A country kitchen without the kitsch

True Story: there were geese in my kitchen the first time I saw it. Flocks of Geese, marching around the room in a wall-paper boarder, and each of them wearing pink ribbons and blue bonnets. You’ll never see a photo of those birds because I yanked them down the day we moved in. It was my first home improvement. The kitchen and I may be country but neither of us has to be kitsch.

I know from Country kitchens because I grew up in those, clear back to my Mimmy’s house in southern Oklahoma. It was square-sized room, open enough to prepare meals for eight and feed them all at the kitchen table, provided everyone squinched up a bit. There was the obligatory oversized sink, usually something green growing in a jar in it’s window, and a view of Mimmy’s roses beyond. But most of all, her kitchen was built for purpose. It didn’t have whimsical wallpaper, “stunning” countertops, or decorative sconces. Its beauty was in its comfort and simplicity, its imperfections, and its age. That’s the kind of decor I can stand before Morning Coffee. Not anything cutesy or ironic.

And the fact is, My home has another country kitchen (well, I live in the country), from the countertops, to the wide wooden floors and view of green trees from the sink. There’s no changing that without major surgery, so I decided not try. Instead, I tried to create a country kitchen without the kitsch.

The gray cabinets were the first choice. Granted, Mimmy’s kitchen was mostly white, but I’ll tell you something: white shows every imperfection. When nicks happen, they stand out like acne. Grey is a bit more forgiving, especially if you glaze it afterwards

Now that’s a bit more like it!

Then, there came the backsplash. This is where a lot of people start talking about “bling” and shiny subway tiles, two things I never saw in a farm kitchen. What I did see was bead board, a miracle substance you can wash and even paint, once it’s in place. Second secret: I love bead board. And I love what it did for my kitchen.

I love how this looks when dawn’s light hit this counter

Finally, country kitchens are never far from nature, which may explain those goose-stepping geese in their granny bonnets. (Someone thought they were a good idea!) Farm wives I knew added reminders of nature and color, either with bits of greenery growing on shelves and ledges, or pictures of nature on their aprons, curtains and tea towels. Whatever they added wasn’t just pretty; it had a function. I try to remember that.

Even in a storm, this place looks cheery and cozy – especially when Stevie’s in the room!

Like I said, I’m more of an inferior decorator than an interior one. But I believe in a few things. I believe in listening to a house and making only those changes that harmonize with the original design. I believe in knowing your own needs. And I believe that geese with bonnets belong on the covers of kids books, not the walls of my home.

DIY-ing with a Round Tuit-Ist

My husband and I have what you might call “a mixed marriage.” Not because he’s Southern-born, while I’m a Prairie Girl, and not because we’ve been known to vote for different candidates. The division goes deeper than that. The fact is, I like DIY and Home Improvement projects and my husband is a Round Tuit-ist.

I’ll bet you know a Round Tuit-Ist (or, if you’re just reading this in 2059, you may be one). Round Tuit-ists are very nice people. They love to listen to your ideas. And, if you need a hand, they are happy to help. “Absolutely, as soon as I get around to it”, they say. And you will grow old and gray, waiting for them to get that Round Tuit

Which is why, when it came to painting the kitchen, I knew it would be difficult for my Round Tuit-ist. Part of him really wants to help, or at least for me to find something else to talk about besides the kitchen. But he’s never really ready to start a project. He’s not sure we have exactly what we need or if the area is sufficiently prepped. In other words, he hasn’t found his Round Tuit. But I had a secret weapon.

Before the new paint job

You see, my Round Tuit-ist loves gadgets, almost as much as he hates home improvement, and he loves new gadgets most of all. And I know that. So, once the red cabinets were cleaned, sanded and cleared of their hardware, I innocently asked, “would you rather use the rollers or paint with the sprayer?”

“Sprayer? What Sprayer?“. This was my cue to bring out the brand new paint sprayer I’d picked out for the occasion. Tuit-ist’s eyes gleamed like a kid in Disney World. Then he said “Where do you want these doors painted?

