Category Archives: Home

Flaimview, today.

Well, hello! I won’t even apologize for the five month lapse in posts–what else could you possibly expect from me at this point? Still, I feel the need to check in here, if only because yesterday marked one year since Ben and I first visited the house, and we’ve been using it heavily since mid-August, so post-demo pictures don’t really do it justice at the moment!

September 21 of last year, we went to see the house and I’m pretty sure I was sunk when I first saw the basement door. Yesterday I posted this to Instagram:

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In many ways, that sums up where we stand. The house is painted; the doors are crazy (and there was something wrong with the paint and it never set completely–we have to repaint them, so I need to decide if I want to change the color a bit); there’s still trim to be touched up; the roofer forgot to fix that little piece so he has to come back; the landscaping is nonexistent. But still: Progress.

I wish I’d had the wherewithal to blog throughout this process. I have learned so much, and now I’m aching to get to work on another project (preferably with someone else’s money, ha!). About seven months ago, a contractor looked at me and said, “you know, most people start with a 1200 square foot ranch or something.” Forget the deep end; we jumped straight into the middle of the ocean. My only previous experience with home improvement was getting Lee St. painted before we moved in, and replacing the kitchen there with the world’s simplest Ikea layout. There was no demo, nothing moved; it took us one week, with Tom’s help.

Here we went straight to a giant 100-year-old house in need of basically every kind of repair. We had to get a new assessment last week, and I spoke with the assessor on the phone before he arrived. He asked what kind of work we had done since buying it and I started listing it:
-Gutted the kitchen, including removing a load-bearing wall (in a balloon-framed house, yikes)
-Gutted 2 bathrooms and did a cosmetic upgrade of a third, plus a powder room
-Installed insulation
-Got a new roof (before closing, actually)
-Replaced and upgraded the entire electrical system, including upgrade to 200amp service and installation of a generator
-Took the heating system from one to three zones and replaced all the exposed heat lines; changed out three radiators
-Replaced water lines in basement
-Upgraded hot water heater
-Installed propane lines for stove and generator
-Restored/reglazed all 52 windows
-Painted (deleaded) entire house, inside and outside
-Replaced roof on porch
-Rewired or replaced all light fixtures
-Refinished floors
-Repaired plaster/rehung ceilings where necessary
-Started work on eradicating several acres of poison ivy
I just kept going and going and when I stopped he just paused and said, “You’ve been busy.” Indeed. It’s been almost exactly nine months since we closed, and aside from the (miserable) electrical work, most projects didn’t get rolling until late April or May. Not bad, now that I look at it all listed out. And of course, now I know the good contractors, so I could jump right in to another project without all the mistakes of bad hires and aggravation of finding the right person. In fact, I have My Guy now, who can do anything and would be the ultimate collaborator on house flips or renovation management–we’ve been half-jokingly discussing how it would work to have me be the homeowner liaison/designer and let him just handle the construction end. Who wants to give us a try?

The kids love going out to the house. Tuck, especially, is in heaven. Tom made him a little wooden ax, and he spends hours in the yard working on trees, playing with sticks, and generally getting grubby. He’s exhausted and so happy at the end of every day, it makes it feel like the whole stressful, costly project was worth it.

Anyway, enough chat from me for now. I know pictures are far more interesting!

A wider view of the outside:

And a reminder of what it looked like a year ago:

House from driveway

And back in the 1970s, with the shutters on (those are coming soon!) via the seller:

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Now inside. I don’t have “official” after pictures yet–our carpenters who have done the kitchen are STILL finishing up, three months late. But here are some shots from the last couple weekends:

Kitchen:

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There will be shelves on the top here, making a kind of built-in hutch in the dining area of the kitchen (this used to be the mudroom):

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Way before, looking towards that mudroom from the entrance to the kitchen (I can’t for the life of me find my photos from the right angle!):
Kitchen before

Powder room Before and Sort-Of-After:

Half bath off mudroom

Foyer:

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Dining room:

Living room (check out those original cushions on the window seats–those things are petrified!):

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I found this packing case–sent to the wife of the original owner–down in the basement!

