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Haute couture? Moi?

As you know by now, we are masters at finding other things to do while we are supposed to be working on our DIY projects. So what did we come up with on a rainy Saturday when we couldn’t paint outdoors? We took advantage of our Seattle Art Museum membership to attend the members-only debut of Yves Saint Laurent: The Perfection of Style.

I expected it to be fabulous. I had no idea.

A wide, quiet hallway led into the main exhibit area. Here was displayed a collection of paper dolls that Saint Laurent created when he was a young teen. He’d put on fashion shows for his sisters, and designed clothes for them. These dolls had never been displayed before, and came from the collection of YSL’s lifetime partner, Pierre Bergé (as did nearly the entire exhibition). Lesson: If your son wants to play with paper dolls, let him.

Paper doll fashions designed by young Yves Saint Laurent

Anyone remember Betsy McCall?

I was amazed to find a paper dress that I’d owned myself. Not a real Yves Saint Laurent, of course, but a vintage-style knock-off that I’d made in the 1980s. (Something that most people don’t know about me is that from my late teens into my thirties, I made most of my own clothes—everything from jeans and t-shirts to tailored suits and coats. I wasn’t a designer, but I did customize commercial patterns.)

Flowered paper doll sundress

Hey, there’s my dress!

Then we rounded the corner into a bright room and were dazzled by what looked like a stylish party of headless or hairless models.

Several 1950s dresses by YSL

Just the beginning … 1958/59

Before he turned 20, Saint Laurent was hired by Christian Dior himself. Before long, Dior picked Yves to become his successor … and then died unexpectedly, leaving Saint Laurent as the head designer at the House of Dior at the age of 21. I don’t know what you were doing when you were 21, but I didn’t know my posterior from my elbow.

If that wasn’t enough, Saint Laurent virtually saved the business in his first season by designing the wildly successful, flared “trapeze dress,” a radical departure from the constricting styles of the 1950s. However, subsequent collections weren’t as well received and, like a football coach after two losing seasons, House of Dior fired him. Also in 1960, he was drafted into the army, which, as you’d expect, was a disastrous experience for a young, gay clothing designer. After being hospitalized for depression and leaving the army, he sued Dior and won his job back, but he soon left to open his own fashion house, Yves Saint Laurent, with his partner, Pierre Bergé.

In 1966, Saint Laurent was the first designer to produce a prêt-a-porté (ready-to-wear) line at his famous YSL Rive Gauche stores. Departing from haute couture and venturing into retail revolutionized access to designer clothing. (Haute couture means, literally, “high sewing.” Couturiers make custom, one-of-a-kind clothing for high-end clients.)

Three pencil sketches by Yves Saint Laurent

So simple

The Seattle exhibit was organized roughly in chronological order, making it easy to understand how Saint Laurent’s designs were influenced and evolved. The walls of the main room were covered with collection boards, with his sketches at the bottom of the page, fabric swatches above, and notes about models at the top. I loved his sketches. The line work is spare, fluid, and confident. The figures almost seem to move.

Click to enlarge these and appreciate the detail.

He even drew a comic strip called Schmuck and Pluck, although I don’t know the context. I wanted to stand there and painstakingly read it (having forgotten all the French I never knew), but the crowd pushed me on.

A comic strip by Yves Saint Laurent

Schmuck and Pluck

Enough of history—the stars of this party were the clothes.

1966 beaded silk

1966 beaded silk cocktail dress

This grouping took me right back to my college years in the 1970s, and my favorite military-inspired raincoat.

Three YSL coats from 1970

1970 leather coats

How about this appliqued velvet wedding dress? On the front: “Love me forever.” On the back: “Or never.”

silk velvet and satin appliqued wedding dress by YSL

1970 silk velvet and satin wedding dress

In the mid-70s, Saint Laurent found inspiration in the Opera-Ballets Russes. I’d wear this graceful dress today.

Opera Ballets-Russes inspired black dress by YSL

1976 wool daytime dress

A Romanian-styled dress featured beaded and embroidered motifs inspired by Henri Matisse, next to a gold-embroidered evening ensemble. Yves seemed to gaze up from the photo to chat with his model.

Romanian Matisse dress by YSL

1981 Matisse evening ensemble; 1980 embroidered jacket ensemble

Gold maryjane pumps

The shoes! 1977

One of my favorite designs, but admittedly hard to sit in.

Dress with large pink bow in back by YSL

1983 silk evening gown

In 1966, Saint Laurent designed the first tuxedo for women, followed by the first pantsuit in 1967, changing forever the way women dress for work (and political debates). Here, Yves and his sister Michele pose next to some of his groundbreaking pantsuits.

1968 beige Gabardine pantsuit by YSL

1968 black silk evening pant ensemble; 1976 beige gabardine pantsuit

I would have loved to wear this black silk evening gown back in my salad days … or now, if only I could fit into it. These clothes were tiny.

1965 black silk evening gown by YSL

1965 silk evening gown

A tall spray of hat forms was the centerpiece of the next large room. Along the perimeter were examples of how these garments come to life. First, they’re sewn up in toile (pronounced twahl), a lightweight twill fabric; then they’re remade in the final fabrication. I’d never have the patience to sew a garment twice. I’d dive right into the expensive silk and ruin it. (Actually, I did make a muslin model of an important dress once. I wasn’t pleased with it, and scrapped the project entirely. I’ve messed up many others.) You can see some toile examples in the far corner.

Hat forms and toile garments by YSL

Hat forms and toile garments

More of my favorites:

These wool jersey Pop Art dresses impressed me with their construction. If you’ve ever tried to sew a smooth curved seam, you know it’s not easy. These seams were nearly invisible, and flat as a flitter. It looked like the colored pattern was printed on the fabric. The sparkly gold tights were a nice touch, too.

1966 wool jersey Pop Art dresses by YSL

1966 wool jersey Pop Art dresses

I’m not a big jewelry wearer … but wow!

The final hallway, called “From darkness to an explosion of color,” was artfully designed. Angled panels covered in fabric swatches progressed in prismatic order, shielding the upcoming dresses from view. Then, passing each set of panels, we were treated to groupings of dramatically lit mannequins. Had this been a live runway show, the models would be walking past us. Instead, we were walking past them.

Panels with fabric swatches line a long hallway

The grand finale

1991 gold lame evening ensemble by YSL

1991 gold lame evening ensemble

Dresses by YSL

The first selections were dark neutrals

1981 beaded gold organza suit; 1991 gold lame sari dress by YSL

1981 beaded gold organza suit; 1991 gold lame sari dress

Again, I marveled at the exquisite workmanship. Look at this silk coat, as light as a feather. The lapel is perfectly turned and precisely shaped. If you’ve ever seen very high-end clothes (I have only once, long ago in New York City) you’ve seen that they are hand made. Of course, it wasn’t Saint Laurent himself who wielded the needle, but my hat’s off to whoever worked this magic in silk the weight of cobweb.

1985 silk evening ensemble by YSL

1985 silk evening ensemble

1985 chiffon evening gown by YSL

1985 chiffon evening gown

1986 silk crepe evening gown; 1981 silk satin evening trench coat; 1999 silk crepe gownby YSL

1986 silk crepe evening gown; 1981 silk satin evening trench coat; 1999 silk crepe gown

1977 red and gold damask Chinese evening ensemble; 1979 silk organza cape and silk velvet sheath by YSL

1977 red and gold damask Chinese evening ensemble; 1979 silk organza cape and silk velvet sheath

1997 embroidered silk bodice and red silk pleated skirt evening gown by YSL

1997 embroidered silk bodice and red silk evening gown (another favorite)

1983 faille domino with silk velvet bustier dress; 1985 red silk gown by YSL

1983 faille domino with silk velvet bustier dress; 1985 red silk gown

Every fashion show ends with a bridal gown (or at least they used to—I don’t know if that’s still true, as I’ve never been to one), and this exhibit was no exception. I’d prefer the “Love me forever” version, if I had to pick.

1995 silk damask panniered gown by YSL

1995 silk damask panniered gown. Just what I need–panniers

And then it was over. I felt giddy, like I’d spent the day hob-nobbing with people way, way out of my class while wearing clothes I bought at Costco.

We walked, bedazzled, back to our car through the Seattle rain and wind. The spell was broken.

Green ginkgo leaf with 1913 - 2013 below it


Floating on Portage Bay

If you’ve read this blog for a while, you know that Eric and I enjoy home design tours. We’ve done bungalow tours, modern home tours, and two years ago, a floating homes tour. Ever since then, I’ve eagerly looked forward to the next time we could come aboard Seattle’s iconic floating homes. I thought that because I’d already blogged about this tour, I’d skip writing about it this time … but it was such a lovely day and such an eclectic collection of homes, I can’t help myself.

