reality is weirder than you think

Category: Creating Space

Shade-loving container garden in the high desert

(Or to be precise, “semi-arid steppe climate.” I don’t really live in the high desert but I like to pretend.)

Let’s talk about baseline reality for a minute, shall we? Things like the layout of our dwelling places and the types of food that we eat and the living things that we surround ourselves with.

Unlike the malfunctioning washing machine in my rental, the deck is a pretty dang sweet setup. First of all, I actually have a usable deck, and I’m excited to have a protected outdoor space for my own. Second, the deck is pretty much the only bit of outdoor space that I have control over. I could potentially put some plants out my front door, on the opposite side of the house, but there’s not a lot of room there. Third, this a covered deck that faces North. It will be absolutely fantastic in the heat of the summer, but I’m looking to make it a more hospitable place by adding many pots and containers of plants.

The challenge here is that while my deck will be a relatively shady place, the summer will almost invariably be hot and dry. I’m no gardener, but I can’t think of any plants that will be tolerant of (or even thrive in) the hot shade.

Good thing there are people in this world who have more knowledge and experience with plants than I do.

After some searching, I now have a list of plants that I desire to put on my deck:

  1. Hellebore
  2. Begonia
  3. Hosta
  4. Creeping Jenny
  5. Ferns
  6. Lamium
  7. Columbine or acanthus
  8. Coleus
  9. Japanese forest grass
  10. Silver-falls dichondra

Apparently Japanese maple trees also do well in the shady-but-hot regions of the world (potted, clearly). Not sure I’m ready for the responsibility of taking care of one of those beautiful trees, but it’s certainly something to put on the “soon” list.

For now, I’m focusing on creating a beautiful, hospitable space for both myself and others that will harmonize with the natural environment–thus being the easiest to care for.

My plan is to take my list to a reputable nursery and ask the staff there what they think will also work best based on their experience in our region.

This is one of the reasons that spring is my favorite time of year; there’s so much promise and opportunity everywhere that only exists for a moment. Everything is new, and changing, and shimmering–until you blink.

Capitalize on it while you can.


On a side note, climate maps are fascinating. It’s interesting to me how the climate zones in the South and East are so broad, while the climate zones around the Rocky Mountains are much smaller and more varied. I wonder how that impacts things like regional culture and architecture.

Well, I’ve committed myself to hosting a party

You know the idea that you should never wait until you’re “ready” to do something, and jump the gun a little bit? Like you never feel you’re ready until you’re past ready, but you’re capable of being ready before you feel it? (Yes I know that is a ridiculous sentence.)

I decided to put that into practice this week. Olympics/housewarming party at my place, Friday.

That means I have to get my butt in gear, because I’m not ready.

There’s no way I’m going to get a coffee table and the remaining gorillion side tables that my furniture configuration dictates, or even a properly-sized rug, but that’s okay.

What matters more is

  • Making good food that is compatible with non-carnivores. I’m going to do a big pot of pulled pork, and then provide buns and condiments so the omnivores can make sammiches.
  • Whipping my kitchen into some semblance of order, even if it’s just stuffed into a bunch of cabinets. (Don’t tell on me.)
  • Making sure that the essentials are clean (floors, bathroom).
  • Hanging hooks in my entryway for coats and making sure I have a bunch of chairs and comfy things to sit on.
  • Doing the hostess thing when the time comes.

I don’t think anyone’s going to care that my coffee table is currently four boxes with boards laid over, as long as there’s good food and good company.

Full disclosure: this blog post is mostly me convincing myself that everything is going to be fine, and that I don’t have to be 100% perfect for people to like me.

It’s all going to be fine.


Btw this “party” consists of all six people I know in this town so far. Hoppin.

That fine line between beautiful and useful

You’d never know there was an upside to a housefire.

That upside, for me, is salvage furniture that’s wasn’t damaged, but is written off my insurance. Apparently they sell it–for cheap–which makes it an idea place to find affordable, quality furniture.

I’m now the owner of a Restoration Hardware couch, which I bought for $200. Yes, please.

One of the pieces that I looked at was a beautiful coffee table, brass with a wood burl veneer on top. It was exquisite. New, it cost $3000. Fire salvage, $250.

An absolute steal.

