"We'll use what we have in the house", my grandmother told me when I asked about wrapping a small birthday present for my mother. A few hours later with her help, I had a pretty gift, wrapped in bright yellow felt with cherry rickrack in place of ribbon and a little posy of geraniums pinned onto it.
I've come across "We'll use what we have in the house" many times since. I found it in a spiritual self-help book a number of years ago when a woman who recently lost her job was trying to create a new life out of ashes. It was a phrase she told herself whenever she needed to provide a little elegant economy under her new circumstances. I tried to live by it in my own frugal times and I know I employed it often when I was raising my daughter and she had regular needs for crafts and school projects. "We'll use what we have in the house" came to signify creativity and fun as we would both put on our thinking caps to try to devise the very thing that was required at the time.
Have I ever told you that I hate my kitchen? There. I said it. It's tremendously outdated with a tile floor that shatters to bits anything that falls on it. I have a basketful of what will one day be a mosaic walkway to prove it (that's a retirement dream and I will definitely be using what I have in the house when I bring it to fruition). But besides the tile floor, I really despise the cabinets. I simply cannot get away from them and I know you've seen them. They are cream with a thin line of pale oak on the bottom with a groove to be used as a handle for opening and closing. I can't seem to get away from them either because they've been in every apartment I have ever rented. I did ask for them once, when my husband and I were building our house in 1986. Oh yes, they were in style then and ever since the dear Universe has kept me in cream cabinet clover whether I like it not. They reek of the 80's and you may be wondering why I haven't replaced them. Well, the cabinetry I truly want would cost a very pretty penny and it's been filed in my "Someday" folder which by now should be called, "If I Win the Lottery" folder. My longed-for cabinets were far cheaper a few years ago. Sigh...
I think my unhappiness with my kitchen reached a crescendo when I began to pour over Instagram kitchens. They are gorgeous - matching stainless steel appliances, granite islands with plenty of flat surface for rolling out pie crusts, and rich-looking hardwood floors with colorful Oriental rugs in magenta and blue. Sigh, again...
But I rather like the kitchen in the photo above. It's ancient with character. And it kind of reminds me of my grandmother's kitchen where she made lots of pies without a single granite island to be found. Although there is some lovely woodwork, there are no designer kitchen towels or window treatments, just as there were none in my grandmother's kitchen. Here, there are some simple touches like the fruit bowl, the plain kitchen towel, and something delicious just taken from that great oven which was probably expensive but I imagine it old and persnickety. My grandmother would be shocked today at what William Sonoma deems absolutely necessary for kitchens, such as rubber spatulas in the shape of bunnies for Easter. I'm exaggerating... but my grandmother cooked with plain old aluminum pots and pans and rolled out her pie crusts on top of the kitchen table because she had no counter space at all except for a porcelain dish drain which was attached to her impractially tall kitchen sink.
So not too long ago, I made peace with my cabinets and flooring. For now. Instead, I started to notice how lovely my kitchen looks on late winter afternoons when a certain slant of heavenly light throws golden rays across the wood dining table. That's a table with matching chairs that my mother gave me and the one from which I fed my daughter countless lovingly-made meals while she was growing up. And once I put a respectable fruit bowl on it, I noticed the light sought that too and the crystal wedding bowl holding the apples and pears answered back with trembling prisms of faint rainbows on the detested tile floor.
Soon I found a pair of old brass candlesticks in the bottom of the hutch and then I went rifling through an old box of doilies that were part of my grandmother's legacy. Sewn together they made a charming little valance for the kitchen window. And I didn't stop there - I pulled out an old forlorn Teddy bear my daughter left behind and plopped him in a basket on a ladderback chair, also inherited, that lives in a neglected corner. How could I have known I like Teddy bears until now? His warm presence makes me smile when I shuffle in to make my coffee at 6 am every morning. And if the mournful little thing could speak, he might just tell me that he applauds my efforts to love my kitchen back to life, cabinets be damned. Surely, he has noticed too - I've been using what I have in the house.