The tour was sponsored by the Seattle Floating Homes Association. This year, we were asked not to take photos inside any of the homes, which I can understand. Still, I managed to sneak a couple, and I’ve borrowed a few from The Seattle Times. This post will be more of a look at the floating home community and lifestyle rather than interiors.

A row of floating homes on Seattle's Portage Bay

Seattle’s floating homes [photo: Eric Shellgren]

The neighborhood

While 2014’s tour featured homes on Lake Union, this year’s tour focused on the Portage Bay community. Portage Bay is a small, partially manmade lake between large Lake Washington to the east and Lake Union to the west. It’s part of a water passage from fresh water Lake Washington, through the Montlake Cut, Portage Bay, Lake Union, the ship canal, and the Hiram S. Chittenden Locks to salt water Puget Sound. With all the boat traffic, the view is never boring. The University of Washington and the Seattle Yacht Club are just across the bay.

Map of Seattle showing Portage Bay

This is the view from many of the homes: the UW on the left, the Seattle Yacht Club on the right, with the Montlake Cut and bridge in the middle. Not bad.

Montlake Cut seen from Portage Bay, Seattle

The Montlake Cut and bridge

You can rent these little battery-powered boats from The Electric Boat Company in Lake Union. They were all over the place! Why have we never done this?

Blue electric boat among lilypads

A fun way to see the sights

The floating homes

The homes are incredibly eclectic. Anything goes as far as architecture. Apparently there are few covenants here limiting the imaginations of homeowners and designers. No boring rows of cookie-cutter, neutral-hued houses. That’s one reason floating home communities appeal to me. Everyone is free to express their own sense of style. (Although I did hear from a volunteer that her dock voted to outlaw vinyl siding.)

Each dock, which serves several homes, may operate as a co-op, or like a condo. For instance, homeowners might own the mud beneath their homes (but not the water, of course), while a homeowners association owns and maintains the dock and common areas.

Three floating homes on Portage Bay, Seattle

Every home has its own character.

Floating homes of many shapes and colors in Portage Bay, Seattle

Architectural diversity

Most homes come with boat moorage. What fun it would be to have a classic runabout like this tied up right outside your door!

Runabout boat with mahogony decking

Nice car!

Each home is numbered as a member of Seattle’s floating home community. This little red bungalow was full of Scandinavian art and décor.

Red floating home with white trim

Little red bungalow [Joshua Lewis, The Seattle Times]

Red siding and white window trim, with two small metal numbered tags

Floating home No. 447

side deck on red and white floating home

Side yard

Nearby was a small, new A-frame cabin. This house was nicely designed, but absolutely everything in it was gray or white, even the artwork. It felt cold inside. Oh, for some color!

Small, gray A-frame cabin floating home

We’re all taking pics of each other

A-frame floating home interior

The only color is outside [Joshua Lewis, The Seattle Times]

A-frame floating home interior

But it would be nice to sleep under glass [Joshua Lewis, The Seattle Times]

On the other hand, we toured a modern box that screamed with color—so much that I wouldn’t be able to stay inside for very long. I didn’t feel relaxed with the hard edges and all the color bombarding me … and I like color.

Modern floating home with galvanized metal siding and bright trim

An interesting multimedia exterior [Joshua Lewis, The Seattle Times]

Bright colored modern kitchen in floating home

Zowie! Who needs coffee! [Joshua Lewis, The Seattle Times]

Colorful modern living room with huge windows in floating home

That view [Joshua Lewis, The Seattle Times]

I do love modern homes, but for the floating variety, I’m always drawn to the oldies.

I can see us living in this white bungalow with the red roof … and the matching white boat with red Bimini that the owner is inching into his slip.

White bungalow floating home with red roof and picket fence

You can have a white picket fence without a yard

I liked the casement windows in the house with the red umbrella. Many homeowners left their doors and windows open that day so that we looky-loos could peep into houses that weren’t on the tour.

View of neighboring floating homes from a roof top deck

Checking out the neighbors from a rooftop deck

Look at the interesting curve of this home’s ridgeline.

Red barn-like floating home with curved ridgeline

A complex curve

An impressive collection of Southwest and Native American art and artifacts crowded this Bohemian home. Wouldn’t you like to grab a book and a cup of tea and sink into that chair on a rainy day?

Old floating home with Southwest art collection

A cozy cottage

Our favorite home this tour was a cabin that looked small on the outside but lived big on the inside. I was impressed with the spacious kitchen and quirky details like vintage industrial sliding doors (the bedroom door’s glass window said “Employment Bureau”). And of course, the original pine beams.


Prime end-of-dock location

Cabin living room and kitchen

From the deck, looking toward kitchen

Cabin living room with pine beams and red couch

Original pine beams define the living room [Joshua Lewis, The Seattle Times]

I looked up some floating real estate and was dismayed that the cheapest I could find for sale was over $500,000 (two years ago it was $399,000) … not our price point as we approach retirement. All the homes aren’t tour-worthy. We saw several that are begging for some TLC.  With Seattle home prices soaring, it’s likely that even these fixers are out-of-range. Besides, I doubt any dock would allow as many pets as we have.

Floating home with tarp on roof

Can you hear this house crying out for us to renovate it?

A run-down flotaing home at the end of the dock

Location, location, location (and a blue tarp)

Some people have walk-in closets bigger than this barge, but a little imagination could make it into a cute getaway.

Small yellow barge home under University Bridge, Seattle

Think of the bridge noise as surf.

The bridges

At the north end of Portage Bay, two bridges dominate the landscape: The massive Interstate 5 freeway, known as the Ship Canal Bridge, and the smaller, green University Bridge. As you approach the bridges, the volume ramps up considerably. Yet, this traffic noise doesn’t deter people from living near them. It’s just part of living at the lake.

Floating home and sailboat near two large bridges

A man waters his garden near the bridges

Small blue bungalow with red roof next to University Bridge

You could almost leap from the bridge onto the roof

The University Bridge performed for us several times. A long and short toot from a sailboat signals the bridge to open. The bridge operator toots back, the vehicle barriers come down, and the bridge gapes open to allow the sailboat to pass … many times per day. As part of the Floating Homes Tour, we even had the opportunity to visit the bridge tower.

Seattle's University Bridge goes up


University Bridge open for a sailboat

A sailboat passes through

Ivar’s Salmon House, the restaurant with the red umbrellas (just right of center) is where Eric took me for my birthday earlier this summer. Our table overlooked the ship canal—my favorite Seattle view.

West view toward Lake Union for University Bridge

Looking west toward the Ship Canal Bridge and Lake Union

University Bridge green-painted iron detail

University Bridge detail

The gardens

Container gardening is the only way to go when you’re in a floating home. This resident has a magnificent bonsai garden.

Bonsai garden on floating home deck

A miniature forest surrounds this home

Bonsai cedar trees

A tiny, magical cedar grove

Container plants on a floating home deck

Bonsai with a view

Sedums growing in large clam shell

That was a big clam

Speaking of containers, this cheery purple house is surrounded by them.

Purple floating home with colorful planters on the deck

Not afraid of color [photo: Joshua Lewis, The Seattle Times]

Larger homes have larger garden space. The first home we visited featured built-in planters and mature ornamental trees at its spacious end-of-dock location. Two impressive new homes shared this dock, with ample room between them—a different feeling than the crowded docks up the road … and a different price tag.

Woman walks down a dock next to floating home

Pretending I live there

This lucky little guy does live there.

Turtle sunning himself on a log with lilypads

Another sunny Sunday on Portage Bay

Common areas on shore are often made into community gardens. Here, a weeping willow and a hydrangea shelter a garden bench.

A bench sits beneath a weeping willow tree in a community garden

A private shore garden

Or, maybe just an endless staircase. Imagine hauling your belongings in and out here. At least gravity would be in your favor coming home from the grocery store.

A long staircase climbs an ivy-covered hill


Thanks to the Seattle Floating Home Association homeowners for inviting us aboard, and for fueling my floating home fantasies for another two years. We’ll be back again in 2018!

Green ginkgo leaf with 1913 - 2013 below it





Chromatic angst

Wasn’t it just a couple of weeks ago that I was admiring our blooming gardens and looking forward to a long stretch of approaching summer? Now, Labor Day weekend has come and gone, the roses are finishing their second bloom, hydrangeas are fading into autumn colors, and everything looks overblown and weedy. Why does summer pass so quickly, but winter drags its feet?

