Unanswered Prayers and the Art of Everyday Living

Clothes line in Italy, 123rf.com

Clotheslines in Burano, Italy (an island in the Venetian lagoon) via Superstock

Another clothesline in Italy....why does everything just look better in Italy?
When I was still a teen (approximately 115 years ago when claw bangs, parachute pants, and jazz shoes were legitimate fashion choices), Garth Brooks had a popular song, "Unanswered Prayers," where he rejoiced in the way his life worked out since God didn't grant his earlier wishes.  Looking at the issue from the other side, Truman Capote named his bitter, unfinished, semi-biographical final novel "Answered Prayers," taking its title from St. Teresa of Avila, "There are more tears shed over answered prayers than unanswered ones."  In short, human beings are generally very bad at determining which situations and choices will result in the best for them.  Sometimes, the greatest outcomes derive from the worst beginnings.  In fact, a lot of my current happiness can be directly linked to being fired from my dream job in my 20s.

Recently, I have been reminded of this again.  Our dryer is on the fritz, sometimes working, more often not.  And, quite frankly, there is no room in our budget to replace it and we're also hesitant to risk paying a couple of hundred dollars to fix it with no guarantee of success.  I also don't want the inconvenience and expense of a laundromat dryer--so what to do?  Solution:  I went old school...back to my roots.  I.e.  I broke out a clothesline (we are fortunate enough to have an enclosed backyard, so we won't be annoying any potentially high-toned neighbors who might object to seeing our dainties exposed to the open air).

I started hanging out the clothes because of necessity, but I've come to enjoy it.  It reminds me of my childhood on the farm, where we (usually I was stuck with this chore, but that might be selective memory) hung our clothes out all summer...I had forgotten the wonderful smell--a combination of sunshine and fresh air--of clothes dried on the line.  Nothing beats climbing between sun-dried sheets--not even ironing them with lavender water.  It also makes me feel like I'm doing something, even though small, to help the environment and cut our costs.  It also reminds me of the summers I spent in Italy.  I always try to live "European"---seasonal food, the respect for leisure, that certain style that just invades every aspect of their lives--I had forgotten, though, the bright lines of clothes draped (even in the major cities) across and between buildings...the bright clothes fluttering like medieval banners...a splash of color and art in everyday life.


Design Decisions: Regrettez-vous?*

Former Living Room of Michelle Niday from Meredith Corp. via Cote de Texas

Current loft of Michelle Niday also via Cote de Texas.

Do you have design regrets?  I'm not talking about outright mistakes like the time I decided to paint my already cave-like living room dark brown or the time I painted my kitchen floor bright white (not an aesthetic fail--it looked great---at least for the first 15 minutes---but let's just say I'm not the type that can keep a white floor white for long.  I'm talking about the opportunities that we have to relinquish in order to go with the design we choose.

Example above:   Ms. Niday can ( and did) have a cozy, architecturally wonderful living room, but deal with the (relatively) cramped sq. footage and choppiness, or choose to live in the expansive openness of a loft (in which case, expansive openness is exchanged for privacy and clearly delineated spaces.)  It's hard to have both though---even with the layering and clutter...I wouldn't describe the loft living area as "cozy."

This questioning of choices was spurred by my recent re-screening of the classic 70s film, The Turning Point, with Shirley Maclaine and Anne Bancroft as, repectively, a former dancer who chose to marry and have kids and an aging prima ballerina whose on the verge of being forced into retirement.  If you haven't seen it, I highly recommend it, especially for the legendary catfight that starts in a bar, moves up the stairs, and into the parking deck of the Lincoln Center.  Short version....20 years down the road, friends wonder if they made the right life choices, and while not entirely regretting the decisions made by their younger selves, they envy the lives lived by each other.  For 70s decor fans, Deedee's (Shirley) Oklahoma City ranch is full of boho/southwest/middle class pattern and wall paper, and for 70s fashion fans, the glamourous and rail thin Emma (Anne) swans around draped in some fabulous Halston inspired slinky knits.
Anyway, the movie got me to thinking about various choices I've made, leading to the "what if" game.  You know the one...the one where you look at your turning point and think, "what if  I'd made this different choice."  Of course, in the game, the choice would have worked out perfectly and led directly to fabulosity...you're not allowed to consider that the other choice might not have worked out. 

As for as design goes, the one major decision I constantly second guess and play what if with is my kitchen.  Specifically the decision to neither move it's location or to open it up.  Let me explain:  I live in a modified shotgun house.  In fact, the downstairs is a classic shotgun, which means it's a relatively narrow space where all of the rooms open directly onto each other with no hallways.  Because it's narrow, you can typically remove walls between rooms with little or no problem because the span of the rooms is so narrow that they don't need support columns.  Further, my house is raised, which means that moving water, a c (the ducts are under the floor), and gas lines aren't a major deal.  So that means, a lot of people with similar houses, especially ones damaged during Katrina flooding, have knocked all of the rooms together and or moved the kitchen to the front (typically in a shotgun, the kitchen is the final room in the row and opens to the backyard), creating an open loft-like great room.  I didn't do that.  I preserved the original 30's layout, with the kitchen in a small enclosed room at the back.  

I did it for a variety of reasons--though the house flooded, most of the original architectural features, including trim and plaster were able to be saved, and I hated the thought of ripping them out.  Secondly, I'm not a neat person, and I've always hated living in apartments where the kitchen was on constant view and I either had to struggle to keep it neat or look at a mess.  Another reason--since our house is small, most of our entertaining focuses on the back courtyard and it's nice to have the kitchen next to it.  also, the location of our staircase, windows, and fireplace would make cabinet placement difficult.  Finally, during the renovation, cost was a consideration, and while moving the kitchen and knocking out walls would be much cheaper than in a slab foundation ranch, it would have added to the cost.  And most of the time, I'm okay with my choice--I like having the kitchen self-contained and away from public areas....and yet......

When I'm fighting my way through the crowd of guests that throng in my tiny kitchen during a party, I yearn for a larger space.  When I'm visiting friends who did open the rooms up, I enjoy the openness and expansive feeling and I start thinking..."what if..."

Am I the only one?