May You Live a Life that is Texturally Rich

Digital illo from photos: May You Live a Life that is Texturally RichMy fellow undergrads and I used to wink at each other in amusement over the repetition of this magical phrase, “texturally rich,” that occurred with such impressive frequency in the comments and instructions of our drawing and printmaking professor. Then I grew up (a little). And became an art teacher at the same undergraduate institution. And caught myself using that same well-polished phrase myself, with no doubt equal frequency, if not more. Because, as I learned, the influence of textural variety, depth, accuracy, placement, and inventiveness can be incredibly subtle and amazingly powerful at the same time. This, as it happens, was a hallmark of that professor’s ways of living and teaching as well.

The more I learn, the more I have come to value that aspect equally. Noticing, respecting, and imitating a wide range of life’s textures in my own not only is more fulfilling, exciting, interesting, and enriching than not for me, but I find that it helps me to better understand and admire others and their respective multitudes of characteristics and quirks. And, in turn, to attempt to incorporate those, literally and figuratively. If I see the world around me as one smooth, flat, undifferentiated expanse of sameness, I have no need to learn and grow, and no real opportunities to do so. If I take note of all of the colors and shapes, thoughts and beliefs and ideals, of those around me and the environs in which we spend our time, and make the careful effort to examine these with thoughtfulness and patience, who knows but what I might gain, along with the wrinkles of age that will improve my physical texture, some new wrinkles of wisdom on my brain and new folds of compassion to put others more deeply in my heart.

Not least of all, I am guaranteed to be safe from ennui and protected from inventing for myself an unnaturally uninteresting universe, if I manage to keep my eyes, heart, and mind open to the textural richness all around me.

Attention to Detail in All Things

digital illustrationI’m far from being the world’s best gardener. I may have the perfect skill set as a lazy dilettante, loving the design process and having a tremendous appreciation for all of the non-laborious joys of a garden, whether it’s well tended or not. A bark-boring beetle or a sculptural skeletonized leaf can be as beautiful as any spectacular, pristine lily or a lilac’s heady bloom. A moss-choked stone path is as glorious as a graceful fountain encircled by perfect tea roses and rosemary. And I have had quite the aversion to trench digging, rock picking and weeding ever since I was old enough to be conscripted by my parents for the purpose.

But I also know that if a garden is to have any hope of continuity and flourishing in flower, it needs occasional attention to such details, at the least, from Nature’s seemingly random hand. The gusts and waterings, composting and tillage performed by her weather and her handyman crew of creatures all do their parts in keeping the landscape in beautiful form. Even better chance of thriving if I do my part, too, having noticed what details might better prosper under my attentions, however slight they might be.

I was reminded of it recently as I watched a family make their valiant attempt at getting a group portrait. Flanked by grandparents, the parents stood holding their two little boys: Dad, in back, held the eight month old and Mom, ahead, wrangled the three-year-old. No one seemed able to get the normally placid toddler in front to hold still for even one quick photo, or to understand why he was so unusually squirmy, until someone finally noticed what I could see better from my side angle: that the baby was cheerily leaning forward at intervals and yanking his big brother’s hair. Detail noticed, problem solved. Had that adorable little scalawag been able to keep up the practice, I have little doubt there would’ve been need, eventually, for an expulsion from that particular little Eden.

I, meanwhile, must try to keep after my own gardens, the real and the metaphorical, and make sure the little buzzing creatures and weeds don’t get too far out of illustration

Signs of Things to Come

I’m so far from being clairvoyant that one could hardly accuse me of even knowing what’s happening right in front of me. I’m not even all that hot at figuring out my own history, let alone any that’s larger than me or mine. I’m just plain not very observant.


Even familiar places can lead me astray.

I do have an interested and curious eye for colorful details, don’t get me wrong. Mostly, I’m intrigued by the arcane and eccentric, so it’s inherently unlikely that what catches my attention is useful, meaningful or significant. The reality of my frivolous and shallow frame of mind is that it is easily filled up with trivia and obscure oddities.


If you walk a mile in *my* shoes, you just might get really, really lost.

So forgive me if I’m clueless about what is in my future, or anyone else’s. I can barely find my way from one end of my own house to the other without a map, and I sure as heck don’t have better skills for figuring out how to get from one point in my own history to the next, let alone the history of the larger world. Great reason for me to avoid messing around in history and just enjoy the smaller victories over my little reality. I mean, here I am in the den and I found my way here from the garage when we got home. And I enjoyed all sorts of details along the way, signs and all. See you around!

All in the Details (Small and Large), Part 3

At last we come to the changes made via some refurbishing and renovations in the Jack and Jill bath and, most significantly, in the master en suite. Let’s be honest: a large part of the quality of life for many of us revolves around having access to a good bathroom–or several. You do know what I mean. Oh, joy!

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Jack & Jill just got a refresher course . . .

I will simply say right now that we are mighty satisfied, contented even, at having a whole batch of fairly unfussy yet fully functional and nicely spiffed up bathrooms gracing our living quarters these days. Life is ever so good.