Black and white cat sitting under a pink rose bush

Checkers, roses, and crabgrass

Eric’s paid summer off has ended and he’s seeking employment again, figuring he might as well work as long as I still have to. He had such an ambitious to-do list back in June, when summer loomed long and full of promise: prep and paint the house, finish the basement reorg, clear out the storage units, clear out the attic, replace the backyard fence.

He soon learned what a laborious process it is to prep an old house for paint. It’s taken much, much, much longer than he anticipated, and he says he could work months more just on prep. But we don’t have months more. The paint must go on while we have good weather. By October, we’ll be heading into storm season and outdoor painting will be impossible.

After weeks of pressure-washing, scraping, stripping, filling, and sanding, the trim was ready for primer. I don’t know how to spell the sound that 103-year-old wood makes when it sucks up primer; you’ll have to use your imagination.

One day I came home from work and stepped out onto the front porch. The underside of the eave looked uncharacteristically bright and clean. “I may have to give it a second coat,” said Eric. “Of primer?” I asked, puzzled. “No—that’s the trim color,” he replied. WHAAAAT?? It looked—oh no!—white! Well, not stark white … more like cream white, and definitely NOT what I had envisioned. The Valspar “Oatlands Subtle Taupe” was too subtle.

Newly painted light taupe eave with exposed rafter tails

Is it white, or …?

But, by now we had already consumed a $170 five-gallon bucket of the stuff,  and I wasn’t about to ask Eric to repaint with another color. “I’ll learn to love it,” I declared. So far, I love it not, but it’s serviceable and it will stay. Before we committed to the color, I was vascillating. Should I go with something a little darker? My gut told me I should, but I decided to trust the test patch that I’d painted. So, Subtle Taupe it was. Damn—I should have listened to my gut. I am still trying to make peace with what I’m sure people will refer to as “white trim.” The fault is entirely mine … but it will be okay.

Weeks of weather too hot and breezy for painting followed, and Eric was limited as to what he could accomplish. Tick-tock, the summer clock counted down.

On another afternoon, Eric led me to our side porch paint testing lab and pointed to a patch of fresh olive green paint. It was the Mossy Aura from the five-gallon bucket … but it didn’t look like the sample I’d applied. It looked … kinda weak, more like split pea soup. No, no, this would never do! We were both disappointed. What, the paint crew at Lowe’s can’t mix the correct shade even with a computer??

Two shades of dusty olive green paint on siding.

You can see the problem.

We began to think that maybe we should go with Falcon’s Plume, the darker green, after all. I painted a test patch next to the Subtle Taupe trim. It would look beautiful, although the contrast between field and trim would be even greater than before—the opposite direction of where I wanted to go. Still, the combination would be stunning. And after all, hadn’t we initially decided to go bravely dark?

Falcon's Plume

Original Falcon’s Plume test patch

So back to Lowe’s went the Mossy Aura. The guy in the paint lab agreed that something wasn’t right. That’s when Eric discovered that when you return five gallons of $170 mistint paint, not only do you get your money back, you get the replacement five gallons for $99! Woo-hoo!

The next day when I came home from work, I found this:

Dark olive green paint on house

Eric called this color “Boy Scout Pants”

Wow, that is … really dramatic! Keep in mind, you’re looking at a lot of competing colors here—not just our three new paint colors, but the current house colors and the colorful mums and chair pillows, too. Try to focus on the dark green, the taupe trim, and the dark red accent. Still … wow. It’s dramatic, yes … but, paradoxically, it makes the house disappear. The windows seem to float free. Well … okay, let’s do it!

Later that evening I blurted out, “I think it’s too dark.” Eric didn’t disagree. But could the paint mixer remix an accurate match of Mossy Aura? And if we need more than five gallons (which was likely), what would be the chances that we could get the same shade twice? It seemed that the perfectly matched Falcon’s Plume was the safer bet.

Lying in bed that night, I had a brilliant idea: The next day I would go back to Lowe’s, where surely our five gallons of Mossy Aura mistint would be on sale for a ridiculously low price. I’d buy the bucket, then we’d mix the Mossy Aura and the Falcon’s Plume and come up with the potentially perfect intermediate shade. Genius!

However, in the morning, the DIY gods punished my money-saving plan by killing our stove. I didn’t intend to go stove shopping that day, but the retail gods came to our rescue and put all the appliances at Lowe’s on sale. Score!

New Samsung range

Welcome to the family, Samsung!

We snuck into the paint department, hoping the staff wouldn’t recognize Eric as the original owner of the Mossy Aura. Of course, they didn’t care and they weren’t paying a lick of attention to us. We snatched up our own paint for $30! In other words, we now had ten gallons of paint, which would have cost $340, for $130! But wait, there’s more! At the check out stand the cashier presented us with a coupon for a $30 rebate, which we can use on the Falcon’s Plume paint. Make that ten gallons of paint for $100.

That is, if the two mixed together resulted in the perfect shade. I’m sure some folks are thinking, “Why don’t they just paint the house, already!” Yes, maybe we are a little bit obsessive about our paint colors. In fact, we are the Goldilocks of pickiness. At the other end of the spectrum is my friend Cathy, who wrote about me in her blog:

She made a potentially boring topic about picking paint colors quite interesting to someone who let the next door neighbor pick the paint color for her house (I said “surprise me” and went on a trip).

Wait—paint color  is potentially boring? Not endlessly fascinating? Our eyeballs are pretty calibrated when it comes to color. We want what we want.

Now, to test our custom blend. We carefully measured a 1:1 mixture of Mossy Aura and Falcon’s Plume, and applied a generous test patch to the wall. BINGO!! That’s our perfect color! We christened it “Falcon’s Aura.”

Custom mixed olive green house paint

Not too dark, not too light–just right!

Just light enough

Falcon’s Aura vs Boy Scout Pants

Every time I go out to look at it, I’m happy. Yes, I’m absolutely, positively certain. Did I mention we got ten gallons of paint for only $100?

Falcon's Aura on the side porch

Falcon’s Aura on the side porch

Falcon's Aura on the front porch

Falcon’s Aura on the front porch

Green ginkgo leaf with 1913 - 2013 below it


Take an art break

Ever since I mentioned Andrew Wyeth’s painting, Christina’s World, in my last post, our 2007 visit to the Olson House has been banging around in my head. Much has been written about Andrew Wyeth and his relationship with the Olsons and their Maine farmhouse; this is my impression of our visit.

Olson House, Cushing, Maine

Olson House

Andrew Wyeth (1917 – 2009) is renown for his watercolor and egg tempera paintings of rural American life. He met siblings Christina and Alvaro Olson, neighbors of his young wife-to-be, Betsy, in 1939. Wyeth became fascinated with their spare lives and the austere environment of their Cushing, Maine, saltwater farm. He took up a kind of summer residence there for many years, painting prolifically in an attic bedroom studio. The house became a National Historic Landmark in 2011. Now, the property is part of the Farnsworth Art Museum in Rockland, Maine, and is open to the public.

Gable on weathered house, missing window trim


To the casual observer, Christina’s World (1948) is a painting of a thin young woman in a pink dress, sitting in a tawny pasture, turned (rather awkwardly) to look up the hill to her house. Christina was 55 when Wyeth painted her, using a composite of Christina herself and his wife as models. She had lost the use of her legs to an undiagnosed neuro-muscular disease, and didn’t use a wheelchair. Instead, she propelled herself across the floor or ground by using her arms. In this painting, she is returning to the house from visiting her parents’ graves in the family cemetery, some distance down the hill toward the bay.

Christina's World - Andrew Wyeth [Wikipedia]

Christina’s World – Andrew Wyeth, 1948

Wyeth created many other paintings and hundreds of sketches around the farm, some of which we recaptured, deliberately or often serendipitously, in photos during our visit.

When we arrived at the Olson House, a yellow school bus was parked in the back. We wandered about the grounds and waited for the noisy kids’ tour to leave before we entered. We hoped to be alone in this place, which felt almost holy. And we were alone, except for a docent or two. How often do you get to be alone when you explore a historic site? Better yet, we had free rein to crawl all over the entire house—all three stories—and the attached barn. No part of  the house was cordoned off.

There is nothing I relish more than poking around an old house. The older and more decrepit, the better. The smells and the textures and the worn colors, and the sense that the lives of past residents have somehow seeped into the walls make the house a living thing.

Click on the images to enlarge.

