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.

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!

An even fuller week

Thursday night: Tiny Nettles concert in honor of Lulu and her birthday.
Friday night: The sisters arrived! (Plus Eva and Alex, not featured here.)
Saturday morning: Post-race malaise.
Saturday night: Dinner at Monsoon with the fam. Brothers Pratt here.

This past week I:

  • Attended a surprise birthday show for Lulu, in which Tiny Nettles played; ate the best (and longest? Most intestinal?) baked ziti ever, by Greg.
  • Turned 24; received tulips, chocolate, and a beautiful leather leash (for the dog, not me) from my dear husband.
  • Welcomed my sisters, Alex, and Eva for the weekend.
  • Ran the Charlottesville 10-miler, didn’t die.
  • Ate a celebratory dinner at Monsoon with family and friends.
  • Enjoyed the company of many friends at The Local for drinks; felt so very blessed by each one of them.
  • Went to the Gordon Avenue book sale, the best bi-annual book sale ever.
  • Met a new calligraphy client to start on another job.
  • Observed Palm Sunday; was reminded of that feeling during the Passion reading, “Wait, why do I have to be the crowd? I don’t want this part; it’s the bad guy’s part… Oh, wait. Right.”
  • Watched Guion finish his master’s thesis, provided some opinions on last lines and em dashes; felt so proud of him.
  • Felt very happy.

Love you all very much. There’s a complete set of the weekend’s photos on my Flickr and Grace also published a very nice weekend re-cap, if you’re hankering for more.

Monday Snax

Big city living. Davis, West Virginia.
Matt, Liz, and Ross, surviving switchbacks.

We took a very short weekend trip to the tiny mountain town of Thomas, West Virginia, so the boys could visit Mountain State Brewing Co. (Liz and I were able to find a coffee shop, to our amazement, which provided some respite from the bar.) We narrowly survived the seemingly endless switchbacks and hairpin turns and the little Versa even trucked it up there. A fun and very different way to spend the weekend; more photos on Flickr.

Snax:

Longform’s Best of 2011. The best long-form journalism from last year. I really want to read all of these. I love a good, thorough, and fascinating article. (Longform)

The 25 Greatest Epigraphs in Literature. I love a good epigraph! This is a great and comprehensive list. Have you read any of these novels? Do you agree? (Flavorwire)

World’s Biggest Websites at Launch, 1990s. Wow, Amazon. Looking pretty rough. And Google, that exclamation point? Garish. (Retronaut)

Best Correction in New York Times History. This takes the cake. You have to admire their commitment to accuracy. (Best Week Ever)

Christmas Time with the Family. Grace’s touching recap of our (lovely and goofy) family holidays. (Como Say What?)

Most Anticipated: The Great 2012 Book Preview. Wow. Apparently, there are a lot of great books set to come out this year. I’m looking forward to reading many of them! (I’m especially excited about Marilynne Robinson’s When I Was a Child, I Read Books.) (The Millions)

Dallas Calligrapher: Fabulous Forty. Now that is impressive calligraphy: Flexible nib with white ink, slanted, on a hot pink envelope. I’m jealous of her skills. (The Lefthanded Calligrapher)

Scandals of Classic Hollywood: Cary Grant’s Intimate Bromance. Thoughts on the beautiful and peerless Grant and his versatile loves. (The Hairpin)

Monday Snax

Dead orchard
Spooky peach trees.
Afternoon in Crozet
Guion on a Crozet farm road.

A peaceful, efficient weekend. Back to the book sale again; ran a lot of errands; Guion was on tour with Nettles, the Hill and Wood, and Camp Christopher in D.C. and Princeton.  One of the highlights of the weekend was a photo session with the incredible Kristin Moore, who took us out to Chiles Peach Orchard in Crozet for a fun afternoon among the spooky/awesome dead trees. Kristin is so sweet and encouraging and she made us feel OK about being in front of the camera, despite our overwhelming awkwardness.

My paternal grandfather passed away this weekend. He was a happy man who flew helicopters and told jokes, but I did not know him very well. It is a strange feeling, to acknowledge that you feel so empty and detached about your grandfather’s death, but my heart is heavy for my father and his siblings. They feel something for him that I never got the chance to, and for that, I am sad. Rest in peace, Papa John.

