SEARCHING FOR OUR BETTER ANGELS

Reading is one of my favorite pastimes.  I read everything from non-fiction bestsellers to classics to biography and history.   I particularly  love reading historians who don’t just tell me names, dates and places but who can tell a story, who make the past come alive.    I’m an avid reader of  my two favorite historical writers,  Doris Kearns Goodwin and Jon Meacham.  Both have a talent for capturing  larger-than-life characters. With each of these historians I come away having learned new things about their subjects, the nuances of the times in which they lived, and often, lessons for dealing with now.  Their books are infused with facts and poetry, history interpreted through a storyteller’s sensibility

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Earlier this summer, I read the latest book by Jon Meacham called “The Soul of America.”    This  weekend is the anniversary of  Charlottesville rally,  where last year the president, in the face of white supremacy demonstrations,  gave moral equivalency to patriotic Americans seeking justice and equality  and  the apostles of former Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan David Duke  – “very fine people on both sides” Trump said.   “There’s blame on both sides,”  Trump said.   That rally became a catalyst for Meacham to write this book.    Today on the anniversary of Charlottesville, far fewer white supemacists, only about 20,  marched in Washington, tamped down by a far greater number of counter-protesters.   White supremacists were outnumbered at their own rally.     The larger  numbers were really on the side of the anti-racist, anti-fascist counter-protestors.   The President’s reaction?  Under pressure he tried to walk back last year’s comments – too little, too late, and only under duress,  again.  

 We’re living in a world of parallel universes.  Donald Trump  uses slight of hand and distraction admonishing his followers who have surrendered their intellect to him,  to “Just remember, what you’re seeing and what you’re reading is not what’s happening.”    For 22 months we’ve asked ourselves how did we get to this place?  Well, for one thing, having a president who tolerates extremist rhetoric and  fosters an atmosphere where division is not only tolerated but honed, is distructive.      In an interview I saw coincidentally today,  Meacham calls Donald Trump  the  “vivid manifestation of our worst instincts” but they are instincts that are part of our national character.   It’s the confluence of  a period of intense fear and  a willing individual at the helm  creating the storm such as what we are currently living through.     

We’ve been through times of fear before, of course,  and have ultimately  gotten through them.     Meacham talks about fear of “the other,”   people who don’t look like us or sound like us:   fear of immigrants,   fear of Catholics, fear of blacks that have generated times like this.  Incredibly, three to five million Americans were part of the Ku Klux Klan from 1915 to 1927 and  were so integrated into the fabric of our country that they didn’t bother to hide that fact.     Governors of Oregon, Georgia, Texas,  Colorada and others were known members of the KKK.   Seventy years ago, Strom Thurmond, United States Senator from South Carolina, running as a DIxiecrat,  espoused that  communisim would win if swimming pools were integrated.         Indeed  even Franklin Rooseselt, generally a good president whose administration passed legislation that was wildly beneficial for the people,  caved to then-Attorney General of California Earl Warren and instituted the  internment of Japanese Americans during World War II.  

One of the most emotional and prideful moments in the book and in our history was the evolution of Lyndon Johnson  spearheading the Civil and Voting Rights movements in the mid-1960’s.   Here was a Southern President being brought along in his thinking and position on this and ultimately fighting indefatigably for these pivotal pieces of legislation.  He came to politics  as anything but a progressive, appeasing his segregationsist constituents,  having actually weakened civil rights bills in the Senate.   But Meacham calls his ultimate commitment to Civil Rights  “one of the great chapters of personal transformation and of political courage in the history of the presidency – one akin to Lincoln’s move from tolerance of slavery in 1861 to emancipation in 1862-63.”

Each chapter in his book is dedicated to specific crises as cautionary tales or  illustrative of what is possible:  the Revolutionary War and the beautiful country that ultimately resulted,  crises such as the Civil War and the Reconstruction, the destruction created by McCarthyism that sadly ruined countless lives but didn’t ruin the country,  the Great Depression.   We’ve prevailed through them all.  The subtitle of this book is “The Battle for our Better Angels.”   In previous times, Meacham says,  usually with appropriate presidential leadership and  the people themselves  relentlessly communicating – through our vote and through activism –  that this is not who we want to be, that we find that  progress is possible again  and we can re-discover  our better angels.

Jon Meacham is certainly not a Donald Trump fan, but he writes this book with an even hand.   He uses examples of how both Democrat and Republican presidents and institutions have faltered throughout our history and how we’ve addressed each situation.   No matter what side of the political aisle you stand on,  if you read this book, I hope you find it interesting, informative  and provocative.   As Meacham says at the end of his introduction, “Hope is sustaining…Fear can be overcome.”   We can be lifted to higher ground.   

Until next time………

 

GNOCCHI

One of the pastas I routinely make from scratch is gnocchi.    It’s a sort of dumpling whose basic recipe has but three simple ingredients: Potatoes, all purpose flour and eggs. Some people add some parma reggiano or grana padano cheese to the mix but, I’m not a big cheese lover, so don’t add cheese to my gnocchi dough.  I leave it to guests to add cheese to their plate  when it is served.