I replied,”How about that flat area behind the garage” and started picking up cabinet doors before he could protest. (By the way, 17 doors of varying sizes can be a bit cumbersome). I thought we’re finally grasped the famous Round Tuit. But fate had other ideas. No sooner had I spread out 17 cabinet doors, when the thunder started to rumble. And all 17 doors came back inside.

Next morning was, as Yogi Berra would say, Deja Vu all over again. Haul the doors out , set up the paint station, then haul them in under the threat of rain. By noon 17 doors had each made three round trips to the outdoors and I was beginning to get winded. In desperation, I asked Tuit-ist to move the paint operation to the covered front porch.

Pretty soon he was happily spraying away while I rolled paint over the facings. And the kitchen no longer was red.

What a difference a little paint makes!

Even a rubber wood table my Dad got us met the paint sprayer. What a difference that made!

First Step

The painting took surprisingly little time, although it also proved one of my Round Tuit-ist’s theories. He says any home improvement project simply begets another so, once begun, the work never stops. In our case, once the kitchen is completely done, I will have to repaint the porch.

The after effects

Well, I’m sure I’ll get around to it.

Renovation by committee

There’s this thing about having writer’s block: it blocks the ability to create with words, it doesn’t affect the Creative Drive. Which can be really frustrating. So, when I couldn’t get any words down on paper, I took a hard look at my home. Now, I’m pretty blind when it comes Interior Design. But even I could see my kitchen cabinets needed a new paint job. So, I decided to get a little help from my friends

Well, maybe the term “friends” is an overreach. Actually, like a lot of “enthusiastic but unsure” participants in the DIY movement, I belong to a social media group interested in home decorating and design. The other members are very nice people as a rule, and some have quite a bit of decorating knowledge. So, I asked them a simple question:

“This is a picture of my red kitchen that I want to repaint. The thing is, I’m not sure about the color. I don’t want to paint the cabinets white because white’s not practical for our kitchen and I can’t afford to change the floors, appliances or countertops. What about a nice gray?

Poor old, tired, red kitchen

I’ll say one thing for my fellow DIY buddies; they don’t hold back on their opinions! Within minutes a deluge of responses came down suggesting shade in the rainbow with some others thrown in as well. Sorry to say, a fair percentage insisted the cabinets should become polar white, and a few squabbles started up independent of me. For example:

Poster X: Paint them white.

Poster Y: She says she doesn’t want them white.

Poster X: But white kitchens are really on-trend!

Poster Z: Trend-schmend. White shows the dirt too quick.

Poster X: Well, she can clean, can’t she?

It was really odd watching other people argue over my kitchen. And of course, they didn’t stick to paint colors. Or the cabinets. Despite my statement, many people insisted I needed to rip up the floors, rip out the appliances, and install subway tile, pot-fillers and apron sinks. Those folks I could smile at and ignore.

But other direct comments hit harder: “Too dark”; “Too much clutter” “Dump the tchotchkes, then we can talk”. On and on they went, deriding my Grandmother’s commemorative plates, and dismissing my floor and lighting as “builder’s grade” (“They should have seen what the builder had here originally”). After a while I couldn’t take the criticism any longer. I took down the post.

But, once I got over my bruised ego and looked clearly at the comments (of course I saved the comments!) I looked at my kitchen with new eyes. For years, it’s been the spot where my household gets fed and the home of a magpie collection. The collection’s items might not have a function, or proper display space but it didn’t matter because no one else saw my kitchen. Well, now a lot of strangers had seen it and told me exactly what they thought. The ball was back in my court (along with the wall full of tchotchkes.)

Do you know what I found? The silver wine goblets I got in the 80’s were black with tarnish. It was hard to read my Grandmother’s plates through their built up dirt. There were broken figurines, cracked vases, and things I ‘d forgotten completely about. Visually, the Collection didn’t “tell a story”, it just a bunch of neglected fragments. (Kind of like my drawers of incomplete story fragments.)

