Interior Design and Cooking

Going to my brother’s house in Chattanooga, Tennessee, is like going to a restful mountain retreat. In fact, six years ago when my then-husband-to-be and I were thinking about where to get married, we considered Mark and Tammie’s house — although I don’t think we ever told them that. (So, Mark and Tammie, would it be OK if we laid claim your house for a weekend and invited 200 people over? Thanks!!!) Anyway, when they bought their house on the side of Lookout Mountain, the interiors were sort of dark and chopped up. Since then and after much hard work, they have let in the light and gone bright and airy by taking out walls, adding light-colored hardwood floors and sticking with minimalist decor. I especially love the kitchen, where they took off the cabinet doors to offset the dark wood. Bonus: Everybody gets to see their collections of colorful vintage espresso cups, bowls, glasses and other dishes, although, as my brother pointed out, sometimes you have to wipe off your chosen dish before you use it if it’s been sitting on the shelf for a while. But that’s a small price to pay for fabulousness, don’t you think? Their bedroom continues the theme of calm and serene, with pale green walls and light-wood furniture. If you didn’t know this family but you walked into this house anyway, you’d know instantly that the folks who live here are creative and artistic and love being outdoors. And they are.

And speaking of creative, I kept telling my husband I was going to cover a “Cooking with Ginger” class for the TimesDaily — the newspaper I freelance for in Florence, Alabama — and he was bitterly disappointed to find out I was not making a Gilligan’s Island reference. But I did learn that ginger is an incredibly flavorful and versatile … herb? spice? … that will brighten up everything it’s added to. Younger Daughter has taken to putting some in the fresh juice she makes, and after this class I’m adding ginger along with the onion-garlic stir-fry duo to everything I get a saute pan out for. Read more and get some wonderful recipes at

Home Decor

Painting the houseWhen I first started thinking about having the inside of our house repainted, I always knew I’d want to go simple and neutral. For years I’ve lived with my misguided attempts at rustic-Tuscany-sponge painting in the kitchen and my older daughter’s more successful vegetarian peach-and-eggplant bedroom. I’m ready to change my style to calm and serene — with an eye to selling the house someday. A Realtor who came to give us redecorating tips said to go neutral. Our painters said to go neutral. When we went Repaintingto the paint store, the folks there said to go neutral and recommended a Pittsburgh Paint color called Dusty Trail. It was the newest most-popular house color around, they said, and I would be so happy with it. But I hesitated. I couldn’t decide: Was it too dark? Too olive-y? Too green? Too non-neutral? Husband painted a sample on a box — and did it very well, I might add — and we all agreed that it was a “yes.” But this past week when the painters first started putting Dusty Trail up on the walls, I did not like it. At all. I was second-guessing. I had paint anxiety attacks. It was the dark olive-y green all over again. I wondered how much it would cost to start over. But then, when the wall was completed and it was a solid block of color, I fell in love with its rich creamy neutral wonderfulness that adds depth without darkness. I finally understood why everybody said it was so good. For whatever weird reason, I’m telling you, the color looks so different when it’s right next to our old off-white than it does when it’s up on a wall all by itself. I do not know why this is. I’m sure it’s something that happens with paint and colors. But I’m glad it’s happening in our house on our walls.

And I love our painters. They are like your friends who come over and sweep up their messes and eat their lunches outside and tell you that the sofa really would look better over in that corner.


Today, for the first time probably in years, I actually did an honest day’s hard labor. This morning when I offered to help out the folks who’d come to do painting/remodeling work in the house (remember the loose-wallpaper incident?), I had no idea they’d actually take me up on it. But the head-man-in-charge was not impressed with my earlier effort at wallpaper removal in the bathrooms and said it would free up another worker to get started on painting if I tackled the wallpaper leftovers and really prepped the walls properly. I had a free morning, I shrugged, so why not? How hard could it be? Seven hours later, these are the things I have learned:

1) Never ever offer to help painting/wallpapering/remodeling people unless you are prepared to actually help. This is the not the time to be meaninglessly polite.

2) Little stripped-off wet wallpaper pieces stick to everything: Shoes, feet, floors, cats …

3) Even if you like Rascal Flatts and think Keith Urban is hot, seven hours of country-music on the industrial-strength radio turned up to an industrial-strength volume is plenty, thank you very much.

4) Patience and relaxation are the keys. “You’ve got to get the wallpaper wet and then let it relax,” Boss Guy said as he, patiently, showed me how to take off wallpaper the Right Way. “Patience, patience, patience. If you’re patient enough, it will slide right off.”  He was right. Who knew?

5) And the final thing I learned after a day of pumping a spray bottle and scraping and scrubbing walls to a shiny smoothness? I’m glad I don’t have to do it tomorrow.