Sunday, July 29, 2018

A House That Cats Built

Walls full of steps and perches to delight any cat!
This tale may be about cats, but it begins with a horse. Those of you who follow my blog might recall that 14 years ago I became the proud owner of my very first horse -- a girl's childhood dream come true -- never mind that I was 47 years old by the time this early fantasy was finally realized.

The owner of Braveheart Romeo, a 20-year-old chestnut-hued warmblood gelding I pinned my heart to in 2004, sold him to me that year for $1.00, so eager was she to see that "Chubby" (my giant steed's "barn" name) went to someone who would care for him as deeply as she had. Jan Korotki even gifted me with a pail full of horse-grooming supplies to help get me started in the world of equine ownership.

But my friendship with Jan didn't end when ownership of Chubby passed from her to me all those years ago. Instead, our acquaintance blossomed over our mutual love of cats. Indeed,  Jan's affection for those of the feline persuasion is so deep and abiding that she and her husband, Harry, have both figured prominently in  management of the Baltimore Humane Society for many years now. I had been to their gracious home not far from mine in Baltimore County, and had witnessed firsthand the devotion the couple paid to their feline occupants.

Recently, the realization of an even greater dream came true for Jan and Harry Korotki: they built a new home, not far from the old one, specifically with their six cats in mind. Here, then, is a look at what utter and absolute feline adoration can produce.
Jan re-purposed an old faux ficus as a
backdrop to one of the cat-climbing
trees in Harry's TV room

Jan and Harry invited me this past Saturday to dine with them at their brand new, 4,700 square-foot home so I could see "the house their cats built" for myself.  Indeed, the spacious abode, erected by custom home builder J. Paul Lichter last year, was all about their six beloved felines. No expense was spared when it came to ensuring a carefree and utterly interactive experience for the four-footed occupants of Jan and Harry's household. I was entranced.

I arrived, with my perpetual companion, Jesse Turner, in tow, promptly at 6:45 p.m. and was enthusiastically greeted at the front door by my hosts. Already in attendance was Jan's best friend, Cara Cohen, her husband, Jay, and their 16-year-old son Teddy. With freshly made cocktails in hand, Jan led me on a tour of the home they had only just moved into at the end of January.
Harry utilizes this "cat room" as his personal TV viewing space. Surrounded
by his feline friends every evening, Harry says there isn't a much better way
to spend one's leisure time at home than in the company of furry friends

First up, the "cat room", a custom space designed specifically for the comfort and pleasure of all six cats, located just off the living/family/great room. Designated as "Harry's TV room", the 20 by 15 foot space with 12-foot ceilings is filled with all manner of wall-mounted cat-climbing steps, perches, baskets, hammocks and assorted landings. Painted in shades of muted gray with paw-print graphics and other fun feline-oriented artwork on the walls, Jan utilized the talents of Maryland-based, 16-year-old Brandon Wilson of who, with his father, designed and built all the custom feline furniture in this room and throughout the home.

Jan's closet is to die for
Another highlight in the spacious home was the walk-in closet Jan designed for her clothes. Lavish touches like crystal chandeliers, a bench seat, and cubbies for every pair of shoes, riding boots and heels that Jan owns, were thoughtfully organized in every corner of the room.  I playfully accused my friend of  "copying" my much more modest design from 2012. Jan laughed. Perhaps the sweeping island in Jan's lofty space was faintly reminiscent of my own, much smaller storage space in the middle of my dressing room, but her design likely had nothing to do with my idea from many years before.

And although I didn't get a photo of it, Harry's walk-in closet sported wallpaper on the ceiling featuring the iconic truckers' "mudflap girls" in gold foil, a custom touch Jan surprised her husband with when he came home from a business trip.

In the spacious great room, and elsewhere throughout the home, floor to ceiling windows and sliders are painted a deep charcoal hue, all the better to frame the gorgeous views of woodland forest buffer just across the back lawn behind their elevated deck. Throughout, objets d'art are illuminated by thoughtfully backlit display shelving.
The formal dining room is exquisite

Jan and Harry's dining room oozes easy elegance. A glass-topped table whose elaborate cutwork pedestal base is echoed in the metal filigree window decor seems a perfect foil for the minimalist mid-century chairs upholstered in gold velvet. Everywhere, Jan and her mother, Jane's, interior designer talents are evident: art glass sculptures in the great room, colorful wallpaper in the powder room, gold and gray furnishings with acrylic ghost chairs and tables each set off their surrounds in the best possible light.

An entire room (two, actually) is devoted to litter boxes. One such enclosure, located in the spacious basement next to a fully-equipped gym, boasts the prototype of an elevated litter box system the couple hopes to market to the public in the near future. Another litter box room, located on the main level next to the kitchen, sports cat-level entryways through the walls on two sides.  No feline-dedicated detail was left unattended. Scratching posts adorn every living space. Discrete feeding stations, boasting fish-shaped ceramic bowls, could be found in toe-kick spaces in several rooms.
After dinner, Harry broke out a pro-
fessional looking poker set and
challenged us all to a friendly game
of cards as Cara Cohen looks on

After helping ourselves to pot stickers and Jay Cohen's scrumptious homemade hummus with crackers, we took our seats in the breakfast nook and dug into super fresh sushi and sashimi, steamed broccoli and unending rounds of sake and wine. Once our bellies were full, Harry brought out a professional-looking set of poker chips and invited us all to buy in for $10.00 a person to a friendly card game, at the conclusion of which the winner would take all. I folded early and was heartened to hear that Harry, the evening's big winner, would be donating all the proceeds of the day to the Baltimore Humane Society.

We finished our evening with Cara's chocolaty brownies and individual black rice puddings adorned with tiny purple flowers that were my contribution to the dinner's culinary offerings. What a fun way to spend a relaxing Saturday evening! Hats off to the cats whose deep affection for their humans (and vice versa) spurred the construction of such a beautiful and well cat-appointed home.

Thursday, July 12, 2018

So Brilliant. So Brief.

Just six weeks ago I welcomed two new kittens into my life. After the unexpected and devastating  loss of my beloved rescue kitty, Ember, last September to a previously undiagnosed acute diabetic crisis, I took my time before I felt I was ready to try adoption again. Ember had been so fun-loving and playful. All my two older cats do is sleep all day, so eventually I felt ready to inject my household with the kinetic energy of near-constant scampering, in which Ember so enthusiastically engaged every day for all of the six years she was mine.

