It’s come to the point in the home building process where I’m starting to pick out finishes—so, the fun stuff like lights and tile and shelves and mirrors. Which means that I have spent A LOT of time looking at both home decor magazines/blogs/Instagram posts and home furnishings websites in recent weeks. And I’m here to report a serious disconnect.

Every home decor magazine and blog is all like “this year is all about pops of color!” and “check out this bold wallpaper!” and “why don’t you have jewel-toned fabric on all your walls yet?” If I look at some of my favorite designer Instagram pages like @charlottelucas, @barriebenson, and @maalleninteriors (shown in order below), I feel like my home should look a little like a suitcase packed for Woodstock in 1969—the more orange, pink, and patterned, the better. And if you don’t have French wallpaper with vines and birds, and at least three emerald green furnishings, what are you even doing?

Meanwhile, over on the home page of every major home furnishing site, there seems to be a competition for who can create the beigey-ist beige room possible. Here’s Crate and Barrel coming in strong with a room that includes exactly one color. In this room, you’re so pure, you just drink water and sit in the sun with your one blanket.

Pottery Barn is kind enough to add a few blue hues and a cup of coffee to the scene.

But don’t get too comfortable. Over at Lulu and Georgia, you can sit on your couch and look at your one brown bowl.

Serena and Lily is my all-time favorite home site—primarily because I love all of their blues and greens. And while they have more color than anyone else, even they’ve gone with the “we live in a world of beige and golden hues” theme.

Finally, West Elm is my favorite. They don’t even show furniture. They’re just like, here are some food groups that match the theme.

You see my dilemma? It’s really impossible to know what’s in style right now. (Side note: Someone should really psychoanalyze what it means that in a year with so much turmoil and unrest, American home furnishing stores are like “here are the most warm, comforting, and bland furnishings ever—buy this soft beige blanket and soothe yourselves.” But that’s a post for another day.)

Anyway, it’s really hard out there for a human who enjoys bright whites and colors in softer hues. And so all of this has been leading up to a confession: It turns out that my current favorite home furnishings/inspiration site is Pottery Barn Teen.

I refuse to feel ashamed of this. I blame the industry on the fact that my home is going to look like a 14-year-old girl decorated it. Perhaps if there’d been more options and variation, I could have found inspiration elsewhere—maybe even in a place that includes kitchen decor because adults use kitchens. But this is where we are and so I’m embracing it. And it really only feels awkward when I’m scrolling through items and there’s something like a random Harry Potter themed owl clock thrown in.

Anyway, this is the latest update on my home building. And I’d like to respectfully ask that if you come to my home in the future, you just settle into your bean bag chair next to the porcelain unicorn diffuser and keep quiet about it.

A little (ok, a long) story about Charlotte history

Yesterday, I had to pick up something at my office. I take a strange route to the office now from my new apartment. I drive down a small road that runs smack between the western-most airport runway and I-485. There’s one turn-off on the road that takes a bridge over I-485 and at that turn-off, there’s a sign with an arrow to Dixie’s Grille.

I’d noticed it a few dozen times before, and had looked it up on Yelp. The photos of cheeseburgers looked tasty and it had decent reviews. The name made me apprehensive though. So, as I was driving home from the office, I decided to swing by Dixie’s Grille just to see if it was a place I might like to visit one day.

This is the story of how I came across the Cooper Log House, a 1780 pioneer home that is likely the oldest standing structure in Mecklenburg County. To most people, this would be a semi-interesting find. To a person who prides herself on her knowledge of Charlotte history, this was basically the equivalent of an Egyptian archeologist accidentally stumbling across the tomb of a mummy they didn’t even know had existed.

The house sits on a corner and I only noticed it after I’d turned around from Dixie’s (which looked promising, by the way). The house is striking in person. It’s so obviously old and makes no sense in the neighborhood. Naturally, I ended up spending a large portion of my evening researching the home and surrounding area. Its history is remarkable. And it’s given me an entirely different perspective on Charlotte’s early history. Here’s what I learned:

The original owner of the home was a pioneer named William Cooper who built the log cabin on 350 acres next to the Catawba River (it’s said William inherited part of the land from his father, John, one of the earliest settlers in the area who came here from Scotland). William was a slaveholder, raising cotton and other crops. He passed the home to his son, who passed it to his son, who fought in the Civil War and went on to be the Sheriff of Mecklenburg County from 1887 to 1898.

The home itself has been added on to many times—mostly in the 1800s. But it’s said to still have original pieces like a fireplace mantle from 1780. It also has several outbuildings from the 1800s.

This part of Charlotte, known as the Dixie Berryhill neighborhood (adjacent to Steele Creek), was originally incredibly prosperous. It included miles of Catawba River shoreline and hundreds of acres of farmland dotted with fancy antebellum homes. Then, in the 1870s, a railroad was built that went directly from Charlotte to Atlanta—its primary crossing was just south of where Wilkinson Boulevard now crosses the Catawba.

