Happy Anniversary to Us!

Today is what I consider the 48th anniversary of Randy and Cal’s relationship. “48th” instead of the 4th, as these past four years have seemed so much longer, so much richer than a mere four years should be able to contain. The 29th of every month since September 29, 2017 has become, for me, a cause for reflective re-celebration.

Randy and I actually met each other over 40 years ago; Randy was one of a tiny band of gay men in Atlanta in the late 1970s who I quickly came to regard as part of my finally-stumbled-upon, somewhat far-flung, tribe of gay brothers and sisters. Despite the wild differences in their personalities, talents, and interests, these men and women seemed, like me, to be hungering for something more in their friendship and support networks than the image-conscious, status-seeking, politically indifferent, non-curious, or often racist, sexist, or class-conscous paradigms on offer for gay folks back then.

When, forty-something years later, Randy and I spent two weeks together in Italy with three other gay men, neither of us imagined that our longstanding acquaintance would suddenly morph into something a lot more intimate.

Four years after that trip, I’m still rather amazed at how things unfolded for us, but am certainly very glad that they did so!

For various reasons, Randy and I continue to live in separate houses about three miles apart, but we spend at least part of every 24 hours together. (Well, mostly. The calendar week having an odd number of days, we spend one day and one night of each week apart. This arrangement of not living together 24/7 has its advantages and disadvantages – something I didn’t realize at the beginning of these past 48 months.)

One of my few regrets as I think back over the past four years is how seldom I’ve remembered to take few photos of the two of us. I was neglectful in this respect even during our numerous post-Italy road trips in the U.S.A., during our many trips to the cabin in North Georgia, during several week-long trips to St. George Island, and during either of the two trips overseas (to Spain and to England) that we took together after that fateful trip to Italy four years ago.

Well, here are some of the photos I did take along the way to our 48th anniverary:

Cal Tweaks His Modest Collection of Cobalt Blue Glass

When my new windows were installed last spring, I had to dismantle the glass shelving I’d devised to store/display most of my collection of bottles – a set of clear bottles in the windows over the sink and a set of cobalt blue bottles (and other objects) that I’d installed in the dining room windows.

The new windows are fabricated in a way that makes it difficult to attach glass shelving in front of them, and, besides, I am still enjoying all the extra light streaming through my new windows that I didn’t want to totally replicate the previous arrangement of colored glass that covered their top halves.

Still, I definitely want my house to include a collection of colored glass: it’s something I have loved ever since I saw such a collection in the home of my high school journalism teacher, back in the mid-1960s! Because George Lee and his wife Betty were so kind to me back then, and because I loved visiting the tiny little cottage they lived in then, I knew I wanted to one day live in a similarly cottage-like abode – and my bottle colletion (assembled over the years from yard sales and thrift stores) is sort of a tribute to the memories of these wonderful mentors.

After storing the cobalt blue glass collection for a few months while mulling over how and where to re-establish it, I decided to relocate the collection – well, as much of it as I could – to an odd window on the sun porch. The window is odd because the sun porch was originally a screened-in porch that contained in its brick walls an exterior window into what is now my study. (After I glassed in the screened porch, that window is now an interior one – and the only window in the house that I didn’t have replaced this past spring.)

I was able to recycle two of the glass shelves I’d used previously, but the others were too short for the sun porch window, so I had to have some additional shelves made.

This morning I installed the final glass shelf, after deciding that the four I’d already installed just looked lopsided somehow.

I like how I can now see the blue glass from both sides, and can enjoy the stained-glass window effect even at night if I want to. True, all the cobalt blue glass I’ve amassed over the years doesn’t fit in the new arrangement, but what does fit is now contained in a single window instead of two. The extras (which are the largest items) I put back on the ledge in the middle of two of the dining room windows, or a wooden shelf on top of a table in the sun porch. So, yay!

Here are some (fuzzy) photos of the previous arrangement:

And here is the relocated collection:

I will be on the lookout for a couple more (small) pieces for that top shelf, but, all things considered, I think this is where my cobalt blue bottles, etc. shall reside from now on.

In Praise of Herbs

I’ve lived in my current house now for almost three decades, and of all the things I’ve tried to do in my yard over the years, I’ve noticed I continue to be the most satisfied with one part of my modest outdoor domain: my potted herb garden.