How many potatoes do I use? Gnocchi, by definition, are heavy so I generally use one russet potato for each of my guests and then one or two for the pot, so to speak. I like leftovers. I boil the potatoes until they are fork soft, I remove them from the water, AND THEN, peel them.  (Note that I have read some  recipes that call for  baking the potatoes and scoop the potato out of the skins once the potatoes are cool, which seems infinitely more civilized than the way I do it.     I peel the skins off my boiled potatoes while they are still pretty hot – almost requiring that I have asbestos hands but I’ve gotten used to it over the years.   I’ve never gotten a good answer about what is accomplished by doing it this way  but, like many people who do things because “that’s the way my grandmother did it,” I’m  just following my family recipe).    I then cut the potatoes  in half and run them through the finest disc of  a potato ricer to get them to a consistency to mix with the eggs and flour.  If you don’t have a ricer you can mash them until they’re smooth.

It’s the flour and eggs that get tricky. I learned my gnocchi recipe from my mother-in-law who learned from her mother and on back for generations. So the answer I get to the flour and egg question is “See how it feels.” But if you’ve never felt the dough texture, that leaves you without a frame of reference.  Over the years I’ve learned that it should feel firm, but not hard, with the ability to roll into a rod, with  thickness the size of a magic marker.  UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_3b88

I start with about four room temperature eggs for about six or seven servings but I generally add at least one more egg to get the consistency I want.

I work with the dough cut into about 18-inch rods. Then I take a butter knife and cut the rods into about 1-inch gnocchi.  Some people at this point just leave the gnocchi in the cut shape.   Others use a fork and flatten them slightly, either for decoration, or so they are more certain to boil to a good consistency.     My family has taught me to flatten the gnocchi by rolling each one on my surface with my index and middle fingers to create a slight dip.

My gnocchi are served with my usual red pasta sauce and meatballs. If you google gnocchi you will see that there are a variety of ways they can be made and served: pan fried as a side dish, with spinach added to the ingredients for spinach gnocchi. Any number of variations can make them your own.

This week my mother-in-law and I made gnocchi, one of my grandson’s favorite dishes,  for our family dinner  for his tenth birthday. We have always made gnocchi, boiled them and served them on the same day. This time though we knew we would not have enough time do all that with all the activity surrounding Luke’s birthday.      I’m generally one of those “what could go wrong” cooks. So we made them on the night before and stored them in the refrigerator and crossed our fingers that they wouldn’t eventually boil into a thick glom. My mother-in-law, a veteran of making thousands of gnocchi in her lifetime, was skeptical.   I’ve made gnocchi about ten times in my lifetime, resulting in about a thousand gnocchi, and I must say they’ve all come out good.       I realized that I was indeed taking a chance not boiling them right after making them.   While putting them in the fridge for a couple of hours is OK according to recipes I found on Google, the real way to save gnocchi for later is to freeze them (apparently you can save them for up to a month this way).  This is something my mother-in-law didn’t know, so I was finally able to teach her something!

I had three pans of uncooked gnocchi dumplings laid out in a single layer on floured white cloths in the pans so that they could dry. I took them out of the fridge and drove to our son and daugher-in-law’s house for the party.

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The raw gnocchi before they turned gray

Let me also prepare you for the look of the gnocchi at this point. Unlike the tan bullets you get when making them and using them immediately, by saving them in the fridge,  they looked like gray oysters. The potatoes will cause the dough to oxidize in the fridge. Some say that it is the eggs that cause the dough to oxidize but in my experience with making homemade linguini and cappelletti, both of which obviously are made with eggs, (but no potatoes) and laid out to dry, neither have ever turned gray. It is only the gnocchi made with potatoes that have turned in my experience.

When I got to my son and daughter-in-law’s home,  I had a few hours before we were going to put the raw gnocchi in boiling water for the finished product. What I did as an experiment when I got to their house was to put one pan of the gnocchi in their freezer. The other two pans, I left in the fridge.  (I also made sure that we had store-bought pasta in the pantry as Plan B in case this all failed!).  I can attest that the gnocchi in the freezer did indeed freeze in that short time and were infinitely easier, keeping their shape, when dumped into the water. But I will also say that even the refrigerated  gnocchi boiled as they should, somewhat misshapen,  but did not congeal into an unappetizing blob. They had a very good consistency to taste and, thankfully, were enjoyed by all – most importantly and particularly by our guest of honor, Luke, who ate a very large dish full!

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The finished product – by the way, this is a picture of the serving dish, not Luke’s portion!

I know many of you are fantastic cooks and I would love to hear about your methods (or liberties) you’ve taken when making any of your other favorite dishes.

Until next time…….

 

 

JERSEY SHORE

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Beach Haven

For anyone  who grew up in eastern Pennsylvania in the ’50’s or ’60’s like I did, part of the  summer  was usually spent at the Jersey Shore,  anywhere along that stretch of oceanfront from Sandy Hook in North Jersey  to Cape May in the south.  As a child and teen, for me and later for my son,  that meant going to either Ocean City, Wildwood, or Atlantic City.   In fact, my son was born along this coast.     Long before there was Snookie and her motley crew that gave the Jersey Shore the crass  reputation that still stands in peoples’ minds today, we who grew up there remember lovely,  low key and unassuming summers, just enjoying the simple pleasures of  the ocean crashing on the sand, the smell of salt water, the boardwalk, pizza and cheesesteaks (on the Jersey shore you’re close enough to Philly to need a cheesesteak) , pork roll (in those days, we didn’t go to the shore for health food!)  salt water taffy, and, in those days, Atlantic City’s Steel Pier.