The front hall floor is painted and stenciled with leaves. I don’t know how old this charming feature is, but it reminds me of the leaves our pets track into the kitchen in the fall. I even have a chair like this one at home.

Stenciled leaves on the hall floor, Olson House

Leaves on the floor

Beyond the stairs is a large, light-filled parlor. The cracks in the plaster feel familiar.

The kitchen, with its monstrous cast iron stove, still holds a few pieces of furniture. The rest of the house is all but empty. Wyeth painted Christina sitting at her kitchen table in “Woodstove.”

Geraniums still grow in the kitchen window.

Beyond the kitchen is a two-room pantry, which houses the sink (a metal-lined wood box) and water pump and a mechanical roller for wringing out the wash. The remarkable turquoise door has been immortalized in “Christina and Alvaro.”

Through the turquoise door is the dim and shadowy barn, which is roped off, probably because it’s in unsafe condition. We stepped only a few feet inside. I struggled with the light setting on my camera, so I asked Eric to photograph this scene and its beautiful light (which he no doubt would have, anyway). It’s one of my favorites. I didn’t know until I researched this post that Wyeth had painted it, too.

Back in the house, up the stairs are Christina and Alvaro’s childhood bedrooms. The tattered wallpaper in Christina’s room has been left to deteriorate, its delicate, faded patterns mingling like a collage. Our visit was several years before we tackled our kitchen remodel. Little did I know that I’d be seeing a similar effect on my own walls in a few years.

In the attic, Eric captured this scene of the room in which Wyeth did much of his painting. It was from this window that Wyeth first noticed Christina crawling through the field back to the house.

On the other side of the attic is another bedroom in which Wyeth created his last painting of the Olson House after Christina and Alvaro’s deaths.

We walked down the hill and into the grassy field. A hay wagon sits approximately where Christina was depicted, although the view of the house has been obscured by trees in the intervening decades. (More likely, Wyeth simply eliminated all trees from the pared-down painted scene. He also stretched the perspective of Christina’s World to enhance the feeling of distance. As I walked further down the hill, the house disappeared over the horizon.) The Olson House website now warns that this area is private property and not to trespass, but the docents encouraged us to go. I wonder if it’s still possible to walk there. It felt like an important part of the experience.

Farther down the hill is the small family cemetery, with a view of Maple Juice Cove between the trees. Christina and Alvaro’s shared headstone is prominent. They died within a month of each other in the winter of 1967 – 1968. In 2009, Andrew Wyeth himself was buried there with them. The three of them seem to look up toward the house.

While researching this post, I learned that the Olson House has recently reopened after being closed for a year for exterior renovation and installation of a fire repression system. While I’m glad the house is being preserved and protected, I’m also very glad that we had the opportunity to enjoy it in its original, weathered state. This photo of the new pine exterior just doesn’t have the same atmospheric appeal.

Olson House with new pine siding

Restoration []

 Thanks for indulging me in a little art history nostalgia. I hope you enjoyed the tour.

Old woman with dark hair cuddling black kitten on her chest

Miss Olson [A. Wyeth, 1962]

Andrew Wyeth and Alvaro Olson with wagon in front of Olson house

Andrew Wyeth and Alvaro Olson [Kosti Ruohomaa]

Alvaro, Christina, and Andrew

Alvaro, Christina, and Andrew [Richard Meryman]

Green ginkgo leaf with 1913 - 2013 below it



The pace has been a little different at the bungalow this summer. Eric has been working hard to prep the house for painting during the week, while I, of course, bring the bacon home from the cube farm. By the time the weekend rolls around, we both want a break. It’s summer after all, and we in the damp, gray Pacific Northwest cherish our summers, which traditionally begin on July 5th and sometimes, if we’re lucky, blaze gloriously into early October.

Who can blame us for packing in all the summer activities we can? It’s time for art fairs, ferry rides, farmers markets, architectural tours, dinner with a view. You may have noticed that I’ve slacked off on blog posts. No apologies! I’ve also, um, slacked off on my living room replastering project. What can I say? By the time I get home from work in the evening, plastering doesn’t sound appealing… and come the weekend, I want to play outdoors. And I don’t mean hunting crabgrass, either! Our crabgrass is alive and well!

Okay, break’s over. I have some gnarly before-and-durings for you (no afters, yet). A house does not get to be 103 years old without experiencing some decrepitude. Years of deferred maintenance cause spots and wrinkles, as surely as years without sunscreen cause spots and wrinkles on us. These photos are tantamount to a confession.

Eric started the prep work on the south side of our house, which bakes in the summer sun and soaks in the winter rain. I may have mentioned that whoever painted the trim back in 1995 never got around to trimming out the south side. That person should be thrashed!

In her defense, I recall our 2007 trip to New England, when we visited the Olson house in Cushing, Maine, inspiration for many of Andrew Wyeth’s paintings (most famously, Christina’s World). We were free to crawl all over its shabby, faded austerity—a religious experience for me. It made me think: If this house can stand on this windswept hill since the late 1700s with, apparently, no paint, then … what, me worry? But, I digress. That’s a topic for another travel blog.

It is with humility that I reveal to you … our bungalow’s south side. This is my bedroom closet window. (Craftsman houses often have windows in their tiny closets so that one might air out one’s few clothes.) The upper pane is cracked. The checked and peeling brown paint has a tenuous grip on the oversprayed trim boards. The window glazing is mottled but still there. That’s more than some windows can say. Eric used a combination of scraper, power washer, and heat gun to get all the paint off that would come off.

Here’s the south foyer window. Same condition. No hate mail, please.

Are you tired of looking at these depressing photos? I am. I’m sure you get the idea. But wait, there’s more!

Some places are going to be hard to paint, like this oddly shaped cubbyhole formed by a shed roof under the gable over the south foyer window, where pigeons like to roost. In the spring we can hear the chicks peeping and the adults cooing. Eric used the power washer to blast out the remnants of nest and lots of pigeon poop. Yes, he wore a face shield. Then he covered the area with net to keep the birds out. The net will be neatly attached to permanently deter the birds after we paint. Our bird-watching cats will be disappointed. (They do not catch pigeons.)

Small shed roof protects a window under a gable

A complicated construction

Pigeon poop is not the only hazardous waste Eric encountered. On the porch roof he discovered a disgusting pile of what we think was raccoon poop, loaded with cherry pits. You know what happens when you eat too many cherries … that raccoon must have had a bad bellyache.

A pile of raccoon poop on the roof


Back to the window frames … After Eric removed as much old paint as possible, all window frames got one or two coats of Zinsser Peel Stop, a treatment that soaks into punky, dry wood and dries hard as rock, at the same time bonding any remaining paint to the wood. Then, a coat of Kilz Klear, a primer that goes on translucent white and dries clear (I mean, klear), like Elmer’s Glue. The new paint won’t dare to come off.

Cans of Zinsser Peel Stop and Kilz Klear

Zinsser Peel Stop and Kilz Klear

In contrast to the south side, this is our east-facing attic stairwell window. Looks much better, right? But up close, its paint is also checked and brittle, not to mention filthy from pollution.

The most dramatic weather damage is on the parts you can’t see from the ground—the knee braces, for instance. What would your knees look like if they’d been propping up the eaves day in, day out, for 103 years? This is not a log on the beach. It’s the top of one of the knee braces.

Shockingly bad!

Shockingly bad!

You might be surprised to learn that rotten wood like this can be salvaged with good old Bondo. Yes, the same stuff used at body shops. Eric tells me it’s rather tricky to mix the two-part goop, race to the top of the ladder, and schmear it on while it’s still malleable. Bondo is a lot stronger than wood. Real restorers would replace all of these parts with new wood, of course … but we’re not doing that. Our goal is to stabilize the existing wood, paint it, and move on.

Gable roof with three knee braces

Tired old knees

In all, Eric replaced eight window panes and reglazed several more. Both of our bathroom windows had cracked panes, so we took the opportunity to replace the clear glass (which we had covered with patterned adhesive privacy film) with new, obscure glass. Wow, what a difference in the bathroom—almost too bright. I can see my own spots and wrinkles too well.

Yesterday, after our spate of too-hot-and-windy-to-paint weather ended, Eric and I applied two coats of “haint blue” paint (Valspar “Gossamer Sky”) to the front porch ceiling. Here’s a teaser for my next post: Woo-hoo—it’s time for COLOR!

Porch ceiling with robin's egg blue paint

The painting begins!