But would I use it? I need a coffee table. Does it fit with my couch and the other furniture that I have? Or would it be difficult to work around? Being that much more “nice” than everything else I have could be a detriment, because by comparison everything else would look shabby.

I would have had to design an entirely new life to fit in around that coffee table, one where I artfully drink coffee on Saturday mornings and have decorative objects picked up from my latest trip to Borneo clumped artfully on my fireplace mantle. (Problem: my apartment doesn’t have a fireplace.)

Yes, the coffee table was a great deal monetarily. I have my doubts on whether or not it was a great deal in terms of lifestyle and context.

It was beautiful, but not for me. Not right now at least. Sometimes you have to know when to admire and let go.

That used to be difficult for me. I would want to become that new person who lives that life in which the coffee table (or the blouse) makes sense. As I’ve gotten older, though, I’ve started to realize that there’s only one person that I can be (me), and if external trappings don’t help me to become more fully that person, they don’t belong in my life.

No matter how beautiful, if an object isn’t useful–both in an absolute context and relative to other objects that you already own–it’s effectively worthless. It makes me sad to think about that coffee table in this way, because the craftsmanship was so good, but it doesn’t make sense in the context of my life right now.

I could be wrong. Maybe I’ll wake up in a cold sweat tomorrow morning because I didn’t buy that gorgeous coffee table.

But I doubt it.

On Being a Nomad

I like to joke that I’ve been homeless since October 27.

Strictly speaking, that’s not true, since my parents have always offered to take me in during the lean times (and it’s their couch that I’m sitting on as I’m writing this).

Airbnb has also been great.

It’s not so much that I haven’t had a place to stay, but that I haven’t had my own place to stay. All of my stuff has been packed in a trailer for the last month. It’s not a bad thing–just a byproduct of the moving process–but has provided some interesting moments as of late.

  • Oooh, I can’t wait to start decorating for Christmas…with the decorations that are packed somewhere.
  • My new-to-me car will only play audio CDs. I can burn some of my music…with the blank CDs that are packed somewhere.
  • I need to clean my brush with a brush-scrubber….that’s packed somewhere.
  • It’s getting colder and I could make the perfect outfit with…the sweater that is packed somewhere.
  • Let’s cook a steak on my cast iron pan…that’s packed somewhere.

Basically everything is packed and so my plans are all half-baked.

If I were to be a true nomad, I’d sell or give away most of my stuff so that I never had those thoughts. All the things I needed would be with me at all times.

There would be no decorating for Christmas or burning of CDs, or any of that.

“Living out of a suitcase” would become merely “living.”

Talk about rootless. It works for some people.

I’m not yet ready for that life.

Christmas Fireplace Edit

It’s that time of year again, where our collective unconscious seizes us with the desire to snuggle under festive quilts and drink candy-cane-bedazzled hot chocolate out of Santa mugs by the fire.

Thanks to the wonders of modern architecture, most of us don’t have fireplaces. We turn, then, to the next best thing: Youtube.

This leads to a host of other problems. There are approximately 70 gorillion “fireplace with Christmas music” videos on Youtube, of varying quality. When one is in the mood to snuggle up, one does not want to wade through 69 gorillion videos to find the ones that are actually viable.

My friend, your problems are solved, courtesy of my brother.

This right here is the greatest of them all:


  • Actual fire footage with a fadeout loop
  • 2 and change hours long
  • 13 different Christmas songs, on repeat (which you probably won’t notice because you’ll be paying attention to something else)
  • Excellent arrangements, both orchestral and choral
  • No horrible synthesizers
  • Fireplace sounds, including popping (with sparks) and logs shifting
  • Just fireplace, no extra “Christmas room” effects
  • Will work best in a dark room but not out of place in the daylight

Bookmark this guy and you’re all set for the next time that the snow starts falling lightly from the sky, and you happen to have a blanket and a good book at hand.

And hey, if you hate Christmas music, you could always stare intensely at a rotating pizza.

The necessity of charm

A few last thoughts on The Perfectly Imperfect Home.

I’d never thought about graciousness being a component of home decorating, but now that it’s been brought up, it makes a lot of sense: “Why bother with a quaint relic of a time when people communicated principally by letters? This is why: because like lunch on the lawn or a candlelit dinner, sitting down at a proper little table is entirely gracious. It is about the necessity of charm.”