Over the years, I’ve expanded my collection of herbs from a dozen or so to three dozen. Given the available space and sunlight available to me in my back yard, I think I’ve reached my limit. Which may be a good thing, given the fact that, once I get them into their potted homes, I forget the names of some of them. Sure, I could label each of them, but I find labeling tedious and unattractive – and, besides, I keep hoping that I’ll eventually be able to remember what’s what. Oh, the many varieties of denial that amateur gardeners are heir to . . . .

I took the following photos of various generations of my beloved “herbies” in various previous years – some of them photographed before I replaced the ivy underneath the pots with gravel:

Most – though, happily, not all – herbs must be planted every year, but the buying and planting of my herbs is an annual garden ritual that I actually look forward to. My sister Gayle and I enjoy a tradition of buying most of our herbs together, usually in early May, and we’ve discovered some wonderful herb nurseries over the past two decades. Our current favorite is The Herb Crib, located near Blairsville (where Gayle lives), off one of the most scenic roads in north Georgia. The herb grower there, Karin, is as delightful and knowledgeable as her plants are sturdy.

Gayle – like, I suspect, most people who grow herbs  – actually uses many of the herbs in her garden – in Gayle’s case, for cooking. My own fascination with herbs, however, has nothing to do with their utility. Instead, I’m inordinately fond of herbs partly because they’re so easy to grow, partly because so many of them are fragrant, but mostly because of the history and folklore connected with them.

As is true with my gardening activities in general, I actually spend more time reading about herbs – specifically, about their historical (and literary) uses – than I spend either harvesting them for my own use or – truth be told – taking proper care of them. Fortunately, most herbs, compared with other garden plants, pretty much take care of themselves once they’ve been potted up (or put into the ground).

One testimony to my sentimental (vs. practical) attachment to All Things Herbal is the fact that fully 15% of my collection of 240 gardening books is devoted to books solely about herbs.

I’m glad my book collecting has turned out this way. It is so pleasant, on some random rainy afternoon (or some humid, mosquito-infested summer morning), to pull down one of these books about herbs and poke around therein.

This morning, while trying to stay out of the way of a plumber installing a new hot water heater, I decided to pluck out one of my more recently-acquired books about herbs and examine it for the first time. I came across a lovely description of why herbs and their histories remain so fascinating, even for someone who is not dependent on them for his health or for his culinary experiments.

The book is entitled Magic Gardens: A Modern Chronicle of Herbs and Savory Seeds by Rosetta E. Clarkson; I have the 1992 reprint of the 1939 edition. The passage I found in Clarkston’s preface perfectly articulates why I will probably hang on to my herb-potting habits as long as I can manage to.

“The only ancient plants we have are the herbs. For the most part all our garden plants have come from them . . . [and] the study of herbs has given rise to three great sciences – botany, medicine, and household chemistry. The study of herbs, too, has created great industries – perfumes, cosmetics, soaps, drugs, condiments, fumigation, tobacco. From undated times herbs of the field have played an almost unbelievably prominent part, not only in the life of the individual in his own home, but in the existence of civilized nations. . . . Through the centuries their soul-satisfying fragrance has drifted down to us. From Egypt of four thousand years ago, the sweet-smelling herbs for fumigating; from Greece of classic times, the baths redolent with a mingling of perfumes as each part of the body was anointed with the oils of a different kind of herb; from the monastery gardens of the Middle Ages where skilled monks carefully tended the fragrant simples to cure their brothers and the people. From the formal Tudor gardens where we can catch a faint whiff of the herbal tobacco which the Elizabethan gentleman smoked as he trod on the fragrant path of thymes after a colossal dinner flavored with savory herbs . . . . From the still-rooms of the 19th century where the mistress of the house busily distilled the oils of herbs to be later used in cosmetics, medicines, and household preparations; from the lovely Colonial gardens where the culinary herbs gave promise of many a memorable dinner-to-be, and the aromatic plants told of fragrant linen chests and potpourri. Peppermint, horehound, and tarragon; sesame, caraway, anise; lavender, rosemary, rue; peony, sweet marjoram, and thyme – their flavor and fragrance again carry romance, mystery, legends, and magic, lifting us out of the hurrying present, even for just a little while.”

And, who knows? Maybe one of these days I may even venture into using more of the herbs I plant every year – beyond the basil and parsley and rosemary, I mean.

Meanwhile, I am looking forward to the profusion of scarlet blossoms that this year’ pineapple sage plant is sure to begin sporting within the next few weeks.

Trip to Tybee

It’s been a lot of years since I last visited Tybee Island.

