It’s Travel Tuesday: Let’s check out Waco, Texas

It’s Travel Tuesday and today, in keeping with the theme I began Sunday when I mentioned Joanna Gaines in conjunction with decorating the church-renovation-that-was-not-to-be and the book review Monday of Chip and Joanna Gaines’ memoir over on my author blog, we’re going to visit Waco, Texas.

Waco is south of Dallas-Fort Worth on Interstate 35, and my Beloved and I made a stop there on our way home this spring from Yuma, Arizona. April is a great month to pay a visit to Texas; not too hot, not too cold, just right. We camped at Hamm Creek Park near Rio Vista, Texas (northwest of Waco), and the bluebonnets and Indian paintbrush flowers growing in the ditches in April were breathtaking.



The Silos

If you’ve heard of Waco, Texas, before it might be because of the government siege of the Branch Davidian’s property near there in 1993. But it wasn’t a religious or political pilgrimage that brought us to Waco. We came for the shopping, specifically Magnolia Market at the Silos, which home designers Chip and Joanna Gaines opened late last year. The couple, who star in “Fixer Upper” on HGTV, spent $1.4 million to transform the vacant Brazos Valley Cottonseed Oil Mill in downtown Waco into a shopping mecca for home décor and food trucks.

Parking is tricky. We found a spot on a nearby street, but apparently there are alternatives. Plan to spend some time there because you might be standing in line. Grab some food at one of the food trucks outside. When we were there, Tyler didn’t even go inside. I stood in line mere minutes, but once inside, it’s a madhouse, kind of like spring break at Disney World.


I took a picture of these tulip bouquets to match my sweater instead of buying one.

For me it was worth it, but bear in mind: It’s a store, not a museum. I left with a T-shirt, a candle and a box of stationery, which is fine with me, but if you’re coming for the design ideas, you might as well stay home and watch the TV show.


Magnolia Market selfie

We would have liked to drive around Waco to see the homes the Gaines’ have renovated, but if there’s a list of such homes or a map that exists somewhere, I couldn’t find it. We found a couple of other cute shops and malls to visit, and we enjoyed that. We did not see the Gaineses. Still, our visit to Magnolia Market felt special being there if only because you can see Joanna’s hand in the selection of items for sale and the way the store and property is decorated. I also found a little bit of inspiration in one of the wall hangings for sale.



Lofty fantasies

As I was sorting through my belongings a few weeks ago, purging stuff in preparation to put our house on the market, I ran across a diary I kept 10 years ago.

I was living a tumultuous year then. One so ridiculous and unbelievable, I wrote a book about it. But to summarize, it was the year I moved out of the house I shared with my husband of 16 years; eventually, we divorced.

Among the entries in that diary I found was a page where I described in list form (of course) how I envisioned the rest of my life. What is important to know is that I made this list when I was no longer coupled and before I met the man to whom I am now married, so theoretically, this list reflected my true wishes, unaffected by anyone else with whom I might be living.

Near the top of the list, I wrote that I wanted to live in a loft in the city.

If you’ve been following this blog with any attention at all, you know that didn’t happen. I currently am living in a big box of a house in the suburbs. It has 9-foot ceilings and what some might consider an open floor plan, but no one would consider it loft-like.

But for a few weeks this fall, my Beloved and I entertained some “lofty” ideas.

We came this close (I’m holding my thumb and index finger a quarter inch apart) to buying this:


Yup, it’s exactly what it looks like: A 125-year-old church.

It was a smokin’ deal, and by hot I mean it would have cost less than most cars. Let’s just say, it needed a lot of work, otherwise known as a blank canvas to take on every Pinterest dream associated with “loft,” “barn,” “converted church” and “open floor plan.” And the church was located in the center of, well, I think technically it’s a village, so “city” is a stretch, but to be fair, it was within walking distance of the post office, hardware store and local watering hole.

I had visions of turning this:


… into something like this:


This is a picture of a church converted into a single-family home in London. Sale price last year? $15.5 million.

