Category: Old House New Life

From Circle to Celebration

“Without great solitude, no serious work is possible.”- Picasso

Melissa Wyse, Matt Winkler, and me. Don’t we look classy? We’re gathered to celebrate Melissa’s reading last night at Barnes and Noble UCONN.

Writers work largely alone, seeking to breathe new life into familiar language. In my case the toil involves messy hair, no makeup, wearing rubber boots to walk my dog at inopertune creative moments, and heavy chocolate use.

I take a shower and dig around for lip gloss on those delicious days when I join other writers.

I am lucky to live in a rural landscape rich with literary talent. Crucial to my developement as a writer is my Writer’s Circle. Melissa Wyse and Matt Winkler join me at my dining room table every two weeks. In addition to indulging in banana bread, cookies, and all the tea I’ve collected, we read each other’s work and give constructive feedback.

What does that entail? We listen, we read, we circle words on the page we fall in love with, and suggest solutions to make the work stronger.

We support each other in the toil. We encourage submission. We celebrate each other when we have publishing success, even if that “success” is a kindly-worded rejection.

My precious Paris Review rejection. I submitted an experimental essay. There is nothing else to do but stretch the experimentation even further.

This is my tribe. Every writer needs one.

My Magical Inheritance

those who don’t believe in magic will never find it- Roald Dahl

Grandpa 3

We’ve all seen movies with the scene of a bereaved family in an attorney’s office. The widow wears black while the extended family eye each other over who gets the bigger piece of financial pie. For dramatic effect, an attorney reads a letter penned by the deceased just before their death and the family discovers that the deceased has left everything to a distant cousin or a baby or the trophy wife.

That’s not the way it happened for me because my grandfather died when I was six and instead of a financial windfall there was an army pension. My grandmother went from being the wife of a baker, helping to run a business, to being a clerk at Kmart.  As far as any letters written by my grandfather, my mother has some only because she swiped them from a blanket chest when she was a kid. The everything that was left when my grandfather died wasn’t a lot.

This is where the story could dissolve into rampant nostalgia and coat your teeth like saccharine because me grandfather left me his bakery mixer.

Long mixer

Well, not exactly. He didn’t plan on dying of a heart attack so he didn’t say what he would say in my grandfather fairy tale: “Christine should have my favorite mixer, the one I made frosting with, the one I made her parents’ wedding cake with, my best and most special mixer of all. And when she uses it all her cakes will come out spongy and light.”

Instead my mother gave it to me when I was 37. She surprised me with it and since I wrote an essay about that already, for PAGE magazine, I’ll pick up where that story left off- with me hoping to move to my forever house one day and hoping to have a designated place for the mixer, my magical behemoth of non-residential kitchen equipment. And surprisingly, I did and I do.

Side B and W


After a decade of storing the mixer in my basement, I’ve finally done it. I took my inheritance, my unusable 1950s commercial baking mixer, to get repaired. Mice have chewed the cord and the paint is crazed and peeling. It weighs seventy-five pounds and is unwieldy as hell. But I picked it up like I was hugging it and got it off its wood and metal stand. I got it outside to the car by dragging it on a moving blanket. I drove it forty miles, took it out of my trunk and gave it to a man named David, AKA Mr. Fix-It. He gave me a receipt that fit in my change purse.


Car Mixer


Close Up Mixer


I bake. Not like my grandfather baked, first as a teenage apprentice in someone else’s bakery, then his own, and then someone else’s again- but in my own kitchen. And I don’t NEED a commercial mixer that weighs 75 pounds with its own stand that takes up as much floor space as a statue to bake chocolate chip cookies and banana bread.  I already have a countertop KitchenAid mixer. It’s 23 years old and works great.

I don’t need a commercial mixer at all. What I need is magic.

This is the thing about things: they have a life. My grandfather’s mixer had a long relationship with him, much longer than the relationship I had with him. So this mixer owes me. It owes me frosting lessons, because I suck at applying frosting. It owes me more stories about my grandfather’s childhood in Baltimore because he only had time to tell me a few. The one I remember best is about him jumping over blood in the street from the pig slaughter houses. Now, how can we just leave it there? My grandfather could tell great stories, and I want more.


Color mixer


Of course, I won’t be getting everything I want. My grandfather won’t be here when the mixer is re-installed to teach me how to frost like a pro or tell me more stories.  If I want magic, I’ll have to bake it and write the rest of the story myself.


Flowers 2


This morning I came downstairs and was almost surprised to see the mixer stand without its partner. Mr. Fix-It will have my magical inheritance for a few weeks. I looked at the stand while I drank my tea.

I’ve begun making a list of desserts I will bake when the mixer returns. Complicated things, with ingredients like super-fine sugar, real whipped cream, and chocolate glazes. I imagine my counter covered in lightly whipped desserts.

The longing for a lost grandparent is like a nostalgia craving, both are delicate and sweet and coat my teeth.

And I let them.