How could I have known that just a month and a half after taking custody of my new fur-babies, I would be faced with ending the life of one of them? I held the little gray and white kitten in my arms today as the vet gave her the shot that ended her life. If that sounds like the same language I used to describe the death of Ember last year, it is. It felt the same. No, not quite the same. I had loved Ember for six wonderful years. My love for this gray and white kitten was a brand new love. Just the same, I am distraught.

In March I put the word out to two of my dear friends, one who is active on the board of the Animal Allies Rescue Foundation (AARF), and the other on the board of the Baltimore Humane Society (BHS). I told them I thought I was finally ready to bring a new cat into my household and was considering adopting two kittens so they could grow up together and play with each other when my two oldsters aren’t in the mood.  Within a couple of weeks a litter of newborns came into the AARF shelter with two gray kittens and two black ones. I wanted two little girls so as not to cause my elderly cat, Underfoot, to feel threatened by a rival male. It so happened that I would get one kitten of each color.
I got to visit the kittens in April and fell
in love with Stache at first sight

Another dear friend, who serves with me on the board of directors at Soldiers Delight Conservation, Inc., and who had also lost a beloved cat last September, was likewise feeling ready to adopt a feline companion for her one remaining oldster. Laura generously agreed to take the two boys in the litter, plus the mama cat, who was still nursing them all. That meant the whole litter, plus the mama, would be adopted into loving, forever homes by the two of us. I was quite excited at the prospect. AARF officials were very grateful.

The kittens wouldn't be ready to adopt until Memorial Day, when they would be 12 weeks old and vaccinated, but I was able to go visit them in April at the home where they were being fostered. The moment I was introduced to my two I fell in love. Instantly I thought of names. The gray and white female would be called “Stache” because of the distinctive gray marking beneath her nose. The black kitten would be named "Sojo" in honor of 19th century American activist Sojourner Truth.

As Memorial Day approached, I prepared a nursery in a spare bedroom upstairs. I filled it with food, water and litter boxes, an abundance of toys, plush beds, and places to hide and climb. I erected child gates in one doorway so that my current occupants would be able to get used to the newcomers at their own pace. The youngsters would be confined to the nursery for a least a week while slow  introductions were made.
The nursery was prepared and awaiting my

On the appointed day, I brought Stache and Sojo home. They loved their nursery. They adored each other, and very soon became quite attached to me. Watching them play was so heart-lifting for me! As I toiled away at my computer during the day in my office on the first floor, I could hear lots of scampering in the room over my head, at times resembling a herd of elephants upstairs. It was music to my ears.

The kittens thrived and grew. Distinct personalities emerged. Sojo was by far the more feral of the two, with finely honed hunting instincts that she practiced every day with her favorite toys. She didn't want to be picked up or cuddled, but instead would approach me when she wanted affection, nudging my hand aggressively to be petted. Stache had the gentle manner of an old soul, with sad eyes that burrowed straight into my heart. She loved to crawl onto my lap and be cuddled. It didn't seem like they could be from the same litter, they were so different in personality.

Stache made friends easily with my nine-year-old kitty, Elfie. Indeed, I referred to Stache as Elfie's "minnie-me" since they were both gray and white. Stache also approached my ornery Underfoot gingerly, with great gentleness, and he was beginning to warm up to her.  Sojo, on the other hand, was a bit too playful for my older cats' liking, and her survivalist personality didn't win her any points. When I eventually left the nursery door open so the kittens could explore the household, Elfie and Underfoot would wander into their room to sniff at their toys and eat their food. The first time Sojo saw Elfie at the kittens' food dish, she marched back into the nursery to confront the older cat with a growl. The tiff was short-lived, of course, as Elfie's responsive growl was enough to send Sojo scampering away. Stache never growled. "We can all live together happily", she seemed to say.
Stache loved to find a spot in the sun on my kitchen floor

On Monday of this week, both kittens went to the vet to be spayed. When I picked them up in the evening, they were both groggy, but Stache much more so than Sojo.  By the next morning, Sojo had bounced back to her rambunctious self and was even playing with her toys. But Stache was walking around very gingerly, like everything hurt. She was zombie-like, walking slowly and carefully up to a blank wall and  staring at it, then climbing into the litter box, staring at the sand, and then climbing back out. She was purring and she climbed onto my lap as usual, but she didn't seem quite right. I called the vet.

Both cats were eating and drinking and using the litter box, so I took that as a good sign. I was provided pain medication to give to them orally, but only if they needed it, and the two signals that Stache needed pain medication had yet to be demonstrated: excessive meowing and licking at the surgery site. Walking around like a zombie was not one of the signals. If it was the anesthesia she was reacting to and not the pain, then giving her pain medication might be harmful, so I was reluctant to do anything until the vet advised me. Both kittens were back in isolation in their nursery, since spay surgery constitutes a full hysterectomy, not a minor surgery by any stretch. They would need to rest for at least five full days before running and jumping could resume. 
Stache was so affectionate, always wanting to be near me

The vet told me to go ahead and administer the pain medication. The doctor also told me that the oxygen machine had malfunctioned after Stache's surgery and they were not able to complete the final spay of the day, which was to have been the mother cat, right after Stache. Now the vet said that it was possible the oxygen machine had begun to malfunction during Stache's surgery, and the resulting oxygen deprivation might have caused some brain damage. It is a risk with any surgery; one I was aware of going in. She promised to stop by to check on my little patient early in the afternoon.

But shortly after noon, the vet had a medical emergency of her own to deal with, and I was instructed to drive Stache to a facility 45 minutes away, where I was assured some of the best veterinarians in the state would examine my kitten. Dr. Krammer at Laytonsville Veterinary Practice was very thorough. She put Stache through a number of physical exams, testing her responsiveness, her vision, watching her walk, and stumble as though her hind legs were not receiving accurate messages from her brain. Dr. Krammer did blood work and asked if she could keep Stache overnight for observation.

At 9:00 a.m. this morning I called to see when I could pick up my kitten. Dr. Krammer said she wanted to watch Stache for several more hours, so I should call back at noon. At noon, when I called to see how Stache was doing, Dr. Krammer told me there were definitely neurological issues, whether a reaction from the anesthesia, a stroke while she was on the operating table or brain damage resulting from oxygen deprivation, she couldn't be sure. But since my kitten was fully functional in every way, we agreed that Stache could have a fulfilling life at home with me and her sister and my two other cats. She would never again be a bouncy, active, playful cat, but she would have a high quality of life. I was okay with that.