Green ginkgo leaf with 1913 - 2013 below it


Big changes are afoot at the bungalow this summer: Eric got caught in a round of layoffs at the company where we both work. (So far, I’m still employed.) While not in our plan, this is not a bad thing. He parted with a few months severance pay, and after 60 days hiatus (required by law), he potentially could return as a contractor.  He’ll officially retire at the end of the year. We say he’s “pretired.” Me? I’m just tired.

Having the summer off with pay sounds like heaven to me … but Eric is saddled with a mile-long honey-do list, his penance for being home and hanging out with Duke and the cats while I continue to toil at the cube farm. You know, little stuff like muck out the attic, build a new fence, paint the house. Yes, folks, it’s time … long past time. The house was last painted back in 1995, best I can remember, and that paint job never was quite finished on the south side, which faces our neighbor. That fact doesn’t sufficiently bother me because I never see our house from that side … out of sight, out of mind—I’m such a lazy bum.

Painting any house is a big job, but painting an old house with intricate trim and peeling paint, weather-beaten wood and petrified glazing is truly daunting. I’ll be giving you a play-by-play description over the summer as things progress.

First, of course, comes a ton of not-so-fun prep work—the key to success if you can force yourself through it—which you must. Yes, I will be helping. You know that painting is my thing. I’ll be painting most of the trim because it’s all brushwork. The body of the house, which, regrettably, is covered in asbestos shingles (along with much of the neighborhood, since some convincing salesman came through in the 1950s) will be sprayed.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. We can’t paint without picking our new colors, and that’s where the auditions come in. The house is currently a light taupe called Tooley Fog (is that a great color name, or what?) with white trim and spruce-green accent on the window mullions and doors.

Gray Craftsman bungalow with many landscape plantings

Our current color scheme. Pretty tame.

I’ve long been imagining the house painted a darker, more traditionally Craftsman scheme of dusty olive, with paler olive trim and burnt red accent. Time for paint auditions!

Eric and I have a routine that we go through every time we pick paint. I’ll pick a color, and Eric will claim, “It’s too dark.” Every. Single. Time. So this time, I picked out the Valspar paint chip cards and, instead of going for the darkest shades, I chose the middle ones, Mossy Aura and Wild Hawk. I moved two cards to the left in the same row and picked lighter shades for the trim, Oatlands Subtle Taupe (which was also a contender for living room paint), and Oatbran. For the red accent, I chose Jekyll Club Cherokee Rust, which reminded me of Frank Lloyd Wright’s signature red.

Although the two schemes look almost identical and not quite true to life on my monitor, here they are.

I fell in love with Mossy Aura the moment I applied it. It’s, well … mossy. A great backdrop for plants, and very Craftsman. Subtle Taupe is its perfect trim color: light and slightly green-tinted, but with lots more character than white. I eliminated the Wild Hawk/Oatbran combo, although good colors, as too brown. (When I bought the house in 1983 it was vanilla with mud brown trim. Yech! I want to stay away from brown.)

But the Cherokee Rust—oh dear! It screamed – and completely overpowered the moss and taupe. No, no, no!

gray-green paint with red trim

Yikes! Too red!

Back to Lowe’s for a do-over, not so orangey this time … a little darker. How about Olympic’s Brick Dust?

Gray-green paint with red trim

Still not quite right, but closer.

Still too intense. Where was I going wrong? I shuffled my paint chips and even thought about abandoning the red accent and going to a dark teal, which would be beautiful … but it didn’t look like the picture I’ve had in my head for so long, and I didn’t know how it would look with the red porch floor (which could be repainted) and the fireplace chimney.

Paint chips arranged on a table top.

What to do, what to do …

Time for some field research. Eric, Duke, and I drove up to Seattle’s Ravenna district, a bungalow neighborhood where our house would be worth three times as much as it is in Auburn. (Especially now, when Seattle real estate prices are going through the roof … the median price for a house is $666,000. Alas, Auburn prices lag far behind.) Sigh …

As usual, click to enlarge.

I noticed three things:

  1. We have the most heavily landscaped and planted yard in our neighborhood. It kind of sticks out compared to our horticulturally challenged neighbors, and we get lots of compliments. But almost everyone in Seattle has plantings like this—and more so. Many front yards have no grass at all. Parking strips aren’t grass, but gardens. Flowers are bursting out everywhere, spilling through fences and onto the sidewalks. It’s gorgeous.
  2. No one in Ravenna says, “It’s too dark.” They are not afraid to paint their houses deep shades of gray, olive, teal, even dusky purple (the nearby University of Washington’s colors are purple and gold).
  3. Lots of people use the very type of red accent that I was trying to find, only it’s more brownish and rusty. In combination with other colors, it reads as almost red. Got it! Back to Lowe’s!

This time, I got a sample of the darker olive shade, Falcon’s Plume, with Filoli Carriage House (which in person looks a little like guacamole) for trim and Chocolate Cherry for accent. (I wish I could get a job as color namer instead of a technical writer.) The darker, richer field and trim shades finally held their own against the rusty red. Success! Even Eric had to admit that darker worked. We had our color scheme!

Or did we? As I slept that night, colors swirled in my head, shifting hues and intensities. In the morning, I knew I had to try the Chocolate Cherry with the Mossy Aura combo. Bingo, it worked! Now we had two equally successful color schemes, one of medium intensity and one deeper. Which to pick?

We had agreed to go dark, but my heart was still with Mossy Aura. Our neighbors Art and Mari wandered by, and we stood on the sidewalk and pondered. We realized that the darker Falcon’s Plume was almost the same color as our dark green roof. Too much of the same value. The house needs the contrast of a medium green under the dark roof. Mossy Aura it is! Woo-hoo—we have a winner!

Open-air Craftsman porch with French doors to house

I see you!

Or do we? I came across this photo.

Mossy green house with darker trim


This house is painted a green similar to our Mossy Aura, but the trim is darker, and a little bluer. If you look closely, you can see reddish brown knee braces. I like how those colors echo what I like to do with plants: play shades of moss against shades of blue-green. Hmm … maybe we’re not done, after all.

After sleeping on it, I decided that although I love this combination, I can’t picture our porch railings painted blue-green. I may try the Filoli Carriage House (guacamole) with Mossy Aura, though.

In between paint tests I’ve consulted numerous websites and some of my own books (Powell and Svendsen’s Bungalow Details: Exterior, while it doesn’t specifically address paint, has inspirational photos). Along the way I’ve picked up a few tips. The older I get, the more I learn how many well-intentioned mistakes I’ve made.

  • Don’t paint the trim white! Many people do to make it pop, but it’s not Craftsman. My bad.
  • If you have some shingle trim, as we do on our porches, stain it a natural color or at least a slightly different color than the field. We’ll definitely do this to our two shingled porches.
  • Paint the eaves the trim color, not the field color. Oops … our eaves are Tooley Fog.
  • Leave your masonry natural! Too late … our fireplace has been painted for decades.

So, is my mind finally made up? Don’t worry, Eric has lots of trim to scrape and windows to repair, which means I have plenty of time to audition all of my color whims before we commit.  What do you think of our current fave? Is Auburn ready for some real Seattle Craftsman colors? Stay tuned!

Green ginkgo leaf with 1913 - 2013 below it



Tropical escape, part 4

This is my fourth and final post about our Florida vacation. (If you missed them, read part 1, part 2, and part 3.)


As we made our way south, then north, and then south again along Florida’s Atlantic coast, we stopped at several lighthouses, which are some of Eric’s favorite subjects. We make a point of “bagging” lighthouses everywhere we go. We never know what we’ll see as we’re pursuing our quarry.

Our first up-close encounter was Cape Florida Light on Key Biscayne, just south of Miami. Our first glimpse of this 95-foot tall, bright-white lighthouse was from the beach side—oops, no access from there. We approached down an alley of palms and sea grape trees. Unfortunately the lighthouse was closed, so we just ambled around the grounds and visited with a friendly lizard at the old caretaker’s cottage. Eric snapped this painterly selfie in one of the lighthouse’s windows. It’s one of my favorite photos from this trip. What strikes me as unusual about this light is that the taper of the tower changes slightly above the last window. (Click to enlarge.)

A couple of days later we found ourselves at the foot of Key West Light, just across the street from the Hemingway Home. It’s much shorter, just 65 feet, and although it stands in the middle of town at only 15 feet above sea level, the island’s so flat that its height was adequate for years. I have only one crummy photo. WHY didn’t we climb this light? I thought it was because it was temporarily closed, but Eric claims it was because I was tired, hot, and, um … grumpy, and I didn’t feel like it. I wish he’d quit making this stuff up!

