Andorra to Carcassonne_1166

When we head back to the U.S. this summer, I will miss the castles. There may be nothing quite so European as the castles that dot the continent. And when you tour one that’s been maintained or restored, or just hike around in one that long ago surrendered to the elements, there’s something extra cool about knowing the dates it was begun. 11th Century. 12th Century. I mean–right?!  Exploring places with the patina of so much age messes with my brain in the most extraordinary way: I stand inside walls mortared centuries ago, and I realize how short my life is. And how small I am in the scheme of things.

But enough philosophizing.

Sure, I have my favorites. I adored Lleida, in Catalunya, an hour and a half west of Barcelona. And I recently acquired a new favorite: the château fort in Lourdes, France, in the lush midlands of the Pyrenees.  But favorites aside for the moment, here’s another reason I love castles. When I was young, I used to want to live in one–you know, to be the Maiden of the Castle, so I could parade around in jewels and brocaded gowns and all that ish. But now? I’d decorate castles!–be the Official Designer, as it were.  (Since we’re fantasizing.)  Ohh the textiles! the grand furniture! the unlimited supply of sweet breads and beignets and other very naughty French pastries that would necessarily be written into my contract!

(Admit it: in your fairytale world, you’d sign on too, if you could!)

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Blue Shutters, Please

by Becky on April 25, 2013 · 2 comments

in Design, Travel

Andorra to Carcassonne leg of tripIMG_1156

I’m rather taken with shutters. Which were everywhere in France. What’s more, they tempt you to imagine what’s on the inside of the windows they adorn. How easily I could picture myself in that–house!?–barn!? Whatever it was, I already had us unpacked, moved in, and hanging pictures on the (very) old walls. All thanks to those perennially charming shutters.

Once upon a time, I built my own ‘doll’ house out of boxes I salvaged from somewhere or other. Summer of my seventh grade year, I believe it was. And pretty quickly, I realized that the effort of ‘designing’ the rooms mattered far more to me than whether the glossy-eyed things meant to inhabit those rooms ever got to call the place Home. Dolls, schmolls.

If you’re the kind of gal who hangs onto her Architectural Digest mags for years; if you can fritter away hours thinking about how you’re going to reupholster some Piece With Potential you picked up at an estate sale; if you put yourself to sleep at night devising ways to afford blue stone to lay on the walkways of the patio/garden/’retreat’ you fantasize about building, then you are a Blue Shutter Sister.

Welcome to the club. And do come inside, where it’s cozy.

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Three things to love about being in Europe with three kids.


One. Sib-love. The “darlings,” (holding hands in the photo) in the Born neighborhood. My younger two kids log lots of time together. Set them down on a street: Goose hurdles whatever’s in his path, and Miss Zinnia claps and cheers him on. Europe is their relationship writ large. He’s the master of derring-do, she’s the appreciative audience, and Catalunya is the venue. Five years apart, these two would have been in totally separate orbits at home. Here in Spain, they’re in the same one.

Two. Passion-play. Miss Lavender, who loves design, bumps up against it all the time, especially in the old part of the city, where Barcelona’s retailers configure their store spaces in often unexpected ways. In Kling, for example, where we hit up a sale the other day, a small space becomes an opportunity for self expression when shoppers are invited to write messages with magnetic letters on one of the store’s walls. When you take an old building, with its fabulous old bones, and put it in collision with elements like glass, steel, repurposed wood and antiques, or even opportunities for play, you’ve got a great formula for showcasing your goods. Wandering Gotic and Born is like a mini design internship!

Kling, Tessa Lynn_5856

Three. Play-time. Sometimes, seems like you’ve gotta go somewhere else to remember how fun your siblings can be. A new playground means playtime feels new again. How about this old suspension bridge in Rupit, in the Catalunyan countryside? Yep. Works perfectly.

Suspension bridge3_0038

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Like the collage, courtesy of Miss Lavender?