Snax with a box of clementines, which are easily the main reason winter is passable:

Faroes. Good friend Ross McDermott went on an adventure to the mystical and hidden Faroe Islands and his photographs of the trip are just incredible. It looks like such an enchanted place; I want to go! (Ross McDermott’s Flickr)

Palmetto Bluff. Meredith visits this amazing inn in South Carolina. I’m a sucker for hanging moss; it makes me want to go read a dozen Eudora Welty stories. (Meredith Perdue)

LIFE Magazine’s 20 Worst Covers. You have to respect a magazine with the ability to make fun of itself. These are pretty horrendous. (LIFE)

Our Bella, Ourselves. As a self-respecting woman with a functional brain, I have a lot of disdain for all things Twilight. But this is a very interesting perspective on Bella Swan–the weak, useless, defenseless, and indecisive “heroine”–as a mirror of her fanbase. Teen girls love these books, because they see something of themselves in Bella. Sad, but maybe true? (The Hairpin)

2011 Holiday Card Roundup, Part 4. If I were a rich woman, I would spend an unforgivable amount of money on cards like these. (Oh, So Beautiful Paper)

Calligraphy Inspiration: Kathryn Murray. So pretty and whimsical. To have such control over one’s nib! (Oh, So Beautiful Paper)

Joan Didion’s Packing List. That is very efficient, Ms. Didion. I approve. (English Muse)

Reading 1Q84: The Case for Fiction in a Busy Life. A sound and compelling argument for reading thick novels even when your life is insane. (The Millions)

Monday Snax

The four of us, about to leave Primland.

(More Primland photos here!)

We enjoyed a simultaneously wild (nightmare car ride; lost in the woods; I vomited) and relaxing (watching ANTM; eating chocolate; drinking wine) weekend at Primland. I already miss the family women, but I am delighted at the thought that I get to see them all again in just a few days! Very thankful for Thanksgiving.

Today, I’d like to do a special feature on Snax and share with you the work of some of our incredibly gifted friends here:

Matt Kleberg. Matt is one of the most hilarious and generous people we have met in Charlottesville, and he’s also one of the greatest painters. I have loved discovering his work and am always so impressed with his color choices and approaches. Enjoy his diverse and beautiful portfolio! (Matt Kleberg)

Ross McDermott. Ross and I somehow always end up sitting next to each other and conspiring. In our friend circle, we rank at the opposite ends of the age spectrum (he’s the oldest; I’m the youngest). We get along well. I didn’t know until recently how talented he was with a camera. National Geographic (yes, the premier photography publication) courted him to produce the American Festivals Project. He traveled around the country for a year capturing America’s craziest and most interesting festivals. The results are outstanding. (Surface Below)

Now, back to your regularly scheduled program. With some gravy and cranberry sauce on the side.

Dogs Don’t Understand Basic Concepts Like Moving. I just discovered Allie Brosh’s blog, and it has had me LOL’ing all over the place. I think this is my favorite post so far. Please enjoy. Please LOL. (Hyperbole and a Half)

Ernie. Ernie the lop-eared rabbit looks startlingly similar to our childhood bunny, Spencer. Want to snuggle right now. (From Me to You)

Mirror Mirror. In general, I feel like pregnancy photo shoots always turn out weird and awkward, but this one takes the cake. (Awkward Family Photos)

Free Font: Matilde. I’m always on the lookout for pretty fonts, especially when they’re free. I really like this one. So delicate. (How About Orange)

Photo of the Day. This kid knows what he wants, and he will stop at nothing to get it. (Marvelous Kiddo)

The 10 Most Confusing Vintage Subway Ads. Advertising from the 1940s and 50s is almost always hilarious. And weird. (Best Week Ever)

Owl Lover 2011 Calendar. OK, so I wouldn’t exactly classify myself as an “owl lover,” but this calendar tool is pretty sweet. A collection of artists painted/drew/designed some owls and this site lets you assign your favorite works to a month and print off a lovely 2011 calendar for yourself. I pinned mine to my cubicle wall.