Second homes

There are certain places that I start to feel connected to and even possessive of as I learn about them, visit them, or live in or near them. From my childhood, there’s Chicago; I only visited a couple times with family, but for some reason I developed a sense of belonging that has never faded. I recognize Chicago buildings and I can still remember visiting museums and driving along the waterfront. When I hear news about Chicago I feel almost as if I’m hearing news about a place where I’ve lived. And I’ve always thought Superman’s Metropolis should be Chicago, as Gotham City should be New York. It just seems to have the right tone.

From my first foray into adulthood, there’s Huntsville, Alabama, the city in which I first lived away from home. In Huntsville I gained new freedoms I’d never had living with my parents; I rode my bicycle all over and caught rides with friends to places in town. To this day I feel possessive of Sparkman Drive and the Eggbeater Jesus. I’ve been lucky enough to visit Huntsville in recent years, once in 2009 and twice last year, and the lovely changes to downtown and the cool new restaurants and shopping centers make me swell with pride, even though I had nothing to do with any of it.

Then there’s Austin, which I visited once briefly in 2000…somehow that city got under my skin and never left. Walking around downtown with Sean (who I was simply dating at the time), Ben, and some friends we’d met online, I felt “cool”. And that fast food sushi place blew my mind; Japanese food wasn’t ubiquitous back then. I remember being told that Austin was “the Silicon Hills,” that there was a tech explosion on the horizon, and I loved the lushness of Austin compared to the dry, flat areas of Texas we’d had to drive through to get there. These days an old friend of mine lives in Austin, as well as family; I also follow people on Twitter who live in Austin, and I pay attention to the Austin web scene.

Next is Augusta; as I lived there for eight years, its “second home” status is more than legitimate. Even though we moved away nearly two years ago, I still feel more connected to Augusta than I do to Atlanta, or even to our little corner of it. I had many friends there, and working in news gave me plenty of local insight and the opportunity to attend lots of local events. I love Augusta. Its weather is great, downtown is charming, outdoor activities abound, there’s plenty to do within a day’s drive (including going to the ocean or mountains), and the tech scene is vibrant. Since I’ve left it seems like Augusta is really ramping up; it makes me want to move back.

York, England is another city that made me feel oddly like I belonged. There was just something about it. The city is beautiful and walkable and features the gorgeous York Minster as well as an amazing tea shop. Brooke and I were only there for a day, but I could have easily spent a week; I wouldn’t say no to living there if given the opportunity.

Then there’s Birmingham, Alabama. For awhile there Sean was traveling for work a lot, and many of his trips were to Birmingham. As it’s just a couple miles west of Atlanta, I was able to tag along twice. I fell in love with the beauty of the city, its dedication to history, the many cultural activities that are easily accessible and free, the variety of restaurants, the city’s gardens and natural beauty. Visiting Vulcan was loads of fun despite the rainy weather, and I was excited to find Electra and the Temple of Sibyl on my jaunts through town. Sloss Furnace is gorgeous; I could see myself exploring those overgrown industrial ruins over and over again. And I love the Japanese section of the sprawling Birmingham Botanical Gardens. A friend of mine and his family just moved to Birmingham, and I must admit to being a little jealous.

Poughkeepsie and Beacon in New York state also felt like home. Unique, beautiful, and comfortable.

There are some cities I’ve been to that haven’t had this effect on me. Though I’ve visited Savannah many times, I don’t feel that connection. I like it there, but there’s no sense of mutual belonging. The same goes for San Francisco; during my trip at the end of 2011 it seemed like a lovely place, but I’m not sure I would live there.

If there’s a trend to all the cities that feel like home, it would seem to include cool downtowns, lovely architecture, natural beauty, and walkability. Those last two items were large factors in choosing our current apartment in Marietta; I’m also pleased to note that Marietta has a cute downtown, though parking can be something of a hassle. The Atlanta area is huge, and it’s taking me awhile to develop that sense of comfort that comes from knowing what I’m doing in a city. But with everything Atlanta has to offer, I think I should eventually be able to call it another of my second homes.

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I prefer porcelain

Today the mood to scrub out my bathtub struck me. It’s a rare mood, so I took advantage of it.

For some time I’ve been meaning to at least smack down the rust ring caused by my shaving cream can with some Barkeeper’s Friend. Today when I went to shave my legs I was finally disgusted enough by the ring to do something about it. And while I was at that task, I realized the entire tub could use a scouring.

