Tuesday, January 29, 2008


Mabel's House is a blog about house stuff, with a little life stuff thrown in too. I love decorating, always have. But, I’ve always leaned toward a different ‘style’ than found in typical magazines. No House Beautiful for me, I love the unexpected. But decorating is my second love, not the first.

As you can see from the photos of Mom's painting studio, my family is full of artists. The eccentric kind, to say the least. My cousins and I grew up eating our Happy Meals on Aunt Beverly's dining room table, careful not to drip our ketchup on her latest fetus sketches (she drew them from fetus’ in jars loaned for a doctor’s office… don’t ask me how ). Mom hung cow skulls on the walls of her studio, hauled home giant nude portraits from an anatomy class that gave my 6 year old heart fits, and never demanded that my little sisters wear anything other than diapers (except on Sundays to church). Hippies? Not really. My family is an odd splice of artists and Republicans. It can’t possibly be explained.

I, on the other hand, inherited Meme’s genes (maternal grandmother). We are both clean and organized to a fault. I like all things planned, paid for in cash, and on time. But underneath it all, I’ve been influenced greatly by my upbringing.

I love visiting eccentric people’s homes. I get excited when someone collects wasps nests or empty Tabasco bottles. My home is not eccentric, but I certainly don’t adhere to a Pottery Barn way of life. I long for a different way of doing things. As much as I love my house, and other’s homes, the great love of my life is not decorating. Or art (although I tried desperately until giving up at the age of 10). The great love of my life is writing (note I said writing… not grammar, haha). It’s ironic that something I love so much, have tried so hard for, is something I rarely discuss. Perhaps it’s too sacred for me to blog about, or say tritely, “Oh, I wrote a book” in casual conversation. Weird as it may be, it’s too important for that.

In my heart of hearts, I love the way artists think and live their lives and wish I could do the same. It would make life easier, my writing better. It is impossible to be creative working full time, cleaning a house, paying bills, and watching Scott Baio is 45 and Pregnant before dozing off to sleep. I’m not sure where or when it happened, but life became very dull in the past few years. The shine is worn off.

I do not mean to sound ungrateful, I have too many blessings to count. But my heart aches for a change, any change. Even if it's just a change in me, in the way I see my world. Has anyone else felt that way? I’ve prayed for a change, even though others warn me that it's a drastic measure. But that’s alright. I trust God, he's never let me down before. I'm worn down by commuting over an hour each day, by staring at a computer screen for nine hours a day, by spending my years in a windowless office filing papers. I miss my roots; days spent with colored pencils while mom painted, drippy ice cream cones, minutes and hours and days to think and create. There is something different out there, I remember it. Now if I can just find it again.

I'll be taking the next few days off to recharge my battery, search for some inspiration, and if I'm lucky, write something decent for the first time in months. I make a concerted effort to make this blog happy, uplifting, so I apologize for today's post. The blog world has been a fantastic outlet for me, and you, blog friends, give me the daily inspiration that I desperately crave. I feel certain that things will look up again, but the time has come to sort a few things out (and of course, visit a few thrift shops). I shall return soon.

Painting Project, Again

Meet the new red side table in the guest room. OK, I'm really going to stop painting furniture for a while. Not because I don't like it, but simply because there isn't anything left in the house to paint. Oh wait, except the breakfast table.

Spring yard sales present massive problems for me.

1. I buy things I have no space for.

2. (And this relates directly back to #1) There are dozens of smallish tables selling for next to nothing, and I feel the need to cart them all back home.

This side table was a steal at $7.00. The man selling it had painted it a faux wood 'crackle.' For the life of me I cant understand why you would paint over wood to make something look like, well, wood. Either way, I loved it's pedestal leg and snapped it up. That was last April, and this is almost February. The poor thing has floated around, no special place to belong for almost a year. Finally, it has a home. And my backyard is red, again.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Still Cold, Still Waiting

Ah, spring. You are so very far away. This weekend was one of the coldest we've had. I spent my Friday afternoon slipping and sliding home amidst sleet. Actually, there wasn't a lot of slipping or sliding, more like starting and stopping. I spent ten minutes just making my way through each red light downtown. Our city did a wonderful job of sanding the roads, but people panicked and left work all in one rush. As my boss so humorously put it, "It's like rats jumping off a ship." I waited until I thought the rush died down, but I was mistaken. It took me an hour and half to finally get home and breath a sigh of relief in my garage.