I can’t recall the first time I ever visted there – perhaps at some point during my Mercer University years (1966-1970)? In the late 1980s, when my librarian colleague Tom Turner worked as the librarian at the nearby Scripps Oceanographic Institute, I visited him serveral times, at both the house he had in Savannah and at the cottage on Tybee that Tom had inherited. From these previous visits, I became fond of the place because Tybee seemed to me to have preserved the atmosphere of the old-fashioned beach towns along the Atlantic coast in Florida that my family had visited when I was a kid.

Six years ago, one of Randy’s longest-known artist friends bought a house on Tybee, and she recently invited us to join her and another artist friends of theirs, Pam, to spend some time there. We spent almost a week, and had a wonderful time.

Claire’s house is located at the extreme south end of the island and is within a easy walking distance from both the Atlantic and Tybee Creek’s outlet into the ocean. Of the two sandy beaches, we liked best the one alongside the creek where it merges into the ocean – and where the landscape is so vastly different between low and high tides. That’s where we headed to watch several sunsets, and to play around in the water.

Back at the house – which is one of the most unusually and intruguingly designed houses I’ve ever been in – we cooked a series of delicious meals (the recent resurgence in COVID infections making restaurants just too risky to visit). We spent a good deal of time lounging about on Claire’s exceptionally comfortable living room sofa, or sitting for hours at at time at Claire’s dining room table putting together a couple of jigsaw puzzles. And of course there were the obligatory naps, and, at night, some Netflix watching. Our only outting that involved a car was our visit to the midweek artists/farmers market next to the Tybee lighthouse.

Throughout our stay, Randy and I made only a single trip into Savannah. (I had forgotten to pack my electric shaver, so I wanted to buy another one, plus we stopped at an antique mall downtown).

What a relaxing vacation this turned out to be. The pandemic has put the kabosh on any near-future plans for overseas travel, so Claire’s invitation to join her and Pam at the beach this month was an especially welcome departure from our normal routines at our houses in Atlanta. And of course, the long drive down and back was a perfect excuse for Randy and I to check out some of the antique malls along the back roads of central and southeast Georgia.

Randy and I took only a few photos during the trip, and here they are (for those who didn’t see them already on Facebook):

The puzzles Randy, Pam, and I worked on:

And this last one, of the two contented visitors:

Return to St. George Island

For the past eighteen years, a group of men who met each other through an organization called Gay Spirit Visions have rented a house on St. George for a week every May. Six years ago, a vacant spot finally came open for an additional GSVer to fill, and I was fortunate enough to begin joining these guys for this beach getaway.

I’d discovered St. George back in the 1970s, and it soon replaced Destin as Cal’s Preferred Florida Beach Destination. Over the years I’d several times visited my friends Royce and Martha Hodge who have a house on the island, but it’s always a special treat to spend an entire week there these past six years with my GSV buds. The COVID-19 lockdown put the kabosh on the annual visit to St. George Island in 2020, so I was especially glad to be able to revisit this special place earlier this month

This year’s experience was much like the previous trips I’d enjoyed (and blogged about) in 2014, in 2015, in 2016, in 2017, in 2018, and 2019. There were the obligatory (and delightful) excursions to the water, several sunrise-welcoming gatherings, a trip to nearby Appalachicola for provisions and a look-see at the shops there, daily morning group meditation sessions, multiple games of Wizard, plenty o’ naps, and some incredibly delicious meals prepared and served by various teams of fellow renters.

The main differences this year (for me, anyway) compared to previous trips:

  • Last-minute cancellations by three frequent attendees (all due to family emergencies). Although I regretted not being able to spend time with Chase, Tom, and Ralph this go-around, I did get to spend time on St. George with three GSVers who I’d not spent time with at the island: Paul and Lashes (from Atlanta) and Chas (from Asheville).
  • We rented a different house than the one where all my previous visits happened. This year’s house, a few doors down from the previous rental, was even larger – and we were able to use the rental house’s elevator (a definite plus for unloading and reloading the car with all the stuff Randy and I schlepped down to the island with from Atlanta!).
  • Although it was sunny all week, it was also unusually windy all week, which not only made playing in the water a bit dicier than usual (a rip tide warning was posted for the entire week) but the winds also created constant bizarre noises and vibrations in the rental house every night we were there.
  • Randy and I decided to break up the trip down to the island from Atlanta by staying overnight about halfway down. We stayed in Columbus, Georgia, and poked around its gorgeous (and large) historic residential area, and visited a couple of Columbus-area antique malls. And although we drove back to Atlanta in a single day, we did so using rural highways in Alabama instead of Georgia, visiting some antique malls in the Dothan area after spending the morning (as usual) at a favorite plant nursery in Bainbridge, Georgia.