Postcard of the Wilkinson Boulevard Catawba River Bridge in 1920. (Note: This is the same bridge today and it’s annoying because cars are much larger in 2021.)

The railroad was built there because of the proximity to the crops. Then, in the 1920s, Wilkinson Boulevard was built there because of the proximity to the influential area and closeness to the railroad. Wilkinson quickly became the most major highway in the state of North Carolina. Then, in the 1930s, Ben Douglas built his first runway at what would become Charlotte Douglas International Airport. He chose the location because, at the time, pilots needed landmarks they could see from the air and the perpendicular lines of Wilkinson Boulevard and the Catawba River were perfect. Finally, in the 1990s, when planners were trying to decide where to put the outer loop (I-485), it made sense for it to be close to the airport, but not as far west as the Catawba.

And so now, precisely because it had been the fanciest area in town and home to the wealthiest landowners 200 years ago, that area of town is criss-crossed with major highways, railroads, and an airport—making it a far cry from fancy these days.

I didn’t know any of this before yesterday and I couldn’t be more excited about it. It’s hard to find much Charlotte history beyond 150 years ago. But here’s this little treasure trove right across the river from me.

So, back to the house (and I promise this entry is ending soon): According to Mecklenburg County land records, it’s been owned by the same man since 1989. And according to this weird listing on Zillow, it’s not for sale but it’s “open to offers any time.” Currently, it doesn’t look like a historic home. In fact, it looks a little like a junkyard. (I’m not trying to be disrespectful to the current owner. I think he may actually be running some sort of junkyard from the backyard.)

No one seems to be giving the structure the attention it needs. Beyond some documents I found about being sure to save it when I-485 was being built, it’s been virtually ignored in the public sphere. So, I need someone with a historical focus to make one of those offers, buy this home, and fully restore it. Then open it to the public (me!) so I can visit Mecklenburg County’s oldest home.

All this because I just wanted to check out a burger joint.

Last winter I tried Whole30. I hated it. Like, if I were rating it on a scale of one to five, I would rate it a negative 17. If I was feeling generous.

However, while I was eating like some kind of carnivorous rabbit, I did discover one thing that I actually liked: these tasty PF Changs inspired lettuce wraps. They’ve become one of my favorites on my recipe rotation again lately, so I thought I’d share.

Personally, I like to have them with a side of crab and cream cheese wantons and a glass of sauvignon blanc, just to reassure my body that I’m not putting it back on Whole30. But, theoretically, these are also a healthy dish. Either way, enjoy!

As best as I can tell, we’re approximately halfway through building my home. (I like to say “we’re.” I’m not doing anything other than being the annoying lady who shows up every day with a Labrador who tries to eat all the lumber.)

But we’re getting to the fun stuff now, like choosing faucets and which way doors should open—things I’ve literally never considered. Here are some random things I think are semi-interesting that I’ve learned so far in home building:

  1. One of the most unexpectedly fun things is seeing the view from each new room built. I built my house with views in mind, but I’ve found that every new window is exciting—regardless of the view. It’s something about being able to really imagine yourself in the room looking at that view that makes it real.
  2. Staircases are often built outside of the home and have the actual hardwoods on them. So, they don’t go in until there’s a roof and guaranteed dryness. The rest of the house is built without them. Weird, right?
  3. White mortar for bricks costs more because it’s made with fancy white sand, I guess?
  4. You can change more as you go than I realized. A wall went up and I said “Nope, I don’t want a wall there.” So my builder took it down. So now that’s actually happened several times.
  5. Building a house means you become a veritable meteorologist. At any given time, I can tell you the forecast for the next week because if it’s raining, progress stops. Apparently, the second half of building is less weather dependent, so I should be able to return to normal levels of weather knowledge soon.

Anyway, those are my revelations so far. I’ll post soon about more thrilling things. Like those faucets.

January Reading List

I read 16 books in January. If you’re thinking “geez, it sounds like you never left your house,” you would basically be correct. Between a global pandemic, chilly temperatures, and my newfound love of the Libby library app, there’s never been a better time for cozying up with good books.

I actually enjoyed all of these. Addie LaRue was a little too fantastical for me, The Huntress went about 50 pages longer than necessary, and I need John Grisham to chill on his need to take a stance against the death penalty in every single novel, but otherwise, I’d recommend them all.

Here are my top three picks though:

The Ten Thousand Doors of January is one of the most beautifully written books I’ve read in awhile. I loved the characters and the imagery and the way the entire book stretched my imagination. I’ve realized I like novels that have a small element of magic—like, it doesn’t take over the story, but it’s integral to the plot. This was also just a really cool plot, and one that I know will stick in my head for awhile.