As I was preparing to leave to go pick her up, the vet called again. Stache had just had a seizure, bit her tongue and was less aware of her surroundings and no longer ambulatory. The vet said there would no longer be any kind of quality of life if I took her home. We decided that I would come, but only to hold her while they put her to sleep.

Then as I was getting into the car, the vet called yet again. Because she had just been vaccinated for rabies on Monday along with her surgery, there was a chance my kitten had reacted to the vaccination, which would only happen if she was, in fact, infected with rabies. So while I could still come to see her euthanized, I wouldn't be allowed to hold her or touch her. And she couldn't be cremated. Her body would now have to be sent off to the County to have her brain dissected to be tested for rabies (the only way to test an animal for rabies is to dissect the brain). It seemed a cruel piling-on, but what was I to do? Such is life at times.

When I got to Laytonsville Veterinary Practice, they brought my precious Stache to me wrapped in a towel. I had looked forward to having my sweet kitten react to the sound of my voice. But the vet said Stache had another seizure after she'd last spoken to me and was now in even worse shape. I waved my hand in front of the kitten's eyes but there was little reaction. The vet relented and let the kitten lie on my lap in the towel. I stroked her gently and cooed to her as I had so many times while sitting on the floor in their nursery.

Having my little kitten be comatose certainly made the decision to euthanize much easier. I am in a zombie-like state of shock myself right now, having to deal with a blow of death when I was so ebullient over the liveliness of two new kittens in my household. This morning I thought I would be bringing Stache home -- and now she is dead. That's just kind of the way life is, I suppose...

Laytonsville Veterinary Practice made imprints of Stache's
paw prints for me to keep as a memento
Sojo spent yesterday searching the house for her sister, and she cried for her all night last night, which just made everything that much worse. Once my kitten showed no more life today, they gently pressed her paws into a clay mold to make a keepsake for me to take home.  I will put it with my other mementos: my beloved horse's tail, my sister's ashes, sweet Ember's collar.

To quote my favorite author, chef and cookbook maven, Leah Eskin, about time spent at home before the departure of her children for college, "They grew swiftly. So strong. So brilliant. So brief."  For little Stache, too brief. Far too brief.

Monday, July 9, 2018

Kaohinani ~ A Gathering of Beautiful Things

I began this blog way back in 2012 when, after losing 70 pounds and realizing that I could not afford a new wardrobe to fit the new, size 7 me, I fortuitously discovered that I had stored away several boxes of vintage clothing from the 1970s, back when I was in my twenties and a size 7 was my "normal" size.  So many friends exclaimed over the vintage threads I had unearthed, all in pristine condition, that they urged me to start a vintage fashion blog. So, after not having any presence on social media at all in those days, not even on Facebook, I took the plunge in 2012 and launched this blog, calling it Lynell's Vintage Look.

It's been a fun ride for the past six years, and I have more than 105,000 views on my blog to prove it. But I've found, as I've aged, that I've gravitated away from fashion posts, which were never really my thing, anyway, and have moved on to lifestyle posts about gardening, decorating and cooking, truer labors of love.

So here is a fun post that harks back to my vintage fashion blogging roots.

It was 1966 when my long-widowed paternal grandmother, Lina Tobler, took my entire family, consisting at that time of my mom, dad, me and my younger brother, Dave, to Hawaii for two weeks over Christmas. I was ten. It was a magical vacation. I learned to body surf in the gentle waves off Waikiki beach. My brother and I climbed dozens of ancient Banyan trees, whose branches fascinated me with their independently-sprouted roots at every turn, as if a single, central trunk offered not nearly enough stability. We dined on fresh coconut, which I loved, and sampled something called poi, which seemed to my ten-year-old sensibility like squirmy silver worms -- most unappetizing.

I remember that it rained every day, even when the sun was shining, a novel sight to my California-born eyes, and there was a constant breeze, almost but not quite a wind, which carried the scent of orchids across the verduous landscape. My father, a talented amateur photographer who spent his entire 43-year career working for Eastman Kodak, drove our rental car to ancient volcanos, unbelievable waterfalls, and other tropical sites on Oahu and Kauai that defied comparison to anything I'd ever seen, even in bucolic California. I was spellbound.

While we were there, my mother bought herself a genuine muumuu. It was gorgeous, fashioned of thick, royal blue cotton splashed with deep pink hibiscus and light blue plumeria blossoms. It had a rounded neckline and a tailored, pleated train falling from the neckline to the floor in back. Made by the fashion-forward Ui-Maikai design house on Oahu in 1966, my mother's muumuu was one of the vintage finds I unpacked when I found the cache of old clothes in 2011 that I had stowed away thirty years prior.

On the occasion of our nation's 242nd Independence Day in 2018, I decided to roll out the old muumuu in anticipation of a mid-summer dinner in Baltimore's Fell's Point harbor area. The venue was Ampersea, a new restaurant in an old spot at which my companion, Jesse, and I have been dining since celebrity chef Jerry Pellegrino first purchased the building many years ago.  Through its many iterations, we chosen this venue primarily for the front row seats, either indoors or out, of the magnificent fireworks displays put on by the City of Baltimore each July Fourth and New Year's Eve. The food and service at this location has been more miss than hit, but we persevere, hoping, with each visit, that the new interpretation of fine Baltimore dining will eventually be wonderful in every aspect. This newest makeover, headed by executive chef Nelson Morton, was largely a success.

I was pleased that my now size 8 self still fit into my mother's muumuu, which I paired with other equally vintage finds: a retro necklace of white ceramic triangles with white hammered metal earrings from some long-forgotten California boutique, and an off-white Bag Bazaar clutch I've owned for more than three decades. My turquoise suede-fringed sandals, by Minnetonka, were the only new item I wore.

The evening was warm but not uncomfortable. We dined inside by a picture window that gave us a lovely view of the water. My celebratory cucumber and lavender cocktail was outstanding. Although the pacing of the food (they brought an appetizer of hot Brussels sprouts at the same time they delivered our cold salads) left a bit to be desired, and they were out of the first entree I selected even though the restaurant was clearly not full, the lamb chops I eventually settled on were divine, as were those fabulous Brussels sprouts. The soft bed of risotto on which my lamb chops rested was one of the best versions of risotto I've ever tasted -- exactly the creamy texture it's supposed to be -- and Jesse's crab cake was very good, too.