Once I made it home I didn't venture out, well, all weekend. I watched TV, took naps, held Mabel, and took more naps. What else can you do when it's below freezing? My thin blood was really unhappy; thank goodness for the space heater.

I know my little plants need light, but eventually the draft from the big front window was too much for them. I noticed a few of them looking very, um, wilty, so I drew the curtains in the daytime. I hate doing that.

Our bedroom has been FREEZING this winter. I cant understand why, but it is by far the chilliest room in the house. When I chose this paint color, it was hot and sweaty summertime. It was cool and refreshing. But now, with the cold wood floors and chilly air, it seems like a place Jack Frost would sleep. Thank goodness for a down comforter.

Mabel, on the other hand, isn't allowed under the covers at night. It's this whole ordeal; she roots under them like a pig, scratches my legs, and then comes flopping out around 3 in the morning, panting and hot. Have you ever sampled hot dog breath in your face during a REM cycle? It makes for a very testy situation. So, Mabel isn't allowed under the covers.

She's so pathetic when she's cold. And dramatic. She rolls her eyes, she shivers. We've discovered that wrapping her in a towel seems to appease her.

But somehow, when she looks at me this way, I'm pretty sure she still wants me to feel guilty. Hurry up spring, we're still waiting.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Beating The Blah's. Yep, Again.

I know. I thought we were done with this too. But the Blahs are back. January seems to be the most light-deprived month of all! After reading Jerusalem and Sarah's posts on this, I realized and was comforted by the fact that this is a blah time of year for a lot of people. I get up before the sun rises, I work in a windowless office, and have begun to feel 'vampirish' in my routines. Let's not even address my pasty pallor because it isn't any different than it will be in June. I honestly don't care if my legs blind someone. They can wear sunglasses. But, I digress.

I need light! Sun! Birds! Ack! I could never make it in the far north, at least not without some medication. But I'm making my house as bright, cheerful and sparkly as possible.

As you can see, I went on a hyacinth bender; and the entire house smells like spring. Heaven. I sit and watch TV at night, inhaling deeply over and over until Matt becomes concerned that I'm have an attack of some kind. And, I'm not done yet. Spring just isn't spring without some purple hyacinths.

I moved a big mirror over the TV, and placed blue glass and a lamp in front. It reflects light and blue sparkles into the room. Hmmm... that helps.

We've also started buying the most expensive organic produce we can find. But we NEED it. Nothing says 'CHEER UP' like a big bowl of ripe tomatoes. We usually have a year round supply of tomatoes and avocados, no matter the season. I suppose it's our Texas roots showing. But this month I've been on a veritable tomato/balsamic salad diet. Mmmm, so good. My only request for hub's chef plans was, "Just keep me in tomatoes." As you can see, he's done an excellent job of that so far.

My quest for all that is cheerful, bright and sparkly will probably continue. I foresee MAC glittery eyeshadow and a bowl full of oranges in the future.

*** Several of you asked what color paint I used on the $6.00 cabinet. It's Valspar (from Lowe's), Woodlawn Charm. I bought exterior paint to use on furniture, it seems hardier and less 'chippy.' But, it's probably best to go the respectable 'sand, prime, paint' route.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

The Girls

My sister stopped by with some friends this week. I just love hanging around with these girls, they are so fun and giggly and sarcastic; just my kind of ladies. They're all in college and their enthusiasm is catchy. I found myself reverting back to my 'college self,' however horrifying that may be. Mabel was delighted (after she barked and scared them for a while) and bounced around like a bee in a jar. Matt just hid in his man-room for most of the night.

Although, I suspect that he enjoyed hosting more than he let on.

Entertaining for the girls was easy peasy. No fussy decorating or massive cleaning; just plain old table settings and pizza. And bless their hearts, they're so ecstatic to be out of the dorms and in a real house they don't even notice the dust bunnies in the corners.

One of the girls had hand surgery, and she showed me her injuries and pictures of the stitches. Ouch. I felt like I should take care of her somehow, but all I could do was send her back to school with a box full of left over pizza.

Thanks for coming over girls! Truthfully; it was probably more fun for me and Mabel than you!

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Entry Way Project (the Six Dollar Cabinet)

In December hubs hauled this curb-side find home for me. It rested in the garage for the better part of the month, simply because I had no idea what to do with it. Usually, I have a strict no-bring-home policy if I don't know where I'll put something, but I made an exception with this guy.