Dare to Bloom is one of those books that if you read it at the right time (or, as the author would say, “season”) in your life, it’s going to feel like it was written just for you. Zim Flores, the author, might be the coolest person ever. She’s a young entrepreneur with a passion for God and traveling. And she’s just so smart and thoughtful and real. This book inspired me and it made me think. I’ve already decided I’m going to re-read it just to soak it all in.

Anxious People is hard to explain. It’s actually impossible to explain. On its surface, it’s a funny and poignant story about a failed bank robbery and an amusing hostage situation. But really it’s a story about loss and failure and how incredibly hard life can be sometimes. (Note: There’s a suicide that’s a pivotal part of the book and if I’d known that, I wouldn’t have read it. I was fine, but if that’s a trigger for you, keep it in mind.)

So, February is shaping up to be another cold and isolated month. What should I read next?

Day One

Forgiveness does not mean condoning what has been done. Forgiveness means abandoning your right to pay back the perpetrator in his own coin. – Desmond Tutu

I want to be clear. I will never be one of those people who posts fluffy quotes on pink backgrounds about how “we’re still neighbors” and “can’t we all just get along” in regards to the irreparable damage and pain caused by Donald Trump.

But I do think that today offers the opportunity to be Day One of being our better selves as a country. And I think the people who are angry about the last four years (myself included) have to be the ones who put our anger down first in favor of forgiveness. Not because we’re bigger people and not because others necessarily deserve forgiveness. But because history has repeatedly shown us that path is literally the only way to move forward together.

(To be clear, I know it’s easier for me—a white, Christian, middle-class, American-born, straight woman—to say all of these things. I understand my privilege and know that the righteous anger others feel comes from much more personal places.)

I keep thinking though of the Anne Frank quote this week, “I still believe, in spite of everything, that people are truly good at heart.” If we could actually believe that of each other, if we could set aside the name-calling and the generalizations and the hiding behind computer screens, then I think we’d find that people are truly good at heart.

So that’s my hope—to set those things aside. It’s a big one to place on a broken country ravaged by disease and divided along so many lines. But today, as a unifier replaces a divider and a female steps for the first time into the second-highest office, I see proof that great things are possible. And I believe we can move forward—together.

A year ago today I stepped out of a work presentation and answered a call from one of Michiel’s friends, and my world shattered into tiny painful pieces.

Last night, a group of us gathered around our screens to share happy stories and old photos of our friend. He is still so deeply missed. After the call ended, which was way past my bedtime because everyone else was a few time zones away, I kept thinking about the people on the call.

We all speak often about the way Michiel was a connector—not only the way he connected outsiders like me to his group of friends, but really, their entire group was formed because of the ways Michiel brought them together. It’s one of the more poignant things they share—that they are this big and happy group of loving friends because of him.

The movie “It’s a Wonderful Life” has come to my mind often this year. I wish that Michiel could, like George Bailey, have seen the ways his life changed so many other lives for the better. Like the movie character, I wish that Michiel could see the impact he made—even as a normal, innately flawed human—just by doing simple things like loving people and bringing them together. In that, he left an indelible legacy.

I’ve found this year that it’s hard to find ways to fully honor someone’s memory. I read a quote recently though that said “Be the things you loved most about the people who are gone.” And I really think that his capacity for arms-wide-open loving people and connecting them may have been the thing I loved most about Michiel.

So I think that’s one way I honor his legacy—by working to genuinely care for people people and bring them together the way Michiel would have done—because in moments like last night’s call I can see all the beautiful results of that kind of connection. And, in those moments, I know that the impact of his love will outlive us all.

Top 5: Books + TV

I’m really not sure how a person could have survived 2020 without books and TV. They were my vacations and companions in a year where those were both in short supply.

I’ve loved seeing other people’s end-of-year round-ups because they’ve given me lots of ideas for future reads and views. I read dozens of books this year, but these five novels stood out. They had memorable and unique plots (aside from The Guest List, which is a very similar plot to Foley’s other book, The Hunting Party, but both were good). The Vanishing Half and Daisy Jones gave me rich images of a place in time, while His Only Wife and American Dirt painted pictures of other countries and cultures. Most of all though, these were stories you wanted to get lost in and felt a little sad when they were over.

I was so late to the game on Schitt’s Creek, but I could not have loved this show more. If you’re like me and not really feeling it the first few episodes, push through—it gets SO good. Everyone loved The Queen’s Gambit, so that was an obvious pick. And I know there are mixed feelings on The Undoing (I wasn’t the biggest fan of the ending), but if it’s a rainy, cold weekend, you can’t go wrong with this show paired with some wine and popcorn. Yellowstone was my obsession of the year—Beth Dutton may be my favorite television character ever. And finally, with no apologies for including a teen drama, Outer Banks. This was like The OC-meets-The Goonies and just so fun to watch.