New Jersey resort afficianadoes have their own vernacular:    we  don’t call the coast “the beach.”    We know the Jersey coast as “The Shore.”  People who are going to any of the resort towns along the coast  say they are going  “down the shore,”  no matter from which direction you are going.  Even if you were headed East straight across New Jersey, you were  still going “down the shore.”  And for most of us it meant being on the Garden State Parkway for a bit or the Atlantic City Expressway.    You simply clarified by telling people which resort you were referring to; example, “I’m going down the shore to Ocean City.”

This year for the first time in many years, my husband and I had an opportunity to spend a week down the shore, on Long Beach Island (LBI), an 18-mile long,  skinny strip of land that boasts some of the shore’s most iconic beach towns with beautiful, quirky names that date back a couple of centuries:   Loveladies, Ship Bottom,  and Beach Haven.       Just before we left for the shore, we picked up a local paper that had run an unscientific study to determine their version of  the top  10 beaches along the Jersey coast.   Several reporters judged all the oceanfront beaches on the Jersey Shore (how did they get this assignment?!) on quality (however you define “quality”), crowd type, size, parking availability, surrounding food venues,  drink and recreation. Sure enough, second on the list, after Cape May, was Beach Haven, the beautiful LBI town where we were about to stay.    What they liked about Beach Haven was its “chill vibe and excellent surrounding attractions” making it “the best of the best” on LBI.

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The ocean at Beach Haven

Incidentally,  three of the 10 places along the shore that made their top 10 list, are on Long Beach Island: along with Beach Haven (#2),  they also liked Ship Bottom (#5 and Harvey Cedars (#9).

We arrived at the house we were renting which was a half block from the water.   It was everything we were looking for: besides proximity to the house, we found a clean spacious beach, beautiful dunes, and wonderful restaurants with amazing selections that didn’t scream “tourist-y.”

Three days after our arrival at the shore, we drove the hour and a half down the coast to Wildwood to visit with family who were also on vacation.   Part of the fun of going to Wildwood for the father in this  family, who now actually live in Texas, was to show his young kids where he had vacationed as a child.

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The beach in Wildwood

Wildwood is the quintessential Jersey resort, and is the beach of our youth!  In fact many of the hotels we passed seemed to have a distinct ’60’s or ’70’s feel to them that we could easily have stayed in way back when.

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The roller coaster on the Wildwood Beach

It also boasts  a large  beach, roller coasters and bullet rides along the water and a boardwalk.

UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_3b23The boardwalk is that slice of wooden planks  that separates the ocean from the kitschy shops, eateries and souvenir hawkers where people meander or take the famous tram car  that’s been in operation from 1949 and starts in North Wildwood, passes through Wildwood and ends in Wildwood Crest.  It’s no surprise  that songs have been written for over a century about the boardwalk and romantic strolls along its pathway.

Beach Haven does not  have a boardwalk but a few blocks to the south of our house,  we found a large number of  places for family outings:  carnival-like ride parks, ice cream parlors,  bars, souvenir shops with the ubiquitous faux sea shells, pictures of lighthouses, cards  and more sweatshirt and T-shirts that you can count.  As I write this,  I realize I’m making it sound tacky but really it is not.  People expect to bring back memorabilia from vacations and I think that if these items and places were not available, the place would disappoint and be somehow boring.   But in Beach Haven because the rides, shops and souvenirs are in town, the beach itself remains pristine and peaceful.     There is  definitely more of a Cape Cod feel to Beach Haven.

Later in the week we spent two beautiful days with  other friends near Egg Harbor, close to Atlantic City.  We even did a walkthrough of  the new casinos in AC, the Hard Rock and Oceans.

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The ceiling of the new Hard Rock casino in Atlantic City

 

UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_3b3f  I continued on  my quest to eat my fill of the freshest eastern seafood all week long.

UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_3b13As with all the places we stayed we had  wonderful dinners starting on the first day of our visit with a clambake of lobster, clams, corn, sausages and baked potatoes,  continuing on with mussels,  tuna steaks, sea bass, calamari – my mercury level is probably glowing but I love it!

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All in all, our  trip to the shore was a throwback to a very simple and fun time in my life.  The ocean always invigorates me.  I had been looking forward to it for several months and I loved every minute of the  being down the shore again.

 

HISTORY, FRIENDS, FAMILY

During the past two weeks my husband, Frank, and I have been in Europe, this time visiting Germany and Holland. I can’t cite actual statistics but I would guess that a more typical destination for a vacation in Europe might be Italy, France, Spain, or Greece. We love those countries and have been fortunate to visit each of them. Our family has been going to Europe for more than thirty years. In addition to just wanting to see iconic places in person that we see in books and on TV, with regard to Italy, we eagerly go back about every 3 years to visit family living in Lecce in southern Italy and to fit in side trips to places like the Amalfi Coast, Matera, Sicily, and Otranto. But I get the sense that countries like Germany and Holland are viewed as sort of second tier when planning European vacations. Indeed in the months that led up to this trip we were asked more than once why Germany? Why Holland? Regarding Germany, Frank lived and worked in Germany for about 8 months in 2005 and 2006, and I visited often. He is currently semi-retired from the company he’s worked for since 2005 and goes back periodically for business, or in this case, to see friends and colleagues. I have to admit that Holland actually is a country that we might have overlooked were it not for family that lives there. This was my fifth or sixth time in Germany and my third trip to Holland. But as always because of family or friends, we’ve grown somewhat familiar with these countries and particularly love venturing off the usual tourist path and seeing how the real people live.
This trip, our first stop was Munich, a beautiful medieval city to which we had never been previously. Astonishing to realize that the very vibrant city in which we stood was heavily damaged in World War II and then rebuilt over the last 50 years. My husband is an avid history buff, and one of his major interests is Germany in the 1920’s and ’30’s and circumstances that led to the rise of the Third Reich. In fact, a mini-theme of this trip became the sites that played major roles during the Second World War. Munich was the birth place of Nazism. We took a walking tour of the city – entitled Hitler’s Munich – with a guide discussing the important facts and seeing the sites that were emblematic of this dark chapter that ended with this beautiful city in ruins.

