Over the weekend, I moved into my new house in Wyoming, Michigan (nowhere near the state of Wyoming, just like the college town where I went for my Ph.D. coursework, Indiana, Pennsylvania, is nowhere near the state of Indiana). My previous house, in Virginia, was a modular on a slab, built in 2005, so while it was almost maintenance-free, it wasn’t a home with which I would associate the word “character” (though, to give the previous homeowners credit, they had added a really cool tile floor in the kitchen and some lovely landscaping outside). But my new home was built in the 1940s and has a basement and a little Cape Cod-style upstairs level, so it’s full of character, quirk, and whatever else you want to call it. I have always loved houses with funny little alcoves and cupboard doors in unexpected places, and my new house has plenty of these. Plus, the previous homeowner left a number of built-ins (such as corner knick-knack shelves) and a few non-built-ins (such as an old but functional metal desk in the basement) around the house, so I’ve been having fun running around the house thinking of ways to use these little surprises, even the ones that aren’t terribly functional. Here are some of my favorite features:
- The ultimate hiding place. In the upper level, there are two recesses in the sloped ceiling/wall, one of which contains a bar on which I’ve hung clothes. There’s one spot where the recess goes back deeper than the opening, so if I push the clothes aside, I have a perfect hiding spot. But it gets better: You can only get to the upper story through the bathroom, and when the door is shut, it just looks like a closet. Hey, wait, I shouldn’t be telling you this, in case we play hide and seek in my house someday (a likely scenario). I think I mentioned in a previous post that I enjoyed hiding in the sloped closets of the Cape Cod house where we lived when I was a little kid, and apparently I have not lost that joy.
- The wonky antique cabinet. In the basement, there’s a large old wooden cabinet that isn’t built-in but appears to be very heavy and unwieldy, and the basement stairs are not conducive to carrying furniture, so it’s functionally part of the house now. (I would love to know the story of how it got down there in the first place–or maybe it was built down there.) The doors don’t quite shut right, and it badly needs to be cleaned out (it’s full of random home improvement stuff, including some paint cans that may come in handy) but as my antiques-minded sister pointed out, if I ever felt ambitious, I could paint it and put new doors on and have a lovely showpiece. Or it could just remain a quirky conversation piece.
- All the basement shelving I could ever want. This one isn’t quite as exciting as the others, but because I’m going to be using the laundry primarily for laundry and storage (there’s also a guest bedroom down there, which is slightly larger than my “master” bedroom), and also because I’m kind of a hoarder, the amount of shelving down there is a dream come true. In addition to the built-in shelves and table, the previous homeowner left a large metal portable unit that’s going to be perfect for hanging just-washed clothes. And there’s even a sink next to the washing machine, which I appreciate for its novelty as well as its utility. (I guess it’s not that unusual to have a sink next to the washing machine, but I’ve never had one before, so it’s fun.)
I could go on: There are lyrics to John Lennon’s “Imagine” painted on the inside of the door frame of the room I’m going to use as a library/reading room (not a design choice I would have chosen, but I can think of worse songs she could have picked); there’s a grapevine Christmas wreath up in the eaves of the shed, so I’ll have to get my ladder and see if I can dig it out, and there are TWO lazy susans in the kitchen cabinets. There are mirrors and coat hooks in convenient places–that’s less money I’ll have to spend at Lowe’s–and I even like the colorful cabinet hardware and light switch plates in the kitchen. I live in a fun house, and I can’t wait to get all my stuff unpacked and make it truly my own (oh, and to decorate it for Christmas!).
Last year, I enjoyed writing an Advent-themed post for each Monday leading up to Christmas (and I hope you enjoyed reading them), so I’ll be doing it again this year. Christmas Day is a Monday this year, and I plan to post as usual!
Today, I want to give you a life hack from The Girl Who Tries to Do Everything. Ever since Facebook started suggesting events in my area (sometime this past summer, I think), I’ve become obsessed with marking myself “Interested” in as many events as possible. They all look so fun! The events I actually show up to comprise, predictably, only a small percentage of the ones I star. Also predictably, the number of suggested events that look really fun has increased sharply with the onset of the Christmas season. And also predictably, I didn’t go to a single one of the events I was supposedly interested in this past weekend. But I did have a lovely time at home decorating my tree, writing Christmas cards, listening to the same Christmas albums I always listen to, and drinking way too much hot chocolate. So here’s my advice: Don’t try to go to every event and participate in every activity that comes to your attention this Christmas season. But, conversely, don’t let your inability to do everything paralyze you into inaction. Do a few meaningful things that make you happy–which may not be the same as mine.
