The Delicate Dependency

Delicate Dependency

They are cool to the touch and alluringly beautiful in their ageless youth, and their fathomless eyes are the eyes which transfix. The secrets they guard are rendered in the iron doors and gothic traceries of Notre Dame. Their arts and science are the light of civilization. Their consciousness, so old, so vastly superior, stands vigil over human progress. They were the Illuminati; they are the vampire. The players in this story are: Dr. John Gladstone, a fashionable London virologist on the verge of altering history; his elder daughter Ursula, enticed by the lure of immortality; his younger daughter Camille, bereft of reason, bestowed with genius; and the Lady Hespeth, whose obession is a mask of the unimaginable. (From the book jacket.)

I’ve heard whispers and rumors about Michael Talbot’s The Delicate Dependency for years; it’s been the number one book on my Goodreads “Want to Read” list for as long as I’ve been a member. From time to time, I would search for it in the library’s system, and in used bookstores, and online–but if I ever found a copy for resale, it was wildly expensive. I left our meeting to fate, and fate took the form of my good friend Lee. When she said she owned a copy–a yellowed library discard that fell into her hands–I knew my turn to dance with this mysterious little novel had come.

The book had other ideas; rather than a stately waltz, this book led me on a merry chase–across London, through Paris, and on to the Italian countryside. All these years seeking the book, waiting for it, imagining what it would be like to read, I had formed an idea that it was something intimate and decadent, opium-soaked and opulent. Something psychological and sexy–and there are hints of this, but it’s much more an adventure and a mystery. It’s kidnappings and pursuits, masquerades and betrayals, captures and escapes, and a final confrontation that is surprising. Like, really astonishing. I may have shouted aloud at the final revelations. The vampires in this book maintain the attraction/repulsion dynamic that is at the core of the myth, but in a very different way from the usual sex and violence dichotomy. These vampires are appealing and confounding in their own special way.

And… I’ve already said too much. The best thing about reading The Delicate Dependency, after years of it dangling alluringly out of reach, was I didn’t really know a darned thing about it, so it took me completely unawares. I would like to leave you in the same state, so you can enjoy your own merry chase with the story in perfect innocence, when your turn comes.

And when you’ve read it, come back here, because we’ll have SO MUCH to talk about!

Read for:
ripnineperilfirst

Image courtesy of Abigail Larson, used by permission.

Image courtesy of Abigail Larson, used by permission.

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RIP X

ripx Estella
Image courtesy of Abigail Larson, used by permission.

It’s time! Past time, actually, I’m slow to get back to the blog this year–but I’ve been reading, greedily and joyfully. Here’s my pool of possible titles for this year’s Readers Imbibing Peril:

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Left to right:
The Delicate Dependency, Michael Talbot
The Long Stitch Good Night, Amanda Lee
The Chameleon’s Shadow, Minette Walters
Chapelwood, Cherie Priest
Bird Box, Josh Malerman
Strange But True, John Searles
A Royal Pain, Rhys Bowen

Not pictured: Lauren Owen’s The Quick, which is on hold for me at the library; I’m thinking about joining the Peril of the Group Read for the first time this year.

Lots to be excited about this year, and lots of entertaining, shivery reading already happening. The weather hasn’t quite committed itself to being Fall yet, but I did get a gorgeous, rainy Saturday afternoon where I could laze about sipping hot spiced cider and reading a vampire novel, so good enough–it’s on its way!

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Fergus MacFearsome

I found a neat wood cut-out of an octopus on a recent trip to HomeGoods and just had to bring it home to add to the cephalopod theme in the bedroom. The only problem: it was a terrible minty-blue color. But a little paint would fix that right up, right? So I hit it with a base coat of dark grey, and let my thoughts wander while it was drying.
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And where did my mind wander? Why, up to the Highlands, me lads and lasses! Up Argyll way, to be precise. Oh yes, I got my heart set on an Argyle octopus, and what my heart wants, well…
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Presenting Fergus MacFearsome, of the Clan MacFearsome! (We were batting around clan names while we worked, and when I suggested “McPherson”, Ken came right back with “MacFearsome”, and the thing was named. Ken is the best at silliness!)