At 9:30 p.m., we left our seats and ventured out to the restaurant's back deck, which sits directly on a pier at the water's edge. From there we enjoyed a perfect view of the fireworks being launched from a barge just across the water from our position.  Thirty minutes of excited oohs and aahs later, we returned to our table inside for a slice of creamy cheesecake. The evening was a lovely way to commemorate the union of our fifty states, although it should be noted that Hawaii was not even added to the roster until three years after I was born.

We need Hawaii just as much and a good deal more than we did California. It is Manifest Destiny.
~William McKinley

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

An Epic Epicenter Improvement

The kitchen might be the "heart of the home" for most people, and indeed, I adore my kitchen and am transported to a Zen-like state whenever I'm cooking up a storm on the weekends. But my home office is actually where I spend the vast majority of my time. I work at home, full time, for a law firm that has employed me for the past 25 years. I sit in my home office, the "command-central" of my life, from dawn until dusk every weekday. And for the past 17 years that I've lived in Maryland, I've been dreaming about how that office would look if I could remodel it to my heart's desire. I am happy to say that in 2018, I finally got it done.

This is how my office looked a few months after I moved
to Maryland in 2001
You know? If you sit in a room day after day, week after week for 17 years, you begin to come up with imaginative ways the space could be utilized better. I actually liked the layout of my home office quite well. When I moved into this old farmhouse in Baltimore County back in 2001, I had to hit the ground running with respect to my job. I remember scurrying to Office Depot to purchase a desk, as I had utilized a spare dining table as an office desk in previous homes, which wouldn't do in the new house. I chose a corner desk with an attached bulletin board and storage hutch and had it delivered and assembled. Amid the unpacking of an entire household, I scooted the desk into a narrow nine- by 16-foot room between the living room and the kitchen, just inside my front door. The arrangement left me only enough room to squeeze between the shorter end of the desk's protrusion and a radiator sitting beneath a side window. I hurriedly unpacked boxes of documents and reference materials, for I would need to have my computer and all my files organized and operational by the following Monday morning, when I would be flying off to northern Alabama or South Texas or some other state to meet with clients as part of my job. There was no time for aesthetics.

After enjoying the use of my grandmother's maple furniture
for almost forty years, I gifted them to Leroy for his college-
age daughter, Samantha, to cherish for the next forty years
I pressed my maternal grandmother's solid maple secretary into service in that room, just as I had in the offices of homes I'd owned in California, Nevada and Texas. Her matching corner hutch and a couple of small bookshelves rounded out the ensemble. Together with two tall metal file cabinets, I arranged all the furniture in the small workspace as best I could. I employed an old particle board computer desk and, later, added a tall, dark, wooden bookshelf. The new blond, laminate-covered corner desk clashed with the maple furniture and the other pieces, and that was okay.  Most surfaces were covered with books and papers much of the time, anyway. At least everything had its place. The office functioned, and it functioned well. I couldn't complain.

Over the years, as my collection of legal (and other) books, papers and research material multiplied,  I stacked bookcases on top of bookcases. It wasn't pretty, and it probably wasn't even safe. My printer/copier/fax machine, in it's third iteration from the bulky unit I moved to Maryland with, now sat atop the tall metal file cabinets, causing me to have to climb a wooden stepstool in order to push documents through the automatic feeder. Said file cabinets were stuffed to the gills with papers. I began to long for more filing space, more counter space, more of an orderly, aesthetically pleasing look to the entire room.
Elfie, left, and Underfoot, loved to curl up in their beds
on the radiator in my office and sleep while I worked

As much as I loved the old-fashioned hot-water radiators with their quiet, even heat which warmed my new abode, I deeply resented the space they took up in every room of my house. If only that radiator wasn't there beneath the side-window in my office, I lamented, I could add a file cabinet! I started to research alternative heat sources. The electricity to run the furnace which heated the radiators was expensive, and there was also a fuel oil bill every few months, and a rusting fuel oil tank, a potential bio-hazard whose presence in my basement wasn't even to code anymore. I'd never gotten around to putting insulation beneath my hardwood floors, believing that radiant heat might someday be the option I'd choose, and I didn't want fiberglass batting to be in the way of the installers. A traditional heating system was not an option in my 1862 farmhouse. The installation of all that ductwork was prohibitively expensive and would require cutting into antique ceilings and floors in every room.
A new Mitsubishi ductless mini-split unit was installed over
the doorway to the kitchen in my home office. Here, they had
just installed its mounting bracket. You can see in this image
how overstuffed with papers my office was. It was clearly
time for a change

Several years after I moved in I started to research whole-house heating and cooling options in earnest. Radiant heat, as lovely, silent and hidden as it was, would be far too expensive to operate over the long haul. High-velocity "mini-ducts", designed to be retrofitted into older homes like mine, from which radiators and their attendant piping had been removed, appealed to me. But my research revealed that the small ports push air so forcefully that it makes an audible noise. I didn't want to live in a wind tunnel.

This old 275-gallon fuel-oil
tank was just beginning to
rust through when I removed it
And so it went, year after year, the daydreaming of what could be and the day-to-day continuance of the status quo. Until last summer -- when I finally decided on a new HVAC system. In May of 2017, I chose Mitsubishi ductless mini-splits. Yes, they would be all-electric, but they would be far more efficient than radiant flooring, and I would get air conditioning in the bargain, something I'd never had throughout the house. I got a couple of estimates and chose a contractor. In June the radiators came out. The old floor-to-ceiling piping through every room came out. The boiler in my basement came out, and so did the rusty old fuel oil tank, just in the nick of time, it turned out, as the bottom of the tank was beginning to seep through, a condition which, if left unattended, would have allowed fuel oil to leach into the soil beneath my home on the same side of the house as my water well. My home and its surrounding two acres would have been deemed uninhabitable and condemned, losing all their value. I narrowly dodged a rather large bullet.

Despite the expertise of Advanced Heating & Cooling, LLC, the installation of the ductless mini-splits did not go smoothly, and I am still getting used to their operation. They create a rather ugly eyesore near the ceiling in every room of my home. But for the most part I am happy. Although my electric bill has doubled this winter, I no longer have any fuel oil bill at all. I am content with my choice.

Better yet, the absence of all the old radiators and piping allowed me to finally set in motion the rest of my master plan. Without a radiator in my office, I could now utilize the space for maximum storage and... beauty!, something I had been sorely missing in a room where I spend so many of my waking hours each day.