Some photos from the rental company’s website of the house we rented (“Top of the Stretch”):

View from the beach of the front of the house.
The main deck overlooking the beach.
The rental house’s main living and dining area, with the main deck along its outside edge.
The dining room and kitchen area.
Cal’s and Randy’s bedroom.
What the house looked out onto, from the main deck.

This year’s cast o’ characters:

Bill (from Atlanta)
Cal (from Atlanta)
Chas (from Asheville)
James (from Atlanta)
Jim (from Atlanta)
Lashes (from Atlanta)
Paul (from Atlanta)
Roger (from Asheville)
Randall (from Atlanta)
Randy (from Atlanta)
Ted (from Atlanta)

One afternoon, Randall, Randy and I drove up to visit with Royce and Martha, who have been living on St. George for many years, in houses that Royce built there. It was so great to see them again:

Assorted snapshots from throughout the week:

One of the numerous games of Wizard
Cal fanning the rice Randy will be using to make sushi for the meal we prepared for the group.
Assembling on the beach to watch the sunrise
One of those sunrises
Beach with birds (no porpoise sitings this year . . . )
Randy feeding the seagulls.
James (left) and Bill, relaxing on one of the decks
The table set for mid-week afternoon tea, prepared by Cal and Randy for the gang.
The jigsaw puzzle that Cal, Jim, Paul, and Randy worked on the final night.

Finally, three of the mandalas I colored in with gel pencils at various times throughout the week:

A wonderful week with wonderful people. We’ve already reserved the house for 2022, so I’ll be looking forward to yet another trip to this magical place in just a year’s time!

Other People’s Houses

As long as I can remember, I’ve been curious about how other people live – specifically, what their homes look like, inside and out.

I’m guessing that one reason I’ve ended up especially interested in what other people’s houses look like is that the houses I spent my childhood in didn’t seem very visually interesting to me. For one thing, there were few books in those houses! And I don’t remember much gardening happening either.

Nowadays, my idea of a good time is spending an entire day traipsing through the houses and gardens of other people on some annually-occurring neghborhood house tour, in Atlanta or elsewhere. Even when I’m traveling abroad, I usually try to work into my sightseeing a tour or two of some private house or garden that’s open to the public. The grand, famous places are fun, of course, but it’s really the more modest-sized, locally typical places that interest me the most.

My longstanding interest in houses plays out for me in other ways whenever I’m not traveling. I sometimes take photos of the exteriors of particularly appealing houses in Candler Park, Lake Claire, and Druid Hills on my frequent strolls through these (conveniently adjoining) neighborhoods. And I’m addicted to bingeing on television any program devoted to houses and gardens (grand or otherwise) – even if (like, for example, Escape to the Country or Escape to the Chateau) they don’t happen to be set in the glorious countryside of Britian or elsewhere in Europe.

Another manifestation of my obsession with other people’s houses: my choice of reading material. Among the titles of the books I’ve read (which I’ve, alas, kept track of only for the past thirty-five of my 72 years) are quite a large number of books about people’s houses, the history of domestic architecture, or the reflections on what certain houses have meant to their owners. Bcause I have gotten so much pleasure from reading these books, I’m listing them here in case a title or two might interest fellow hearth-and-home enthusiasts who happen upon this blogpost:

