What I Read – Villa America

I must preface this by mentioning that I have an enormous amount of respect for authors. I am well aware of how much work is involved in producing a work of fiction or non. I don’t feel good at all about writing anything negative about someone’s hard work, but here I go.

I didn’t like this novel.

Villa America follows the trend of fictional novels based on real 20th century figures like Loving Frank and The Paris Wife. It tells the story of Sara and Gerald Murphy who were at the center of the American expatriate social scene in the south of France during the 1920s. They are the perfect subjects for this genre, as they were incredible muses who were once well known, but have since been lost behind the art they inspired.

The story begins with Gerald and Sarah’s childhoods, courtship, and then their idyllic life on the Riviera surrounded by their famous and wealthy artistic friends: the Fitzgerald’s, the Picassos, the Hemingway’s, just to name a few. At the same time, a new player is introduced – the fictional Owen, an untouchable, stoic war hero who’s sexual awakening as a young man cost him everything (to be read in a dramatic movie trailer voice). After his career as a WW1 flying ace, he makes his living as a pilot, running errands around Europe for the Murphy’s and their neighbors. It is Owen that creates a wedge in what appears to be their happy marriage.

It’s the addition of Owen that really turned me off of this story. He felt random; one dimensional and just didn’t quite fit in the narrative, other than to create imaginary contention in the Murphy’s story. It seemed unnecessary when there is so much potential for conflict and crisis within their real life circle of friends. It’s been well documented that Ernest Hemmingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald both had crushes on Sara and Picasso was so enamored by her that he painted at least half a dozen paintings of her. Gerald had his share of admirers, as well, including men; I’m sure, as Gerald’s homosexuality (which from what I understand is only speculated, for the most part, in real life) is the arching plot of this story.

I also found the novel a bit disjointed and busy. There were too many historical references, spanning a long timeline, along with too many supporting characters and Inconsequential details about them that didn’t seem to have anything to do with the story.

Overall, I was looking for a novel that would, even from a fictional perspective, help me connect to the Murphy’s and understand more about what made this couple so inspiring to the people they spent time with. However, the fabricated interloper, choppy timeline, and too many supporting characters that didn’t really help drive their story left me wanting.

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Inch by Inch, Row by Row

I’m really excited about summer this year, for all the usual reasons that we Canadians look forward to the season, but because I’m also finally getting serious about growing food in our backyard.

This had been my original plan when we moved into our house many years ago. The previous owners had a vegetable garden in the corner of the yard. When I first looked out there from the deck during the open house, when we were sure that we’d found our home, I’d pictured myself out there wearing clogs and overalls, with a basket full of tools from Lee Valley, tilling my fertile soil.

We moved in October that year and the following spring I did plant a few things in that garden – some tomatoes that did well, and some pepper plants that did not. Then, one evening I went out to do some weeding, and as I made my way through the tall tomato plants I walked into a giant spider web that was, at that time, occupied by a very large spider, which may, or may not have touched me. I let out a Hitchcockian shriek, ran into the house and showered for about three hours to ensure that my hair and person was creepy crawly and web free.

That was the last time I set foot in the garden. I planted grass there first thing that next spring.

I’ve never completely abandoned that vision of myself as a suburban vegetable gardener though, it’s just been low on my list of priorities. Then, last year I was talking to my Uncle at a family dinner and we were reminiscing about my grandparent’s house. This is where my mind always goes when think of growing food. They had a huge garden and I remember picking green beans, breaking open pea pods and eating fresh warm raspberries, straight of the bushes. My Uncle then pointed out something I had never considered: gardening wasn’t so much a hobby for my Grandpa, it was a way to help feed his growing family, a skill I sure he’d honed growing up in rural Alberta during the depression. His father had come to Canada from Sweden to be a homesteader and it seems my Grandfather brought a bit of that spirit with him to the town where he’d settled with my Grandmother when he returned from the war. Thinking about this inspired me to try again.

Now, we are not in a position financially or geographically where we need to grow our own food but fresh produce is getting increasingly expensive, even when it is in season locally. Plus, we have a big backyard that we haven’t been doing anything particularly useful with. It just makes sense to try to grow a few things back there. The timing is right too, I have a flexible schedule this summer and now that Britta is getting bigger, we’re spending more time out in the backyard where she will sometimes play independently for a while as I putter around.

