Saturday, February 13, 2010

Reading Arrangements

It is not my intention to catch up on six weeks of blog posts in a few days (counting only from the beginning of this year and ignoring all the weekly posts not written in 2009). However, I find myself in a blogging mood and decided on a second foray into less hectic living.

Elly and I have lived in our home in midtown Kansas City for over 21 years. Our choice of a house in a comfortable and friendly midtown neighborhood, and our decision to stay put, has contributed significantly to our happiness and to the peaceful quality of our lives. Americans are said to relocate, on average, every seven years. This claim is consistent with what we have observed in our own neighborhood. Many houses on our block have changed hands three or more times since we moved in. The habit of moving so frequently is undeniably connected with the hectic pace of life experienced by so many, and a subject worthy of its own post. Not this one, however. :-)

Over the years we have put considerable effort into renovating our home, doing much of the work ourselves. And we still have quite a bit to do. We’ve taken our time, probably more time than many people would want to take. One benefit of the slow approach, however, is we have managed to avoid major blunders in the form of design changes not consistent with the character of our house, which was built at the turn of the 20th century. One sees such mistakes all too frequently. Bedrooms, for example, in contemporary homes, are much larger than bedrooms in homes built over 100 years ago. A common remodeling practice is to combine several rooms in an older home into a single bedroom. We had planned such a change ourselves, initially. But as the years passed, we came to appreciate the economy and scale of the bedrooms originally designed for our home. When we finally started remodeling the bedrooms, the idea of knocking down walls to combine them was not given a second thought.

The home we chose all those years ago reflected what we both value and wanted for our lives, but to a surprising extent our home has also shaped our lives and our ideas. The destination of this circuitous ramble is where I am presently seated — my reading chair in our living room.

I could not say precisely when the living room became my favorite place in our home, but it has. It is a sanctuary of repose, relaxation, and reflection. And for reading.

The bookcase and fireplace came first. Our fireplace surely looks original. It isn’t. The previous owners tore out the original fireplace, so we had to replace it. We visited other houses in our neighborhood to see what their fireplaces looked like before rebuilding ours. None were wood-burning. All the original fireplaces in the homes we visited had natural gas heaters. We found the mantelpiece at an antique store in the area. It undoubtedly came from a home built around the same time as ours.

Once the room was finished and furnished, Elly established the sofa as her favorite location (closer to the heating vent), and I chose the corner chair near one of the bookcases. The habit of keeping a selection of currently favored books on the shelves by my chair developed over time. It wasn’t until the last few years that I got serious about a decent reading light. My first choice, a floor-standing Ott light didn’t work out. The light was too cool (it was daylight balanced, which looks very blue indoors) and had a long arm that proved awkward in my reading corner. I replaced that with a rickety floor lamp uncovered by a rummage through our attic, a survivor from our apartment days and not a favorite of Elly’s. Admittedly, one had to be careful when turning it on to avoid knocking off the shade, which at its best was obviously off kilter.

One Saturday in January we visited an area furniture store, Revival Home Furnishings, and found a nice lamp for the living room table. It wasn't truly adequate as a reading light on its own, so I added a floor standing swing-arm lamp from Lowes. Lowes also had replacement shades, one of which perfectly matched the shade on the new table lamp and brought the combination together nicely. The result meets my requirement for bright, comfortable reading light and Elly’s requirement for attractive home decor.

So I have a favorite chair where I like to read. What’s the big deal? First, I spend more time reading and I enjoy it more. (I enjoy the occasional nap, too. A nice thing about books is they wait patiently and don’t go on without you.) The satisfaction from the arrangement, honestly, far exceeds the effort that went into establishing it. We visited some neighbors years ago, and I noticed that Bob (a local history buff) had his own favorite chair with reading light and bookcase in the living room. It didn’t seem like a big deal to me. My perspective has changed considerably since then. It is a big deal. Setting up a spot where you can enjoy a relaxing pastime does wonders for your peace of mind and helps you slow down and enjoy your life instead of rushing through it. And yes, the neighbors we met years ago still live in the same house. Bob may well be sitting in his chair, reading, as I write this post...

Sailor 1911 Fountain Pen

Okay, I haven’t gotten off to a quick start on blogging in 2010. In fact, this is my first post of the year. I have meant to post many times over the past month and a half and simply have not taken the time to do it.

Fountain pens were first mentioned on The Life Less Hectic in a blog post almost one year ago — a post which announced my intention to write a series of posts about slowing down. A series that so far has included two posts, written one week apart, and then nothing since.

While I haven't kept up with my blog this past year, I have written regularly in my personal journal, using the Lamy fountain pen mentioned in my post last February. As I said then, I was surprised by how enjoyable it is to write with a fountain pen and in the year intervening the practice has become a daily habit with me. I decided to splurge on a quality pen and chose a Sailor 1911 with a fine nib. Sailor pen nibs are among the best available, and their fountain pens are reasonably-priced considering the quality, especially when compared with Monte Blanc pens.

Naturally, I purchased mine from our local purveyor of fine writing instruments, The Pen Place. It is beautifully crafted and pure pleasure to write with. It provides an effortless, consistent line with the lightest imaginable touch. When I first became interested in fountain pens, I read that people suffering from arthritis frequently turn to them. Fortunately, I am not afflicted with the condition (at least so far), but I was puzzled about why writing with a fountain pen would help. The reason is that they require practically no force to write with. Using an ordinary ball-point pen requires a surprising amount of force. Often in the past I found my hand cramping up from the death’s grip hold I had on my pen. A small amount of practice with a fountain pen eliminates the problem entirely.

Here is one more picture: a closeup of the nib.