Sometimes the right DIY just falls from the sky.  Or, in this case, shows up on the street.  Here in the city, people remodeling their pisos (apartments) often haul the remnants of their old life out to the street for others to claim.  An unusual practice, but one that resulted in a major find for Miss Lavender, who had been wanting for ages to create a design/idea board out of an old something-or-other.  When the Eleven O’Clock Dad found a tall, narrow, old door standing up against a tree a few blocks away, he brought it home, where it immediately acquired a new life as a Grand DIY Idea.

Fast forward a couple of months.  After undergoing a strenuous facelift, including two thorough sandings and wipe downs, the door was ready for chalkboard paint.  Two back-to-back coats, and hey!

Sanding 1_1360

Ready to paint_1392




Who knew that someone else’s throw-away could become a legit bit of happy? Total cost: about 30 euros. Nicely done, Miss Lavender. (How’s that Spanish coming?)

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Years ago in one of her columns for the Oprah magazine, Martha Beck talked about how to connect with your right life.  As she explained it, first, you need to know what you’re truly passionate about.  For some of us, that might seem like a big “duh.”  But she points out that some people have gotten so good at ignoring those self-sent invitations to take up doing what they love that the invitations eventually stop coming.  The result:  they completely lose touch with their sense of vocation and spend their lives doing what they feel they’re expected to–at the expense of ever doing what they love.

Her remedy for this is an exercise so powerful, I’ve used it many times with my teens to get them thinking about how to engage with their connected, impassioned selves.  So here’s the trick:  notice where your thoughts go when you’re not aware that they’re going anywhere.  In other words, when you find yourself daydreaming, what do you daydream about?  More often than not, we daydream about what we’d really love to be doing.  I suggested this to my son, who often wondered what (beyond surfing) he was meant to do with his life. When he became more aware of where his daydreaming mind went, he started attending to it, and he discovered over time that his thoughts always went to music–and not just to the kind he wanted to listen to, but the kind he wanted to make.

My older daughter’s thoughts inevitably go to fashion and design, more specifically to things she can make right now in an attempt to beautify her little room here in Spain.  Recently, my husband found an old door sitting out in front of an apartment building nearby, a signal that someone was ready to abandon it to a new owner.  The piece is tall and narrow, as are so many doors here, with the hinges still on it and panels carved into it, which she plans to cover with chalkboard paint as a prelude to standing it up against a wall in her bedroom, where it will serve as an art board.  How to give old things with good bones a new life–this occupies her daydreams.  Currently, my younger daughter has been daydreaming about growing a little garden.  Her nice dad helped her find some antique pots to serve as homes for her herbs, and she’s one step closer to realizing her dream of becoming a plant whisperer.

The second piece to this is the more complex one.  As we grow up, we realize that the price of doing what we dream about means acquiring the discipline to accept the drudgery that always goes along with it.  It was easy, for example, for all of us to watch my amazing niece, Breeja, who just swam in the Olympics, and forget the day-in, day-out, unremitting, muscle-straining work that got her to London.  Yes, she dreamed of being an Olympic swimmer.  And oh yes, she absolutely did the work.

What do your kids daydream about?  Where do their thoughts go when they’re untethered?    Ask them.  The answers are illuminating.  Moreover, sometimes it falls to us to help move them along in their march toward a dream.  My son’s brilliant piano teacher interviews and auditions every prospective student.  She also wants a detailed bibliography of the family’s music libary.  When he first met with her, who do you think put that bibliography together??  Um-hmm.  That little task took many, many hours out of my life, but it helped land him a spot on her docket.

How do you help your teens identify and move toward the things they daydream about?  Over the years, I’ve missed the boat a couple of times, not for lack of good intentions but simply for lack of know-how. So let’s grow each other’s tool kits, shall we? What a great resource we are for each other!

(Photo from June, 2012. The Eleven O’Clock Kids are dead serious about Budapest.)

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