In the Jack and Jill bath between TV room and office, the original tub tile of pale chartreuse is here to stay, being sturdily cemented in and expensive and tough to remove, so it was essential to work around that, as well as keeping the existing dark woodwork intact. Okay, then, I stuck with that and the extant bronze-toned hardware. Even the ’80s light fixture would be a bit too pricy to replace at this point. But I didn’t have to do especially huge things besides tackling that main expense-inducer and complicator of things, replacement of the sink, counter and faucet. The new granite is complemented by a small but deep and flat-bottomed sink of porcelain that allows easy cleaning of the sink and of things set in it, particularly with its new higher-rise faucet. I confess I’m mystified why more people don’t opt for single-lever controls on faucets when that allows hands-free on/off/temperature control, a very common need among people washing their, well, dirty hands, I would think! Along with the faucet, I added new tub and shower hardware to replace the old corroded parts, new curtains there (a vinyl waterproof one and an accent set of sage green sheers to cool the tile color) and a little carved valance (too narrow for the window width, but it’s a start) over the translucent shade-covered window. All three of our bathrooms recently got grand new Toto commodes, dual flush toilets that are a massive improvement over the original antiquities that used to struggle to serve our household and guests.

The last change in the Jack and Jill was to replace the dated frame-less mirror with a simple framed one and trade out the glass shades of the over-sink light fixture with some more modern and artful ones. They’re described as ‘gold and blue’, but the color in the glass is in effect softer than that (more neutral, like sand and grey on white). They gently combine with the delicacy and prettiness of the granite color and texture and it all softens the tile’s green further and lends a quiet calm to the space.


Next to my husband’s grandfather’s shaving mirror in the J&J bath is a delightfully amusing photo of Paul Gauguin sitting at Alphonse Mucha’s harmonium while wearing an appropriately bohemian deshabille shirttail-over-no-pants getup. Old school bathroom humor, I suppose!

The Big Bang of this phase of project happiness chez nous was of course the master bath suite redo. It felt like a long time coming even though it was only two years’ waiting on the wish list. So much happiness in getting our hands on it now. First up: we had a Solatube skylight installed in the space that was previously lit only by a weak ceiling light and two arrow-slit windows in the shower. Solatube now offers a nice combination contraption, which we chose, that includes the light tube for natural sunlight collection, an internal electric light for nighttime, and an integrated fan vent whose motor attaches to the roof joists and so is quietly distant. And a whole lot more effective than our 30-year-old fan, to boot. The constant wash of daylight in the space is a remarkably cool alternative to big windows. Wouldn’t it be lovely to install some in the living room, dining room . . . .


Doors to his and my respective vanities flank our lovely, simple old bedroom armoire (that’s his grandmother’s cocktail dress hanging there, by the way). I left a strip of the dark-stained wood unpainted on the vanity door jambs to complement all of the mahogany and teak in our master bedroom furnishings and tie the spaces together.

The master bath reno actually started during the original freshening up for our moving in, when we knew we wanted doors installed in the openings between the master bedroom and the two separate vanity areas that flank the shower/toilet room and through which it’s entered. Those six-paneled doors were installed then but never finish-painted over the pre-primed starter coat. At long last, they’re fully clothed. I changed out the door handles, putting brushed nickel lever handles on both those and the vanity-to-shower doors, regular knobs of that color on the walk-in closet doors on each side, and new silvery hinges on everything, white door stops on them, new silver colored hinges on all of the cabinetry, and so forth. I’d already changed the light fixtures in the vanities from bright brass 12-light ’70s theatre dressing room atrocities to simpler nickel and glass lamps. I had put nickel knobs on the cabinetry throughout the suite to start. Now it was time to finish up everything else with some fresher and more modern goodness.


From the vanity on my side of the suite you can see that marvelous skylighted walk-in-shower room. So inviting! The vanity space is a comfortable spot, too, where I can enjoy the folk art painting of the family farm in Norway (L) and the little embroidered alpine plant my mother stitched (by my mirrored closet door).

I kept the light sage walls through the suite happily–it’s so calming and almost spa-like to me, even though our particular, personal ‘spa’ is not all that high-end. The shower we had replace our old bathtub now is the closest we’re likely to get to a spa, however, and we’re enjoying it immensely already. The men we brought in for this their second round of work on our home gave us a lovely refuge where we can scrub up for the day. They demolished the old, tough olive green tile, pulled out the beat up cast iron tub, and tiled in a lovely naturally soothing walk-in shower with sandy tan square and rectangular tiles, a floor of sweet tiny brick-shaped paler tiles and soft tan sanded grout. I bought a nice brushed nickel shower head with a single lever valve and a secondary spray head, a spice rack to use as a shampoo-and-implements holder, a wall dispenser for tea tree oil soap, and a fold-down teak shower seat.


Closeups of the new look of the master shower. The ‘Lucky Bamboo’ in the window is not the only one that loves it in here now!

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I had already begun work on the other parts of the master washroom before we got to this wrestle-out-the-tub phase, but now they got some fresh paint and new hardware to wrap up the process.