The next phase is outside. My Guy is bringing in his brush hog (!!!) to mow all the non-wooded spaces around the house and clear the three or four acres of vines, poison ivy, sumac, blackberries, etc. that currently choke access to the woods and are keeping us from getting a sense of what we’ve got. Next year we will need to repair the driveway for drainage and non-mud-pit purposes. We also want to remove six or so gigantic white pines that block light and views, could endanger the house, and are generally just kind of ugly.

After all that, we will start thinking about an actual plan for the “yard” portions of the property. There’s a great huge front and side yard, and then there will be meadow space on the other side and down from the house after the brush hog work is done. The remainder of the property (about 22 acres, I’d guess) is heavily wooded, so we will just gradually work on carving trails into it and seeing what we see. There’s a little hidden meadow area that I found this summer, surrounded by overgrown (non-bearing) fruit trees, where I’d like to make a picnic area and so forth. That will be the fun stuff!

More soon. I can’t wait to see what everything looks like after the mowing!

Previously:
We bought a house!
We demoed the kitchen!

Around the house

I’m still plugging away at the apartment, and the dining room, especially, is really coming together. As a refresher, this is where we were back in the spring: furnished, but the old doors (which barely worked) were fogged over, and really needed to be replaced.

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Before

Happily, our landlords agreed to do it–major upgrade. I bought a million yards of zigzag fabric and took it to a seamstress to have sewn into curtains while we were traveling in May. She….did it. Badly. They’re too short, barely matched, and slightly crooked. Still, at least it’s some pattern and color in the room. I just try not to look too closely, and I learned lots of valuable lessons for next time (I’d never done anything like this before).

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After

I’ve also been trying to get some art up on the walls, and it’s turned out to mostly be the products of Tuck’s (adorable) art class! The teacher is a genius and only puts out 2 colors of paint at a time, so the paintings don’t get muddy and brown, and you can usually get something pretty great-looking out of each class. My favorite so far is this fuschia/orange creation (currently not in place, since the glass in the cheap Target frame IMPLODED the other day, yikes).

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I found kid’s art frames at Target that I hung over the entry bench–they open like books so it’s easy to swap out the art, and there a pocket for storing extra pieces! Genius. I’ve seen similar things at Pottery Barn kids but these were $14.99, so… (Not the greatest quality, but I’m not too worried!)

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Finally, a couple life-improvers I got back in…June? but never posted about. I read the Dinner: A Love Story cookbook in one day when it first came out, and one of the many, many wonderful ideas contained therein was a chalkboard decal where Jenny lists out the menu and activities for the coming week. I found my own, a super-simple one that took 2 minutes to install, and invested in both a chalk pen (for the static events) and really nice chalk (for the week’s menu/etc.). It has really helped me get better about meal planning and thinking things through in advance:

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I also bought a clip-it strip, like the ones we used at Fortune for posting layouts. It’s also what most diners use for orders–there are ceramic beads inside so when you push a paper up, it stays, but then you can pull down gently to take it back out. Genius. That went in the hall to hold papers, invitations, etc.

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I love this house very, very much. Noisy upstairs neighbors aside, it’s been a very happy-making place. Lots of open sky around us, spacious rooms where we can spread out, and tons of great light. I’m very grateful. Next on the docket: An old oriental rug for the living room. Stay tuned!

Things I’m loving

Don’t you love it when technology actually solves a problem? Two quick examples (with grainy Instagram pictures) from my daily life lately (and no, I’m not being paid to plug these products!):

1. Command picture hanging “nails” from 3M
We have plaster walls. Most rooms in the apartment have picture rail, so we can hang art from hooks without putting nails in the walls, but the bedrooms and kitchen are exceptions. Hanging art has generally required putting a screw into the molding, which looks terrible and is a pain. I have been using 3M’s Command Strips–which are like velcro with a sticky backing that supposedly removes from the wall without leaving a mark–to hang small frames in a couple places around the house, but when the time came to rearrange the art in the nursery I had some bigger frames that I wanted to use, and I really didn’t want to punch a bunch more holes in the molding. As I stood in the hardware aisle at Target trying to decide whether I could use the Command Hooks (no, they’re for hanging up…I don’t know, dog leashes? A single scarf? They stick out too far for pictures but only hold 5 pounds.) I noticed these:

Genius for plaster walls.