I was recently reading Small Space Style and was inspired by the idea of creating an entry-way. I don't have one, the front door simply empties into the living/dining room with the exception of a tiny half wall that gives the impression of a teensy entry space.

After rearranging some side tables during the "Salon Wall" project (giving titles to my projects makes me snicker a little), I found this space next to the front door empty.

I began by putting down a tarp and removing the pie-safe doors. The doors were crooked and broken, and just didn't look right in the living room. I also noticed a pretty strong mildew smell, as the previous owners left this out in the elements before chucking it on the curb. It was Windex time, and after a few full scrubs, the smell dissipated.

This is the after pic. I used some left over paint (the paint we used on the filing cabinet in the office) and bought the drawer pulls for $6.00. Hence the title. I'm actually really surprised at how well this turned out, even though years of painting furniture has taught me to never underestimate a coat of paint. And, I wont lie, the thrill of a freebie find never gets old. If you walk into a store and buy something brand new, it's just not the same as if you look at a cabinet and say, "That cost me $6.00." I guess it's a girly version of hunting and fishing.

A couple of old red baskets came out of storage, and I decided to store my magazines under here. It's about time they had claim to a proper storage place, usually they hide under beds or stacked on the floor.

In the end, I was just happy to finally have some semblance of an 'entry way.' And don't worry, I saved the pie-safe doors. You never know...

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Salon Wall Solution

Thank you all so much for the generous comments and opinions about my painting/living room wall conundrum. I can see both sides of the issue; the creepy painting in a castle factor and the sweet great-grandmother heirloom aspect. And while I know some people would find it a bit unnerving, that wasn't the deciding factor. It just didn't seem to be the right size for the room. I'll save it for a hallway someday, or maybe a bigger office/library. But, the fact remained that the big wall behind my couch was needing something.

So, I began thinking of ways to remedy the bare wall behind the sofa. I didn't particularly want to move the paintings that were there (also my mom's work), but they were the wrong size for the wall. Mom gave me these paintings as house-warming present, and if the whole joint catches fire, these will be the two things I come running out with. Mom took pictures of the houses in Galveston, and then painted them and my two sisters and me riding our bicycles in front. To say they are sentimental would be the understatement of the century, so the idea of moving them to a lesser-seen wall wasn't appealing.

Lately I've been noticing a lot of magazine photos of 'salon walls' in living rooms, walls full of several paintings instead of just one large piece. This is a great look, but I also love symmetrical, orderly rooms. However, I decided this was the weekend for action, since I didn't intend to spend one more day grumbling about it. After all, it's bad enough that I have to look at a deflated couch that Godzilla, um, I mean Mabel, has crushed beneath her body weight.

I moved the Galveston paintings above the bookshelves, which turns out to be much more fitting for their size and scale.

In the end, this is what I came up with. The factors that preceded this night of reorganizing were twofold. One; I had an abnormal amount of energy for a Friday night. A bizarre amount. Usually I come home, don the ever-attractive pajama pants and bury myself in Cherry Garcia. And two; Matt was gone. Being alone in the house is imperative to a big rearrange. No one is around to see my hair-brained schemes, or the thousands of swiss cheese holes I put in the walls. You have no idea the sweating and nail biting that went on, I hate hanging things on the wall. But this time, things worked out. Whew. I need another weekend to recover.

*** Now that I've stolen artwork from other rooms to do this, there are two very bare walls in the breakfast nook and guest bedroom. I smell a shopping trip...

Friday, January 18, 2008

Scary or The Best Painting Ever?

I don't normally post twice in one day, but this is a house decorating emergency. Meet Clara Belle Herron. She's my great grandmother. My mom is an artist and painted this in college. I have several of Mom's pieces in my house, but she's generously offered to let me have this. I'm thinking of putting her on the large wall behind the couch (which you can see has completely given up the ghost and allowed Mabel to kill her). It's a really large oil painting, almost 5 ft tall.

The question here is, is this painting scary? I don't think so, but then again, it's my Granny and I grew up looking at this painting in the hallway every day. Hubs, on the other hand, said that it unnerves him a little. I suppose it reminds him of those paintings in castles where the eyes watch you as you walk down a hallway, or something like that. Truthfully I'll probably hang it anyway (when I can talk someone into bringing it to me, it won't fit it in my car). How many people have an oil portrait of their great-grandparent? Any thoughts?