I also love the idea of Little B experiencing fresh from the backyard food and being exposed to the growing process. After all, I’ve listened to enough lectures from Jamie Oliver about the importance of teaching kids about food.

So, we begin. Back in April, Jeremy built four 4×4 foot raised boxes that I’ve planted full of salad greens, along with root and cruciferous vegetables. I also have tomatoes, peppers, and herbs in pots, as I’ve always had some degree of success with container gardening. I bought a blueberry bush for our deck and in addition to my already well-established strawberry patch, I’ve planted more berry plants anywhere that needed some extra ground cover.

There is still work that needs to be done. I’d like some gravel or mulch between the beds (we currently have mud), another rain barrel (we have one at the other end of the garage but it needs some repairs), and eventually, I’d like some nicer benches for the containers. Right now they are sitting on scrap wood and cinderblocks. All in due time though. In the meantime, I feel like this is a great start.

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The Alphabet Wall

I started this post way back in 2014 when we were decorating our first daughter’s bedroom. This project was to be the pièce de résistance of the nursery and I actually managed to get in finished in time for her arrival. Of course, she didn’t come home with us, so we covered the furniture, pulled down the blinds and shut the door on that room until our little B was on her way. I worked really hard on this, and now, as we’re transitioning her room from a baby to toddler space and are considering taking it down to do something else, I think it is worthy of a post, even if it is three years after it’s completion.

Have you ever taken on a craft project and realized you’re in over your head?

It happens to me more than I care to admit. Pinterest is obviously at fault. No matter how many times I remind myself that most of my pins have been designed and photographed by professionals, I still try to live up to those impossible standards.

In late 2013, I was in full nursery decorating mode. At this point, we knew we were having a girl and we’d decided on apricot for the walls and a bright green shag rug from Ikea. For the back wall I was obsessed with the idea of an alphabet wall with an eclectic arrangement of different fonts, sizes and colours. If you do a search for alphabet walls there are tons of them similar to ours – it’s been done many times and seemed simple enough in theory, but it turned out to be far more work than I’d bargained for. Once I got started though, there was no turning back.

I will preface my vague instructions by telling you that you can buy a kit for this. It comes with all 26 wooden letters, unfinished, and costs around $100 on Etsy. I would really recommend this route if you are looking to try this yourself.

I didn’t buy the kit. Instead, I thought I could save a buck and decided to hunt down the letters on my own. It took a lot of time and energy, and really didn’t save me enough to make it worth the hassle. By the end, the cost of the letters alone, actually came close to the kit price.

Collecting the letters was time consuming and a huge pain in the ass. They came from everywhere – thrift, dollar and department stores, plus every craft/art supply store within a 100km radius. I kept a list to keep track of the ones I’d already bought but I wasn’t overly concerned about the size, case or fonts of the individual letters, I just focused on finding one of each.

Next came the fun part – painting and decorating. I used acrylic craft paint for most of them. I just bought a handful of basic colours and mixed different shades. I also bought some patterned scrapbooking paper and used mod podge to glue and seal. Then on the O (which was actually a small Ikea mirror), I added buttons because it just felt right. I didn’t have a definitive strategy for colours, I just made it up as I went along.

At this point, they were almost ready to hang. I added hardware to the letters that didn’t come with hangers already. For the ones thick enough to hammer a nail into, I used small metal saw tooth hangers, and for the thinner letters, I used adhesive fabric eyelets (both can be found with the picture hanging thingies in any hardware store).

Then, to get the layout just right, I cut templates out of paper and arranged them on the wall. This step took FOREVER. It never ceases to amaze me how difficult it is to make things appear random. After almost a week of arranging and rearranging the templates, it was finally time to hammer in the nails (I used thin, 1 inch nails).

The overall cost was about $130 in the end, including the letters, paint, and hardware. This was certainly one of my more successful Pinterest inspired projects and I was really proud of the end result. The execution was a bit of a fail though – if you’re trying this at home, buy the kit. You won’t regret it!

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