Our apartment was renovated before we moved in. While we weren’t explicitly told this, I’m pretty sure no one lived in it before us after the renovation. The appliances were brand new, and there were no obvious signs of wear and tear anywhere. (A few non-obvious signs had been patched up and painted over.) Further, the bathroom tile, sink, and tub had the look of having never been used.

Another piece of evidence that makes me think we were the first to live here after the renovation is the fact that over time, whatever sealant the contractors had put on the tub and tile actually started stripping away.

It first started on the soap dishes in the tub. The act of simply keeping soap there apparently degraded the coating, such that it broke and flaked off. Then the bottom of the tub started to discolor; washing had no effect. Today, while scrubbing at the corner of the tub where my shaving cream usually sits to get at the rust ring, I realized my brush had knocked some sealant off the very tiles. Even the tiles had been coated over with something! (I also noticed that the inside front of the tub, which one doesn’t normally look at, is spanned by a line of dry drips from where the sealant was originally applied.)

I am not a fan of plastic tubs in general, and this rapid degradation–we haven’t even lived here a year and a half!–is really disappointing. If I ever own a home (which seems unlikely), I will eschew plastic entirely in my bathrooms. And renovations will not consist of simply spraying a coating over everything.

Don’t dress up like Elvis in Nicholasville

Or at least, not in court:

‘Elvis’ shows up at Kentucky court drunk

NICHOLASVILLE, Ky. – A central Kentucky judge had a suspicious mind when an Elvis Presley impersonator showed up for court apparently drunk and sporting sunglasses and a rhinestone-studded shirt with a scarf draped around his neck.

County Attorney Brian Goettl said that as a result, the judge had David Blaisdell, 64, tested for intoxication and sentenced him to three days in jail for contempt of court when it was determined that the man’s blood-alcohol level was nearly twice that at which a person in Kentucky is considered legally drunk.

Blaisdell, who was in court for a pretrial conference on misdemeanor charges of stalking and violating a protective order, told the judge he had had a few drinks the night before, Goettl said.

Good to know those drunk Elvis impersonators aren’t getting off easy in the ol’ hometown! ;)

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I don’t like any of these chairs

These are the best I could find, but none of them is quite right, either on its own or with my beautiful table. Gah!

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A fabulous find

I went downtown today to see if I could find some interesting chairs in any of the antique stores. I thought maybe there was a remote chance someone had gotten rid of a plain chair that would suit my needs. The idea of having a set of mismatched chairs that all share a few main features is appealing.

I parked in front of Merry’s Trash and Treasures, which is the biggest antique store in the universe. Well, maybe not, but they have like three storefronts…and when you go inside, the furniture is literally stacked to the ceiling.

With a selection like that, you’d think I might have come across something…but Merry’s stock runs more along the vintage American kind of furniture. I didn’t see anything that might have been brought over from China or Japan or inspired by those countries. All the wood had a natural finish, too, except for one old farmhouse set–so no black, which is what I need to match my table.

Also, you’d be hard-pressed to find anything in Merry’s that doesn’t cost $300 or more. I discovered this years ago, but somehow I had forgotten.

Unsure of my chances of finding anything at an antique store now that I’d seen Merry’s selection, I went next door to The Marketplace, which is run like a flea market; different vendors run different sections of the store. This place does not deal in very much furniture, but they have all those neat knickknacks and books and cooking utensils that you expect in a second-hand shop. I stayed because I love looking at vintage curios, and I figured that if I found something I used to own or something that reminded me of my childhood, I wouldn’t have a problem picking it up.

I had fun scouring the shelves. I came across some Charlie Brown and the Chipmunks glassware that we used to have when I was a kid, and there was some nice milk glass too. Nothing really stuck out to me, though, until I was heading back along the opposite wall and came across a beautiful set of Noritake china.

The dishes were trimmed in gold, and at the center of each was a cluster of blue flowers. I examined the set. Apparently it had once been a service for 12, but some dishes and saucers had been broken along the way, so that it was now a service for 10. One dish was chipped, and the floral design had worn away on several pieces. Still, it was in fairly decent condition, and the price was reasonable. I decided to think about it, and moved on.

After happily coming across a copy of The Truce at Bakura, my favorite SWEU novel, in the adjacent stall, I moved forward and found a lovely Queen Anne table…laid out with another gorgeous set of Noritake china. This was a service for eight, in perfect condition, and none of the pieces were missing. They were trimmed in silver and the design was pink flowers.

I was already sold on the set, but I moved on anyway, went upstairs, scanned other items. However much I tried, though, I couldn’t concentrate, and it wasn’t long before I was hurrying back downstairs to snag the set before someone else saw it.

