The Gaches Mansion

I love Victorian houses, with their elegant porches, dormers, scrollwork, and spindles. I particularly love the Queen Anne style, because towers and turrets make my imagination run wild. I can see myself living in one of these magical manses, wearing high-collared, full-length dresses. I just can’t picture me paying the heating bill.

One of my favorites is the Gaches Mansion (rhymes with “mashes”). It’s in La Conner, Washington, and it was built in 1891. It’s 4700 square feet with 11 foot ceilings, which is why I wouldn’t want to heat it, but oh, is it ever gorgeous. Its Douglas fir floors and trim, and its fireplaces with original Italian tile make you almost forget that there are no built in closets, which was typical of this type of architecture.

The Gaches Mansion La Conner

My favorite room, of all the rooms on earth, is the 3rd floor tower room. It’s circular, has windows on all sides, and the pointed roof is covered with a gorgeous turquoise blue mural which sets off the woodwork nicely. Whenever I enter that room, I never want to leave.

Tower Room

Over the years, this house has been many things, from a private residence to the first hospital in Skagit County to an apartment building. Unfortunately a resident carelessly set it ablaze in 1973 with his cigarette. (Damned renters!) What a heartbreaking event that must have been.

Gaches Manion ablaze

The good news is that a bunch of citizens got together and purchased and restored the building a year later. That couldn’t have been easy. It then became an art gallery. But the reason I particularly love this mansion is because of what it houses now.

Intrigued? Watch this space tomorrow.

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Architectural Salvage Yards

“Hey, where was that place that you got all the cool used doors and grates and glass blocks for the house you used to own here in Jacksonville?” He asked.

“Burkhalters,” I replied, and a tsunami of nostalgia washed over me.

I absolutely love salvage yards. I don’t know why more people don’t take advantage of them. If it’s true that “they don’t make ‘em like they used to,” then why not make use of older construction elements?

All over the country, beautiful old houses and buildings get torn down, and you better believe that those parts of the construction that can be resold will be. So why not get some gorgeous old handmade French doors instead of the uninspiring new ones that are on the market these days? Put a little copper-colored rustoleum on a wrought iron heating grate and you have a gorgeous design element for your home. Think of it as the ultimate form of recycling. The possibilities are endless.

That’s why I love salvage. The possibilities. But you have to leave your expectations at home. You can’t go in with preconceived notions. You can think, “I’m looking for a door,” for example, but if you’ve got it in your head that you want an 8 panel door with an arc of stained glass windows across the top, brass handles and a peep hole, you’re setting yourself up for disappointment.

Salvage yards are an entirely different spiritual shopping journey. They are not just one more errand on the old to-do list. They’re an adventure. Close cousins to junk yards, they’re often in sketchy neighborhoods. You don’t walk in to a nice, clean, orderly space, grab everything that’s on your list and walk out. You have vague ideas. And then you wander around, sometimes seeing rats scurrying about from the corner of your eye. You dig through piles of stuff with sharp, rusty edges. You wait until something speaks to your soul. You imagine how something would look once you slap a coat of paint on it. You expect to get dirty. You also expect to have to go back more than once. Patience, Grasshopper.

Right now I’m at the beginning stage of the relationship with my new (to me) house. Things I’m doing now, like adding insulation, require new product. But once those elements are dealt with, I can’t wait to get down and even dirtier to make my house unique!

Salvage

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Shipping Container Chic

No doubt about it. Seattle is booming. The city bird should be the construction crane. Despite the astonishing number of buildings being erected, contractors can barely keep up with the housing demand.

Because of this, landlords know they can basically charge whatever they like in rent. According to Rent Jungle, as of May 2015, the average apartment rent within 10 miles of Seattle was $1853. One bedroom apartments rent for $1501 on average, and two bedroom apartment rents average $2015 per month.

This, to me, is obscene, but it gets worse. Since it obviously is quite profitable to own apartment buildings in this town, they’re cropping up like mushrooms overnight. And they’re being built as cheaply as possible, with little or no regard for aesthetics.