Of course, this was a lot more complicated than the simple dry-brush and sand job I’d originally imagined, so it took me a couple of weeks to get up the nerve. Ken, as ever, was wonderfully helpful in coming up with an approach. He thought of the pinstripe tape…
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And the quilting-plastic template…
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And did at least as much painting I did:
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Here’s Fergus after we pulled the tape off, still needing a bit of clean-up work.
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We were as kind as we could be to ourselves, fending off perfectionist instincts with the mantra, “It’s folk art, it’s not supposed to be perfect!” I thought about putting more pin striping down to emphasize the little cross-lines, but Ken said that would peel up over time, so we settled on a much simpler way: I colored them in with a Sharpie!
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Doesn’t that make a huge difference?

And here is Fergus in his spot on the wall:
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I’m so happy with how he turned out!!

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2014 Reading List

I had a modest goal for 2014: to read at least two books per month. I made it with a few to spare, thanks to some quick mystery novels read during the RIP Challenge. I read much more than I wrote about during RIP this year, and I reveled in having so many books that needed to be read quickly. It’s been a while since reading was such a pressing priority; I’d forgotten how fun it is to have books demanding my attention.

1. Soccernomics, Simon Kuper and Stefan Szymanski
2. Touchstone, Laurie R. King
3. Servants, Lucy Lethbridge
4. Wool, Hugh Howey
5. Hild, Nicola Griffith
6. World War Z, Max Brooks
7. The Bones of Paris, Laurie R. King
8. Self-Inflicted Wounds, Aisha Tyler
9.The Girls of Atomic City, Denise Kiernan
10. The Incrementalists, Steven Brust & Skyler White
11. Agatha Raisin and the Fairies of Fryfam, M.C. Beaton
12. The Tale of Holly How, Susan Wittig Albert
13. The Human Division, John Scalzi
14. Last Summer at Mars Hill, Elizabeth Hand
15. Good Omens, Neil Gaiman & Terry Pratchett
16. Shades of Milk and Honey, Mary Robinette Kowal
17. Her Royal Spyness, Rhys Bowen
18. The Devil’s Feather, Minette Walters
19. Cinder, Marissa Meyer
20. Lock In, John Scalzi
21. A Red Herring Without Mustard, Alan Bradley
22. Maisie Dobbs, Jacqueline Winspear
23. Maplecroft, Cherie Priest
24. The Ocean at the End of the Lane, Neil Gaiman
25. Year Zero, Rob Reid
26. Scene of the Climb, Kate Dyer-Seeley
27. The Lanvin Murders, Angela M. Sanders
28. The Magicians, Lev Grossman
29. The Magician King, Lev Grossman

Twenty-nine books read, only four of them non-fiction, and those came early in the year; I like serious books in winter. The gender break-out is more lopsided this year, with 17 women and 12 men on the list. Although, among the four repeat authors, three are male: John Scalzi, Neil Gaiman, and Lev Grossman; Laurie R. King is the one repeat female author. This puts the total books read by each at 18-15, nearly tied.

As for the best of the year, well, I can never pick a favorite. Several of them had a big impact and linger with me, months after reading them. Hild was absorbing, and I eagerly await the next book in the series. World War Z made me wish the other documents it referenced were real, so I could read them, too. The Incrementalists made me hope the authors will keep writing stories in that universe. I loved Maplecroft, and again, am primed for the next in the series. Cinder was an imaginative re-telling of Cinderella, and I’m starting 2015 with its follow-up, Scarlet. I will also finish the Magicians Trilogy soon, but needed a little break after reading two in a row; the world is interesting, but the main character is such a misery!