To be completely honest, we weren’t going to renovate a $15,000 dump into a $15 million home, but you get the vision for which we were shooting. We went as far as putting in a offer for the church, measuring every room, shopping for lighting and furniture, and meeting with the building inspector, painters, plasterers, electricians and plumbers.

We were what they call in the trade, “serious buyers.”

For about three weeks, I doodled floor plans, planned the perfect kitchen under churchy-looking windows, weighs the pros and cons of a master bedroom in the choir loft and picked out chandeliers Joanna Gaines herself might have chosen.

We also had parts of the flooring tested for asbestos.

Asbestos, as you may or may not know, was commonly used in building materials in the mid-20th century. And it causes cancer.

The church flooring is full of the stuff. And with all the other repairs and renovations required to make the church our dream home (not to mention the dirty work and sore muscles), we couldn’t afford to asbestos abatement, too (or cancer).

So we rescinded our offer.

I was disappointed, no denying it. But for about three weeks, it was like the time between buying a lottery ticket and learning you’d lost. Those 48 hours when you might win $400 million dollars is filled with extravagant fantasies, and fantasizing is fun. So I was like, “better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all,” you know the drill.

My Beloved now is dreaming of all kinds of other living accommodations and shopping for them with online searches of various precision. As he trips across the internet, he frequently shows me other churches on the market.

But then he’s also talking about building a pole barn in the middle of nowhere.

So I’m not sure I’ll ever get that loft in the city.

But it was fun to dream about it.

Nothing fishy about this date

If Jesus had been Japanese instead of Jewish, he would have fed the 5,000 with two fish and five maki rolls.

Fish and rice is as simple in one land as fish and bread in another.

Add a little soy sauce, wasabi and pickled ginger, and you transform simple into divine.

My Beloved and I went out for dinner and a movie tonight, and we enjoyed “Arrival” and sushi. Both were sublime.

“Arrival,” starring Amy Adams, is pure science fiction. With a nonlinear timeline to boot. It’s the kind of movie that makes me wish I could write a screenplay like that. Adams is awesome in it. I’ve loved her since I saw her in “Enchanted,” in which she pulled off a live action Disney princess.

I’ve loved sushi since my first bite of it on a business trip to Tokyo. If I tried sushi before that, I don’t remember it. And I’ve tried to recreate the authentic Japanese experience ever since. Sushi in Chicago can be delicious, but nothing beats fresh raw fish prepared by a proud Japanese master. Illinois is just too far from the ocean.

I remember a lunch break with my Japanese colleagues. They suggested sushi and led me to a tiny little basement sushi bar where the entire menu was in Japanese. Of course it was in Japanese. I was in Japan! I wouldn’t have known what yellowtail was in any language. So they ordered a mixed plate of maki rolls, and I struggled to manipulate my chopsticks. It was with this generous group of people that I learned to mix a little wasabi into the soy sauce first before dipping in my roll. And to eat each piece in one bite. Gulp! I remember avoiding the pieces with the big orange fish eggs — I didn’t like how they popped in my mouth (I now love a sprinkling of tiny roe across a fancy roll).

Later that day, I enjoyed sucking salty edamame from the shell with hot sake over happy hour. A habit had begun.

Today my Beloved and I tried a new sushi joint. Salty edamame. Hot sake. Authentic Japanese sushi chefs well practiced in creating maki rolls to tempt American palates.

Like “Arrival,” it was out of this world.

Courage in the face of winter’s inevitability


After standing in the doorway to the deck tonight calling for the dog in the dark (at 5 p.m. — thanks Daylight Savings Time) and feeling autumn’s chilly air for the first time this season, I thought my readers might appreciate this photo of the sunshine I snapped last April.

I have nothing to complain about because as my Facebook memories reminded me this morning, we had snow in Hampshire three years ago today. It could be snowing! I didn’t even really need a jacket when I was running errands this afternoon, so a little chilly breeze on Veterans Day just means the flags flap prettily in the wind instead of hanging listlessly. Oh! And that blessing, too. The whole street is decorated with American flags to honor our veterans, some of whom gave their lives so that I can have the luxury of a fenced in yard where my dog barks unnecessarily, ignoring my calls (I love her, even if my neighbors cringe every time they realize my dog is taking another potty break).