From Thanksgiving to Valentine's Day,  my upstairs hobby
room served as a temporary home office. Cramped for space
and working out of boxes, I was overjoyed when I could
finally move back downstairs.
But first things first. If this was to be a full-scale remodel of the nerve center of my life, I would need a place to set up a temporary command post. So simultaneously with the installation of the mini-splits, I hired a handyman to convert a spare bedroom upstairs into a hobby-craft-sewing room. I was delighted with how the hobby room turned out, and regretted that I wouldn't be able to actually use it as a hobby room until after I'd finished using it as a temporary home office.

As soon as construction of the hobby room was complete, I began designing my dream office on paper. It would have lateral files instead of vertical ones, and they would be made of wood to look like furniture. Bookshelves would extend from the top of each file cabinet clear up to the nine foot ceiling on three of the four walls. A new desk, configured in the same shape as the old one but built of real wood instead of particleboard, would allow my printer/copier to sit within reach from my chair. And wouldn't an upholstered bench look nice sitting at the base of the floor-to-ceiling window facing my front porch?

My dreams almost always start with a hand drawn sketch
I was determined to employ my talented neighbor, Leroy, for construction of my dream office. A highly skilled and discerning carpenter, Leroy would use only the best materials and employ only the finest craftsmanship. I knew the quality of his work would be top-notch. Trouble was, Leroy's talents are very much in demand.  He couldn't begin construction of my office until Thanksgiving -- and then he would be available only on evenings and weekends.

I was heartbroken but resolute. Slowly I began to box up 25 years' worth of books, papers and reference materials. I stowed away a lifetime of awards, certificates and other minutiae, packed up family photographs and wall art, and began sifting though those overstuffed vertical file drawers, discarding what I could -- receipts for clothing and furniture I didn't even own anymore, old bank statements, the flotsam and jetsam of a long life.

Leroy, on the right, and his helper measure for the new ceiling.
Look at the bright green color those walls used to be long
before I moved in!
The new office ceiling lends a decidedly more sophisticated
air to the room
The week before Thanksgiving, I made the big move -- hoisting my computer, copy machine, desk phone and several boxes of  important papers upstairs into the hobby room. I didn't like it up there. Oh, it was fine for an afternoon of crafting or sewing or wrapping gifts. But to spend day in and day out in the cramped space was decidedly uncomfortable for me. Two small windows did not provide much daylight, and although the room is well-lit with light fixtures, the windows sit higher than in my downstairs office, so I couldn't see out of them while sitting at the desk. I arranged things to be at my fingertips as best I could, but it just wasn't the same. It's only temporary, I consoled myself. It's only temporary.

Leroy got right to work, installing stamped-brass ceiling panels from Shanker Industries in the new office to match the ones in the adjacent kitchen. I carefully prepared drawings of exactly how I wanted the cabinets to be constructed, and now I grew excited as I saw my dream begin to come to life. I ordered deeply cut crown moulding from Bosley Moulding Company to frame my new brass ceiling. I wanted drama. Lots of drama. This was the room in which I would be spending every workday hour. I'd been imagining the space for almost two decades. I wanted to love to enter the room and work in that environment every single day. I was finally going to have everything I'd fantasized about all those years.

Once the 9-foot by 16-foot room was empty, it was time to
refinish the old floor. I was eager to get rid of the harlequin
pattern a previous owner had painted. Look at how my office
chair wore away the painted floor pattern over 17 years
Leroy balked at constructing lateral file cabinets out of wood. He suggested I buy metal file cabinets and he would construct wooden bookshelves on top of them.  I acquiesced, with one restriction. I would agree to metal file cabinets as long as he was willing to construct wood faces so that the file cabinets appeared to be made of wood. Thankfully, he agreed. I burned up Pinterest, printing picture after picture of file cabinets which had been imaginatively covered with wood facades.

Carlos, of Earickson Hardwood Floors, sanded the paint
off the floor boards
I ordered trim for all the cabinet and bookcase faces, also from Bosley Moulding Company, going so far as to make an impression with a needle gauge of a panel near my front door in order to find a moulding pattern that would match the existing 1862 trim as closely as possible. I made arrangements for the the hardwood floor to be refinished, sanding away a painted tan and yellow Harlequin pattern that I had hated for 17 years and replacing it with a honey-colored stain that closely matched the hardwood floors throughout the rest of the house.

I researched lateral file cabinets and was fortunate to find a used office furniture dealer not far from my home. They had four matching secondhand black metal file cabinets in stock at a fraction of the cost of new cabinets, plus two smaller vertical ones that would form the base of my corner desk. The only lateral cabinet I had to buy new was a longer, deeper 36-inch one for the extended portion of my corner desk. I was thrilled.

Look how the new stain glows!
Then I considered the countertops for my new desk and the tops of the file cabinets. A finely finished wood surface was my original preference. Once again Leroy intervened. "Choose granite", he suggested. "You will work in this office every day. Wood will get scratched from cat claws and pen impressions and show wear over time".  I compared prices. The difference between a fine wood countertop and a granite one was negligible. So I began to look at granite colors. I had already decided that I would paint all the wood in the room glossy black, so my go-to color choice for granite, Black Galaxy, even with its fiery gold and copper flakes, would result in far too much black for the tiny room.  I made a Saturday morning visit to a granite store in Baltimore City. The sales representative, Alexandra, at Big Brothers Marble and Granite, named for the Ecuadorian brothers who own and operate the business, was an absolute delight. She listened to my wants, took a look at the sketch I showed her, and guided me into a vast warehouse, picking up a sample here, pointing out a slab there. Then she handed me a heavy piece of Madura Gold. It was gorgeous, containing all of the colors I wanted in the room: gold and black and brown and beige, even sporting a few sparkly flecks here and there. And they had a slab in stock that was big enough to do my whole room. And it wasn't the most expensive granite on their price list. And they could install it in less than two weeks. I was sold.
The granite desktop was constructed
out of cardboard first to make sure it
would fit through my front door
in one slab 

On December 4, Sandro from Big Brothers came out to the house with gigantic sheets of cardboard.  He measured the desk and the cabinet tops and then carefully constructed a template of the entire surface area out of cardboard. Once he had made his pattern, he checked to make sure it would fit through my doorway.  It would be a shame if they were able to construct a giant slab of granite in the shape of my desk and then not be able to get it into my house!