Um. This is genius. There are double-stick strips of the removable sticky stuff, and you use that to attach a metal plate with, essentially, a nailhead sticking out of it. The large one holds up to 8 pounds, the small one up to 5; I weighed my frames on the kitchen scale (…I know) and the heaviest was 4.5 pounds because I have plexiglass in the bigger ones instead of glass. They were super-easy to use. (You do need to put them in place and then let them sit for an hour before you hang the art.) And Ta-Da! Perfect for gallery walls.

Art hung without nails

2. Nail Effects from Sally Hansen
I am terrible at painting my own nails. It’s always a mess. And I hate getting a manicure, because it takes ages and then I ruin it immediately. Anna at DoorSixteen wrote about the nail polish strips a couple times last month and I was intrigued: Strips of actual nail polish (thus, removable at home, unlike a shellack manicure) that are already dry once you put them on (thus, no smudging)? Fascinating. The downside is that there aren’t really any “normal” colors. It’s all crazy patterns or really bright neons or glitter, I guess because they’re about $9/box and who would pay that much to just get nude nails at home? I would. But I’m guessing that’s the reasoning. I got the most muted option, a dull gold, and OMG MY NAILS LOOK GREAT:

Gilded nails: Those Sally Hansen polish strips actually work! Thx to @doorsixteen for the tip.

There’s a bit of a learning curve, but it was fairly easy to put them on once I figured out how to remove the correct backings in the correct order. Also, I didn’t press the edges down firmly enough on my thumbs. But I was able to use half the package and do both hands, since my nails are short, so I’ll try again once they chip. For $4.50 it’s completely worth it and very fun. I want to try the gold glitter, like Anna did, for the holidays.

Beauty from discards

Every spring the maple trees on our block pop out neon green pompoms, then a few days later push forward tiny new leaves. Within another couple days the little accordion folds have turned into full-on leaves a few inches wide, but I love the in-between stage when the buds are so bright and delicate. To my delight, the neighbors responsible for one of the trees did some pruning during that exact stage this year, and I was able to swipe branches from the yard waste bags on the curb.

Maple branches, spring

Is there an unexpectedly beautiful sign of spring in your neighborhood? I love all the flowering trees, of course, but it’s a shame to overlook things like these maple buds.

Office before & after

Who doesn’t love a before and after? Mine isn’t the most dramatic, unless you’re a big fan of, say, Hoarders or Clean Sweep or some other program about people who have piles of crap everywhere. But I spent last weekend, while Ben was off gallivanting on a ski slope (ok, fine, he was volunteering–on a ski slope), staining and assembling my new desk. Since then I’ve been gradually completing a total long-overdue office clean-up.

Seriously? Things were bad. I would clean and two days later the piles would return. And after Christmas I seemed to accumulate even more piles of stuff that needed new homes–everything on the chair in the photo either came out of my suitcase or was moved from my desk, agh.

The shame!

Office update

The anguish!

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(The gorgeous new laptop standing tall above the mess!)

I picked out a Vika Furusund tabletop with two metal legs and a drawer unit (Vika Alex) on the other side, all from Ikea (obviously). The top is shallower than my old desk, which I’m hoping will force me to keep things tidied away in all my lovely new drawers. It was unfinished pine, so I hit it with some white stain to take away the yellow and make it blend better with the drawers.

Office update

Office update

The drawers weighed a ton (Ben lugged them upstairs for me before he left) and were made up of 900,000 pieces. I’m good at assembly tasks (and jigsaw puzzles) but it still took me a while to put it all together. As soon as I had the new desk in place I realized that because of the shallower depth, the hideous combo of black metal filing cabinet and giant printer/scanner/fax machine is now even more exposed. I will eventually come up with a better solution than this, but for now I covered the side of the filing cabinet with silver woodgrain wrapping paper. I know the cord situation is less than ideal, but you actually don’t see it when the chair is pushed in. Once I get rid of my old laptop there will be a lot less cord to wrangle.