Imagine that, OId Glory fluttering over this home of the free and the brave.

Before and after pictures to brighten your day

Anyone in the mood for a little transformation?

In the months I neglected to blog this summer and in the recent days of historic news (i.e., Cubs, election), I realized I never shared the before-and-after pictures of my pantry-back entryway-laundry room that my Beloved and I made over this summer. Oh, I alluded to its transformation here in May, and I wrote a tribute to the threshold here (worth reading, I promise, especially if you’re trying to escape all things political) but I never finished the job. How unsatisfying. Let’s remedy that, shall we?

The room of 128 square feet needed attention in the biggest way. We’ve lived here nine years, and all I ever did was sweep the floor. So let’s begin there: The floor.


Flooring: Before

Yuck. Discolored linoleum. It looked like what it was: Cheap and ugly.

My Beloved and I installed premium interlocking vinyl slats that look like barn boards but wear like iron. It was a trick measuring and cutting (for my Beloved — I was just labor, not brains), but it actually installed pretty easily. Here’s the after shot:


Flooring: After

Let’s turn to the pantry.

pantry before

Pantry: Before

I’ve tried the organize the pantry in the past, but none of my bottles and boxes ever stayed organized. So I invested in a few baskets at the Container Store with labels, and I’m proud to say I’m having a lot more success keeping things presentable.


Pantry: After

It’s not perfect on any given day, but it’s immeasurably better.

Now twirl around and behold my laundry area:


Laundry: Before

How depressing, huh? The room is just off the kitchen, so it’s very handy, but it was just plain ugly. Plain and ugly.

The room makeover began with a paint job, from a yellowish gray to a bit brighter gray. It’s hard to see in the pictures, but it helped. Then, in stark relief, my Beloved installed new white cupboards to replace the shelving.

In a tiny bit of irony, we scored a deal on these cupboards from the former owner of the house, with whom we still socialize and now consider a friend. They should have been installed all along. They began with a dark cherry finish, but I repainted them with in a shiny white.


Laundry: After

Now I can hide all my laundry detergent and dog food. My Beloved also built three little shelves to connect the cupboards, and I painted them to match the cupboards and decorated them with laundry-room appropriate tchotchkes like a button jar and an old-fashioned iron.

Turn again and you’ll see the entryway from the garage.


Entryway: Before

Bor. Ing. The row of coat hooks was missing one, and check out that patched spot where the door knob once was jammed. This area was transformed with paint.


Entryway: After

Here’s a quick peek inside the closet (to the left of the coat hooks), which I painted yellow (leftover from my office makeover a few years ago) and made more efficient with a broom and umbrella organizer.


Closet: After

The footlocker was useful and effectively kept a lot of pairs of tennis shoes corralled. But it was beat up and too dark. Here’s another look at it before I painted it:


Footlocker: Before

Most of the locker was painted with a slightly darker gray than the walls. The lid and handles were painted bright blue, the leftovers from some other project. Then I  added a few aging details with some brown paint and stenciled a blue design on the front. As I’ve said before, paint fixes a lot of sins.


Footlocker: After

But the best part of this entire room makeover is that shelving unit above the footlocker. My father, a woodworking wizard, created this from only a set of measurements. He left it unfinished for me to paint to coordinate with the footlocker (that’s the same blue in the shelve backing). I decorated the top with a few items inspired by Joanna Gaines of “Fixer Upper” fame, and I just love it.


Shelves & coat hooks: After

My Beloved did all the work ourselves, and the entire project took about two months (the cupboards alone required four coats of paint and three coats of polyurethane — that’s a lot of waiting for things to dry!). But the results are worth it, even if we can only enjoy it a few more weeks or months until we sell this place. Every time I walk in the back door, I appreciate the view.


Serenity. Now!

“It has been said that democracy is the worst form of government. Except for all the others.”