The granite contractor who installed our marvelous kitchen counters and sills two years ago brought his wonderful crew back in and set in our vanity tops and under-mount sinks that match the Jack and Jill’s, and our plumber installed the new faucets I’d bought, and when the crew completed a few more tasks of fix-it mania around the house their work was done. Once they built our haven of cleanliness it was my turn to get back to work. I primed and painted all of the dark wainscoting and cabinetry in the bathroom suite white, replaced the whole-wall mirrors over the vanities with smaller white-framed mirrors and hung a white wood medicine cabinet next to each of ours, rehung the full length mirrors on our closet doors, reassembled all of the cabinets with new silver colored hinges, padded stops, magnetic latches, and a vast quantity of swear words, and finished with the clean reorganization of drawers and shelves and reintroduction of wall art and such amenities.

The long and the short of it, the small and the large, is that we have a lot of upgrades around the house to show for relatively few days’ total labor and machinations. I will very happily not deal with such messes and involvement again any time soon, but it is as always a tremendous pleasure to have things this much closer to our ideal. In the usual way, it will undoubtedly uncover the next set of changes to build a new wish list upon, and that is simply the way that this inveterate changer-of-all-things operates. And the way that life flows, no matter what. These are the details on which our reality is truly based.

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Note that the light coming in here is all sunlight from that small skylight in the adjacent shower room. And yes, His (L) and Hers (R) vanities. It’s dandy to have so much space–and we each have a full walk-in closet of our own attached to these, plus the shared shower room between. Living like royalty, indeed; that IS, after all, our style . . .

High Baroque in Low Places

Craftsmanship is not one of my greater strengths. I credit myself so far as to say that I have a pretty good eye for fine craftsmanship. But when it comes to my own work, I’m impatient, short of attention, and lazy enough that I’m always that dilettante rushing through to get the job done and hoping it’s enough to hang together as long as needed. Until the homework is graded; until I can hire a professional to come and do the job properly; until I have escaped notice as the maker of said shabby photocollageI have an honest recognition of the limitations of my skills, I think, if it is perhaps slightly magnified by my lack of gumption toward improving them in numerous areas. I could argue that I’m doing my part to support true craftsmen in their arts by not competing with them unduly, but anyone would see through that excuse, I’m afraid. Still, I am awed quite genuinely by the beauty inherent in passionate craftsmanship, whatever the cause. I love the artistry of beautifully handmade or hand-finished objects, whether they are intended as art or meant as humble functional things, everyday items that we might pass over in their daily use but for the marvels of their refinement and Fit.photoI’ve long been equally taken with the ridiculousness of both badly designed and foolishly impractical objects that were intended to be functional. Perhaps it’s the extreme contrast they have with fine craftsmanship. It’s silly enough to make something that by virtue of its careless design does not or cannot accomplish that for which it was meant, but often that very malfunction is trumpeted by the sheer ugliness or oddity of the object: one can see by simply looking at it that it won’t work or will be seriously flawed. It takes no time or effort to amass quite the collection of weirdly inept designs, from Patent applications right on up to the failed products remaindered and forlornly dusty on store shelves, and one can be endlessly entertained by the verbal autopsy of such strange husks from top to bottom–gadgets and gizmos meant to do so many unrelated tasks that they were too obviously cumbersome and ill-integrated to accomplish a single one of them. And dressed up in badly applied finishes of bizarre colors probably in hopes of distracting the customer from all other evident failings, but only drawing attention to the inherent cheapness and outlandish impossibility of their ever working as promised.

But there are so many things of the opposite sort that I think it’s too easy for us to gloss over what’s right in front of us or under our very fingertips as beautifully conceived and crafted objects worthy of our admiration for both a thing and its maker. Yes, it’s natural to admire the loveliness of the bow made for a Baroque Violin or the delicate carving on a lute, for a painting or sculpture or print made with evident and painstaking care. But it ought to be equally impressive to any of us when we pick up a dinner fork that is perfectly weighted and fits smoothly in the hand, to eat a marvelously tasty meal that has been made with such loving attention that the addition or removal of any tiny thing would be superfluous to its elegance–even if that meal is a profoundly rustic stew.

When we sit in a chair, do we notice not only how pretty, how well suited it is to the general character of the room, but also how the height of the arms supports our elbows just so and the curve of its upholstered back is designed to magically adjust to the lumbar spine of each individual sitter? Do we ask ourselves, Who made those helicopter blade fittings so exquisitely that after sixty years the contraption not only still flies the way it was made to fly but is a supremely wonderful geometric confluence of sweetly fitted parts, a sculpture of its kind, as well? Do we remember to look at the window sashes on that old house and be moved by how the intensely focused care of their making has enabled those ancient wooden single-pane mullioned windows to keep the home’s dwellers snug through 150 winters and summers?digital photocollageI hope that I, for one–as poorly equipped as I am myself to create that kind of grandeur in simple things, and too impatient to strive for better as often as I should–will always take the time at least to pay homage to the real craftsmen and women among us. To notice the attention to detail and graceful touch that they have applied to rebuilding stone porches, stitching a brocaded lining for a coat, painting a portrait of an old woman because her lined face is marked with history and pain and beauty and not because she is famous or has the money to pay for a portrait. To say Thank You to those who have made something fine and elegant and Right simply because it was what they were compelled to do.