Of everything I read this year, the world I most want to explore more is that of Lock In. I don’t know if that makes it my favorite book of the year, but it was the most compelling. John Scalzi built such an interesting world, where one percent of the population lives with “lock in syndrome”–they’re aware, but unable to move or communicate in any way. With neuro implants, they’re able to remotely control androids, and so communicate, move about in the world, hold jobs, etc.; they also have an online community where they congregate, which many of them consider their “real” home. But this is all backstory to Lock In; the novel is set some 20 years after the pandemic, and the locked in (called “Hadens” after the most famous sufferer) are well integrated into society. An entire generation has grown up in a world with Hadens, and our main character is, in fact, a Haden from birth. Chris’ conception of self was formed without reference to a physical body, and Scalzi uses this to explore ideas about gender and identity. Chris’s physical sex is never specified, so it’s left to the reader to make assumptions (and, hopefully, to question them.)

I admire so much about this book: the light touch Scalzi takes leading the reader to the questions he wants them to ask; the immense infrastructure built and left lying in the background in support of a smaller, more personal story (do also read “Unlocked”, the novella that delves into the pandemic and the development of the tech that allows the Hadens physical liberty); the continuance of the noble sci-fi tradition of using an alien world to make a point about our own. What point is that? Well, as with question of Chris’ gender, that’s up to the reader to decide. You have to love an author who respects his readers’ intelligence this much.

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Yule at Larmingard

A joyous Yule to you and yours from Larmingard! Yes, we’ve given our teeny, mid-century house an enormous, ancient name, and why not? We’re having a marvelous holiday season in our happy abode–just enough Christmas to make me happy without driving Ken entirely around the bend. (For another perspective, please refer to Ken’s forthcoming blog, The Stuff I Put Up With, I Tell You!) I thought I’d give you a peek at what Midwinter looks like around here.

Yule 2 Starting with the curio window, of course; it’s a natural focal point for decorating. The larger mercury glass ornament was one of my finds at the Plucky Maidens Holiday Junkfest; I’ve had the two smaller balls for years, and was delighted when I discovered the big one in a booth waay at the back of the hall. I was less delighted to learn there had been two of them, but a woman had bought one a little while before I got there. Oh well, I guess I’ll be grateful she left one for me; I wouldn’t have done the same, in her place.

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A closeup of the floral arrangement you can just barely see in the lower left cubby.

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A wider view, with the table set for a holiday gathering. (It was technically a second Thanksgiving dinner, but since it happened on Dec. 14th, quite a bit of Christmas crept in.)

Yule 5 My other Plucky find was this sweet little bottle brush tree, which I made into a winter wonderland scene à la Pinterest.

Yule 6 And here you can see why I chose this tree, out of the guh-dozens available at the Junkfest: it’s a makedo that uses an old doorknob as a base! Isn’t it a cute little bit of junk?

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This isn’t the best photo of the tree, but I love how the coatrack behind it looks. I had an idea about decorating it all in natural and hand-made ornaments; I had a vision of knitting a garland of stars to wrap around it. But I spent a couple of hours one day trying to knit even one stupid star, and got nowhere. I could have ordered crochet stars/snowflakes online, but I didn’t want to BUY the ornaments, I wanted to make them. So, that idea’s on hold until I learn enough crochet skills to make what I want. (2015 To Do list!)

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Even the raven who guards our entryway got into the holiday spirit!

However you celebrate the return of light to the world in the depths of winter, we wish you very happy holidays, and a bright and prosperous New Year!

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Maplecroft

Maplecroft

Lizzie Borden took an axe, and gave the thing that was no longer her mother forty whacks…

Fall River, Massachussetts, two years after the sensational trial that found Lizzie Borden not guilty of the gruesome murders of her father and stepmother. Lizzie and her sister Emma are trying to live a quiet life out of the public eye. They have used their inheritance to relocate to an elegant mansion, Maplecroft, in the fashionable section of town, and keep largely to themselves–not difficult, as most of the town shuns them, believing Lizzie got away with murder.