  • A Place of My Own: The Education of an Amateur Builder (1997) by Michael Pollan
  • A Valley in Italy: The Many Seasons of a Villa in Umbria (1994) by Lisa St. Aubin de Teran
  • At Home: A Short History of Private Life (2010) by Bill Bry
  • Bloomsbury at Home (1999) by Pamela Todd
  • Bloomsbury Rooms: Modernism, Subculture, and Domesticity  (2004) by Christopher Reed 
  • Bringing Tuscany Home: Sensuous Style from the Heart of Italy (2004) by Frances Mayes 
  • Charleston: A Bloomsbury House and Garden (1997) by Quentin Bell and Virginia Nicholson
  • Cherished Objects: Living with and Collecting Victoriana (1991) by Allison Kyle Leopold
  • Cottage for Sale (Must Be Moved) (2004) by Kate Whouley
  • Dreamthorp: A Book of Essays Written in the Country (1905) by Alexander Smith [1830-1867]
  • Dwelling in Possibility (2013) by Howard Mansfield
  • Eccentric Spaces (1977) by Robert Harbison
  • Fewer, Better Things: The Hidden Wisdom of Objects (2018) by Glenn Adamson
  • Geography of Home: Writings on Where We Live (1999) by Akiko Busch 
  • Gone Rustic (1934) by Cecil Roberts
  • Happy Starts at Home: Change Your Space, Transform Your Life (2020) by Rebecca West
  • Home: A Short History of An Idea (1986)
  • House as a Mirror of Self: Exploring the Deeper Meaning of Home (1995) by Clare Cooper Marcus
  • House Thinking: A Room-by-Room Look at How We Live (2006) by Winifred Gallagher
  • Meditations on Design: Reinventing Your Home with Style and Simplicity (2000) by John Wheatman
  • On the Threshold: Home, Hardwood, and Holiness (2005) by Elizabeth J. Andrew
  • Open Your Eyes: 1,000 Simple Ways to Bring Beauty into Your Home and Life Each Day (1998) by Alexandra Stoddard
  • Palladian Days: Finding a New Life in a Venetian Country House (2005) by Sally Gable
  • Rome and a Villa (1952) by Eleanor Clark
  • Sacred Home: Creating Shelter for Your Soul  (2004) by Laurine Morrison Meyer
  • Sheetrock and Shellac: A Thinking Person’s Guide to the Art and Science of Home Improvement (2006) by David Owen 
  • Shelter for the Spirit: How to Make Your Home a Haven in a Hectic World (1997) by Victoria Moran
  • String Too Short to be Saved: Recollections of Summers on a New England Farm (1960) by Donald Hall
  • The Emotional House: How Redesigning Your Home Can Change Your Life (2005) by Kathryn L. Robyn and Dawn Ritchie
  • The House Always Wins:…Creating Your (Almost) Perfect Dream House (2008) by Marni Jameson
  • The Lady in the Palazzo: At Home in Umbria (2007) by Marlena de Blasi 
  • The Most Beautiful House in the World (1989) by Witold Rybczynski 
  • The Wabi-Sabi House (2004) by Robyn Griggs Lawrence 
  • William Morris and the Arts and Crafts Home (2005) by Pamela Todd
  • William Morris at Home (1996) by David Rogers

I’ve listed these books here in alphabetical order (with their publication dates) rather than in the sequence in which I read them. I read almost all of them after 1993, the year I bought my own house (and started my own gardening). One of these books – Geography of Home: Writings on Where We Live – I enjoyed so much that I read it twice; Home: A Short History of An Idea is so interesting I’ve read it three times. (The list above doesn’t include the 70+ delicious memoirs by amateur gardeners about their gardens – rather than their houses – that I’ve read over the past three-and-a-half decades. Perhaps I’ll post a list of those wonderful books at some future time.)

Another major way that my longstanding interest in houses shows up is the to-me-astonishing fact that I’ve somehow accumulated over my adult, house-owning lifetime approximately 250 house decor books – none of which, incidentally, I’ve included included in the list above, since I mostly bought these house decor books for the inspiration generated by their photos, rather than by their (often excessively breathless, unnecessarily hyperbolic, or otherwise forgettable) texts.

This collection of books consists mostly of the sort of large format books one often sees pictured in photographs of other people’s living rooms. Since this type of book is usually far too expensive for me to buy on impulse whenever I find one of them in a bookstore, I’ve picked up most of the ones I own at various thrift stores or yard sales. (I had to start storing in my mobile device a list of the house decor books I already own, so I could cut down on the number of times I ended up relying on my mortifyingly unreliable memory and buying the same book for the second, third, or even fourth time!)

Of course I realize that house decor books are a hyper-idealized glimpse into how other people have arranged (or, more often, have paid someone else to arrange) their domestic domain. The photos in these books never depict the inevitable clutter of actual everyday existence, and one rarely comes across a photo of any room without one or more huge vases of (very expensive) fresh-cut flowers in it – and many of these carefully-photographed rooms are filled with antiques, art, and exotic tchotches that have always been way outside of Cal Gough’s budget. Nevertheless, I love devouring these interior design books – especially, though not exclusively, the ones (because they are more affordable) devoted to cottage style, rustic style, garden style, flea market-supplied interiors.

One of my projects during the COVID-19 lockdown has been revisiting each of these decor books, one by one. Not only has doing this been a pleasant, chore-procrastinating way to spend my time indoors, especially during the chillier days of since the pandemic began, but long ago I realized that I’d run out of room to store many more of them. Having passed along to my sister Gayle some of the duplicate copies I’d accumulated, I’ve decided to limit the number of decor books I’ll be buying in the future to as many as will fit into a single bookcase in my library/guest room. I’ve therefore been gradually identifying for eventual removal ones with the least inspirational (or least useful for Cal) titles. I plan to pass them along by putting them in a Little Free Library that I hope Randy will agree to help me install in my front yard sometime later this year.