Here are some things I’ve decided to do this month:
- Go see ONE Christmas play/show/concert: A friend of mine is stage-managing a production of White Christmas, and since I know that I love this story and its music (here is a post that addresses an interesting sartorial question from the film), I know that attending the show will be worth my time. Accordingly, I’ve already bought myself a ticket and put it on my calendar.
- Pick ONE recipe to take to parties: Fortunately, several of the Christmas parties I’m attending this month are catered or at a restaurant. But for those parties where I’m excepted (or feel obligated) to contribute food, I’m not trying a different ambitious recipe for each one; I’m making festively-shaped sugar cookies. That’s it. I do love to cook and bake–you know that if you read my blog regularly–but I can get serious burnout at this time of year if I’m not careful. By reserving my cooking/baking powers, I should have enough motivation to contribute quite a bit to my family’s holiday meals at the end of the month.
- Look at Christmas lights: Along with listening to music, it’s one of the only forms of holiday entertainment that is free and can be done on the way to something else. My neighborhood is making a solid showing this year, so all I need to do in order to infuse a bit of Christmas cheer into my day is take a slightly different route to my house.
- Make every moment special: That sounds like it belongs on an especially cheesy greeting card, but it’s actually quite practical advice. In December, if I’m sitting down to grade papers or read a book, I plug in my Christmas tree, light all my candles (and there are a lot–I like to pretend I have a fireplace), put on some Christmas music, and make some hot chocolate in one of my festive mugs. So I’m celebrating Christmas even when I’m not celebrating Christmas.
- Spend time with people: I’ve made it sound like I’m doing all of this alone, and I certainly do enjoy hibernating in my house. But this year, I had friends over to help decorate my Christmas tree, and even though I didn’t attend any of those events I starred this past weekend, I did spend some time with people each day. Because in the end, what we do is less important than who we do it with. And that’s sappy, but I can say it because it’s Christmas.
This past weekend, I traveled with my mother and sister to Waco, Texas for Silobration 2017, a festival marking the third anniversary of Magnolia Market at the Silos, the anchor location of the home decor and lifestyle empire of HGTV it couple Chip and Joanna Gaines. Waco is a small city that seems to be in the middle of economic revitalization, surely due in large part to the jobs created and tourism attracted by the Silos and other businesses that would not exist if not for Fixer Upper–such as Harp Design Co., a boutique in a residential part of town that probably has never been fashionable. Waco is in what used to be (and maybe still is, though I didn’t see much evidence of it other than a ton of hamburger joints) cattle country, in the middle of the rural space between Dallas and Austin. The city is home to Baylor University, museums about Texas Rangers, prehistoric mammoths, and Dr. Pepper (which was invented in Waco), and what used to be, a long time ago, the tallest building west of the Mississippi (the Alico building familiar to those who watch Fixer Upper). Yet none of those attractions–even at the now-past height of the Baylor football program–could bring in a crowd the size of what we saw this past weekend.
Why did all these people stand in the blazing heat to wait in line for cupcakes at the bakery, push through crowds in the Magnolia Market itself to buy #shiplap t-shirts, and stand on tiptoe during Friday and Saturday nights’ concerts to see Chip and Joanna on stage? Something about this couple–their laid-back yet charming aesthetic, their work ethic, their countercultural emphasis on family and hospitality–has struck a chord with Americans of a surprisingly wide range of ages, ethnicities, and styles. (And there were a lot of men there too.) I’m not going to wear a t-shirt that says, “Love me like Chip loves Jo” (I saw several of those on people, though it wasn’t sold in the store), but I am on the Magnolia bandwagon. And if nothing else, I’d like to go back to get another grilled cheese sandwich from the Cheddarbox food truck permanently stationed behind the Market. I think grilled cheese is a bandwagon we can all get on.