Meanwhile, Leroy was busy building and installing the base cabinets that would go between the metal file cabinets. I was busy designing bookshelves that would go above the base cabinets. I wanted drawers for storage of office supplies and gadgets. I wanted shallow shelves on two of the three walls, but deeper shelves above my desk for my workbooks and binders. I worked out every detail. Things were progressing so smoothly!
With the metal file cabinets installed,
Leroy began to construct the base cabinets
between them, as well as a support beam
for the granite expanse across my desk

I wanted library lamps to cast soft warm light downward from the tops of the bookshelves. I wanted an electric outlet in every bookshelf bay, so that I could display digital photo frames or maybe a small aquarium. I wanted spotlights over each window, especially the floor-length window I envisioned would one day be a reading nook with a bench seat. I wanted task lighting above my desk. I wanted all the lighting to be LED and I wanted it all on dimmers. For these tasks I hired Carroll Talbott of T-Electric, a very nice electrician from a neighboring county who knew just how to install what I needed.

And what about the kitty beds?!  In the old office, the cats' beds
Out in my guesthouse, which
served as my craft room until
the new one was built last
summer, I applied special
cork flooring glue to a
simple frame of plywood
and black plastic trim
One cork at a time, my new
bulletin board took shape
sat atop the radiator, warming my little pocket lions throughout the winter from beneath their plush bassinets. But there was no longer any radiator to warm my kitties. Now a slab of cold granite spanned the cabinets below the side window. So I ordered special electric heating pads to fit their little cat beds. The low-voltage heating pads would need to be plugged in. I designed a way for the cords to be incorporated into the bookshelves so they would remain mostly hidden from view.

And let me tell you about my bulletin board! It had long been a dream of mine to design a bulletin board to replace the one I had enjoyed with the old desk configuration. The new bulletin board would be made out of wine corks. It would be eight feet long. I'd been saving wine corks for 17 years in anticipation of this project. Months before work on the office began, I put my idea into action, ordering special cork glue from Home Depot, building a frame and then gluing corks in a herringbone pattern across the eight-foot expanse. 1,014 corks later, my bulletin board was finished and ready to install. I didn't have a new office to put it in yet, but the bulletin board was ready!
Using a needle gauge, thick foam was
measured and cut to fit the pattern of
my 1862 window framing for the
reading bench

Heidi did an outstanding job on the
cushion, pillows and valances
For window treatments, I turned to a dear acquaintance and extremely talented seamstress, Heidi Wurzbacher of Heidi's Custom Sewing, who agreed to fashion valances for my two windows and to make a cushion for my window bench with pillows to match. I found stunning gold and black upholstery fabric at JoAnn Crafts and Heidi came right away to pick up the material and take measurements. I was ecstatic. 

Christmas came and went. Half of the hobby room upstairs was devoted to my temporary workspace. The other half became Christmas Central. I made gifts, assembled gifts, wrapped gifts, and prepared gifts for shipping. It was all very cramped and claustrophobic up there. I just kept telling myself how nice everything would be when it was all finished.

Electrical outlets, telephone jacks
and internet ports all went in
beneath my desk 
Then life, and the weather, got in the way. Early January brought with it bitter cold. Pipes all over Baltimore froze in the sub-zero temperatures, and some of them burst, including mine. While I labored with the plumber to repair the pipes and insulate my basement which was no longer warmed by a boiler, Leroy's progress on the bookshelves came to a stop. His garage workshop was neither insulated nor heated. It was just too cold to work out there. And even if he could have braved the cold to build my bookcases, it was too cold to paint them. Construction of my office came to a screeching halt.
Nick added the same custom faux texturing finish to the
ductless mini-split as he did to the walls so that the
protruding unit virtually disappeared

Eventually, the weather thawed. The bookshelves got installed. The lighting went in. 16 outlets and 12 internet ports and telephone jacks got put in below my desk, with more across the room in a corner where I envisioned a guest or a visiting business associate would be able to set up a laptop and work alongside me on occasion.

It was time for paint. For this task, I employed two people. I first met Nick Pelekakis when he painted for the company that remodeled my master bathroom in 2015. Nick did a stunning job of custom texturing with three different paint colors in that room. I liked it so much I had him give my kitchen the same treatment in 2016. Now, he had struck out on his own, calling his business Creative Colors, LLC, and I was thrilled when he had time to apply the same custom textural finish to my office walls.  I didn't need much, as most of the walls would be covered by bookcases. Nick got right to work, creating just the texture and interest I needed around both doorways and on both sides of  one window frame. He even applied the faux finish to the new mini-split so the white plastic unit would be disguised. The camouflage worked like a charm.
Mike O'Leary never backs down from a challenging paint job.
It's a good thing for me he doesn't!

For the rest of the painting, I turned to Mike O'Leary of Kickstart Home Improvements. I met Mike during the summer when he was sent by the HVAC company to fix holes in the floors, walls and ceilings created by the removal of the old radiators and piping and the installation of the new ductless units. Mike had done such a good job on those repairs I began hiring him for my own painting projects. Now, he was charged with two arduous tasks: paint all the trim in the entire office glossy black, and paint the back of every bookcase with a shimmery gold paint I had found on the internet. The black proved to be the easy part. The shimmery gold paint was gorgeous but proved to be a challenge. When we couldn't get the paint to stop streaking, we finally read the fine print on the website. "Must be used with special latex extender for improved flow and leveling". Oh.

Once the new file cabinets were in, I moved all my documents
into new, hanging files. I shed thousands of papers I no longer
needed and still managed to fill every file drawer.  
It was a Sunday. It was snowing. The big box stores didn't carry a specialized formula like that. Mike texted his favorite painting rep for advice. Even though it was the rep's day off, he helpfully suggested to Mike that Sherwin Willimas carried exactly what we needed. And they were open. On Sunday! I got in the car immediately and made my way through the flurries to the nearest Sherwin Williams store. Mike experimented with how much extender to add. He eventually found the perfect blend and the gold paint went on like a breeze. Well, not exactly a breeze. It looked great in the end, but Mike said he didn't care if he ever worked with that type of paint again for the rest of his painting career (sigh).
Once the computer equipment was moved back downstairs
into my newly remodeled home office, I could begin to set
everything up again

On February 10th, I hosted a dinner party for my neighbors to thank them for their endless support and watchful care over me. The next morning, at 9:00 a.m. sharp, my dear friend and incomparable computer guru, Will Fastie, appeared at my door with gadgets and testing equipment in hand. Today we would move my computer equipment, telephone, copy machine and other devices back downstairs into the new office. This was the day I would officially reclaim my newly refurbished office as my own, a supremely outfitted command central. I would be moving back downstairs. I was excited beyond words.