Linen Show and Tell and an Apology

I am a self confessed linen junkie. And I'm not sure why. I've never really sewn that much, although when I have it was really enjoyable. I just have a thing for linens; sheets, pillow cases, tablecloths, place mats, scraps, old quilts. I hoard them like a pack rat, which leads me to today's photos.

This is a full flat sheet that I conned my mom out of. She got it for her wedding shower in 1971. When I was little I got a huge thrill out of going to bed to find my bed made with it. A couple of years ago I was home for Thanksgiving and asked mom is she still used it, to which she said no. So I stole it. Just kidding, but I did do some high pressure sales until she gave it to me.

This is a twin sheet from college. When I went to college I moved in the dorms and mom went into a complete panic. We forgot to buy sheets. There I was, arms full of band aids, Tylenol, shampoo, new comforter, laundry detergent, but no sheets. My sweet aunt donated a sheet set to me, and I used it all three years I was in the dorms. I spent my childhood sleeping on these sheets, spending weekends with my cousins Amy and Emily. I can remember playing outside until dark, coming in with gritty dirt in my teeth, watching Nick at Night while eating MacDonald's and then falling asleep in Amy's extra twin bed on these very sheets. Heaven, pure heaven. Eventually the fitted sheet fell apart, but I've always thought I would use this flat sheet for some project in the future.

These place mats are new. I bought four of them for $10.00. Deal? I think so. Not exactly 'linens' but I wanted to share anyway.

As for the apology, here goes, "Mary, I'm sorry I dogged your Home Companion magazine recently. Your current January/February issue is delightful and I love it." There. I said it. Whew, that was hard.

*On a side note, congratulations to Jana who is pregnant with the soon-to-be-arrived baby Autumn. Check out her new nursery photos, they are impressive to say the least!

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Goodbye Walnut St. and The Book

For the past seven years I've been hoarding. Well, I've been hoarding a lot of things (tablecloths, dishes, spare change), but mostly I've been hoarding magazines. My precious mother in law was the first to introduce me into the world of decorating. I always loved houses, even as a child, but it was Linda that opened my eyes to the fact that I could do something with my own home. I was 21, newly married (I know, I know, we were babies) and had the perfect little rent house. Magazines became the equivalent of candy.

My husband and I had never lived on our own, other than the dorms, and our personal house assets were small. We had; one hand-me-down sofa, a coffee table, a little dinette and chairs, a full bed purchased for a grand total of $100, a chest of drawers and a TV. The little house we moved into was on an old tree lined street named Walnut. The university was a block away, and the city had encroached on this little street, a car lot crowding close, a fast food restaurant nearby. But it still had it's original charm, with 40's style cottages and children on their bikes.

Our house was a little white, wood sided cottage, with grey interior walls, big white trim, and huge sunny windows. A lot of my decorating decisions can probably be tracked back to the insiration that house gave me, I've alway tried to recreate it. It was probably 900 square feet at best, but we loved every inch of it. It was there that I began to hoard my magazines, too poor to buy anything, but still dreaming. It was there that I tried to sew my first curtains (with disastrous results). It was there that I began this book.

Originally it was only six or seven photo album pages, and it has grown past even this binder and into a box of clippings. I never get tired of it, it's my own personal design book. Every time I look , I find something different to think about or get inspired by.

On a recent trip back to our college town, we drove by our old house. It was still there, although now it has lime green shutters and a sign that says "Key West Bakery." We gasped in horror, stopped and went inside. Walls were torn down, cabinets and baking equipment standing where our old furniture used to be. The only thing familiar was the white painted brick fireplace and the bay window in the old dining nook. I just stared at the woman behind the counter and said, "We used to live here." She gave me a "Oh, great, so you're not buying anything" smile as I fought back the tears, pointed to the floors and said, "I knew there was hard wood under those carpets."

It was a really sad day, and it still makes me sad whenever I look at my book and think about where my decorating love first started. Matt and I had a lot of firsts in that house; first dinners, first fights, first movie nights, first anniversary. It was the place of a lot of beginnings for me, and I think a tiny part of me will always miss it. Except that 900 square feet... no WAY we could squeeze all our stuff AND Mabel in a space like that. Goodbye Walnut Street. I guess there are advantages to growing up and moving on.

P.S. My friend Mrs. Fox is having a design conundrum with her entry hall. Please feel free to share any ideas you might have!