We like to be charmed. A little charm in our lives means that there’s enough extra energy and thought to be channeled into something that’s not quite practical.

Another passage that charmed me is this one describing the philosophical differences between schools of decorating:

The stern Sister Parish used to engage in a practice her employees termed “traying” in which she went around a new client’s house with a tray scooping up all the tchotchkes, figurines, bibelots, and knickknacks she deemed superfluous. Tough, but necessary. If it’s not beautiful, useful, or meaningful, you might as well lose it. And then the arranging can begin.

Decorators obsess over how to wield our decorative objets. On the frontlines of style, the tablescapers face off against the tchotchkeyites. The tablescaping aesthete believes in clustering like objects together to create a strong visual statement, while the savvyless tchotchkeyite tends to disseminate objects all around the room, diminishing their impact and creating a sense of bitsyness.

One can–almost–see in the authors description of the tablescaping aesthete a purpose for figurines and other decorative objects. I can see my own antipathy to figurines in her description of the savvyless tchotchkeyites.

This passage almost–almost–has me convinced to hunt down a motherload of knickknacks with which to decorate my tables.

After all, a tablescape without its decorative objects is nothing.

Looking for apartments is exhausting

…and not just because of all the logistical work.

Space is an important component to how we live our lives.

If you’ve ever doubted that, observe people navigating an empty lobby with stanchioned waiting lines. Even with no people to contend with, most will automatically conform to the designated spaces.

The people we share our space with also have an impact on how we live our lives.

For example, although my last living situation was in a house, I mostly confined myself to one room because of a volatile roommate.

The way in which our space is decorated also influences us.

Remember how motivated you’ve felt inside an awe-inspiring library.

So as I’m out looking for space in which to spend the next years of my life, be it a townhouse, an apartment, or some other arrangement, I’m also exploring different potential ways of living my life. Different identities, almost.

Extrapolating that amount of hypothetical data take a lot of mental work.

Certainly more than simply counting amenities, bedrooms, commute time, and rent before cross-referencing with the budget to make sure it fits within parameters.

(Although those things are important.)

Will this apartment encourage me to stay in, instead of going out to make friends? Will this townhouse help out with morning wakefulness due to the positioning of its bedroom windows? Am I ready for the responsibility of snow removal and yard work?

So much to consider.

And yet, apartment hunting is so much fun — specifically for this reason.

It’s time to try on all sorts of lives for size. To imagine yourself in different circumstances, different possibilities. To carve out some space for yourself that’s entirely focused on your future plans, and not hampered by the resources (or lack thereof) in your past.

So many futures, so little time.

I looked at one today and two more tomorrow…wish me luck!

A well-stocked pantry

Today we’re continuing my observations from The Perfectly Imperfect Home. This passage I like because it highlights Deborah Needleman’s quirky writing style AND it reveals the secrets of the Ina Gartens and Martha Stewarts of the world. I don’t aspire to be like either of those women materially, but I do appreciate the work ethic, organization, and sense of ease that they both exude.

When I visit a beautifully run home (usually belonging to a fancy decorator or a rich person), I am as fascinated by what’s hidden away as by what’s on display. A little snooping almost always reveals an orderly pantry with entertaining supplies lined up like patient soldiers waiting to serve. It’s not just the sheer volume of linens and vases and platters and the ready supplies of candles, tea lights, and votives that impress. Although they do. It’s how beautifully they’re organized. Here are a couple of secrets I’ve stolen: use a label maker to ID the front of each shelf with what goes where. (This is to keep the staff from mixing things up, but it works equally well when you are your staff.) And toss the broken, ripped, stained, and chipped, plus those things you never use but think you will someday. They are making it hard to find what you need, and therefore planning is that much more difficult.

If you take the time to arrange items neatly, press linens before you need them, and order supplies like candles in bulk, you will be rewarded with a wave of domestic satisfaction every time you see them.

Like the boy scout motto: be prepared.

But looking at this book has me convinced that keeping a good house (or home, even) requires putting energy into both the design and the upkeep that’s past baseline. Maybe not overachieving efforts — nothing in the book is about keeping a perfectly spotless home — but certainly enough effort that you push past the ordinary.