The bookcase where I shelve these 250+ oversized books, like its three matching companions, were given to me by my book-loving (and fellow retired librarian) friend Maureen, who found she couldn’t fit them into the condo she moved into a few years ago. These wonderful bookshelves are deep enough for these “coffee-table”-sized tomes, and, stained green by Maureen, they fit perfectly with the sage green walls of my tiny “home library” (which, because the room also contains a Murphy bed, occasionally serves as a guest bedroom).

My makes-Cal-very-happy home decor book collection is shown along the ride-hand side of this photo:

In the bookcase immediately to the right of the house decor books is where I store my also-large collection of how-to gardening books – truth be told, I spend a lot more time reading about gardening than I spend actually tending my actual garden:

But back to those house-decor books. Here are close-up photos of them (top two shelves, middle two, bottom two):

One of the reasons it’s been such fun to systematically re-visit each of these books is that I recently decided there is just enough space in this room to include a reading nook conveniently near the decor books.

Incidentally, propped up on that chair (which Maureen also gave me when she moved) is a beanbag-bottomed “laptop desk” that I bought a few weeks ago at an antique store in Ellijay, Georgia. It is perfect for examining heavy and/or oversized books on one’s lap: I no longer need to schlepp them into the dining room!

Once this COVID-19 pandemic has subsided, and despite the fact that I thoroughly enjoy spending time in my own house (and garden), I hope to again spend more time in other people’s houses. In the meantime, I can continue to periodically visit – virtually, that is – the thousands of rooms in the hundreds of houses depicted in these house decor books. Because of my unreliable memory, I’m still gleaning from these books ideas to try out in my own modest dwelling – ideas that I apparently overlooked, or merely forgot about whenever I first leafed through one or another of these books. Being able to repeatedly revisit these inspirational photo books is yet another advantage of actually owning some of these visual feasts vs. confining my house-porn curiosity to books I can only browse in when I visit a bookstore or a library.

I’m about half finished with my book-revisiting project. Any of you readers who happen to live in Atlanta are welcome to drop by and borrow as many as you like!

A New Place to Sit!

I’ve written before about how important it is for me to have multiple places to sit inside my house and read.

It’s equally important to me to have a sufficient number of different places outside to sit and enjoy my modest-sized garden (. . . and/or read). By the beginning of this year, I’d managed to designate five such outdoor sitting places – all of them in the back yard except the most recent one.

Outdoor Perch #1 is the bench in front of the garden shed my brother Michael built for me seven Aprils ago:

Outdoor Perch #2 is another bench located in the shadiest corner of the back yard, which I use mostly in the hottest part of the year:

Then there’s the chair just inside the largest entrance to my garden shed, where I can sit and look out toward the patio located outside my bedroom:

On that patio is a table and two chairs, where I can sit and enjoy the shady patio plants and the fountain there:

Perch #5 is the only one located in the front yard. It’s a bit too noisy with street traffic during (non-pandemic era) rush hours, but otherwise its hillside location and the greenery surrounding this bench and mini-patio (which my brother Michael also helped me construct on a more recent visit to Atlanta) is surprisingly private.

Ironically, none of these perches allows me a close-up look at my favorite part of my tiny outdoor domain: my potted herb garden.

This year I decided to change that.

I found an affordable white vinyl (i.e., no-maintenance) pergola at Wayfair’s website and ordered it. Once Randy and I put it together (and its assembly certainly went faster with two of us working on it), I plopped it into the middle of what I hope will become a “cottage garden style” cutting garden.

Locating the new pergola where I wanted it required me to annihilate a swath of exisiting plants (mostly overgrown irises and day lilies), but this particular spot – the part of the back yard that gets the most hours of sunshine – is also ideal for enjoying (while sitting) the herb garden.

Then came the next phase of the project: decimating even more plants to create a small flagstone patio underneath the arbor, which I needed to anchor a new bench I’d bought (and, yes, also had tediously assembled) for this new garden-gazing area.

I ended up travleing to four stoneyards in three different towns before finally locating flagstones that would match the stone in my back yard paths and a vendor who would allow me to buy less than a full pallet of rock.

I finally finished the project earlier this month – just before the contractor arrived to install my new windows.