Office update

And now the office is complete! I still should completely clean out the storage closet (not pictured), but that lives behind a curtain, so I’ll survive for now!

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Wider view, to prove that I did clean the chair and floor, as well:

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And my new work surface:

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Nice and fresh, right? We also rearranged the living room after taking the tree down. (*cough* Weeks ago! Yeah! Or last night. *cough*) I like how open it feels but we’re left with an awkward situation involving what used to act as a sofa table and now floats unhappily near the window. We’ll get there, though!

Happy long weekend, people! Be safe and have fun.

(BTW, I’m selling the old desk. It’s sturdy and a good size, I just think I need a smaller surface in my tiny, tiny office. Pictures here without the clutter: http://www.flickr.com/photos/katef/sets/72157623093012193/ $25 OBO.)

The pictures from Monday…

Re. the Flickr problem on Monday, from my mom’s computer in Oregon when I’m not logged in I can choose “copy image address” but it copies a blank fake address. Awesome. Using Gretchen’s workaround (which requires going into the “all sizes” view once logged in), here are some things:

Bittersweet branches for fall:
10/09

A convention on the kitchen counter, prompted by the invasion of the gravy strainer:

This garlic clove looked like a bum:

Heeee!

Seriously though, Flickr can’t….this isn’t sustainable. It takes forever to click through three pages to grab each link!

Dinner last night: Steak, pepperonata, beets, beans, and a salad I copied from dinner Friday at The Butcher Shop: Frisee, bacon vinaigrette, shaved egg, roasted fingerling potatoes.

Dinner tonight: Goin’s toasted pasta with cauliflower and cavolo nero.

Don’t you wish you were in Oregon with me?

Why I write about food (my accidental manifesto)

Ben and I had a long conversation a couple weeks ago, while we were in the car driving back to Cambridge from New Hampshire. We were talking about goals and dreams and we somehow got on the topic of the blog and what I want to do, career-wise, and eventually I found myself going on and on about why I care about food. As I spoke I started to make some connections to my childhood and the way we live now, and I thought it might be useful to lay those things out. Warning, this is long. Long long.

Dinner as bonding time
This isn’t rocket science. There have been tons of studies that link eating dinner as a family to better test scores, behavior, success in life, etc. I’m sure all of that is true, but the root is bonding time, I think.

When I was a kid, we ate dinner at the table every night. Sure, there were exceptions (my parents had a work event, one of us had a play or something at school), but 95% of weeknights we sat down at the table. As my mom finished dinner, Dad would turn off NPR and turn on Dave Brubeck or Miles Davis, light the candles, turn off the overhead lights, and we would set the table with cloth napkins. Everyone was expected to participate in the conversation (which was a major drag when I was 13 or 14), and we stayed at the table until everyone was finished eating. After the main course we’d have salad and wipe our plates with a bit of bread.

When I got married, my mom gave me napkin rings with our initials, along with cloth napkins, as a wedding gift. I don’t know why lighting the candles and using real napkins makes a difference to me, but it does. Maybe it’s that there is a distinct moment when it is truly Dinner Time. Sometimes we are eating a really simple salad and some bread with cheese toasted on it, but we sit across from each other at the table and we talk about our days and it is a really important part of our lives. We both feel off-kilter when we go a week or two without regular meals together at home.

Eating together means you are checking in every night, without the distraction of TV to let you get off the hook and avoid talking. It means eye contact and a glass of wine (or water!) and a respite from the blackberry. It’s not really about the food, but:

Food as social fodder
At some point I started thinking about food more seriously, and I chalk that up to my family, too. When I was in elementary school my mom started teaching cooking classes, as well as getting more and more serious about food herself. By the time I was in high school we were regulars at the farmers market and she had an in with a wholesale gourmet purveyor in Portland. Food had become the common language in my family, and we talked about it all the time.

Ben first visited us in Oregon the summer after we started dating, and at a certain point that week he turned to me and said “Um, do you guys ever stop talking about food?” No. If we’re not discussing what’s for dinner (say, because we’re currently eating dinner), we may be talking about things we plan to eat tomorrow, or things we ate recently that we want to replicate, or what’s due soon at the farmer’s market. Months before a trip to Eugene, my mom starts making a list of things we need to cook while I’m home. We’re a little obsessed.