No effort results in an unorganized mess. Minimal work results in marginally dusty clutter. Normal work gets you a clean, tidy home. But that extra effort (“that extra half inch,” to quote Victoria Beckham) is what makes the difference from an ordinary home to, well, a perfectly imperfect one. It’s not the perfection, it’s the energy and thought and care that matter.

That’s what creates the glamour, sparkle, and satisfaction.


Glamour in the home

More on decorating. Forgive me (#SorryNotSorry), it was the best book on decor I’ve read to date.

This bit deals with glamour in our homes. While the author focuses on glamour as a style, rather than glamour as a concept, she highlights the concept that we all need a little bit of glamour in our homes. It helps us transcend the mundane.

Given how many mundane tasks a house must perform, a bit of frippery is actually a necessity. It can elevate a room into an experience. Glamour does require guts, though, because you need to express it with a bold stroke, not a tentative gesture. What creates glamour? Sparkle! Shine! Embellishment! Color! Pattern! Glamour is an essential excess, the icing on our cake.

Don’t think I am suggesting that we all have to go for an over-the-top, glitzy Hollywood “more is more” kind of look. In fact, that is rather hard to pull off. Miles Redd, a decorator who does not fear the glam, pulls out all the stops–crystal chandelier, gilded wood, chinoiserie wallpaper, leopard fabric, etc.–but keeps a tight rein on the color palette. You can also be selective and elegant, choosing perhaps one brilliantly ornate mirror, a lavish wallpaper, or a single glittering chandelier, in an otherwise modern or refined room. You don’t need to overdo it, but you can’t be wimpy: that chandelier or that mirror or wallpaper has to assert itself loudly and clearly. Glamour is not meek.

I’ve always liked the idea of having something sparkly or shiny in a room (or on an outfit), but I never put two and two together. Of course it would be an element of glamour to wake a room up and give it that extra bit of energy.

I also love the idea of not being wimpy in your own home. It’s so easy to fall into the trap of “good enough” or “nobody else will see this,” but sometimes it’s worth investing in a piece that makes you want to rise to the occasion on everything else. For me, in an outfit, that’s a great pair of shoes. Maybe in decor, it’s a mirror, for that sense of dancing light.

Because at the end of the day, isn’t it light that makes us happy? Dark, dreary homes are never welcoming.

It’s no great coincidence that the key to making people feel sparkly is to make the room itself sparkly. Candlelight, and low light in general, is essential for creating an elegant mood. The reason we still bother with candles, antiquated as they are, is that their light is hypnotic. And flattering. And it cannot be duplicated by any form of electric light. Candles mix best with dimly lit rooms. So keep all complementary lights low so that candlelight can cast its magic spell.

Natural light is best, but when that fails, there’s hygge and candlelight.

After that is Truth, I suppose. Because if you lose the truth, you’re truly sunk.

Even in home decor.


I picked up The Perfectly Imperfect Home today:

For instance, picture yourself in a photo spread from a magazine like Dwell. You’re sitting with a nice cup of tea on, say, an Eames chair that floats alone on an expanse of concrete floor in front of a fire burning in a square cut into the drywall. Interesting? Sure. Cozy? Not so much. Minimalism is single-dimension decorating. Cozifiers add layers.

Cozy decorating was perfected by the English in the postwar era. The ideal of faded chintzes, comfortable armchairs, lots of soft pillows, and flowers and books everywhere exudes the glorious imperfection that is the essence of English country-house style. Yet, like perfectly mussed hair, it is quite calculated. Its devil-may-care attitude of tossed pillows and seemingly haphazard pattern combinations is a bit of a lie, but one that in the telling becomes true. In other words, cozifications create a home that looks loved and lived-in, which in turn creates a home that is loved and lived-in.

First, there’s the contrast between the traditional and the modern. “English Country House” might be the quintessence of traditional architecture and decor. Modernism is not cozy. It’s not designed to be cozy. It will never be cozy. Modernism wants you uncomfortable.

Second, the cozy approach uses the same “lie that tells the truth” that fiction does, and civilization. By cheating a bit at first, and providing a gloss of truth, cozy decor creates a space that invites the actual thing to take place. Maybe we could term it “preemptive truth telling,” that goes ahead of actual, practical, detail-oriented truth and in fact provides an opportunity to the truth-in-fact to spring into being.

© 2018 Batfort

Theme by Anders NorenUp ↑