This might be my favorite image of the new office. The cats
are happily ensconced in their heated beds and I have beloved
photos of family and friends on every shelf.
The move was not without hiccups, of course. I had been allotted "three free holes" drilled through the granite by the granite company. But the hole for the telephone cord did not allow for the size of the right-angled jack to the transformer. The path I had plotted for the copy machine cord to weave behind the file cabinet did not take into consideration the jagged edges left behind by the drill-bit penetrating the metal cabinet -- which immediately shredded any electrical cord pulled through it.We improvised. We made several trips to Best Buy for different transformer jacks. We compromised. Six hours later, we had everything hooked up, checked out and operating. I was exhausted but ecstatic.  I moved 25 boxes of books and papers and office supplies from storage into my living room. I could finally begin to unpack those boxes, fill the bookshelves, outfit my office, set everything up the way I had long envisioned it.
I even designed a guest
workstation with a
hidden, pull-out shelf
that expands to hold
a laptop for visitors

It took several weeks, but by the end of February my office was finally finished, fully decorated and functioning optimally. Everything now has its place. Each morning when I descend my staircase, enter my workspace and sit down at my desk to begin work for the day, I am overcome with joy. This is the home office of my dreams. This is the natty nerve center of my life. My new office is everything I hoped it
A place for everything and everything in its place. I am so
happy with how my new office turned out
would be -- and so much more. I sit at my desk, tapping at my computer, whilst my two furry fluffbuckets sleep contentedly in their heated beds beside me. Everything is at my fingertips. A lifetime of papers are organized. Digital frames displaying iconic trips to Europe, Ireland and Australia flash snippets of memories before me throughout the day. I am surrounded by photographs of friends and family which warm my heart. What little wall space there is features art which inspires my soul. This space, of my very own creation, is truly the heart of my home. I am a lady in love with my workplace. I couldn't be happier.

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Neighborly Hearts

"Spike", a hand-hewn reindeer
gifted to me by neighbors after
my Christmas display was
vandalized, is now a permanent
fixture on my front porch
Those who follow my blog know that I have been throwing an annual dinner party in celebration of Valentine's Day for several years now, a tradition begun when I grew frustrated over the crowded conditions and less than satisfactory food and service received at restaurants on and around February 14th. A chilly February evening seemed like a perfect time to offer my three-course all-fondue dinner. This year's weather did not disappoint. We had cold in spades in Baltimore County, Maryland, on February 10, the date I chose for my fĂȘte.

Thirty days before the party, I created pretty invitations and fastened the envelopes with sealing wax stamped with my initial. My guests of honor this year would be some of my wonderful neighbors, all of whom look out for me in so many ways throughout the year. Despite the fact that I could have issued invitations via email or phone, or by shouting over my back fence, written invitations sent through the mail seemed appropriate. And festive. And fancy! I wanted to let my neighbors know that they were in for something special.

My neighbors truly are remarkable people. Allen and Jackie across the street, for instance, never fail to prepare a fabulous home-smoked North Carolina-style pork roast each year for my annual summer potluck; Allen lets me borrow all his ice chests and even his pickup truck for the event so I can haul home dozens of six- and eight-foot tables which are stored off-site. Jackie has been my trusty pet-sitter for many years now. She does so much more than bring in my mail and feed my cats when I travel! No matter what calamity befalls the house while I'm gone, Jackie has always stepped up to handle it for me no matter how complicated or challenging the issue. In August 2012, when a derecho left my community without power for eight straight days just after I departed on a ten-day trip to Southern Ireland, Jackie hand-watered my 22 window boxes, hanging baskets, and herb and vegetable gardens every day in a desperate attempt to keep my plants alive in the summer swelter with no electricity to run my automatic drip system. During a two-week trip to Europe last July, Jackie enlisted her husband to get my well-pump working again when it suddenly failed for no apparent reason. And while I was in Dallas this past Christmas, Jackie fired up my shop-vac to pump water out of my unfinished basement when torrential rains overran my foundation. Her efforts to take excellent care of my home and my beloved animals clearly go way beyond the call of duty. My cats adore her, running to greet her whenever she comes to my door.
I decorated the mantel above the fireplace in my dining room
in spring flowers and red twinkle lights

Mike and Maria, who live next door to me, bring me fresh eggs whenever their hens lay too many. Mike fires up his snowblower after every major snowstorm, and before I even have a chance to shovel a path to my mailbox, he has carved out my entire 110-foot driveway, a parking pad for my car, and paths to my woodpile and tool shed. Maria always cheerfully lends me the use of her oven, washing machine or other appliance whenever one of my own ancient machines goes on the blink. And the homemade Argentinian empanadas she makes for my annual summer potluck are second to none. Despite bringing a bucketload each year (50!), they are gone within minutes. One year a guest actually exclaimed that he was coming to my party primarily for my neighbor's empanadas!

And Leroy and Michelle, who live on the other side of Mike and Maria, can't be beat when it comes to neighborliness. Leroy, a talented carpenter who has long been employed to build, maintain and remodel all the Hugo Boss stores in the mid-Atlantic region, somehow finds time to help me with my remodeling projects on evenings and weekends even when he is super busy. Leroy built my walk-in closet back in 2012. He just completed a major overhaul of my home office this week, and he has already agreed to build cabinets, bookshelves and a ventless fireplace in my living room  for my next project. Michelle is always ready with a caring gesture and a kind word. Last year, in the middle of my summer potluck when the motor seized up on my old ice cream maker, Michelle ran home to fetch her own ice cream maker for me to use, saving the day. She had been so inspired by my annual party ritual of making and serving homemade ice cream that she had gone out and purchased her own machine that spring. Now she brought it to me, still new in its box, so that my 120 guests would not have to go without their sweet summer treat. Michelle is also an extraordinary cook, bringing her homemade jerk chicken, Jamaican rice and peas, and other delicacies to my potluck each summer. I have the best neighbors in the world!
Valentine decor dangling from
the ceiling added to the mood

It seemed only fitting, then, that I pay these wonderful neighbors back for their supreme neighborliness and friendship over the years. It had been ages since I'd cooked a meal for them, so I thought it wholly appropriate that I dedicate my most complicated dinner party to the people who help me feel safe in my home every day, who make my life and travels worry-free, and who always seem to be looking out for me in ways large and small.