The sisters devote themselves to one project: understanding and combatting the strange illness plaguing their sleepy hamlet. Andrew and Abigail Borden were the first to fall ill with a madness that starts as a preoccupation with the sea, becomes a growing silence and detachment from life, and then rapidly progresses to homicidal violence. It takes a physical toll, as well: the sufferers become slow, shuffling creatures with a violent aversion to daylight and a rasping difficulty with breathing. They become pallid and bloated, losing manual dexterity, but gaining terrifying strength.

It’s all connected to the sea, somehow, and mysterious bits of sea glass that have an unearthly pull on any who get near them. Emma takes a scientific approach, dissecting samples and corresponding with prominent scientists on her findings. Lizzie delves into folklore and magic, searching ancient knowledge for ways to defend her home and city from the creeping horror. One thing she knows for sure: her most effective weapon against the monsters is her trusty axe.

If you’re anything like me, the premise alone will be enough to make you pick up this book: Lizzie Borden meets Lovecraft. I mean, COME ON! Yes, Lizzie killed her parents–but only because they had transformed into supernatural sea monsters intent on killing her and her sister?! Now, that’s a premise!

I love how Cherie Priest extrapolates the actual facts of the case into a supernatural horror story. For instance, the Bordens were known to be suffering a mysterious illness in the days before the murders, thought to be either food poisoning, or actual poison. In the book, it’s because they’re all falling under the influence of the tainted sea glass; Lizzie and Emma resist the call because they isolate themselves from the rest of the household, as, indeed, they were said to have done in the actual case.

Maplecroft is an epistolary novel, a form I greatly enjoy, and which seems very fitting for the time period of the book. (Priest describes it as “a 19th century epistolary love letter to Dracula, by way of Lovecraft.”) Better, it’s the first in a planned series, The Borden Dispatches; I expect I’ll be pouncing on each as they’re published. This was an all-around excellent RIP read!

Reviewed for RIP IX.
RIP IX

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The Devil’s Feather

DevilsFeatherWar correspondant Connie Burns is accustomed to the horrors humans visit upon one another, but the sadistic killings of five women in Sierra Leone seem to be on another level of cruelty all together. She suspects a British mercenary, well-known for his brutality, of indulging sick impulses under the cover of the chaos of war. Encountering him again in Baghdad two years later, she resolves to expose his crimes and see him prosecuted. She doesn’t get far with the authorities, but she does draw his attention. When it becomes clear he’s targeting her, she tries to flee Iraq, but is kidnapped on her way to the airport. When she’s released, apparently unharmed, three days later, she has nothing to say to anyone about her ordeal–not to the police, not to her news agency, not to her family. She insists there’s nothing to tell, but her every action makes it clear she’s been terrorized. Connie goes into hiding in rural Dorset, obstensibly to work on a book, but really because she’s only barely holding herself together, and wants nothing more than to disappear.

Dorset turns out to be less restful than Connie might have hoped–in no time at all, she’s embroiled in a simmering feud between her landlady and the odd, troubled woman who farms the property, Jess Derbyshire. Connie is reluctant to get involved in a local domestic drama, but Jess, for all her eccentricities, is one of the few people Connie can rely on, and the house she’s living in is one of the main points of contention. She delves into the history of the warring families and the suspicious circumstances around the near-death of a vulnerable, elderly woman. What she discovers is that some psychopaths are much more subtle than war zone butchers–and that her own particular monster has tracked her to her retreat. She and Jess, two traumatized, withdrawn survivors, will have to stand together and find deep reserves of courage to defeat what’s coming for them out of the dark.

Oh, this Minette Walters, how does she carry on with these monsters in her mind? How can she stand to spend enough time with them to write these things? The answer, I suppose, is because the monsters inspire such interesting heroines to stand against them. Not that either Connie or Jess would see themselves as heroic–they’re just trying to hold themselves together, and are finally pushed past the point of fear into fighting back.