Here it is:

Oh, I love them so! I really hated the thought of serving a special dinner on the plates we use every day. They’re good plates, but they are old and worn and you can tell. I’m so excited to have something so beautiful for special occasions, and to have found the set at such a great price.

As you can see, my table is ready for Thanksgiving. All I need now are chairs!

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The search for chairs

As you may know, while Mom was here I purchased a beautiful Nigoshi table from Sears. It’s a black table in an “Asian” design, and I love it. Unfortunately, I didn’t love the chairs meant to go with the set, so I didn’t buy those. Since then, I’ve been hunting for just the right chairs.

It’s harder than I thought to find chairs with a black finish, let alone chairs in a plain or (heaven forbid) Asian style. I thought I had found a decent chair at Target, but last night I decided to check some furniture stores just in case.

First I went to Ashley Furniture HomeStore in the Augusta Exchange. This was the only chair I found that was close to what I want:

The chair was comfortable. I know Sean would approve of the padded seat, but I personally would prefer a hard chair that you can add a cushion to if you so desire. The back of the chair is problematic because it’s not quite right, style-wise. My bistro table has stools with skinny, straight lines across the seats, and so if I’m going to have parallel lines, I’d like them to sort of match. However, I’m open to chairs with a rectangular cross-slat pattern, because that simulates the look of shoji screens. These chairs have a big panel in the center of the back which doesn’t really do it for me.

Next I went to Haverty’s. This was their only selection in black. They actually had the shoji-style I’m interested in, but only in “chocolate”, which is not black!

This has the parallel lines, and not too thick, but it has a cross-bar up top, and while this sort of does the shoji thing, it’s not consistent across the entire chair. Still, I really liked how these chairs felt to sit in. They are also available in end chairs with arms, which are comfy as well.

I decided to check the mall next. They used to have a Macy’s furniture store at one end. Unfortunately, they don’t seem to have it anymore! I walked the entire length of the old mall and didn’t find any stores with furniture. At that point I was too tired to worry about looking at all the new mall stores that opened recently…I want to really take my time in exploring them, anyway, especially the Williams-Sonoma. So I hopped in my car and headed out.

Since I was already on Wrightsboro Road, I stopped in at Rooms to Go…but they had nothing. Nothing! At this point I was pretty disappointed that I had only found two candidates, and neither of them was exactly what I wanted.

After that I went to Target to look at my original choice again…and I was shocked to discover that not only were they more expensive than the chairs at the furniture stores, but they were of weaker construction! So…never mind, Target.

Right now I’m leaning towards the Haverty’s chairs. I like how they feel to sit in, the design is pretty close to what I want, and I like the end chairs with the arms. But I’m still weighing my options.

And that is why I went to the antique store today, though I ended up buying something completely different…

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New furniture

While Mom was here I got a lot done that I’d been meaning to, including getting a dining room table and a reasonably-sized desk for the office/guest room. My wonderful mother assembled these pieces of furniture for me and she did an amazing job.

Here is my table, which is from the Sears Nigoshi collection:

And here’s my desk, which is by Sauder and which we found at Office Depot:

The long drawer on the desk is hanging open because a part was missing, but the company sent it to us for free and it should be here soon. I’ll take a new picture once I have it.

I am totally in love with all my new furniture. This plus the addition of my second DVD cabinet and the slight rearranging of the living room has made the apartment feel like a whole new place. I’m thrilled with how it all came out. It’s so nice to walk in and feel like I’m in a real home, instead of just a place with stuff thrown into it.

I saw the table I want on HGTV

So I have the TV on in my office today, and I’m flipping between the US Open and HGTV. There was a show where two 22-year-olds were buying their first house after living with their parents and saving up money like crazy. Neat story. The two of them had two inspirational decoration pieces that the guy’s parents had brought back from Japan. One was a wood carving of a Chinese character that meant good health, good life, or something. The other was a painting that looked to be in the Chinese style, at least to me. The guy said he was definitely interested in “Oriental” designs–I think it’s still okay to say “Oriental” when you’re talking about decorating, but it seems weird to me.

The narrator kept referring to the new homeowners as “Grasshopper”, as though kung fu had anything to do with Japan (I think the Shaolin monks might have something to say about that). Meanwhile, the designer decorated the kitchen cabinets with horrible renderings of Chinese characters, but at least he had a sense of humor about it–he mixed the traditional “honor” and crap like that with stuff like “candy” and “chicken”.