Night after night and day after day we spent a lot of time in the beautiful Marienplatz, the plaza where in 1923 Hitler tried to launch a failed coup. We people watched, took in the impromptu concerts that sprout up, drank beer, ate wienerschnitzel, but never seemed to be there when the glockenspiel did its thing – the twice daily chimes and dances of the statues.

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The glockenspiel in the Marienplatz in Munich

Next we visited Dachau, a forced labor camp that was the first concentration camp set up by Hitler’s regime. Hitler became the Chancellor of the German Reich in January 1933 and less than two months later, the concentration camp near Dachau was opened. It turned out to be the prototype and the beginning of a system of camps that spread into many other parts of Europe over the next 12 years. The list of the atrocities committed during that time is sobering indeed. By the time that Dachau was liberated by American troops on April 29, 1945, Dachau had housed an estimated 188,000 political prisoners.

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The entry to the Dachau camp – the inscription says “Work makes you free”

It’s sobering that a monster who failed at everything else in his life was able to generate a movement so persuasive as to coalesce people to follow his vision for his adopted country. His one gift – that of screaming oratory and striking the right message for a desparate country – was sufficient to rally enough people to follow him to the gates of hell. He didn’t invent hatred or anti-Semitism. But his mad genius was his ability to transform a kernel of what a segment of people were already feeling into a national mandate so powerful that at the end of his rage 6,000,000 Jews were left massacred. And because of a war that was started when Hitler invaded Poland, 52 million people in Europe alone died. It’s not that there wasn’t resistence but the resistance was never enough to forestall his siege. I think it’s important that places like Dachau and Auschwitz are seen so that we never forget what happened there, that we always stay vigilent in this world so that monstrous acts like these are not repeated.
Our guide at Dachau was a German woman who was born soon after the war ended. It wasn’t until her early teens that she started asking her parents questions about what had happened during the war and what they had known at the time. For years her parents deflected her questions without adequate answers. In 1978, a made-for-TV movie produced in the United States about the Holocaust showed on German TV. It was after this showing that our guide became relentless in her queries of her parents and others who lived through that time in Germany. Eventually she was essentially told that people didn’t really know much but also often didn’t make waves for fear of reprisals to their own families. It was an emotional, stirring and touching end to our tour of this hallowed place where a documented 32,000 people were ultimately put to death, and thousands more, died.

 

It’s always been powerfully moving to talk with the German people – many of whom were not even born during that time – about the national guilt that overtook them for many decades following the war or to read their public declarations of their ownership of their responsibiity of the horrors of that time.

 

On the last of our four days in the Munich area we went to the Neuschwanstein Castle, built by King Ludwig II. It is the prototype for the castle that tinkerbell flies over in the iconic symbol of Disney World. It’s nestled in mountains in Bavaria across the border from the Austrian Alps. In addition it’s surrounded by a lovely little village whose obvious primary industry is tourism. It was a 2-hour bus trip to go there and another 2 hours back to Munich, but we were so glad we did it.

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Neuschwanstein Castle

The next day, we drove the six hours from Munich to Dortmund, Germany, in the the Ruhrgebiet, the heart of the industrial part of Germany and the site of the company’s manufacturing plant where Frank worked and twelve years ago. We had a fantastic time having dinners catching up with friends and colleagues that I have also come to know over the years. During this part of the trip Frank and I also drove to Munster,

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The cafe in Munster where were had a wonderful lunch

a university town known for its 13th century cathedral St. Paulus Dom. Here in the cathedral we finally saw their glockenspiel “performance” and well worth the wait.

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The glockenspiel in Munster’s cathedral

We spent three days in and around Dortmund. Time to move on to Holland.

My Frank’s aunt and uncle live in Alblasserdam, Holland, about 10 miles from Rotterdam. Alblasserdam is a small village with idyllic scenes of windmills, cows and canals, just what we expect the Netherlands to look like.

With my Frank’s cousins we visited Amsterdam, a city we had last visited about twelve years ago. Back then, we had taken a canal ride, went to the Hague, visited beach towns, Delft, and, yes, saw the notorious Red Light district. Amsterdam is one of those cities – same is true for places like New Orleans and San Francisco – where when you arrive you know you’re there immediately. A city with its own style. Amersterdam is a beautiful city of canals, bicycles, Dutch homes with their unique designs and levers on which to hoist furniture and other heavy objects to the upper floors, a car-parking system that can make Chicago look cheap by comparison, and incredible museums. As Rick Steves says, “From houseboats to sex, from marijuana to the Old Masters, you can find a museum to suit your interests.”