~ Winston Churchill

Never have I felt such a sense of excitement on election night. And I was a newspaper reporter on some momentous election nights back in the dark ages (early 90s)! I have followed the campaign from its beginning, watching all or parts of both parties primary debates, the presidential debates and the vice presidential debate.

I wanted to hear what the candidates had to say from their own mouths, and boy, did I! Unfortunately, coverage in general of the messy campaign was more about personality than policy, but it certainly was entertaining.

Ironically, my presidential choice has no chance of making a victory speech. I couldn’t stomach holding my nose so I gave thumbs up to a candidate I could vote for instead of against (I would mention more body parts, but we’ve probably heard about enough body parts in this campaign). In Illinois, it wasn’t a wasted vote since this state’s electoral college votes were already in Clinton’s back pocket (or, perhaps more appropriately, purse). Well, my vote was no more wasted in Illinois than every vote for Trump and every vote Clinton got beyond what she needed.

More importantly, I voted at all, and by all accounts, so did a lot of Americans. Heck, my grandmother (who’s still alive and probably watching election returns on a TV with closed captioning) didn’t even have the right to vote when she was born. Voting is a privilege, and exercising that right is a duty. So seeing a big voter turnout warms the heart of this political science major.

Casting a vote, however, is not the same as making a demand. We live in a democracy, and that means we all go along with the majority (or in any case, a plurality). Which is why I end this post with a prayer I think is appropriate, given that half of us are going to be disappointed with the election results.

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can; and wisdom to know the difference.


The suspended time of house selling

Selling a house must be like a cop working a beat: Long stretches of boredom, punctuated by moments of sheer terror.

It’s Sunday afternoon, and you haven’t had a house showing in two weeks. You’ve gotten a little sloppy. You know how it goes: I can take out the garbage tomorrow. I’ll pick up my Sunday paper later. I’ll clean up the kitchen after my nap.

It’s Sunday afternoon, right? Perfect time for a nap. Just as you’re drifting off to la-la land, the phone rings. Huh, unfamiliar number. Who could this be?

You want to see the house? Right now? By now you mean … now? Sure, sure, we’d love for you to see the house. But could you give us 20 minutes?

You launch yourself off the couch and survey the disaster you’ve permitted to accumulate on every flat surface from the basement bar to the floor of the second-floor spare bedroom. Thank God for adrenaline. If ever there was a time for action, now is it.

The time between the day you put your house on the market and day you meet with the buyers in a cramped, windowless room at the mortgage company to sign the final papers is what Chicago Tribune columnist Mary Schmich might call “suspended time.” She was waxing poetic today about the time between the Cubs’ World Series win and election day, but my suspended time has me sitting in a mostly orderly house I no longer love waiting for the day I can make plans for the next place, which I hold in dreamy esteem.

There’s nothing left to pack (until we can pack every last pair of underwear, every single steak knife and the 15 kinds of pasta I simply couldn’t consume in my last weeks here). There’s no point in decorating anything (since I don’t want to spend even one more dollar on this place). I could clean, say, the refrigerator (except I hate cleaning — and what home shopper looks in the refrigerator?).

On the other hand, I can barely create holiday plans or make reservations or schedule a vacation because we don’t know when we’ll be able to dot the last I and cross the final T.

I am simply waiting.

Oh, sure, I’m filling my time with a lot of cooking, blogging, monitoring election coverage (blech!) and an occasional nap. But it’s difficult to classify any of it as productive or interesting. Necessary, yes, like treading water is necessary when you’re in over your head, but hardly newsworthy.

Suspended time. It’s like suspended animation. You’re alive but asleep. No one goes in. No one goes out. No deliveries. (Sorry, I lapsed into a line from 1989’s The ‘Burbs.)

Part of me Just. Wants. To. Move. On.

And part of me thinks I should take a nap while I can.

So my Beloved and I picked up the clutter in our house in 20 minutes flat. Actually, it was 24 minutes; I waved at the interested buyers as they exited their vehicle and I tore out the driveway with my barky dog in tow.

Twenty minutes later, my Beloved summoned me back.