Flowers 1



If At First You Don’t Succeed

Mistakes are part of the dues one pays for a full life. – Sophia Loren

The flaws, the mistakes I make-  that’s the real me. -Nas

When things go wrong, eat chocolate. – Me

Sometimes, (most of the time) the image I have in my head isn’t what plays out in reality. This goes for my career, my house, parenting skills, my body, OK- everything. I am fortunate to have been blessed with an optimistic attitude but it gets me in trouble. I make strange leaps of courage only to have them dashed- often. Cases-in-point: dining room color choice and career choice. The paint choice is obviously low-risk. Selling a book upon which rests your career: high risk. Not, perhaps as high a risk as extreme skiing, and yet it feels like it.

So you’re only a paragraph in, and you’re on to me: I’m not just writing about a design choice gone astray, something easily fixed, but the fear of having made a risky career choice. Something much harder to correct.


The dining room the day after I moved in last October. Before I took the grungy drapes down I had to remove the chandelier: Early American Apple.

So- the career thing. Before I embarked on my relatively new career as a writer and writing teacher I had a pretty great career as a soft-furnishings seamstress. I worked hard at my craft, got to work with the finest fabrics and materials, installed work in some gorgeous homes, and had loyal clients. But something was missing. The simplest way to put it is that I said all I could with fabric and I wanted to say something else.



I jokingly said to a friend that I wanted my new old house to be like a “sexy farmhouse.” I suppose this meant A sparkly chandelier and a farm table.

I’d like to tell you that I have it all figured out. That I knew when I closed my sewing business and embarked on an MFA (hello student debt), wrote  a memoir that I still must query to an agent (and may never be published), and throwing myself into impassioned readings of my work, that I knew I’d be a success. Of course I can’t say that, because it hasn’t happened. I really want to say that I put all my money on a long shot and it paid off. I want to show my children how they should go after their dreams but in my peripheral vision is a mini me saying “What the F have you done? Are you INSANE?

Four Square

Home remodeling is like life: expensive, often irritating, and unbelievably messy.

There is the high possibility (when does a possibility tip toward probability?) that I am nuts. That I have drunk the NewAgeOptimismOprah Kool-Aid and now believe I can do anything.

When the ceiling has water damage because one of my sons left the bathroom faucet running or the chandelier came in a thousand no-extra pieces (and I broke three), and when I picked a gray for the walls and it dried purple, and I went on painting anyway… yeah, I went on painting anyway, as if more of a bad choice would somehow turn it around- it isn’t a big leap for me to start looking for parallels.


Bad Choice

sometimes it’s just better to quit when you’re so far ahead you’re behind

I know what you’re thinking: it’s just paint. Except it isn’t just paint. It’s time and while I’m not elderly, I’m not a spring chicken either. I’m kind of set in my ways. There’s only one thing to do, really, for a woman like me. I have to keep drinking the Kool-Aid. I’ve developed a taste for it. And when I make a mistake, obvious or not, I need to repeat the optimistic mantra that it will all work out. 


I fell in love with writing like i fell in love with this wallpaper.

So it’s all or nothing. I re-painted the damn dining room in the color I really wanted. I even changed the hinges on the door and re-hung it by myself. I ordered replacement parts for the chandelier. And the book-in-progress, the thing that I have hinged my new career on? I’m going to send it out into the world and if it doesn’t work out, I’ll do what I’ve always done: try again.


Courting the Muse

Sitting Room
The house shelters daydreaming,
the house protects the dreamer, the house allows one to dream in peace.

-Gaston Bachelard, from The Poetics of Space

I find that I am home more than I am away. Even though I travel to both teach and perform my work, and although I engage in no small number of social events, for me, like so many of you, everything begins and ends at home.

Besides creating a nurturing environment to live in, for myself as well as my family, I try to create a nurturing environment to write in.

Tabling the Romans


As a writer, daydreaming is not an indulgence but a necessity. Just as necessary as cooking dinner, dusting the bookshelves, organizing the pantry, and paying the electric bill.


Thread Pull


I freely admit to sometimes feeling that daydreaming is indulgent. How unproductive it can seem to be reading something poignant and put the book down for what I believed to be a few seconds only to discover I have been staring at a wall for ten minutes. But I know this: I am a better writer when I daydream, when I slip out of measurable time and into something else. I don’t know what that someplace is called, only that I need it. Like dinner, like dust-free books, like a stocked pantry, and especially like electricity.

Despite my determination it can be all too easy to abandon the practice of daydreaming and make lists in my head. Cut back the dead wood on the lilacs and forsythia, buy olive oil, breakdown that cardboard to fit in the recycling bin. It’s no surprise I am distracted now, in spring- the season of action.

Square Cut


So with my propensity for action but with the necessity of a good daydreaming practice in mind, I set out to quiet down the sitting room in my house. I quieted it by making roman shades.


wood pull


This is not the place to look for a tutorial on roman shades and I am not going to tell you how to make the best sitting room for daydreaming. Hardly. Your house is distinctly yours- and I believe that your house has a personality and will tell you what is necessary. You just have to listen.

Instead, this is the place where I show my daydream place. Even if it just looks like a designer’s visual work, it’s also a writer’s interior work to somehow explain the transference of energy in a lived-in space- one that had full light in the daytime and windows of black holes at night to one that encourages the filtering of light for interior reflection- of all kinds.

Happy daydreaming.