The writing in The Devil’s Feather is absolutely compelling–I picked up the 350-page novel at the library Saturday morning and finished it Monday afternoon. Walters is one of the most un-putdown-able authors I’ve come across. This book was full of her trademark mysteries-within-mysteries, which she unravels one careful clue at a time: what exactly happened during Connie’s captivity, and why won’t she tell the police, at least? What happened the November night poor Lily Wright was found lying by the fish pond in a thin nightgown, nearly dead of exposure? Whose version of events in the village can be trusted?

The novel doesn’t quite follow the usual track of thrillers like this, with the big confrontation with the killer right at the end and a few pages of detail-clarification before the survivors and the hard-nosed-but-sympathetic DI head off to the pub for pints. No, the big showdown happens with 100 pages left to go–and creates another tantalizing mystery for us to worry at.

I have to say, I love Minette Walters like almost no other mystery writer out there. She writes some tough stuff, with hideously damaged personalities and revolting crimes–and somehow, she makes it okay by the end. I was so unsettled by the early scenes of the book that I stopped reading it, and had to tell myself, “It’s OK–it’s Minette Walters. You know that SOB is gonna get it right in the neck eventually, and you know you want to be there to see it happen.” And isn’t that just what you want from an RIP read–a book that honestly scares you?

Reviewed for RIP IX.
RIP IX

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Treasure Hunting

I went to a really enticing garage sale this weekend–twice! I heard about it from Plucky Maidens Junk Fest–one of their friends/associates is cleaning out her basement in preparation to move, and is unloading a ton of interesting vintage and craft stuff. I expected vintage-artist prices, so didn’t think I’d buy much, but this lady was honestly trying to clear out space, so prices were fabulous. On Saturday, I got this lot for $10: (Click to enlarge any picture.)

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A couple of cut glass bowls, a lidded basket, a letter rack, and a little Halloween figure. Nice haul, and I was proud of my restraint, when there had been just piles of interesting stuff there.

Then my friend Rachel posted pics of what she bought, some hours after I’d been there–stuff I hadn’t even seen! The woman hosting the sale had still been pulling stuff out of the basement to put out, and obviously, I’d missed some gems. So, Ken indulged me with another swing by the sale this morning–and uh-oh, those reasonable prices were now 50% off! And several of the interesting items I’d left on the table Saturday were now twice as attractive. My second haul was much larger:
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Isn’t this a great idea for moving out lots of little items at a sale? She’d put together all kinds of theme boxes, some with cute titles, and priced them to move. The next time I’m setting up for a garage sale, I’m keeping this in mind. Every box had some interesting items, a few less-useful ones, and a surprise or two.

Here’s Box One, wrapped and unwrapped:
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I got the whole box for $2.50. It was interesting for this little item: Treasure4 Neat, huh?

The surprise treasure was this glass canning funnel:
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There was also this nice glass measuring cup, an interesting little jar, and a candlestick:
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I’m thinking about using the candlestick as a base for another little make-do like the crow Ramona found for me a couple of Halloweens ago:
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Box Two:
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This box cost $3.50, and I wanted it mostly for these salt cellars:
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I had rejected the box on Saturday because it included five “spoon rests”, which I still have no idea what to do with:
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But at half price, I decided I could figure something out for them. The other interesting item in the box was this flat serving dish:
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And the bonus find was this sweet little glass tray concealed beneath it!
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The final box was the most expensive at $5, and I just wanted the paper-trimming tools:
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Although the ephemera that came with it was pretty neat, too.
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And a final indulgence, this cute, teensy little witch’s hat–it’s attached to a barrette, and will be my in-office Halloween costume this year!
Witch Barrette

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Fire in the Hole!

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Well, fire in the pit, to be more accurate. Our latest home-improvement project has been getting the fire pit installed. It took me a little while to decide that yes, I really did want to dig a hole right in the middle of that nice little patch of yard I’d bought–it helps that we’re in drought season, so that patch is yellow and scraggly just now.

