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Something To Remember My Life By

As a photographer, I often accept money to capture others, but I could never place any value on a great photo. They are what we have to remember our lives by. When memory fails, they tell the stories that make up who we are. For years, I was unhappy with my Christmas tree decor, never feeling I could get it “right.” Then, last year, it hit me. PHOTOS! So I rummaged through the photos on my phone from that year, uploaded my favorites to the PostalPix app, and attached them to their respective branches on that happy day they came in the mail. It was therapeutic to hold those moments in my hand and display them for our family and guests to discuss. When the season ended, I put them together with a little twine, labeled 2012. I know we will look through them often and I hope someday my grandchildren will look at them and ask me about every captured moment, every smile, and see what a wonderful life our family has been blessed with.

 

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Putting the photos up this year was just as joyous an occasion. Our tree tells the story of our year, filled with lost teeth, dance recitals, birthday parties, trips to Disney World and the lake, fun with friends, and lots of big smiles. This prepares me for the new year and gets me in the spirit of resolution, wondering how I can make the next even better for myself and my children. And wondering what will grace our tree next year…and the next…and the next…someday giving me a pile of photos, categorized by year, giving me something to remember my life by, chronicling the two most beautiful babies, my greatest gifts–the only ones I ever really need.

Merry, bright, and happy holidays to you and yours.

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The Dreams Within Those Pages

“I would be most content if my children would grow up to be the kind of people who think decorating consists mostly of building enough bookshelves.” –Anna Quindlen

As a teacher with an upcoming week-long break for Thanksgiving, the thing I am most looking forward to is reading. This may seem ironic, seeing that I am an English teacher and the majority of what I do at work is teach literature and poetry, most days reviewing the same piece five times a day with my five classes of junior English. Though I do utterly adore those days when I can discuss Atticus Finch to no end or repeatedly debate the mental state and motivation of J. Alfred Prufrock, there is something about picking up a book into which I have not yet dove; it is like getting on a plane to fly to a place never visited–the anticipation and excitement of the unknown leaves me in a state of complete bliss. Will this be one that I will read again and again and maybe even incorporate into my curriculum? Or will it be a doozie? Either way, following its end, I will have something to say, questions to ask and debate, and some poor soul that crosses my path soonest to my finishing will find themselves privy to the discussion of my most recent adventure. Besides my mother (and long before my infatuation with music), books were my first love. I am enamored by the way words can be put together to cause an emotion that goes beyond this world, whether it be the gut-wrenching pain of an unrequited love poem or the indescribable hope that comes from a novel which delves into the human existence in a way that reminds the heart of its original intention. I have been smitten with libraries from the time I first set foot into one and there is nothing that makes me happier than seeing my own children reading. 

My love for all things old began as a direct result of my love for the written word. I remember reading the Little House on the Prairie series as a young child and being utterly smitten with the old way of doing things and the way that simple things brought the family some of their happiest moments and memories. Blankets were warmer because of the love that went into stitching them. The big pot that lay over the fire symbolized survival. I lived there on that prairie with the Ingalls family–I would completely leave my own world and enter theirs each time I opened a volume. So it should come as no surprise that books are a major part of my decorating style. There are several books in every room, though I only own one bookcase, which I purchased a few years back in Canton, Texas. 

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The books I use to decorate with are, of course, old and most of them are from the library at my school. One day our librarian approached me, saying she new I liked old books and asking if I would be interested in looking through several boxes filled with old books she was throwing out, which were no longer needed there. I told her I absolutely did not want to look through them because I would take them ALL. Two strong boys and several trips to my truck later, the grin on my face was a dead giveaway that I had struck gold. I couldn’t wait to get home that afternoon and sort through them, inhaling, in spades, that sweet scent which book pages emit. They found homes on the aforementioned bookcase, on a shelf above the shelf which hold our most-used dishes on my kitchen wall, on small shelves and desks in my childrens’ rooms, and a few here and there as place holders and pretties in the dining and living rooms: 

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I especially covet old children’s books. Making me absolutely giddy, grandmother recently gave me her set of Childcraft children’s books, which I would enjoy each time I went to her house as a child. These remind me of my first love and I have always found the simple, vivid illustrations to be the embodiment of happiness. I buy these treasures almost every time I come across them. At the most recent estate sale Megan and I attended, I found these beauties. I especially love the pale blue one about language:

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I am not sure if I will simply display these in my son’s room or use them as artwork, as I did in my bathroom a couple of years ago:

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Finding some of your favorite pages and adding them to simple frames (most of these are from Goodwill and given a quick coat of spray paint) is a cheap, wondrous, and sometimes eclectic way to fill the walls of your home. I have also done this with a favorite poem or two, which adds a dramatic and romantic element to any wall space.

