Monday, May 23, 2016

Kitchen Rescue Finished

I am finally completely finished with my pantry project. The new shelves were finished weeks ago, but what I didn't anticipate was that the old, existing shelving unit would need a serious overhaul. These shelves had been added by the previous owners, taking advantage of a setback in the wall created by the HVAC system they also installed. The shelves were a thoughtful touch, but over the sixteen years that we've lived in this house, they had become indescribably shabby, especially when compared to the new shelves I'd just built. I cleaned them periodically but they hadn't been painted since 1990, when the previous owners built them.

So I emptied the unit and scrubbed it and painted it. When we bought the house, the kitchen had red and yellow floral curtains and the back wall of the shelves was covered with a piece of the same fabric. One of the first things I did when we moved in was get rid of the fabric. Now, I felt that the plain white backing wasn't doing much for me. I tacked fabric scraps to the back of the shelves, but didn't achieve the Brunschwig & Fils look I was going for and I realized that fabric would just get greasy and gross over time. I had paint samples from when we painted the front hall, and after auditioning these on the back of the shelves, I chose Sherwin Williams' Copen Blue.

The cupboard at the bottom was under-utilized and messy. Jon added a shelf to maximize the space.

Cupboard before

Cupboard after - finally a place to store dog treats.
We used to have to stack the canned dog food on the floor.

Pantry wall before - the cookbook shelf was such a disaster

Pantry wall after.
I am determined to prevent clutter from collecting on the bottom shelf where the cookbooks used to be.

Close up of the re-painted shelves

Close up of the shelves I built

The final touch was new cabinet knobs. I disliked the featureless white knobs that came with the shelves. I browsed etsy for about fifteen minutes and selected these vintage blue glass knobs. Are they perfect? No, but they cost $6. If I find something perfect, I'll buy it then, but life is too short to spend hours dithering over cabinet knobs.

I realize this isn't an aspirational pinterest kitchen. My house is humble, but then I've never desired grandeur. Still, I am really happy with how this turned out. I love having all my baking supplies in one place and especially love having separate canisters for each type of flour. I also love my newly-organized cookbook shelf. The canned goods on the top shelf are a bit random, but I'm only putting frequently-used staples up there.

I made good use of the label maker my kids gave me for Christmas

These little celluloid dolls are my pantry gods.
They were my mother's. I am responsible for their painted shoes and eyeballs.
The sharpie outfit and mustache are an unfortunate addition from one of my kids.
I can't be too mad, I remember being outraged at my inability to dress these dolls.

In case anyone is interested, below are linked the earlier posts about this.

Monday, May 16, 2016


Brigid graduated from college this weekend! Her (now) alma mater, Virginia Commonwealth University, is ranked the number one public art school in the United States and the number one school for sculpture among all American art schools. Brigid chose to go there after also being accepted at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, the Pratt Institute, and the Savannah College of Art and Design. Ultimately, her degree is a BFA in art education, but earlier, she majored in communication arts (drawing), then crafts and materials studies, and finally art education. She was also a sculpture major during her time at the University of Cape Town. She'll be teaching art workshops in Richmond this summer and also attending an improv workshop in Munich (with Jon and Seamus).

OK, enough bragging. We're just really proud, and it's also quite nice to reflect on the fact that two of our four children now have bachelor's degrees. (Ian's degree is in classics.) I don't particularly like graduation ceremonies themselves, but the VCU arts graduation was nice. VCU is a huge state school, but the art school has a separate, relatively intimate ceremony in an old theater, rather than the booming Siegel Center where the main school graduation is held. It was laid-back enough to be fun, but with enough pomp to make you realize that we were witnessing a big deal. No attempt was made to police the applause, and amazingly, every name was heard and everyone got their applause too. At the risk of sounding like a fatuous self-appointed judge of graduations, I'll say it was nicely done all around.