The result is that I think about food all the time, sort of the way a sports fan thinks about his team of choice. I’m not into the whole “foodie” (gah) restaurant scorecard/chef-tracking thing, but I get really giddy about asparagus season.

What I don’t like is snobbishness and the idea that food needs to be fancy to be good. Food needs to be good to be good. Sure, I focus on trying to keep what I cook local and seasonal, but I won’t lie, we were at a small country fair this weekend and I found it crucially important to sample both the “giant donut” and the fried dough. And some cotton candy. (The giant donut won, and it was indeed the size of my face.) Which brings me to my last point (and about time, too):

Food should be fun and delicious, not scary
I was pleased that the movie version of Julie and Julia highlighted my favorite Julia Child advice, “be fearless.” (My other favorites, paraphrased: never apologize (this trips me up), always mix with your hands, and cover mistakes with whipped cream.) Cooking and eating should be fun, enriching experiences, not stressful ones. When we got married I had never cooked dinner regularly. Living in NYC with roommates and crappy kitchens meant that if I made anything at home, it was probably a fried egg or some Trader Joe’s dumplings. And yet I plunged into cooking that first year in Hanover, choosing Sunday Suppers at Lucques as my cookbook of choice and throwing one, maybe two dinner parties each week. Of course I overshot sometimes, and got stressed out trying to time the meals right, and I freaked out that time the plastic wrap melted into the short ribs, but it never occurred to me that I should start with simpler things, because for me the challenge made it fun.

Maybe it’s because I grew up sitting on the desk in the kitchen while my mom cooked dinner–I certainly didn’t cook much at home, aside from helping her with tedious tasks and going on occasional baking kicks. I did know how to do a lot of basic things, but let me tell you, my knife skills were pretty shoddy. The first time I made those triple pork burgers they took forever, and I swore it wasn’t worth the trouble. Funny; the most recent time I made them the prep took about 1/4 the time. Practice does, indeed, make something closer to perfect. (Though Ben and my mom swear that if I keep practicing one day I’ll be good at slicing bread, and so far that is a blatant lie. Stupid wonky slices.)

What I want to get across is that cooking doesn’t need to be intimidating. The worst that can happen is that you burn the hell out of something, or, um, explode the pyrex, or flood the kitchen with pizza dough. Kitchens are made to be cleaned up. You can always eat a scrambled egg or order takeout if things go truly awry.

I write about food because food makes me happy, and I want it to make other people happy, too.

In the interest of service journalism, How to enjoy food, my humble guide:
Geek out about the colors and shapes of vegetables and food. Use white plates, or vintage ones that make you happy. Try a complicated recipe when it won’t freak you out if it doesn’t work. When in doubt, make a braised stew. Buy dessert unless you really feel up to it. Eat fried dough at every fair you encounter. Eat more noodles. Use salt and butter and olive oil and sugar: In my experience, you’ll be ok if you’re also avoiding processed foods and eating lots of delicious vegetables and not eating pounds of any one thing. Visit farms. Visit farmer’s markets. Save up for one really astonishing meal every so often. Light the candles and sit down at the table for dinner. Brussels sprouts. Cabbage. Carrot salad. Beets. Garlic. Also wine. And, in the summer, gin.

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And now I’m going to go make a dutch baby for dinner, because who doesn’t love an oven pancake?

FYI, in case you planned to buy me a new dining room

This photo from Eddie Ross‘s house tour in Lonny Magazine is everything I love in one place.


photo: Patrick Cline for Lonny. Click here to see the bigger version Eddie posted.

My house is too formal!

(PS: Lonny, the photos are stunning, the content is great, and I can’t get through the magazine on my computer because the interface is so frustrating! Please offer a PDF or something.)

Things I like today: October

As we slip into Autumn, I’ve bought a few new things and am dreaming of a few others. It’s funny how universal that Back to School urge is; this is the one time of year when it’s incredibly hard to resist freshening up my wardrobe and the house. So far I’ve remained pretty restrained, but I thought I’d share a couple things.