Key West Light through the trees

Key West Light through the trees

We made a quick stop to find little Key Largo Light, hidden away on someone’s private property on a canal. The chase is part of the fun–you never know where you might go. This modest lighthouse, once (and perhaps still) a private wedding venue, looks as if it’s searching for a preservation society.

Key Largo Light peeks above the palms

Key Largo Light peeks above the palms

From the Keys, we drove wa-a-ay up the east Florida coast to Jacksonville to visit my step-son Andy and his fiancée Kelly before the wedding. On the way north we found Hillsboro Inlet Light, locked safely behind the gates of a country club. We stopped at a park across the water to get these shots of the 135-ft iron tower. Yes, you can climb it, but the tight spiral stairs inside the central cylinder might be too claustrophobic for me.

Further up the coast, we thought we’d drop in on our friends Tiger, Greg, and Gary on Jupiter Island, but they weren’t home. The local lighthouse society wanted $10 for a guided tour. We passed and took photos from a respectable distance.

Tall red lighthouse seen from across the inlet

Jupiter Inlet Light just a par 5 away

Family was gathering in Jacksonville, and we all headed to St. Augustine for the day. Eric and I took the opportunity to climb the magnificent St. Augustine Light. This one’s much taller—165 feet, with 219 lacy wrought-iron steps to the top. I’m not good with heights, so upon stepping out onto the lantern deck, I flattened myself to the wall and inched my way around. Once I’d made the 180-degree tour and convinced myself the thing wasn’t going to fall over, I made it to the rail with relative confidence. I’d always wanted to visit a spiral-striped lighthouse!

The next day we drove to Ponce de Leon Inlet Lighthouse, just south of Daytona Beach. At 175 feet, it’s the tallest lighthouse in Florida (and second tallest in the US, behind Cape Hatteras Light). But it has only 203 steps–a noticeably steeper climb than St. Augustine Light. I love taking shots of the stairs, up and down, in towers of any kind. And really, when I got to the top, the views were worth the vertigo. An outbuilding displayed a glittering collection of lenses, including the 1860 first order Fresnel lens from the old Cape Canaveral Light. If I had a lighthouse to climb every day, I’d be in much better shape … but if I had to haul a bucket of kerosene to the top, like lighthouse keepers of old, I’d be dead.

McKee Botanical Garden

Whenever I think of Florida now, I picture the lush tropical vegetation that flourished everywhere we looked. What fun to create one’s very own jungle garden! Once we arrived in Vero Beach for the wedding, we made time to explore McKee Botanical Garden—18 acres of trails, streams, lagoons, and groves. (I grew up running around my grandparents’ greenhouses and florist shop as a child … I felt like that long-ago eight-year-old, let loose in paradise.) The garden featured a special dinosaur exhibit incorporated into the forest. We snuck up on several of them, as you’ll see. Or did they sneak up on us?

Lagoons full of multicolor water lilies are McKee’s signature. I’d never seen so many different colored water lilies … so beautiful!

It wasn’t until we were home that I had a chance to look up what some of the other flowers were. I discovered ginger blossoms come in all sorts of shapes … like these beauties.

The jungle plantings grew so thickly that we could have gotten lost without a map.

We came upon three hive-like structures made of willow branches. Environmental artist Patrick Dougherty and a team of volunteers constructed them in January, and named them “The Royals” after the Royal Palm grove they grace. The Royals will remain in the garden until weather and time cause them to break down.

I loved this African sausage tree. In April, the sausages looked more like giant cucumbers, but they’ll turn brown and then burst open with dark red flowers.

Eric got pretty close to this rat snake before he decided maybe the snake was getting peeved.

Rat snake head

I’m watching you. []

If we watched the ground for a few seconds, it came alive with cute brown Carolina anole lizards.

brown Carolina anole lizard on a plant identification marker

A Carolina anole who likes Washington State

The Wedding

The culmination of our trip was Andy and Kelly’s wedding in Vero Beach. We stayed put in one hotel for three consecutive nights—that never happens! Our room looked out at the ocean. Eric rose before dawn each day to take sunrise photos. Just spectacular.

The wedding was spectacular, too, despite punishing heat and humidity. Andy and Kelly are a beautiful couple. I didn’t take many photos because—you guessed it—I was so miserably hot that I couldn’t focus past the sweat trickling down my back. Andy’s mom handed me a tissue in case I cried. I used it to mop my brow.

See you later, alligator

The biggest impression I took away from Florida was COLOR. As our plane circled Seattle to land, I was shocked at how dark my beloved Pacific Northwest looked, even though it was a sunny day. My eyes had become accustomed to Florida’s bright green foliage, turquoise sea, and golden sunrises. In contrast, our water is dark gray-green (and 53ºF!), the forested hills are dark Douglas fir blue-green, and the houses are typically earthy colors of tan and gray. Not that it isn’t beautiful here—the mountains and the sea are stunning. It’s just not tropical. Florida, though, is bursting with color, but it’s color that’s sat out in the sun for a few years, consumed too many margaritas, and faded to a mellow, laid-back patina. The dominant color for houses and small commercial buildings is sunshine yellow, trimmed with sky blue or sea turquoise. So light and fresh. You needn’t hesitate to paint your house pink in southern Florida. It’ll fit right in. These colors look so right in the tropics, but they would never work in the Pacific Northwest.

We talk often of retuning to the southern Florida coast. I wonder … how long will we wait?

Sailboat at sunset, Key West, FL

Sailing into the sunset.

Green ginkgo leaf with 1913 - 2013 below it



Tropical escape, part 3

The Florida Keys

The Florida Keys had long been on Eric’s and my bucket lists. It was finally time to go! Come on along on a photo tour as we see what Ernest Hemingway and Jimmy Buffett made a such a fuss about.

Here we go on the Overseas Highway, the 113-mile, 42-bridge, southern end of US 1, which links the Florida Keys to the mainland. Most of the highway is two-lane like this, but a few places have been upgraded to four-lane. Our destination: Key West.

Crossing the 7-mile bridge on U.S. 1, Florida Keys

Seven-Mile Bridge

We planned to drive straight through, but it wasn’t long before we pulled over to take pictures of that water. If you’ve ever been to the Caribbean, you know what I’m talking about—the colors are incredible. If you haven’t, well … you need to go.

Shallow cove of aqua water in Bay of Florida


The highway follows alongside the remains of the old railroad or the old highway (I couldn’t always tell which). The railroad, built in the 1920s, predates the highway, which was built in segments during the 1920s and 1930s. The continuous highway opened for traffic in 1938; it’s been partially updated.

Cars parked on old Hwy. 1 in the Florida Keys

Part of the old highway is now a very long fishing pier.

Key West

Arriving in Key West, we made straight for famous Duval Street, a mile-long strip of tourist restaurants, loud bars, and tacky t-shirt shops. For some reason, Key West is overrun by feral chickens. They’re everywhere. People love them or hate them—I think it depends on whether they’re trying to get some sleep.

We hoofed it through the sauna-like air down to a long pier at the end of the street—the southernmost point in the US.

Later we learned that the pole at the end of the pier is not really the official southernmost point. The official southernmost point is the painted buoy at the corner of South Street and Whitehead Street. (It’s not a real buoy … it’s an old concrete sewer junction box that’s painted to look like a buoy! Ha! Tourists beware.)

Painted "buoy" at southernmost point in US, Key West, FL

Southernmost tourist point in the US

But wait—that’s not the real southernmost point, either. The really real one is on nearby US Navy property and not accessible to civilians. Anyway … we were damn close.

It was getting on toward sunset, so we beat feet to Mallory Square, all the way at the other end of Duval. This is the iconic plaza where the crowd gathers every evening to watch the sun sink into the Gulf of Mexico behind Sunset Key. Every tourist on the island was there, plus souvenir vendors and performance artists … maybe even some locals. The place was packed, but we managed to find a spot at the rail, so to speak. I was so busy watching the sunset that I didn’t think about turning around and taking a picture of Mallory Square itself. Here’s one taken from a cruise ship, which gives you a much better perspective than I had.

Crowded Mallory Square from the air

Mallory Square [ ]

Here’s what was distracting me. Wow, what a show! I can’t possibly cull my photos down to one favorite shot, so enjoy the gallery. None of these photos has been Photoshopped or color-enhanced. (Click to enlarge.)

The next morning we toured the Hemingway Home and Museum use to get a cat fix. Ernest Hemingway and his wife Pauline lived in this charming house from 1931 until their 1940 divorce. We were lucky to be there when the African tulip tree was in bloom.