Of course, there's always my personal inner drama, but there wasn't much of that either. Having experienced what the UVA graduation does to Charlottesville, I was expecting terrible traffic and an impossible time finding a parking space. Instead, we rolled into a surprisingly quiet Richmond, found a free parking space on the street a short walk from Brigid's apartment. We were early because I'd allowed so much extra time for traffic that never materialized. From Brigid's apartment, it was an easy fifteen minute walk to the Altria Theater. Once there, I had a brief moment of panic when I saw they were searching all bags upon entrance. My own bag contained a ludicrous assortment of things one doesn't usually bring to a graduation: a pair of Dansko clogs (in case the thonged sandals I was wearing got too uncomfortable) a cardigan sweater, a copy of Emma Beddington's (one of my all-time favorite bloggers) lovely memoir (to read while waiting for the ceremony to start) and my entire smaller purse. Luckily, there was no ban on clunky Swedish clogs, just food and drinks and many people had to leave their water bottles at the door.

We were told the ceremony would last from 2:00pm-4:00pm. It started on time, and at precisely 4:02 it was all over and we were grouped together on the curb, planning our next move. We had originally planned to walk down to Belle Isle (hence the clogs) but there was a blast of freezing wind and a sudden downpour that sent us scurrying for home where we drank champagne and posted our pictures onto social media. Later, we went to Ipanema, one of our favorite Richmond restaurants, for a celebratory dinner. Altogether a lovely day.

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Framley Parsonage

I'm so pleased that there is currently some literary buzz about Anthony Trollope. (By "buzz" I mean that other bloggers are reading him and there's an Anthony Trollope Society facebook group.)  His books are so pleasing and they deserve to be read. I was fortunate to have a college English professor assign us Barchester Towers in a British Lit class. I went into the assignment expecting to be bored and came out a decided Trollope fan.

Years later, I decided to read through all six novels in the Barchester Chronicles, got as far as Framley Parsonage, and gave up for some reason. So I added them (including Framley Parsonage as a re-read because I couldn't remember much about it) to my fifty classics list.

The Barchester Chronicles is a series of novels concerning church (and national) politics centered around the fictional cathedral town of Barchester, in the fictional British county of Barsetshire, which seems to be located vaguely west of London. The titles are:
The Warden (1855)
Barchester Towers (1857)
Doctor Thorne (1858)
Framley Parsonage (1861)
The Small House at Allington (1864)
The Last Chronicle of Barset (1867)

"Church politics" sounds super-boring, but the novels are really gently comic romances. I hate to do the inevitable "Jane" comparison, but these novels do put one in the mind of Jane Austen's works in that they are heavily peopled with clergymen and each one involves a young lady in need of a husband. Trollope also had a Jane-level aptitude for poking fun at the foibles of human nature.

In Framley Parsonage, young Mark Robarts has it all. Educated since childhood with Lord Luften, the two men become good friends and as a result, Lord Luften's indomitable mother, Lady Luften provides him with the "living" (i.e. he becomes her vicar) of Framley and also finds for him an eminently suitable wife, Fanny. The living comes with a handsome income and Fanny and Mark settle down to married bliss, housekeeping and babies.

Unfortunately, Mark and Lord Luften are both young and foolish and fall into the clutches of their financially-embarrassed MP,  Mr. Sowerby, who talks them into signing loans for him.  Lord Luften, since he's a lord and all, can get out of the trouble with relatively little inconvenience, but Mark is brought to the brink of ruin and scandal. It is uncomfortable to read about some of the foolish things Mark does, and you have to keep reminding yourself that it's Trollope and everything will work out in the end.

The young lady in need of a husband is Lucy, Mark's sister, and her great romance is the second major plot line in the book. There are also numerous diverting side-plots, and in the last chapter ("How they all got married") there are four weddings for Trollope to relate.

Framley Parsonage is a stellar example of the comfort read, or a cozy book. All conflict is expressed in polite language. Two ladies who would like nothing better than to kill each other will still address each other as, "my dear." Indeed, Trollope is absolutely brilliant at depicting ladies at war, particularly the ongoing, cross-novel conflict between Mrs. Proudie, the Barchester bishop's wife and Mrs. Grantly, wife of the archdeacon. Delicious reading.