1. An older acquisition: Bridge gave me this awesome hand-printed towel as a birthday present, with a quote from Pride & Prejudice. (Oh, Mr. Darcy.) I couldn’t bear to use it as a towel so I tacked it up above the sink and I love the result. (It’s from the shop Brookish on Etsy, though I don’t see any more towels at the moment. Lots of other P&P stuff though!)

2. I had a lingering credit at Simon Pearce, up in Vermont, and while we were in NH last weekend we made the trip over to the main store. I totally scored! I got a salt pig on sale, and found fantastic Dwell placemats on clearance.

Even the little sheep likes the salt cellar:

3. I checked out Laurie Colwin’s “Home Cooking” and “More Home Cooking” from the library ages ago and I can’t bear to return them until my copies arrive from Amazon. Must make gingerbread. Adore Laurie Colwin.

4. Oh god, a couple years ago I became fixated on dark brown shearling-lined Bean Boots, but I resisted because they seemed like they’d get quite a bit of snow in around the laces. The L.L. Bean gods heard my excuse and now they taunt me with these beauties:

I have perfectly good snow boots. I will love them from afar. (And I do still really love the laced-up ones, too.) But they also have nice-looking Hunter-style wellies, complete with fleece liners! I want those. My rain boots leak a little.

5. In honor of fall, I washed out an old spice jar and filled it with cinnamon-sugar. Happy breakfast days for me.

(BTW, I found a roll of 100 of those round blue labels on clearance at Papersource a month or two ago, and I recently labeled the tops of all my spice jars. They are in a container, so I used to have to lift them out one at a time to find a specific jar. I should have labeled them ages ago, duh!)

6. I found a ring at Forever 21 and fell in love with it, but of course it’s, like, gilded plastic and is already starting to peel. I need to find a real-metal version of it, but somehow hollow (light) and sturdy (non-denting). Love love love.

Misc.
This summer I gave in and bought American cheese to use on burgers. Because, I’m sorry, cheddar goes greasy and I don’t like blue cheese much and American melts best. Anyway, the other place American cheese sort of takes the prize is when you want a plain, non-fancy grilled cheese. And burger season is over so guess what I had for lunch yesterday?

You know you’re jealous.

Finally, in crafty news, I found these earrings marked down to $4 at Kohl’s (don’t ask) and thought they’d be pretty cool without all the extra loops. So I took them apart and put them back together.

Things I must do this month:
-Cook something amazing with the mound of shallots I scored from the farm.
-Re-do my desk chair, which is in sad shape with old foam crumbling out of the bottom and onto the floor. (Ew.) My solution has been a plastic bag taped to the bottom of the chair but that’s stopped working.
-Make gingerbread.
-Walk Lola, the darling dog who now lives downstairs!

Floral bounty

Oh dear…I am down and out with the worst cold I’ve had in years, plus a nasty work deadline and a ton of travel in the last few weeks. I do have lots of food to write about but it’s all on my camera and in lieu of finding the camera to upload the photos, I am going to show you pretty, pretty pictures of flowers.

And you’ll like it.

When I was home in Oregon a couple weeks ago (catching this cold) my mom and I visited a good friend who lives on a little farm a few miles outside of town. Linda is a fanatic gardener, especially of roses, and she took me on a garden tour that ended with the culling of more peonies than I’ve ever seen in my life. I filled all of her vases and still took home enough to fill my parents’ entire house. Witness:

The water lilies are blooming, and they should be grateful for the chance, since Linda wants to take out their high-maintenance pond home:

water lily

The gooseberries are ripening, in their magically glowy way:

gooseberry

It’s a bower:

wild rose

Our harvest (incomplete):

peonies

peony

We saw this man on our way home. That is a…dirt unicycle?

One of the many tagalongs I found in the flowers (one earwig managed to evade us until falling into a coffee cup the next day!!):

All arranged:

Linda also had 4-foot calla lilies, so I arranged some of those in the Orla Kiely pitcher I’d brought my mom:

Such ruffles:

If that isn’t luxury, I don’t know what is.

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As long as I’m posting greenery-themed photos, I took these in Rome for the darling Germinatrix, who loves overgrown buildings.

ivy covered