A plaque beneath this 1928 photo explains that Hemingway got the gash on his forehead when he yanked on a skylight chain, thinking it was the toilet chain. The skylight shattered over his head. I’m sure alcohol was not a factor.

1928 photo of Ernest Hemingway with a curved gash on his forehead.

Nine stitches

Hemingway had a polydactyl cat, and the present-day house and gardens are crawling with kitties, some of whom are said to be descendants of Hemingway’s cat. Many are polydactyl. All are safe and content, and do what cats do in the heat: snooze. They even have a feeding station designed to match the house.

How about this for a bathroom? Windows on three sides! I love the Deco tile floor—fish are always at home in a bathroom.

Yellow, black and white bathroom at Hemingway house in Key West, FL

As big as our bedroom

We peeked in at Hemingway’s writing studio over the old carriage house. A suitably masculine place to hang out. But it’s blocked off … we could only stand in the doorway to look and imagine him typing the manuscript for To Have and Have Not.

Hemingway's Key West studio over the carriage house.

Hemingway’s studio seen from the house’s balcony

Interior of Hemingway's Key West studio

Inside the studio

From Papa Hemingway’s place, we walked to the other end of town (again) to catch a glass-bottomed catamaran cruise to the barrier reef. (Alas, I am neither swimmer nor snorkeler.) The Florida Barrier Reef is the third largest living coral reef in the world (behind Australia and Belize). I thought it would be cooler out on the water, but it was mercilessly hot and humid. The woman next to me mopped her face with a Kleenex, which disintegrated and stuck to her skin.

Back on shore, we walked some of the side streets. Just a block or two off Duval, Key West is quiet and distinctly Caribbean.

We strolled by Harry Truman’s Little White House, which was being set up for a wedding (even the bride’s little dog was wearing a lace gown). I was amazed to find coleus, which back home are small potted plants, growing taller than me!

Bahia Honda Key

We wanted to stay longer, but we had a schedule to keep and a wedding to get to, so back we went on US 1. We stopped to take photos of the Bahia Honda Bridge. This one was obviously a railroad bridge … right? Yes … and no. The new four-lane bridge sits to the north. Beside it, the old bridge is slowly crumbling into the sea. It was originally a railroad bridge, but when a hurricane wiped out many railroad bridges in 1935, the state bought what remained of the bridges and used them to build more of the highway. In this case, the pavement is on top of the railroad structure. Something tells me they wouldn’t get away with that these days.


In Marathon, we visited the Sea Turtle Hospital, an experience that I’ll always remember. This nonprofit hospital rehabilitates sea turtles that have been injured by boats or nets, have eaten trash, or are suffering from disease. It’s set up in an old motel, and the staff lives onsite. What a perfect use for an old property! The old salt-water pool is too dilapidated for humans, but it works just fine for turtles. Some of these turtles are permanent hospital residents. For instance, a collision with a boat can force air into the turtle’s body tissue, deforming its shell and causing it to float head-down, bottom-up. This condition, called bubble butt, can be compensated for by gluing weights to the turtle’s shell … but the weights will eventually fall off, so the turtle cannot safely to return to the sea.

Key Largo

That night we ate at a seaside restaurant whose boat dock was lit from underwater. As darkness fell, I snapped this otherworldly photo with my cell phone. I think it’s the shot of the trip.

Boats at dock with water lit from below with green lights

One last stop before we returned to the mainland: John Pennecamp Coral Reef State Park on Key Largo, where we discovered a beautiful aquarium. After studying the sea life there, I was able to identify all the types of coral depicted in Finding Nemo.

We walked down a wooded trail and along the beach, where we found these large coral rocks. Easy to see remnants of sea life here.

Coral texture on large rock

Love the patterns

As we were leaving, we passed the kayak rental. Why do these colorful kayaks remind me of fruit?

Detail pf multicolored kayaks in a row


Goodbye, Florida Keys … we’ll be back someday!

Coming next: My final post about Florida, featuring gardens, lighthouses, and a wedding!

Green ginkgo leaf with 1913 - 2013 below it

Tropical escape, part 2

Gators in the ‘Glades

After reveling in the retroglam of Miami Beach, we lit out for the territory to visit something wilder—Everglades National Park. We’d already had a glimpse of the Everglades from our plane. It looked like this: On one side of the canal, dredged waterways and man-made islands covered in homes and golf courses … on the other side, miles of uninterrupted grassland.

A long straight canal divides development from natural grassland in the Everglades

Houses on one side, sawgrass on the other []

The Everglades is not a swamp. It’s a shallow, slow-moving river, draining water out of Lake Okeechobee to the ocean. This vast grassland covers the southern end of Florida. Everglades National Park is at the southernmost tip of the overall Everglades area.

Like many of our natural areas, the Everglades has been ruthlessly exploited and nearly destroyed by humans. The northern part was converted to grazing land and sugarcane fields. Canals, levees, and roads blocked the natural flow of water and decimated animal life downstream. Urban development crept ever closer from the East Coast. Approximately 50 percent of the original Everglades has been developed as agricultural or urban areas [Wikipedia]. I won’t go into the horrifying history of what humans have perpetrated there, but if you read about it, it will make you sick. Fortunately, restoration efforts have been underway since the 1990s, with the $7.8 billion Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan signed by President Bill Clinton in 2000. Better late than never, right?

Map showing loss of Everglades habitat in the 20th Century

Loss of Everglades habitat in the 20th Century []

After a brief stop at the main visitor center to plan our day, we continued a little further into the park to Royal Palm Visitor Center, where we walked the .8 mile Anhinga Trail. Most of this accessible trail is a beautiful boardwalk that allows you to peek down into the brush and water.

Man walks on wooden boardwalk in Everglades National Park.

What’s around the next bend?

Green lillypads float in Everglades National Park

Lillypads floating in the clear, shallow water

Young mangrove tree growing in Everglades National Park

A young mangrove tree

Cardinal air plant growing on a tree trunk

Cardinal air plant (tillandsia fasciculata)

Spherical white flower in Everglades National Park

This may be a powderpuff (related to mimosa?)

Before long we found some wildlife … this turtle was lounging on the warm mud.

Turtle sleeping in the sun

Lazing in the sun

Smack in the center of this photo is an alligator bag. No, wait—it’s a real alligator!

Alligator resting under a tree in Everglades National Park

See him?

Alligator in Everglades National Park

A better view

Here’s another one, facing away from me.

Alligator hides among grasses in Everglades National Park

We never saw a gator in action … they were all just lying around

I didn’t know much about the Everglades, other than what TV shows lead us to believe. Here’s what I thought it would be like.

Cartoon gator inviting you to take an airboat tour

Thankfully, airboats aren’t allowed within the national park. We certainly did not expect to see this:

Smoke from wildfire hangs over Everglades National Fire

An eerie landscape

The Everglades were on fire. Lightning-induced fires are not uncommon, and sometimes prescribed fires are necessary to burn off spilled fuel or to reduce invasive plant species, but this 3800-acre fire was caused by some idiot who got careless at a campsite.

We had hoped to take a boat tour into the interior of the park, but because of reduced visibility from the smoke, the Forest Service made us wait for a lead car to escort us through part of the main park road. We waited. We missed the boat. By the time we arrived at Flamingo Visitor Center, only one last boat tour was available, out into Florida Bay. (Florida Bay is between the mainland and the Florida Keys.)

Pink Flamingo Visitor Center in Everglades National Park

What color did you think Flamingo Visitor Center would be?

As we cruised into the bay, the captain ran through the mandatory flotation vest demonstration. “If you fall overboard and can’t remember how the life vest works,” he said, “just stand up.” Florida Bay is only three or four feet deep … six feet in dredged boat channels.

Aerial shot showing southern Floida and Florida Bay

You can see the park and the shallowness of Florida Bay. [Google]

View from dock at Flamingo looking toward Florida Bay

Looking south from Flamingo Marina toward Florida Bay

FLorida Bay with island visible in the distance

Heading out into Florida Bay

From the water, we saw birds … lots of birds. Ubiquitous brown pelicans, white egrets, terns, and this nest of osprey.

Three osprey chicks and their mother on a nest on a harbor navigation marker

These osprey chicks look almost ready to fly.

Brown pelican diving into water

A pelican dives for dinner

Perky terns

Perky crested terns perch on a piling

A graceful white egret perches on a mangrove root.

A graceful white egret perches on a mangrove root

Out in the bay, distant mangrove islands shimmered in the sun like mirages. They seemed to float above the water.