Making the most of the way your home FEELS is a simple matter of filling it with those things which take you back to a place of joy. My home is stuffed with artifacts that, for whatever reason, take me back to my childhood, which was a carefree time of wonderment and magic. These things, therefore, bring me a little piece of that time and make my present, which is often stressful and busy, encompass a little bit of that freedom I found all those years ago. They also remind me of my main purpose, which is to ensure that my children will some day look back on this time in their lives as magical, as well. We read and we wonder and we dream and we ask questions. We turn the dining room into a far away kingdom, filled with castles and dragons, using a few old sheets and our imaginations, which are extra BIG because of the stories we enjoy each night. I hope they will find hope and promise in times of trials when they think about characters like Laura Ingalls. I hope they will find warmth in a Frost poem and the memory of snuggling up in one of their great-grandmother’s old quilts some winter long ago. And, like Anna Quindlen, whose quote graced the start of this blog, I hope bookshelves are their main concern when they someday find a new home and that they will remember their first home and all of the books there and their crazy momma and her crazy love for reading. And I hope they smile a little when they think about the possibilities in those books–decorating possibilities, sure, but mostly the possibilities in the dreams held within those pages and, hopefully, their hearts. 

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Chalk Notes

As I am typing these words, my daughter is changing the number on the Halloween countdown on our kitchen door from four to three. It is a pretty serious moment in our day lately. Halloween is our absolute favorite.  I am always a bit annoyed at the way she holds the chalk down so hard that it makes this hard, almost squeaky noise. When she is chalking a masterpiece, which it sounds like she is doing now, in her consistent intensity, I sometimes have to rock on the front porch a while, as an escape from the sound. Mostly, I just endure it, knowing it will be something grand, or because it is a simple reminder that our human spirit must always find something to look forward to, something that makes us smile. For that reason, there is always a countdown on our door, like the one in the summer, which makes us ready for the beginning of the school year and a fresh start and the beginning of the end of the sweat and cabin fever August brings, much like wintertime and its intense cold does to those northerly. 

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Towards the end of my kitchen remodel, on the day I planned to throw out the door pictured, I was at one of our local antique shops about to purchase another old door to take it’s place–something with more panels and, I thought, charm. Anytime I make a purchase, I stand and look at the merchandise for quite sometime, thinking it over, making certain. As I studied the “new” door, I felt the hundred dollar bill I was going to use to pay for it, burning a hole in my pocket, and it hit me, and I thought to myself, “Bran, you have been wanting a BIG chalkboard somewhere in the house–just paint the old one!” It is one of my favorite DUH moments. I painted the old door that same day, loving the way the black color contrasted the otherwise light tones I’d used in the heart of our home. It serves as our reminder space, mostly, working especially well for my autistic son, William, who is a visually and schedule-oriented soul. I sometimes tried writing a favorite quote or line of poetry, but they never seemed to be quite at home in that practical space. I decided to take an old frame and spray it white, cut a piece of plywood (which I also painted black chalkboard) to fit inside, placed it in my neighboring dining space, and this became my more inspirational artspace. 

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It has since held many of my most treasured sayings, but the one in the photo has been written there for months and I haven’t yet found the need for the eraser, for it seems to embody perfectly everything that flows through our home. LIFE MEANS SO MUCH. We try never to allow those words to escape us. They are the heartbeat of our home, my favorite montra. 

I have tried not to go overboard with the chalk paint, but I will admit it is hard, in this case, to remember that whole “less is more” thing. The other side of the kitchen door, which leads to our family room, is the sacred home of the New Orleans Saints football schedule, a critical element for a fanatic such as myself. In that same room dwells a gigantic four foot square wall calendar, where we note our most important days in each month: holidays, birthdays, and the like. My most recent project is an entire dark green chalkboard wall in my classroom, where my students draw amazing things from our literary journeys, such as the recent tombstones of those who died in The Salem Witch Trials in Arthur Miller’s “The Crucible.” (They get so excited when they hear me exclaim, “You guys get to write on the wall today!!”) I learned, prior to that project, that a little unsanded grout in a gallon of paint makes it accept chalk, saving a ton of money on such a large space. I will never buy the expensive stuff again!