There’s an architectural trend in this city that I like to call “Shipping Container Chic” because these buildings look like your basic metal shipping containers, stacked one on top of the other, and the apartments themselves have about that much charm. And half the time no allowances are being made for parking, which is adding to Seattle’s gridlock.

The proliferation of this style means that this city is getting uglier by the minute, but apparently that’s okay, because, by God, it’s profitable. If this keeps up, the whole area will harken back to Communist era housing, with a little bit of colored paint thrown in as an afterthought. What ever happened to style and variety? Ugh.

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Ljubljana, Slovenia: Here there be Dragons

Another delightful tourist destination that you rarely hear about is Ljubljana in the heart of Slovenia. I have no idea why. If for no other reason, it should be a part of your itinerary simply so that you can say Ljubljana. It rolls off the tongue in a whimsical way. (Listen to it here.)

Not only is the city absolutely gorgeous, here seen from the castle that looks down upon it,

Ljubljana

but its symbol is the dragon, so you are treated to dragon sculptures everywhere.

IMG_1398Some very obliging local students posed for us on the dragon bridge.

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It’s also home to one of the coolest hostels I’ve ever stayed in, the Hostel Celica. A former prison, each cell was redesigned into cozy accommodations by a different artist, and they’re all unique, hip, funky, and cool. Here’s one.

Hostel Celica

 A university town, even the graffiti and unexpected art is well done!

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A river runs through the center of town, and that means that you get to feast your eyes on several pretty bridges as well. Here are two of the many.

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 And the architecture in this town is like nothing I’ve ever seen.

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  So if you get a chance to visit this charming city, do not pass it up!

Views from my Windows—Part Two

For the beginning of this story, check out part one.

No matter our circumstances, my mother never let it be a question in my mind that I’d be pursuing higher education. She wanted more for me than she ever had herself. I got scholarships and loans and grants and she helped me as much as she could, and off I went to Warren Wilson College in the Blue Ridge Mountains, where I learned what true beauty was. I made sure that there would be several state lines between me and my stepfather. As long as I draw breath, I will never know such a beautiful sight as those rolling hills in every shade of azure, and every shade of orange in the fall. I have been trying to get back there ever since. My soul resides in the Blue Ridge Mountains. It is where I feel at home. It is where I am as safe as I could ever be. I should have never left.

WWC Barn

But I was young and stupid, so when my college did away with my major (only 3 of us had chosen it–it was a very small school), I transferred to Flagler College in St. Augustine, Florida. I wanted to be closer to a boyfriend with whom I broke up a few months later, and I liked the architecture, too. What stupid choices we make when we’re young, not realizing they will change the direction of our entire lives. But for the next year I looked through Tiffany stained glass windows over the beautiful tourist choked streets of St. Augustine. But I never felt at home there. I was the only liberal poor kid amongst mostly rich kids who breezed through school as if it were a 4 year baby-sitting service. For them it was a way to avoid work. For me it was my life. I just didn’t fit in.

flagler_college

But I was focused on much bigger things, because that summer my sister, now stationed in the Netherlands, sent for me to keep her company. From there I traveled throughout Europe, and my views were varied, and each more spectacular than the last. All this was enhanced by the fact that I fell in love for the first time. My eyes were opened, and the world seemed full of possibilities. What an amazing world we live in! That was the happiest summer of my entire life, without a doubt. But the recurring theme in my life is that all good things must come to an end, and so this miraculous summer did. I left Europe while feasting upon a bitter smorgasbord of rejection.

After 10 days at home, I started my Junior year studying abroad in Guanajuato, Mexico. This was an adventure as well, but a scary one, because it was my first time living without some member of my family within a half day of me. I was walking this tightrope without a net, and with a completely broken heart, and temptation was all around me. Suddenly I was exotic, with my light blue eyes and my pale skin, my taller than average height (for Mexico, anyway), and my entirely undeserved “American” reputation, and because of that I was popular for the first time in my life, and for all the wrong reasons. I had adventures and misadventures in this beautiful little city, and I had a sweeping view of it from my window, along with a stone wall topped with broken glass, and a sloping cobblestone lane.