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The bikes of Holland – bikes everywhere!

My one disappointment was that I wanted to take a tour of the Ann Frank House, the attic in which she and her family hid from the Nazis for two years prior to being captured. This is probably the most popular of the tourist sites in Amsterdam and, unbeknownst to me until it was too late, tourists are advised to reserve tickets at least two months prior to the visit so my request in early May for an early June slot was too late. We did visit the Vermeers and Rembrandts in the Rijksmuseum which was a lovely way to spend an afternoon.

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The gardens of the Rijksmuseum

Continuing our focus around the Second World War, we visited the area around Arnhem, in the town of Oosterbeek, where the monumental Hartenstein Villa was the headquarters of the British Airborne Divison during the famous Battle of Arnhem in 1944, and the subject of the film “A Bridge Too Far.” The Villa is now the home of the Airbourne Museum. It was incredible to see.
On the recommendtion of family, we also visited Breda, with its wonderful outdoor restaurants and its amazing Grote Kerk, the amazing church that broke ground in 1410 and opened in 1547 as Roman Catholic and is now a Protestant with a spire that sails 97 meters (about 100 yards) into the sky.

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Grote Kerk

We spent a lovely Sunday in the town of Utrecht: watched the end of a 10K race, shopped, ate along the canal and just generally kicked back.

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We finished the day back in Alblassardam at the home of Frank’s aunt and uncle with a wonderful family dinner and a magnificent dessert.  UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_3ae5

It doesn’t get better than this.

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With all the traveling we do, you’d maybe expect that my husband and I would be better trip planners. We just aren’t – we generally have an idea of our “must-sees” but much of the time we wing it. I don’t have the patience for intense research and my husband often doesn’t have the time. With this trip, we had the advantage of friends in Dortmund and family in Holland who led us to places that often people wouldn’t know about, even with a guidebook. Sometimes it takes a local to get you to the hidden gems.

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Ultimately, we realized that this trip more than any of our others  showed us incredible beauty: the ancient churches and castles, the canals, the amazing people, the Alps;  and reminders of unspeakable horror, as we traveled Hitler’s path in Munich, traced back to the carnage at Arnhem, silently and reverently bowed our heads at Dachau.

Thanks for taking this tour with us…..

 

 

50-PLUS SHADES OF GRAY AND A RE-DO OF INTERIOR DESIGN

Anyone who’s ever had to make a decision about home renovation or decor already knows this.   So many of the decisions we make about our homes generate the onslaught of too many choices. Whether looking for wallpaper, granite, fabric, tile or paint, or any number of other things for the home, there are simply too many options to consider! The task becomes massive!

About two postings ago, I wrote about my husband agreeing to my long-standing campaign to have our trim and other wood in our home painted a shade of white. (See The Elephant Gives Birth! ).   Once we achieved that, I realized that it was also time for our kitchen, adjoining family room and mudroom to have a full paint job, including walls and ceilings. The paint for the trim had already been chosen due to the color used on other wood in the house – bookcases and stair risers – that had been painted last year: Benjamin Moore’s White Dove, a classic, softly shaded white. One decision made:  the trim  would also be White Dove.

Next came the dilemma of the wall color. My initial thought when I first started to think about this a year or so ago was that I eschewed what I called Ubiquitous Gray. Over the past few years it seemed I’ve seen gray everywhere – on walls, on cabinetry, and even on floors. As an alternative I knew I didn’t want my walls to be beige, not that I don’t like beiges and taupes but simply because part of my goal with the new white trim was to remove much of the brown that I saw as I looked around my main floor. And beige or taupe was just too much of brown’s distant cousin for my current tastes. So I started to look at other possibilities  such as variations of sea foam (but worried about it fighting with my blacksplash) and Swiss Coffee (Benjamin Moore) which was a beautiful bright off-white but, alas, too close to the current color on my walls, and it really didn’t allow the white trim to pop sufficiently. Besides, my husband and I agreed that we wanted to see change in the color on the walls. Within that vast, overwhelming paint color wheel, surely there had to be new colors to consider, right?
I don’t know if you noticed but this Spring, magazine covers screamed out  “Go Bold,” “Color Calling,” and with a throwback to the Fifties, more than one article celebrated use of paint combinations such as fuschia, turquoise and yellow. I was looking for ideas and have never been adverse to color but I knew I couldn‘t live with Coney Island Pink in my kitchen. And I’d already served my time with Salmon walls years ago. It may be the current trend but it’s not the look I wanted now.

So I went back to Plan A, searching for the calm, classic and relatively unobtrusive hue I originally envisioned. There was the beautiful Muslin (Benjamin Moore) that I have loved for fifteen years but felt now that on my walls it came off just too beigy to make the cut. I started to see actual grays on actual walls in the well appointed  homes of  friends and family – all of which looked absolutely beautiful, colors that were establishing themselves in my mind as definitely in the running. With the arrival of the painter looming, I started to slather swatches on my walls.   And I was clearly leaning toward all the shades of gray!