My checklist for the dinner party preparation was long. Every evening after work for the week leading up to the party, I ran errands and/or made something in furtherance of the dinner: creating place cards which would double as party favors for each guest, printing out a menu for each couple, complete with a list of sauces for the main course, decorating wooden fondue forks for the meat course with the name of each guest, choosing appetizers and selecting a festive punch to serve as my guests arrived, decorating my dining room in a Valentine theme, arranging a homemade centerpiece for the table from roses and baby's breath special-ordered from my favorite florist, Marty Hennigan, making sure all my candles, both real and electric, were in good working order, and dozens of other seemingly mundane but utterly necessary tasks to ensure an evening of ideal ambiance.
Faux fur rugs from IKEA drape each chair to add coziness to
the romantic winter tablescape in my dining room

I took the day off from work the Friday before my party, so intent was I to enjoy the process and not feel stressed by having to do all the cooking on the day of.  That was a wise move on my part. It made all the difference in how relaxed I was as my guests arrived Saturday evening.

In addition to the Gruyere and Emmentaler cheeses which would form the basis for my first course, a classic Swiss cheese fondue into which sourdough bread cubes would be dipped, I had ordered a special Vacherin fribourgeois from the Swiss Bakery, a cheese shop in Washington D.C. which imports the creamy Swiss specifically for Fonduephiles like me. I had assembled pretty pierced metal tins filled with chocolates, and topped the sweets with place cards naming each guest, which were tied to the tins with pink raffia. I had dressed my front porch reindeer, "Spike", in a red scarf with a heart-shaped "earring" dangling from one antler. I had assembled my playlist for the evening: romantic instrumental tunes which I hoped would enhance the mood of my revelers.
Belle de Brillet pear liqueur is the star
of this festive champagne punch
I had sliced wheels of orange navel and deep red blood oranges, bright chartreuse limes and sunny yellow lemons for a festive champagne punch enlivened with lemon juice, Belle de Brillet pear liqueur, cognac, triple sec, cinnamon simple syrup and champagne. I had assembled "green bean shots", an appetizer of shot glasses filled with Thai red curry sauce and barely blanched hericots verts. I had sliced and diced honeydew, cantaloupe, watermelon, banana and pineapple chunks, hulled strawberries, and arranged blackberries, kumquats, goldenberries, Mandarin oranges, Maraschino cherries and candied waternmelon rind for the dessert course, a decadent chocolate fondue flavored with Gran Marnier. And I had labored to prepare no less than five homemade dipping sauces for the main course of beef fondue, featuring cubes of the finest filet mignon to be dipped in a sugar-free barbecue sauce, a garlic-paprika aioli, a balsamic bleu cheese sauce, an onion-mustard sauce and a smoked paprika- horseradish sauce. I'd ironed napkins and set the table with flowers, candles, heart-shaped gems and other festive Valentine-themed "scatter". I was ready.
Special fondue plates from Switzerland contain shallow wells
to hold five different dipping sauces for the meat course 

Ascending to my dressing room on the day of the soiree, I thought about what to wear: black Studio M leggings with rhinestone-studded Roper cowboy boots would be chic and comfortable, and I'd top it with a pink, orange and black Alfani top from Macy's, which I'd pair with orangeish-red dangly earrings I affectionately refer to as my "fishing lures" that I've owned for at least four decades.

Each guest took home a tin
filled with chocolates
I don't think my neighbors quite knew what to expect when they rang my doorbell on the evening of my party. Indeed, Leroy, who had been working on my home office in the days leading up to the dinner, lamented the fact that he might have to "dress up". I assured him that jeans would be just fine. As each guest was given a flute of champagne punch upon arrival and a shot glass of green beans with Thai curry sauce,  I watched apprehension melt away and the relaxed rapport of longstanding friendships begin to reclaim the evening.

There were audible oohs and aahs as guests were called into the dining room for dinner and beheld my elaborate tablescape for the first tine. A warm fire crackled in the fireplace as my neighbors took their seats. I explained Swiss customs for the first course: pierce the bread chunks through the crust so you don't lose a cube of bread in the fondue (or you'll have to kiss the cook); take a sip of Kirschwasser (cherry liqueur) and follow it with a beer back.
Oil heated to 425°cooks the
meat in a few seconds

Once the meat is cooked to a
diner's preference on a wooden
skewer, a dinner fork is used to
dip the steak in various sauces
As the cheese fondue course was finished and I cleared plates to make room for the meat course, I read trivia questions to my guests and invited them to answer queries I posed about the fictional St. Valentine and his jail-cell miracle which cured the blindness of his jailer's daughter.

My ceramic cheese fondue pots made way for metal pots filled with boiling oil. Metal fondue forks were replaced with wooden ones, far less apt to burn tender mouths from the heat of the oil. Special Swiss fondue plates with wells incorporated for the dipping sauces were placed in front of my guests, each filled with an assortment of sauces and chunks of raw filet mignon ready to be cooked to the diner's personal preference: 15 seconds in the sizzling oil for rare, 30 seconds for medium, 45 seconds for well-done.

Eleven kinds of fruit could be dipped in
chocolate fondue and then rolled in
crushed nuts
For this course, Rodney Strong Cabernet Sauvignon and a dry Reisling were served. I encouraged each guest to declare which sauce was their favorite. It was evident that my neighbors were delighted to be engaging in such a new and interesting dining experience. There were no leftovers!

And then it was time for the dessert course: Gran Marnier-infused chocolate fondue with an assortment of fresh fruit for dipping. Each diner had a small bowl of chopped nuts in front of him or her in which to roll the chocolate-dipped fruit for added enhancement.  For this course I served a chocolate zinfandel as an aperitif. It was a good thing my guests could all walk home and no one had to drive.

I served a Maryland dessert
wine with the last course:
a chocolate zinfandel from St.
Michaels on the eastern shore
After dinner we all gathered
on my staircase for a group
Candles glowed. The fireplace warmed. Conversation flowed. My guests were happy. I was relaxed.  Toward the end of the evening, Leroy confessed that he and Allen had been commiserating about having to attend a "boring dinner".  Leroy now announced that he had not been bored at all, but instead was really taken with the novelty of the theme and the warm ambiance created by his fellow diners. Michelle remarked how interesting it was to learn about my Swiss heritage and culture, just as I have been fascinated by the Jamaican customs shared when I attend parties at her house.

As we got up from the table, fully sated and ready for a good night's sleep, Maria suggested we all gather on my staircase for a group photo.  Cleaning up after my guests departed was an exercise in pure joy, as I recounted with warm affection the laughter and delight with which my guests partook of their experience. Another successful dinner party was under my belt, accompanied by warm memories of this neighborly gathering to last a lifetime.
"In order to have good neighbors, we must be good neighbors. That applies in every field of human endeavor" ~ Benjamin Franklin