Distant island shimmers in heat


These islands begin as a single mangrove seedling that breaks off the parent tree and floats away. If the seedling gets hung up on a shallow spot, it can put down roots in an hour. As the tree grows, its dropped leaves decay and build up, eventually forming a small island.

Small mangrove tree grows near the water

Baby mangrove

Over many years, this island may gain enough elevation—just a few feet—to support hardwood trees. These small humps are known as hardwood hammocks. We passed many hammocks as we drove through the park … but we don’t have a single photo to show you. Guess we’ll have to go back.

Everglades cross section

Everglades cross section [USGS]

Reflection of mangrove roots in the water of Florida Bay

Reflection of mangrove roots

After the cruise we lingered at the marina, hoping to see the manatees that often visit there … but we were disappointed.

Two manatees under water

We did not see these manatees []

Cruise boat docked at Flamingo Marina

Our cruise boat in manatee-free Flamingo Marina

The only manatees we saw during our whole trip were these popular mailbox holders. They’re so cute and kitchy, I suppose I would have to have one.

Manatee mailbox holder

Close, but no cigar

A few hours in Everglades National Park was only enough to scratch the surface. We’ll have to come back to catch that boat into the interior, meet a manatee, and hang out in a hammock with a Florida panther. But now, off to the Keys!

Tropical escape, part 1


The word conjures white sand beaches and swimming pool-colored water, graceful palms, alligators in the Everglades, and Don Johnson in a pastel suit. We discovered it’s all these things, and more.

In my last post I threatened to take a tropical vacation instead of continuing with plaster repair. Of course, Eric and I had this escape planned for months because his son, Andy, was getting married in Vero Beach. Neither of us had explored Florida, so we made the most of our visit to the opposite corner of the country by stretching our trip to 16 glorious days.

For a flight that long, I told Eric I’d go only if we flew first class, which I’d never done. So we cashed in every air mile we had and pretended we do this all the time. I have to admit I felt a certain smugness as we sat there sipping our first drink while the endless parade of less fortunates trooped to the back of the bus. I loved that feeling. Plus, I’m certain that the flight is shorter when you fly first class. I told Eric that I’m done flying in steerage. It’s first class all the way for me from now on, baby. Eric replied that I’ll be staying home a lot if that’s the case. Ah, well … it was grand while it lasted.

But, Florida … Put on your walkin’ shoes, because we’re going to cover a lot of ground!

Ft. Lauderdale

This was our first glimpse of Florida’s Atlantic Coast on the day we arrived.

Palm tree and ocean at Ft. Lauderdale beach.

This is what we came so far to see!

People have to watch the sunset backwards here, which made me laugh.

Man facing the sunset on Florida beach

Where we come from, we face the ocean at sunset.

We were delighted to find velella velella, a jelly-ish invertebrate that “sails” on top of the water. We also have rare velella velella sightings in the Pacific Northwest, except ours are purple.

We were soon to discover that the entire south Florida coast is lined with a wall of high-rise condos and resorts, which warehouse hundreds of thousands of gray-haired folks. You can’t even glimpse the ocean from the road. All the buildings have sea-inspired names. Any combination of sea-related words you can think of surely is represented: Sea Breeze, Admiral, Commodore, Miramar, Turtle Bay, Tarpon … they’re all there. I defy you to come up with some oceanic name that hasn’t been used. Well, maybe not Sharkbite Sands or Flotsam Bay.

Condos line the beach at Ft. Lauderdale

Condos north and south, as far as the eye can see.

Miami Beach

The next morning we reported to the Miami Beach Art Deco Welcome Center for a walking tour. Miami Beach is a separate city on a barrier island between the Intracoastal Waterway and Biscayne Bay. It began as resort playground for wealthy Easterners in the early 20th Century, until a hurricane wiped it out in 1926. During the 1930s and 40s, lots of smaller, affordable, cheaply built hotels sprang up, designed in the latest decorative style, and Miami Beach thrived once more … until World War II.  What to do with all these hotels rooms when the war kept vacationers away? Why, fill them with soldiers-in-training! And that was my first connection to Miami Beach: my dad was one of those soldiers. Somewhere I have his photos of the hotel in which he stayed, and even as a kid I drooled over that cool building. (Did you know that the name “Art Deco” only became popular in the late 1960s? Before that, the style was usually called “Jazz Moderne.”) Now, Miami Beach has the largest collection of Art Deco buildings in the world, thanks to the preservation efforts of Barbara Capitman in the 1970s.

The Art Deco style is known for symmetry, repetitions of three, vertical elements, fluting, ziggurats (stepped designs), eyebrows (horizontal ledges over windows to shade them from midday sun), wavy lines, and frozen fountains. Many of these design elements are Egyptian-inspired. See how many of them you can pick out in my photos.

Let’s start with the Congress Hotel. It’s got it all—three stories, vertical lines in sets of three, eyebrows, waves, frozen fountains, and a really cool typeface (Eric and I are typography geeks, and we were in heaven).

Congress Hotel, Miami Beach

This manikin wants you to notice the frozen fountain panel flanking the entry. Interestingly, the pastel colors are not original. When these buildings were built they were all white.

Detail of COngress Hotel entry showing pastel-painted frozen fountain motif

The Hotel Shelley with fluting, waves, triple horizontal lines, and intricate bas-relief panels above the entry.

Cream and gray Art Deco facade of Hotel Sheely

The Beach Patrol Headquarters building looks just like a boat with its round corners, porthole windows, and three-tiered pipe railing. The wall out front is made of coral limestone, which we found all over Southern Florida.

Art Deco building that resembles a boat

Buildings that occupy prominent corner locations tend to have elaborate entries. Doesn’t the Tiffany Building look like a rocket ship?

Whit Art Deco building on corner, with tall mast sign.

Mast atop Tiffany building with neon letters

Inside the Tiffany, the walls are made of coral limestone, polished to resemble gold and green marble, echoed in the terrazzo floor. What a beautiful lobby!

Staircase made of polished yellow and green polished coral

Art Deco lobby of Tiffany building

The Sherbrooke Hotel reminds me of an ocean liner.

Sherbrooke Hotel looks like an ocean liner

Detail of Sherbrooke sign in Broadway typeface atop hotel

Sherbrooke’s sign in Broadway typeface

This little gem sat in a row of small Art Deco hotels. Boutique hotel companies sometimes operate several small buildings as one hotel. The next time we come to Miami, we’ll stay in one.

Fancy detailing on the Taft Hotel

Icing on a wedding cake

A lovely detail of a bas-relief frieze with a palm motif.

Gray, carved palm motif frieze on white building

The famous Breakwater Hotel was the backdrop for lots of action in the 1980s TV show, Miami Vice.

Breakwater Hotel with famous vertical sign

A very Miami Beach color scheme–blue and yellow

A Banana Republic store never looked so at home! Love the corner quoining and detailing at the roof line, and how the striped awnings draw attention to the horizontal stripes on the building.

Art Deco Banana Republic store with black and white striped awnings

Right at home in the palms

Look at the beautiful detailing on this classic diner.

Shiny, patterned aluminum diner with glass block corner window

Like a jewel box …

We saw more than Art Deco. Amongst all the Art Deco buildings are a couple of historic bungalows made of coral. Neither was open for visitors, although I would have loved to see the interiors.

Small house build of rough coral limestones

One of two coral bungalows

This building has more of a Mediterranean Revival flavor (another predominant style in Southern Florida). I took the photo just because of the matching car.

Cream and orange vintage car in front of Mediterranean style building.

Nice when your car matches your restaurant’s awnings.

After the Art Deco style fell out of favor post-WWII, Midcentury Modern filled in. We found several examples of “MiMo” (pronounced “MY-mo,” short for Miami Modern), but we didn’t have enough time to seek out more. One prevalent feature of Mimo is openwork screening of brick or cement block. Here are a few Mimo examples (click to enlarge).

Even the lifeguard huts look like colorful spaceships.

Colorful lifeguard station at Miami Beach

We retuned to town that evening to see the place lit up. Ocean Avenue after hours is loud music, overpriced restaurants, ambling tourists … and neon. I’m a sucker for colored lights. Click to enlarge.

So, I finally can check off the Miami Beach Art Deco district, which has been on my bucket list since I was a child … before bucket lists were invented. Driving around, we saw that the Art Deco influence extends far beyond Ocean Avenue. Even small apartment buildings on quiet side streets are pastel, simpler Art Deco examples. Despite it being a tourist Mecca, Miami Beach is a place I’d return to and continue to explore.

Next stop: Everglades National Park.

Green ginkgo leaf with 1913 - 2013 below it