There was beautiful Wickham Gray (Benjamin Moore) which shows on my friend’s walls as a stunning whisper of blue. I was convinced that was to be the color. But in my lighting, it came off  much darker than I wanted. There was Agreeable Gray. (Sherwin Williams).  Popular Gray (Sherwin Williams).  Palest Pistachio, which sounds like it should be green but it was almost white (Benjamin Moore).   There was Silver Ash (Behr).  There was the Revere Pewter (Benjamin Moore) of my son and daughter-in-law’s beautiful kitchen and family room and one of the first gray shades that got my serious attention. Throughout the course of living with the swatches on the walls, Revere Pewter just seemed too dark in my spaces and was virtually eliminated right out of the gate. Some  turned into an unexpected shade of violet or almost turquoise.   What I wanted was a relatively pale gray, that would still be strong enough to show off the white trim.   It became an huge task with too many options and now I was facing a pressing deadline.

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I was really at a loss, that is until one morning when I came down into my kitchen and saw the Revere Pewter swatch propped up against my backsplash. What struck me was how beautifully it matched with my kitchen cabinets that remain stained,  and, most of all, with how it drew out the gray imbedded in my mosaic backsplash. Was it possible that this had been the color all along? It was then and there that I locked onto Revere Pewter as my color.  There’s nothing like the pressure of painter arrival to force focus and a needed decision!

Now that the white is on the trim and Revere Pewter is on the walls,  I see the transformation I was looking for in my home!  It has been achieved and I love it!   It is just the way I wanted my rooms to look – updated, fresh, and clean!   More importantly, my husband and I both love it!    In fact, we loved it so much, we had the wall under the chair rail in our dining room also painted Revere Pewter since the dining room is visible from the kitchen.

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The newly painted dining room looking into the den

Now I’m taking another look at my “decoration” around the house. Since painting requires scaling back – furniture needs to be moved out and walls bared – it’s an opportunity to re-think what stays and what goes, to recreate the design and decor used in the rooms.   For example, contemporary parson’s benches which are now upholstered in a dark animal print in our family room will be re-covered in a light airy fabric.

Our home is a traditional colonial. While our decor is fundamentally traditional, incorporated are elements of some collectibles and antiques, a bit of contemporary. I believe the white trim and new wall color create a more classic contemporary feel that accommodates a variety of styles.
While I’m not an antique fanatic, interspersed throughout our home are cherished  pieces that have great meaning to my husband and me, collected over the years that are, and will always remain, part of our home.   Among them, there are the lights, original to our 1920’s home in  Pennsylvania and that we removed before we sadly put that house on the market: the twenties-era cranberry glass ceiling lamp that adorned the entry to that home  is now the lighting above our relatively modern, oversized dining room table,

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The 1920’s cranberry glass light in our dining room along with the relatively contemporary art on the walls

as well as another art deco ceiling lamp that now lights part of our entry hallway.  UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_39b2

There is a folk vase from Czechoslovakia from the 1930’s that belonged to my grandmother.    UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_39c0

There is the 1880’s Civil War Reconstruction era cannon-ball brass bed – now the centerpiece in one of our guest rooms – that was a wedding gift to us from my mother-in-law. It has helped us create our version of the Lincoln bedroom.   UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_39b3

We also bought at a private sale in Pennsylvania about forty years ago, and still use, a set of 1880’s dressers.   My mother’s 1930’s cedar hope chest is displayed in front of one of our bookcases.    These are heavy brown pieces but they are  pieces held dear by us that will happily remain as they are in our home.

I’m excited as I sparingly and slowly add back only some of the items that previously hung on our walls. While my home is far from minimalist, I believe that quite a number of walls and nooks that previously had some embellishment, will now remain bare.  Unless I get too bored with that…..

Thank you for stopping by.   Until next time…….

 

 

MY EVERYDAY 13

I had an entirely different blog topic in mind for this time but last week I read posts by two of the bloggers I follow and decided to join in their topic. Blogger Mocadeaux started it all by writing of her Everyday 20 , and soon after my friend,  another blogger, ivyandironstone, wrote about her Everyday 10. In its original form, this is supposed to be something that we buy and use everyday. In the second iteration it was put forth as something that we appreciate everyday. I’ve kind of morphed the two and I am writing of things that I use and value on a daily basis, and that add fun, joy or flavor to my everyday life. And I realize that “Everyday 13” doesn’t quite have the same ring to is as “10” or “20” but it’s what I’ve come up with so far!    So in no particular order, here is my “everyday” list:

