

Home, Marilynne Robinson

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Coming and going

We were lucky enough to have Angela in town with us this past weekend. She’s our most faithful and fun house guest and we had a peaceful weekend together. We lounged around on the couch, drinking tea; made dinners together; went on a doggy play date; visited our new house; and generally didn’t want her to leave ever. How nice it is to be with old friends!

Click on a thumbnail to enlarge it:

Oh, and it snowed, of course. The first glimpse of actual winter we’ve had all year. It was pretty and thick, but now it is all gone. I’m OK with that. Bring on the spring! More photos from the weekend here.

My Presidents’ Day was spent freaking out about taxes, as I am wont to do. Doing taxes when one of you is a graduate student = Zero fun times. I think I panic about it because a.) I don’t understand half of it, even with TurboTax, and b.) I get the constant feeling that we’re doing something terribly wrong and we’re going to get audited. Angela and I briefly discussed that all universities should require students take a Personal Finances 101 class before graduating. I totally agree–and I work for a finance non-profit! I should know this stuff! But I don’t. A sad and occasionally dangerous gap in higher education…

Next knowledge obsession: Plants and how to grow them. I am still going to be primarily obsessed with dogs, of course, but my next venture is reading everything I can about gardening. I’m reading Barbara Kingsolver’s farming memoir, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, and enjoying the practical John Seymour’s The New Self-Sufficient Gardener. As I’ve mentioned, we’re inheriting a pretty serious garden from our future landlord and I want to take really good care of it. And just learn some basics about how to keep plants alive. Any advice is very welcome.

Today’s questions

Why is my hair less curly?

What is it about quiet novels about the interior lives of women that resonates so deeply with me? (See: Housekeeping, by Marilynne Robinson, which I just started and I love. See also: All Works by Virginia Woolf.)

Is it possible to make quinoa taste like food?

What type of birds were flocked together in that tree, wailing and calling others to them? Were they starlings? I would prefer that they were starlings.

Why does Thanksgiving still feel so far away?

Where can I go where I can interact with more animals?

Are American politics becoming more and more dangerously polarized these days, or is it just me?

What do I have to do to make myself like yoga?

How do you know if it’s the Holy Spirit or your conscience or your latent desires?

When can I get a dog?