So, I decided if I really wanted a ceiling-level display, I needed to care for the collection. So the dusty commemorative plates went into the dishwasher, which may have been a mistake. The cleansing rinsed away parts of the commemoratives along with the dirt! But that disaster started me editing.

Most of the cleaned collection came down to be redistributed and re-homed with friends who will love, cherish and use them. The broken items were trashed (and I apologized to my grandmother’s memory for washing her plates to death.) The surfaces were cleaned. And the lighting was changed.

The renovation begun

With the clutter gone, I could see what I wanted to do. I promised my DIY friends I’d choose a color and I’d update them with changes. And I make the same promise to you. Not just will I finish renovating my kitchen. I’ll finish the story of the renovation.

When the WordyGurdy Shuts Down

Hi, my name is Leslie, and I have Writer’s Block. It’s been 20+ weeks since my last blog post.

Truthfully, I doubt if anyone’s noticed. The internet is an Information Niagara that dumps billions in bytes of new content everyday. If one or even a thousand bloggers dry up, there’s still a ton of words pouring in to be read. Just, none of them have come from me.

I promise, this isn’t a self-pity pitch crying “Why don’t you miss me?” It’s an explanation about why I’ve gone radio silent. And a bit of an apology for my behavior. But the fact is, my WordyGurdy, that is my ability to write, shut down around Christmas and it hasn’t cranked out a sentence since.

WordyGurdy, is a term I learned from Stephen King reading his wonderful book, Bag of Bones. In the story, a very nice writer-guy, (lots of those fellows inhabit SK books) talks about this imaginary doo-hockey inside his brain, named a WordyGurdy, that churn out sentences and paragraphs as he creates. It’s a great idea. My WordyGurdy looks (I think) something like an accordion with typewriter keys, and something like a Barrel Organ. When it’s working you can see gears spinning on the sides and pipes popping out on the top, like a Calliope. When it’s working. It hasn’t done that for awhile.

I’ve tried to get my WordyGurdy. I cleaned the keys and looked down the pipes, to clear away all obstructions. No change. I tried to force one of the gear wheels into spinning with my thumb, but all I got for my trouble was a blister. Every time I put my fingers on the keyboard these days, WordyGurdy stays locked down tight. Nothing pops. And I sit at the keyboard, frustrated.

I’m frustrated because there are stories I want to tell. I want to relate how repainting the kitchen became a weather-related marathon that colored my porch 50 Shades of Gray. I want to talk about how my cat, the Serial Killer, should have been named Dexter, and Molly’s new obsession with opossums. If he agrees, I want to tell the world about my boss shooting a varmint in his bathroom with an arrow. I also want to tell stories that remind us that we’ll get through this mess, that humanity’s survived worse messes before. Only problem is, whenever I try, the words won’t come. At all.

Some of this block is probably tied to the reappearance of my Chronic Depression, though I’m not sure if it’s a symptom or a cause. CD is the common cold of mental ailments and I’ve had it long enough to recognize the symptoms. It isn’t any easier to live with now, then when it first hit at age eleven, but at least it’s no longer terrifying. Depression stinks but it’s temporary. I just have to have to endure this until it passes.

So, these days, I wait and hope. Hope, that when the time comes, that I’ll still have something to say. That I’ll find a good way to say it. And someone may want to listen.

We’ll see. In the meantime, I also hope you, your family, and friends are all well and that they stay that way. I hope you are coping with this strange New World. I know you’re doing the best you can. Most of us are. Coping’s just harder than usual right now.

Please keep on doing the best you can and someday the sun will return, literally and metaphorically. People will realize this plague is gone and somehow, they’re still here. Thanks will be given, Dementors will vanish, and the mourners will start to find closure.

And Wordygurdies will start to turn.

Blueberry Scones for Christmas

Tales of a Failed Domestic Goddess

Maybe it’s because of the Season. Or because I had too much time off. Or maybe it’s because my Darling Husband streams the British Baking Show whenever possible. For whatever reason, I lost my reason today and tried to make Scones for Christmas.

Now this is more like it!