  1. MY ITALIAN LESSONS – as I noted in one of my early blog posts, a major goal of mine when I retired was to  study Italian seriously  (LEARNING ITALIAN). I am now three years in, and I love it. And I’m far from fluent, but making steady progress. When we went to Italy last year on our tri-annual visit to our family in southern Italy, I was gratified to  be able to comminicate reasonably well. But I can hear what you’re saying out there: “After three years, you SHOULD BE fluent, or close to it. ”  Would that it were so! Italian has more  rules and exceptions to rules that are   daunting than I ever anticipated. Anyone who has studied Italian as a second language knows what I mean.   But I continue to love the challenge.
  2. OLIVE OIL – I am a fan of the Mediterranean Diet and believe that  olive oil can have major health benefits, aside from just tasting so darn good. Good olive oil, that is. That dark green kind that you find in southern Italy and Greece and several other regions in that general area. In fact, the best olive oil I have ever tasted has been in southern Italy. But lately I’ve been using  very good olive oils that come from California and give the Italian variety a run for its money. When buying, I try to determine from where and when an olive oil product was generated.    And I try not to let any olive oil linger on the shelf for very long – no problem in my house!    Although they both come from fruits of the vine, unlike wine, olive oil does not grow better with age.    I  buy it and use it within a few weeks at most.
  3. MY MOISTURIZERS – I’ve been using moisturizers for many years on my face and body. I never go out into the elements or go to bed without it. Most of it includes SPF except for the nighttime version. My current favorites are from FRESH, BOBBI BROWN, and my perenniel body favorite from ORIGINS (White Tea). I also sometimes  use drugstore brands for facial moisturizers such as Aveeno, Lumine, Olay or L’Oreal which I find to be very good.   Coming off of Chicago winters makes moisturizers a daily necessity.
  4. MY APPLE PRODUCTS – I carry my life around in my Apple products.  My MacBook Air and my Apple Iphone are synced, carrying all the same information.  I realize it is duplicative but I sync and back up because  can’t do without them. The calendar on my phone is my official appointment keeper so if I lose my phone and my MAC at the same time, I’m in deep trouble! I do have a written back up to my Contacts section. I have thousands of pictures on my phone – almost all of them of our grandkids and our travels. I just keep increasing my Cloud space (whatever that is) so I can continue to store pictures. I do worry about system crashes and losing what I have so my goal is to remove the older pictures and put them on thumb drives.    One other feature  of my Apple products that I can’t do without  is the fabulous assistance I can get from those geniuses out in Petaluma  or wherever they are who have patiently helped me out of one cyber crisis after another.
  5. MY FITBIT – Two and a half years ago, I bought my own Fitbit HR which helped me get on the ball with daily  tracking of my steps, flights of stairs, my heart rate, calories burned and sends me my weekly report (which I get on  my Apple products).   Fun fact:  I just recently won my Great Barrier Reef badge signifying that I have walked 1600 miles (which is the length of the Great Barrier Reef!) since I’ve been using my Fitbit.   I also recently won my “Cloud” badge having climbed a total of 8,000 flights of steps in the time I’ve been using Fitbit ( the name of this badge  has  to do with being on Cloud 9 for  achieving this milestone)!   Kind of goofy, I know, but it is a way to chart progress toward my fitness and weight goals.   This past Christmas my son and daughter-in-law upgraded me to a Fitbit Ionic which does everything the HR version did but also plays music, alerts me to phone calls and texts (again because it’s linked to my iPhone), can coach me through a 10 or 15 minute workout  and  breathing or meditation sessions.
  6. MY POT FILLER – when we redid our kitchen eight years ago, I had a potfiller installed above my stove. Originally I thought it would look cool but secretly questioned how much I would use it. Turns out I use it every day: to fill the pasta pot, or to increase liquid to a recipe. A very handy little gadget.   UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_3941
  7. MY WHITE CHINA – I’m a big believer in white china. I think no kitchen is complete without it. I have two sets, a little redundant, I know, but it’s come in handy many times. I love it for its simplicity and versatility and use it for everyday, for informal dinners and sometimes when  I want to show off the food or the other tableware.
  8. MANHANDLES – when I redid our powder room several years ago, I wanted something different to catch the eye, add a little entertainment,  while guests  partake of the facilities. I was shopping at a bathroom supply store and across the room, displayed on a far wall, were  bronze fixtures portraying men in different poses which made me smile. They are part of the Manhandles Collection made by the Soko Studio. I said to the friend with whom I was shopping, “I don’t care what they cost, I have to have them.” So I bought a Manhandle towel hanger  UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_3945 and a Manhandle  door pull. That was about 10 years go, and every day when I go in the powder room, they still make me smile. They will make me smile even more in a few weeks when the climbing bronze man door pull is showcased on a WHITE door instead of the stained door to which it is now attached  (see my last  post The Elephant Gives Birth!).     UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_3944
  9. THE TODAY SHOW  – The Today Show is part of my morning routine. It’s an iconic show that has stood the test of time – 65 years and counting is not a bad run! It think it’s fun, topical, and for me a great way to start the day. It allows me to lollygag with my coffee and yogurt and have the Today Show crew entertain and inform me as I get ready for my day.
  10. POPCORN – have to have my daily blast of  Sea Salt and Pepper Skinny Pop
  11. MY LEXUS IS250 HARDTOP CONVERTIBLE – This was my retirement gift from my husband.   UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_3946   I obviously use it every day. Hateful in snow or ice in our Chicago weather, but it’s a gem from April through October (in most years) and those lovely rare January or February days when we are given an infrequent gift of beautiful weather. So, yes, my car is now hitting its prime time. There will be no more icy roads (I hope) but soon when hot weather comes (I hope), the top goes down, Sixties on 6 starts blasting on Sirius and I joyfully tool around! Besides my grandkids love it which makes me I love it all the more!
  12. OUR SCREENED BACK PORCH: I’m either on our screened back porch – writing, daydreaming, playing with grandkids, meditating, entertaining – or I’m longing to be on our screened porch. It’s not a four-season room, but even in the winter when I’m not sitting out there, it’s just off my kitchen so I find myself thinking   about how many more months until we will be enjoying it! The best investment in our home we’ve ever made!
  13. MY OWL PLATE FROM SICILY.    Last summer during our trip to Italy, my husband and I took a side trip to Sicily  (see my post SICILY) and specifically to the town of Santo Stefano di Camastra, birthplace of my paternal grandmother.  Santo Stefano di Camastra is known for its pottery and ceramics and I bought this large plate from a local artisan and it  now hangs on a wall in our dining room.  I find the detail in this piece extraordinary.   And every day it evokes a flood of memories of my grandmother.   UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_3181
    Would love to hear about your favorite things so we can keep this party going! See you soon…

The Elephant Gives Birth!