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I learned a great deal about myself and about others during this amazing sojourn, but I was glad to get back to the familiar halls of Flagler College. Even though I didn’t fit in there, at least I understood the game. Going from being the exotic center of attention to fading once again into the background was a bit of a culture shock, so I’m afraid I copped a bit of an attitude as I gazed through the Tiffany glass this time. When the opportunity to graduate a semester early came up, I leaped at it.

For the next two years I remained in St. Augustine, trying to get used to the fact that a college degree didn’t automatically bring me the success I was always led to believe that it would. That took some getting used to. So I sort of drifted rudderless through my life. I’ve got to say, though, that I had an AMAZING view yet again. I was in this horrible disintegrating house on the waterfront. It was built in 1888 and I’m convinced that it had the original plumbing. It was a big apartment, but there were entire rooms I could not enter because the floors were so soft that I would surely have fallen through. But I could sit on my balcony and watch the sailboats on Matanzas Bay, and if I stood on tip toes, I could see the Bridge of Lions from my kitchen window. I loved that place, but it should have been condemned. Instead, long after I left, someone bought it and must have poured millions into renovations to make it a bed and breakfast. People pay more in one night to sleep in my bedroom now than I paid in an entire month. That makes me smile.

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This was actually MY balcony. Sure wish it looked this good when I lived there!

But again, all good things come to an end. I lost my job, and spent a miserable, awkward and uncomfortable 6 months under the same roof with my stepfather while I searched for gainful employment. Just when I was about to lose all hope, I got a job with the State of Florida, and relocated to Jacksonville. And for 3 ½ years I had yet another spectacular view. I lived in a little studio apartment on the Cedar Creek. I could sit on my patio and watch the Muscovy ducks on the banks of the creek, and see the occasional manatee breaking the surface. At night the stars would reflect in the water and I felt like I was floating in outer space. All I had was a mattress and some lawn furniture, but I was young and didn’t care.

And then my mother got cancer.

To be continued……

My Gift to Myself

For many years now I have been setting aside 45 dollars a month to give myself a gift when I turn 50. Just a sort of thank you for having been on the planet for that long, for having survived with at least a modicum of sanity and good health, for having taken care of myself. By then I think I will have earned it.

When the time comes, I plan to take all that money and spend three weeks in Italy. First I’d like to rent a villa on the Amalfi Coast, and explore Pompeii and Naples. I plan to sit in the sun and do nothing at all. Just watch people, become a regular at a cafe, if only for a few days, eat good food, and bask like a lizard on a hot rock. I want Italy to soak into my skin.

Next, I will go to Rome, and not do as the Romans do, because I’m sure they don’t spend their time seeing all the sights and focusing on the history that surrounds them every day. I will be the typical tourist in Rome, and make no apologies for it. I want to see the coliseum, sit on the Spanish steps, eat entirely too much gelato, and tour the Vatican City.

After that, it will be on to Florence. Ah, Firenze! There, I will focus on the architecture. I want to take photographs, and maybe even draw what I see. I have no drawing experience. I’m sure these drawings will be horrible. But I will take them home and frame them because there could be no better souvenir than a horrible drawing that takes you right back to the very moment it was drawn every time you look at it.

But the bulk of my money will be spent, I’m sure, in Venice. I want to live there like a woman of the upper classes. I want a room with a view of the Grand Canal. I want to wear beautiful flowing clothing that I buy in the city. I want to eat at the finest restaurants. My focus there will be art. I will walk slowly through the galleries and savor the creativity. I want to slowly luxuriate in all the best and most beautiful things in life.

One cannot plan these things, of course, but if I’m not in a relationship at that time, I’d like to fall in love–just for a day or two, and preferably with someone who would be facing the same language barrier that I am. Communication has a nasty habit of ruining the fantasy. I simply want to be enveloped in an Italian aura, and then go home and have people remark that occasionally I get a smile on my face that no one but me will understand.

I’m looking forward to turning 50.