We started off by setting up the fire pit where we thought we wanted it and living with it for a few weeks, to make sure it looked right and was in a good spot. Here you see us employing the time-honored “string and mic stand” method for getting a nice, round circle.FP1

Good thing we liked our original placement, huh? Here we’ve perforated the outer circumference as a digging guide, and coincidentally, uncovered Dharma Initiative activity. Spooky!FP2

And then we dug. (“We” in this case = 90% Ken, 10% Kari. Which is probably a little generous to Kari, but hey, it’s my blog.)
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And dug. It’s hard to dig horizontally, by the way.
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El Carto gets best supporting actor in this production.
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“We” kept on digging (and raking, and stomping) until we had a nice, flat circle about 7 feet across and just a couple of inches deep.
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Which we covered up with landscaping cloth.
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Now there’s a gap in the photo record, because we went off to get helpers and supplies. We were hauling ~700 pounds of landscaping material in our little car, so we decided to break it into two trips. While Rachel and I returned to the rock place for the second load, Ken and Corvus got the sand poured and leveled, the pit rebuilt, and half the rock in. And didn’t take a single picture! So we came back to this:
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Rachel and I only got a little rock hauling, pouring, and raking out of the deal. Those boys, having all the fun themselves!
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The fabulous crew:
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I think they’re available for hire, but book early, they’re a busy gang!

Ken watered the rock in, so it will start to settle. We have a few extra bags of gravel on hand, in case we need to fill in spots after it all settles down.
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Ken builds a play fire for blog-pic purposes. MUCH too hot for a fire today, but soon…SOON, my friends!
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See you ’round the fire!
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Tour

We’ve been hard at work getting unpacked and settled into the new house, and it’s finally ready to show off a bit, so I took photos of my favorite corners and vignettes.

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This mirror was a gift from family friends Gene and Kristina Young years ago. It’s actually a buffet topper turned upside down and hung with picture wire, and I love how it pairs with the barrister cases Ken built for me. The books and airplanes I used to have in lower case have been bumped in favor of the good china and glassware, to supplement our limited kitchen storage space.

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The curio window came together really nicely. We decided it would be safest to start out with non-breakables in the window, until we get used to the space and are sure we won’t be bumping stuff off the shelves as we pass by. So far, so good–this is going to be a really fun area to change out with the seasons. (You can visualize it full of pumpkins, witches, and skeletons already, can’t you? I can!)

Tour3
Another extension of kitchen storage–the half-Billy bookcase tucks into this corner so nicely, and holds cookbooks, serving platters, and a variety of occassional-use items. (Lots more glass and china–I really must start throwing tea parties and putting the collection to work!)

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A wide view of our delightfully dark and bookish living room.

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The ‘reading nook’–it just needs a little lamp tucked in there.

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Looking at the entryway from the living room. The basket catches mail, and the wrought iron decorative piece will catch coats and hats, thanks to the S-hooks we added to it (one of Ken’s great ideas.)

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The armoire found a happy spot just inside the entry way. It echoes the barrister/shelf combination across from it with warm wood tones and the mirror.

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My office/guest room. Before we moved, I thought I’d have to recover that red futon, but I actually like how it looks in the purple room. The furniture is all dark and square, it needs the rich colors to soften it.

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The table top lifts and extends toward the sofa, if you need your drinks closer or a space to work on.

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Flemings
My action figures–custom display shelf by Ken, of course. The cartoon is possibly my favorite memento of my Dad–one of his fellow teachers had it turned into this plaque, oh, thirty-five or forty years ago? It’s so exactly his sense of humor (and mine), it makes me laugh every time I look at it. In case you can’t read it, the comment is “Flemings.”

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My desk, and the big blank area above it, because I can’t decide what to hang there.

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The nook area is coming along, but also incomplete due to indecision.

So, that’s a little peek at our progress! How do you like it?

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