Eight years ago when we redid our kitchen, I mentioned to my husband that I thought white cabinetry was the way to go for our west-facing dark room. My husband completely disagreed, his position being that dark cabinetry had a feeling of warmth and hospitality, that he believes wouldn’t be achieved with white. His love affair – and mine – with dark wood goes back to our first home together in Pennsylvania, a 1920’s beauty that came with gorgeous natural chestnut woodwork, curved chestnut french doors and built-ins. It was a home in which our realtor advised, “Don’t ever have a fire in this home because you’ll never replace this wood.” Indeed a devastating disease of the American chestnut tree in the early 1900’s caused a widespread killing of the tree in the eastern United States. The airborne bark fungus spread at the rate of about 50 miles a year and and in a few decades killed up to three billion chestnut trees.
This was to be our “forever” home. But, alas, after six years in the house, my husband was offered an opportunity to move to Chicago by a friend who was buying up distressed manufacturing companies and offered him a positiion as a finance officer.

My husband has always had opinions about interior design and projects – good ones. He and I are usually in sync in terms of what projects we want to do and how we want to do it, how we want it to look. We have updated our home steadily over the years, with hardly a wrinkle.  My goal, begun about five years prior to my retirement, was to complete any major projects around the house before I left my career and my pay checks behind.

When it came to the kitchen renovation, my husband was not in favor of doing it. It was clearly going to be an expensive undertaking. He is tempermentally a finance person who saw our dated oak cabinetry which were installed when we built the house in 1989 as still in good condition and very functional. Ultimately he relented on doing the full scope of the project, gutting it back to the walls and making small revisions in our footprint. Since I was getting the full kitchen reno that I wanted, moving some appliances to where they rightfully belonged in the scheme of things, and an enlarged island, I agreed to maple cabinets stained in a cherry finish. For these eight years, I have vascillated on the white cabinetry versus the stained cabinetry I have.  Given that my husband has agreed to virtually every project that I’ve dreamed up – and there were many – I felt that the dark woodwork was a reasonable concession.

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Our kitchen as it is now

But still as the years have gone on, I repeatedly pointed out that the woodwork in this house is in no way in the same category of wood as the rare chestnut in our Pennsylvania house. I felt we were confusing the dark, builder grade pine with our beloved chestnut  of thirty five years ago. And I was tired of the look of a house that to me had become too brown.

Over the years we have upgraded the relatively inexpensive millwork with wider, more substantial wood on the doorways, window trim and baseboards. But every time I saw a home with painted white woodwork in person or in a magazine, I longed for its classic look, one that made the rooms look larger, brighter, fresher and cleaner.

Another remaining drawback was that eight years ago, since I wasn’t making any headway changing my husband’s mind on the white wood, we replaced all of the windows in our home with new vinyl windows which of course were dark brown to match the rest of the woodwork in our home. I thought this committed us to dark wood evermore.

But gradually over these years, I started to visualize the look of dark mullions working in concert with white or off white casings. Why couldn’t that work?  Some people told me that this mixture would look hodgepodge and indecisive. Not if done correctly and with some thought, I said. The idea was taking shape in my mind and then I began to see this combination in such places as Architectural Digest, HGTV, and Pinterest. Apparently it’s a thing called Wood and White. And thus my crusade for white trim has taken on new life. I finally had some documented evidence of how this might look. My husband remained undeterred and unconvinced. His latest tactic was that he wanted to see it, not in a magazine, not on TV, but in person. But, aha, just as we were going back and forth, two of my friends indeed had their dark window casings painted white while the remainder stayed dark brown. Looked great! So I had “in person” examples to show him!

Actually, some places in our own home had also set a precedent in this regard. A few years ago I had the risers and skirt of my stairs painted white, while the steps stayed dark.UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_38ee

Last year I had the oak cabinets in my basement painted white along with the book case in our front parlor. My husband liked these changes. But still he was reluctant to have other wood in the house painted.

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Parlor bookcase – former brown blob

Finally he agreed that what we needed was a “test room.” We chose the room that our granddaughter sleeps in when staying at our home. It has one window, two doors and, of course, baseboard.    It would be a relatively simple paint job but would illustrate the wood and white look for him.  So we called our trusty painter who two weeks ago painted the doors and trim in this room to showcase how other rooms would look.  UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_38f6

 

My husband finally agreed that the look was one he could live with, but still wanted to retain stained wood in certain key areas: two of my husband’s bookcases, and the maple wainscoting in our entrance foyer. Our painter, who works in houses new and old every day, also believed that the foyer wainscoting at least should stay stained since he viewed

this as a statement feature.UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_38ef

And the foyer hallway leads into the kitchen.  Our kitchen cabinets will remain stained but the other kitchen trim – crown molding other than that directly  above the cabinets,  door jambs and baseboards will be painted white.

We have now commissioned our painter to come back to finish the painting of our woodwork in the next several weeks. In a future posting I’ll show you how it turns out. After all of this negotiation, the white-woodwork elephant is finally giving birth! A project that even my husband will love. I hope!