The new pergola, incidentally, is not the first one I’ve added to my back yard. The first one I installed oer 20 years ago and pre-dates the garden shed. It’s metal, it supports the overhead portion of a rampant trumpet vine and equally rampant grape vine, and it serves as the entrance to the back yard from the portion of my driveway that’s located in front of the garden shed.

The newest pergola isn’t too far from another white one I also installed mnay years ago as the entry point to the back yard from the side of my house. Here’s a photo of that pergola, taken several years ago and before I massacred the flower bed immediately beyond it for the newest patio and pergola.

That older arbor seen from the other side, in a photo taken earlier this week:

Behold the new pergola, mini-patio, and bench:

I’ve thoroughly – and with Atlanta recent glorious spring weather, frequently – enjoyed the new perspective on my tiny back yard that my new perch allows me to stare at:

That dark area in the distance is the aforementioned shady mini-patio and bench. In the middle of this view of the back yard is a (non-detectable in this photo) conical trellis that I found earilier this year at a thrift store in the North Georgia mountains. I’m training the ivy in the far center of the photo to climb onto this nifty trellis; one day later this summer I should have myself a Tower of Ivy in front of my shadiest mini-patio.

The herb garden that I’d decided justified, all by itself, the creation of a new place to look at it from while sitting down? It’s located to the left of the new pergola. The collection of three dozen terra cotta pots that constitutes that garden are, at the moment, still mostly empty, as I don’t re-plant my herbs each year until May with my annual pilgrimage to The Herb Crib in Blairsville, Georgia.

In the meantime, I’m re-planting the mangled area to the right of the new bench, hoping that various new plantings will eventually fill in and grow tall and fragrant enough to enjoy at close hand from my newest outdoor sitting area.

Much to my chagrin, I’ve noticed while relaxing at Outdoor Perch #6 that there several additional Needed Garden Improvements – including several additional plant relocations – than I’d noticed before I created this newest sitting/reading/viewing area. Ah, well, such is the destiny of any amateur gardener / happy homeowner: it’s never- ending, the gardening – even if in my case I hope I’ve reached the end of my Outdoor Perch Installation Projects.

Thanks for reading!

I Can See Clearly Now . . .

My house has new windows!

I mention this because replacing those windows – all 15 of them – is not only the single most expensive house project I’ve ever undertaken, but because the result has been so emphatically (and somewhat unexpectedly) positive.

Background

Ever since I bought this house, I’ve never been able to clean the windows. Why? Because the previous owners, two elderly women who lived here when when the neighborhood was more crime-ridden than it is now, decided that one way they might feel safer would be to permanently seal the windows with superglue! Not only could I not open any of my windows for the past 28 years, but I couldn’t properly clean them!

Over the years, I’ve become more disinchanted with these windows – something that my improved vision resulting from cataract surgery in December 2020 only intensified. (It didn’t help that some of the ivy I had planted many years ago to cover the exterior of my brick house was constantly encroaching on what I was able to see from inside the house.)

How nice it would be, I thought, to be able to let some fresh air into the house whenever I wanted to during Atlanta’s glorious springs and falls, and how wonderful it would be to jettison those light-reducing storm windows and cruddy old screens and replace them with better-quality, double-paned glass windows and modern (i.e., near-invisible) screens!

Ah, but how to pay for such an ambitious undertaking?

Well, I typically use whatever savings accumulate in my bank account each year to pay for a trip overseas. The COVID-19 pandemic and resulting travel bans having put an abrupt and protracted kabosh on any traveling, the money I would have used for a trip abroad in 2020 (and probably 2021) became available for some other purpose. Plus I hadn’t yet spent the bequest that my mom, who died in 2019, left me and her other children. And there was the recent – and rather hefty – required minimum payout from my retirement savings that the IRS forces people over 70 to draw down every year. These three lumps o’ cash combined – plus the two recent COVID-19 stimulus payments from the feds – turned out to be just enough to (a) spend on a far-less-frugal-than usual trip abroad during some upcoming, post-pandemic year (one of those luxurious European river cruises, perhaps?), (b) purchase – in cash – my inevitable next car (although the one I’m using now will probably last me at least another half-decade), or (c) invest in a major infrastructure improvement to my beloved – but older (circa 1935) – house.

Eventually I decided to use the $$$ for improving the place I’ve spent so much non-vacation time in since I retired in 2013: the house that I would be happy to spend the rest of my days living in, should Randy and I never eventually find ourselves an affordable house sufficiently large enough for both of us to live in and that’s located in a neighborhood even more delightful than Candler Park.