The thing I was most interested in was the dining room, where they laid out bamboo mats to cover the ugly floor and then put in a low table. The designer made the table by hand, and he designed extensions for it so it could be used at a height that’s normal for westerners.

I have been trying to figure out how to design a table with extensions for awhile now. I would prefer that the legs either fold out or be latched under the table, so the extra legs don’t take up additional space in the house. I want either a black table, to go along with all my black furniture, or a more traditional natural wood, stained/lacquered? table.

It was neat to see someone actually doing something like what I want, even if in this case the extensions had to be stored.

I’ve also thought about putting down bamboo mats in my dining room, but it doesn’t seem like it would work right with the kitchen entrance. Plus the chandelier just doesn’t go with a Japanese style room, so I’ve been loath to decorate it at all.

Maybe someday when we move I’ll have the Japanese-style dining room I envision :)

I also want a Japanese-style bath…

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It’s been almost two years since fire destroyed the first home I created for myself and my husband. Sean found the place and I moved from Kentucky to live there. I decorated, I cleaned, I learned to get over myself and deal with things like loneliness and uncertainty. Over time I developed ideas and systems and I was in great shape. I loved the apartment–it was filled with things that reminded me of my home back in Kentucky and beautiful in its own right, with a cathedral ceiling in the living room and a gorgeous view of the pond below.

It was home.

After we lost it, lost everything, we didn’t have a home. We lived with Sean’s parents. There was no place for us to go back to, no comfort zone. We stayed there perhaps a little too long, until finally I told Sean we had to move now.

It was I who found the new apartment. It costs much less and is in a good location. The building is still fairly new. Our management company is fast and helpful.

I wasn’t able to decorate right away, mainly because we didn’t have many possessions to move in, but also because I had a job and wasn’t able to spend entire days working on the apartment like I did when we first got married. So for months we have been accumulating things and I’ve been trying to put them in places that look good and make sense.

Some things are different. We spend most of our time in the living room now, whereas in the old apartment we could usually be found in the office. The office here is more of a second bedroom with a desk and a closet full of dry goods, paperwork, and stuff we couldn’t find another place for. It’s never felt cozy, and I haven’t had time to deal with that.

Since there was only one desk and I was using it, Sean took up a position on the kotatsu in the living room, and he’s been there ever since. Now he says he doesn’t want to have a desk, but prefers to stay right where he is. To manage some of his clutter, I bought him a little black file cabinet.

Meanwhile, I got lonely sitting in there by myself, so I moved my laptop out onto the coffee table we’re keeping for Brooke. The desk wasn’t particularly comfortable to sit at, so this really isn’t too different. When my back hurts, I sit on the floor, and when I’m bored with that I sit on the loveseat Brooke gave us.

We have a large, old TV given to us by Robert and Julia, and a cheap DVD player I bought at Wal-Mart, and we spend much of our time at home sitting at our computers and watching DVDs. Sometimes I feel like I’m trying to escape into another world rather than dealing with the things that need to be done, or even the things I think I want to do.

The TV sits against the wall shared by our master bedroom. With that; the fact that the door is right next to it, allowing sound through the cracks; and Sean’s late-night schedule, it is often difficult for me to sleep soundly. I’m sure the same is true for him when I’m up during the day. Complicating matters is the fact that Sean will often sleep on the couch next to his kotatsu, meaning when I get up I feel like I have to be quiet. So I can’t even retreat into a DVD.

I’ve Twittered about my discontent lately, how I feel like I haven’t really had a summer, how I have trouble waking up in the morning.

Today, while sitting at my laptop in the living room of our apartment, I thought, “I want to go home.”

And it finally hit me. I feel the same about this place as I did about Cheryl and Reid’s. It’s not home. It’s a place where I’m keeping my stuff, a base to operate out of. When I’m not here, I don’t wish I was. Even when I say I want to go home, when I finally get here I don’t feel relieved. I feel resigned.

Part of it, I’m sure, is due to some actual problems with the apartment, such as the layout and our noisy neighbors and the fact that we have no view whatsoever. But I think I’ve also failed to take ownership of this place and the things inside it because I feel like none of it belongs to me. How much of it was given to us, and how much of it was purchased using money that was given to us? What here can I say is truly mine?

I hope when our lease is up next spring that we are able to move. Even though I have an idea of what’s bothering me, I don’t feel like I want to take ownership of this place. I want to start fresh, and put more time into picking the spot and the things I want to go in it. I want to find a place that doesn’t have the problems this place does. I want to find something cute, just large enough to suit our needs.

I want to stop wishing I was back in our old apartment, with all our old stuff.

I want to find home.