Ever since we went to England this fall, I’ve developed a penchant for Scones. Not those dried, too-sweet biscuits with the hard rock sugar glaze they sell at the bakeries here, but proper scones served in English tea shops. Thick, warm, rich, flaky things with just a hint of sweetness. I can’t find those anywhere. So today, with a day off and England on my mind, I decided to try to make some myself.

Now, I am no one’s idea of a baker. I mean I got D’s in Home Ec. (They don’t flunk you if you show up to class) But with all the baking blogs out there, I figured I’d find one with enough scone-making tips to make a product worthy of a Paul Hollywood handshake.

The misadventure begins

I bought the ingredients listed in one promising baking blog and was back in my kitchen before I noticed the first problem. The blogger included baking powder in her recipe but she forgot to write down how much! Now I’ve learned the hard way that proper measurements are paramount in cooking. But that detail was missing. So, I cross-referenced other scones recipes on the ‘net and learned not all authorities agree on Scone ingredients. Some actually prefer baking soda to powder (and even I know those things aren’t the same.) About that time, my sister (an expert baker) sent me pictures of the scone mix she uses. “Consistency of scone batter has to be exact” Sis texted. “That’s why I’ve never made them from scratch.” What a time to find that out!

I went back to the baking blogger who assured me batter consistency wasn’t the issue. No the secret to great scones (she said) is temperature. Assemble that mixture with heavily chilled liquids and frozen, grated butter. Oddly enough, there was butter in the freezer (that’s what happens when my husband stores the groceries) and my grater was in the gadget drawer. But the grating didn’t work out well. Instead of falling from the grater into the bowl, the shaved butter clung to the underside of the grater. When I tried to scrape it off, the bits of grated butter clumped back together again. I finally got the clumps to stay in the bowl, and coated them with the drier ingredients. But it didn’t look consistent to me.

Cooking with Polar Ingredients

When I began assembling the liquid ingredients, I realized more measurements were missing, and went back to recipe cross-referencing. This took so long, I began to worry my dry mixture bowl was warming up and decided to move it into the freezer. Which is when I tripped over the cat, and the dry-mixture bowl went flying.

While cleaning up the kitchen, I froze the remaining dry mixture, re-calculated the needed amounts of wet ingredients (you ever try measuring out 3/4 of an egg?), and thought wistfully of bakery scones. Maybe they weren’t so bad after all. Still, I was halfway through the directions. There was nothing left to do except assemble, shape, bake…and pray.

Once I found the preferred oven temperature (on yet another blog) I dumped the wet and dry ingredients in together and molded them into one lump on my pizza stone. As quickly as I could, I shaped the lump into an inch thick circle of dough and sliced it into triangles with my pizza cutter. I’d slid the slices onto a parchment-covered cookie sheet and into the pre-heated oven before I noticed the Baking Blogger’s last bold warning “Chill the sliced dough another 15 minutes before baking, in order to keep the scones from spreading!”

Some people just Shouldn’t Bake

Well, damn. But it was too late. My lumps of dough had already been brushed and forced inside the Inferno. Sadly, I remembered all my other kitchen misadventures. The apple crisp that morphed into apple alka-seltzer when I mixed up “t” and “T” in the measurements. The jelly that leaked through the thumbprint cookies and sealed itself to the floor of a hot oven. The meatloaf that became meat cake when I mixed up the sugar and salt. Obviously, I was an anti-cook and Scone experiment was going to be another disaster.

As I watched, the scones began to spread, just as the Baking Blogger warned. But they weren’t really losing height. If anything, they were a bit taller. Wider and bigger they continued to grow, while I wondered about the amount of baking soda. Was this right? We’re they supposed to heedlessly grow, like Topsy? Or had I re-created the Blob?

Blueberry Scones (well, kind of)

Well, here they are in their Blueberry glory, about twice the size I anticipated. And if they aren’t the glories I tasted at Stratford-on-Avon, they don’t look like they fell on the floor. Maybe, as my sister suggests, they are a holiday miracle. That’s enough for an anti-cook, like me.

I wish you well with your holiday glories. May all your dreams rise and not burn.