After doing a bit of online research for potential window-replacement contractors, I hired the well-regarded (and certainly well-advertised) Pella Windows and Doors and hoped that, once the breathtakngly expensive deed was done, I’d not end up not feeling too much of that “buyer’s remorse” one hears so much about whenever one plunks down a considerable amount o’ cash.

The Happy Result

Reader, I am happy to report that I am one satisfied Pella customer – one whose expectations have been wildly exceeded, as they say in the consumer satisfaction-measuring bidness.

As I’ve shuffled around from room to room these past few days since the new windows were finally installed, I feel like I’ve moved into a new house! The crystal-clear window glass, the less-cluttered style of the new windows, plus the additional light allowed by the aforementioned nearly-invisible window screens have suddenly “brought the outdoors inside” in a way the older windows never managed to. The new windows, together with my recently improved vision, is allowing me to experience more intensely than in any previous year the spring’s vividly blue skies, the magic of those recent (and welcome) Atlanta rainstorms, and the exploding greens of the neighborhood’s tree canopy. I no longer need to step outside to enjoy the added visual delights afforded by my modest garden plantings and my walkways and patios. And there’s so much more light flooding into every room in the house! I’m so happy about this light-intensifying feature of the new windows that I’ve permanently removed four sets of shutters from the front of the house, and I plan to eventually hack back some of the overgrown front-yard shrubberies to let in even more sunshine.

The upshot is that my decision to use a huge chunk of my savings to replace my windows turned out to be a good move for this already-happy-to-be-here homeowner. (Incidentally, the Pella salesman assures me that I’ll recoup over 80% of my investment in these windows if I ever do sell the house.)

It’s dificult to detect much of a difference in the older vs. the newer windows in these before-and-after photos from the street . . .

. . . so here are close-up exterior views of three of the old windows:

These same windows, after the newbies were installed:

What’s easier to see from photos is the difference between what one can see looking out through the new windows vs. what one could see looking out from the oldies. (True, the before photos were taken on a cloudy day and the after photos on a sunny one, but still . . .)

The living room windows, before and after:

The dining room windows, before and after:

The kitchen windows, before and after:

The office window, before and after:

The guest room / library window, before and after:

The bedroom windows, before and after:

Best of all, perhaps, the difference in the bathroom window, before and after:

The upshot of this latest house project: Cal’ has – with zero regrets – invested a considerable portion of his current financial resources into his long-time abode; the contractor Cal hired gets an A+ rating, and Cal gets to enjoy living in his house – especially gazing out from inside it – even more than he already did!

I expect my elation with such a radically-improved immediate environment will fade, and I’ll soon be taking for granted all this new-found domestic clarity. Be that as it may – persistent gratitude being a notoriously slippery sentiment to hang onto – I’m glad I decided to embark on this particular house-improvement venture. Huzzah! – and thanks for reading about my latest domestic enthusiasm.

Randy’s Amazing Cookery

In the 40+ years since we first met, I had no idea what a good cook Randy Taylor had become.

When we started living together approximately four years ago (well, living together part of the time: we still maintain two separate houses), the quality of my evening meals – or, to put it more accurately, the quality of the meals we eat at Randy’s house – changed dramatically.

Not being much of an adventurous cook myself, in pre-Randy days I ate my fanciest meals in restaurants. Knowing Randy has changed all that: now I eat interesting – and often unusual – food whenever we eat at Randy’s place. The fact that I continue to serve variations on The Same Seven Staples Cal Knows How to Cook hasn’t, fortunately, dampened Randy’s curiosity and creativity in the food-preparing department of our lives together.

Randy and his confidence in exploring his international cookbook collection have introduced me to all sorts of foods that I’d likely never have gotten around to tasting at all – apart from when – and if – I was a tourist visiting their homelands. Randy cooks meals from all sorts of exotic cuisines (Palestinian, Morroccan, Greek, Provencal), but because he has long been particularly interested in (and adept at) Japanese cookery, I get to enjoy lots of strange-to-Cal delecacies from Japan.

I’ve taken only a few photos of some of the dishes Randy has concocted for us these past few years, and here are a just few of them:

Reader, we eat well these days (at Randy’s house, anyway)!

An extra bonus is the way Randy uses his extensive collection of dinnerware to serve his gorgeous and tasty meals upon. Cal owns a single set of crockery (which I’ve used for every meal I’ve prepared since 1969);four years into our relationship, Randy still surprises me with dishware (or napkins, or placemats) he’s collected that I’ve never laid eyes on before!