Though I have ceased the madness for now, I seriously doubt that I will ever break off this love affair with chalkboard paint. Something about it reminds me of an old school house, like the one in Washington, LA, which is now an antique mall where some of my fondest childhood memories are set. I would go there with my mom and grandmother and drool over the treasures, all the while imagining what it would have been like to go to school in a place so magical, all those years ago, running up the creaky, wooden stairs to get to English class, sitting in my iron and wood desk, my feet swaying with the rhythm of whatever poem I was engrossed in that day. All these years later, I still love going there and finding that same pleasant-ness, imagining how to use the old things around me. It is my therapy. It reminds me to take my children on many adventures where there imaginations and hearts can be full. It is in those kind of places and moments where I am reminded most that life means so much–no chalk notes necessary. 

 

 

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Maggie’s Room

My daughter’s room existed before she did.

Whenever I treasure hunt at various thrift stores, garage sales, and antique stores, the things that I most adore are those that are pink and feminine: old perfume bottles with the pump, sequined clutches, once-white lace doilies, rose-tinted linens. The list goes on and on. For a while before my Maggie was here, I would pick those things up and think, “someday.” Soon, however, my patience wore thin, and I started buying those things I found simply irresistible. Before I knew it, the room next to my son’s was all ready for a little sister. My favorite piece was a fabulous old dresser, which I pulled from a pile of forgotten relics from my grandparent’s dairy, scraped ten layers of paint (ranging from green to gold) from, sanded, and re-painted the most wonderful shade of pink, adding glass knobs and some of the trinkets I purchased from a few of my favorite places. I would sometimes sit upon her iron bed, head resting on the lace-trimmed, pink satin pillowcases I got for a steal from eBay, and wonder if she would be like me and enjoy the space I created for her, using things that were around long before her grand- or even great-grandmother. The possibility of never having a little girl was not a thought I ever entertained. It was too important a dream to ever doubt.

She made her arrival in March of 2005 and, by that time, we had moved from the house with her original room. Our new apartment in our new city only had two bedrooms, so I simply packed all of her treasures away, in anticipation of another dream to be realized–buying my first home, which I knew would be an older home, because I had planned it that way since I remember remembering.

Since moving to my old house five years ago, Maggie’s room has undergone many transformations. She has been through three beds, three dressers, three chairs, four rugs, and several other small pieces and wall decor. Her wall color went from its original cream color to a country blue. I am, true to my indecisive nature, constantly finding new, more wonderful things to fill it with and it is more than I can stand to pout and admit there is no room. Instead, I find something to place in the attic and bring in the new, can’t-live-without treasure. Finally, I decided a twin bed fit the space better than a full and I purchased her head- and footboards from a local vendor for twenty-five dollars, since they lacked the rails to fit them together, which I (despite the vendors warning that I never would) found at a nearby flea market for ten bucks. A new paint job made it the perfect space for my little one to lay her head and dream. I decided on an old bench below the window, in place of a traditional side table, to house her many friends and books and whatnots. This particular arrangement lent itself quite well to tea parties.

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In the next phase, I decided to put the bed in the center of the room, creating a different kind of cozy. The cushy, pink, fifty dollar chair is perfect for one of our favorite pasttimes.

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The blue vanity beside her bed was one I eyed for quite some time. Some of the pieces I find are love at first sight. Others I need to think about for awhile, breeding either a “I can do live without you” or a “I can’t stop thinking about you and I must make you mine” relationship. Obviously, the blue vanity was the latter. For now, she uses it to create artwork as unique as herself and apply layer upon layer of glitter nail polish. In a few years, she will use it to apply makeup and figure algebra problems, though I am certain it will move to many other spots in the meantime.

One of the many wonderful things about decorating a home with things hunted and gathered is that it lends itself well to change. There aren’t many expensive things between my walls. Much of it is interchangeable, even between rooms. I recently brought a bookshelf that dwelt in Maggie’s room for four years into my living room and put a new, more functioning chiffarobe in its place. The old bench that was once below her window now rests in front of my bed, after two weeks of dwelling in the long hallway which connects our bedrooms. It is all so temporary, but it somehow also embodies the feeling of being perfectly grounded. Much like my darling, dramatic daughter, who wonderfully surpasses all of my long-ago dreams, the parts may be ever-changing, but the whole remains the same, wrapping me in that feeling that can only come from being HOME.