The incredibly nice folks at West Elm invited me to share some before and after photos of my breakfast nook on their blog, Front & Main. I’ve been following Front & Main for a while now (they share recipes, tips for entertaining, and design inspiration – it’s really a great blog) so I was more than delighted to be asked. Eleanor insisted on making an appearance too, of course. What a diva.
If you have a moment, take a look! Man, the before photos of this house will never cease to make me cringe.
A portrait of my great grandparents (on the left) at a family wedding in the late 1920′s.
I’m really excited to be part of a show called Portrait of a Secret, which takes place at The Scarab Club on Tuesday, February 25th.
Literary Detroit and The Scarab Club have been collecting family secrets through an anonymous online form and sharing them with artists, including myself, who have selected some of them as inspiration for an original work of art. These art pieces, as well as the written family secrets, will be shared at the event.
This event is inspired by Post Secret which is an ongoing community mail art project, in which people mail their secrets anonymously on a homemade postcard. Select secrets are then posted on their website, used for Post Secret’s books, or art exhibits. Entries range from admissions of sexual misconduct and criminal activity to confessions of secret desires, embarrassing habits, hopes and dreams.
While researching this show, I fell down a rabbit hole of Post Secret archives, so I thought I’d share a few of the images with you. Some are amusing, some are disturbing, all are veritable statements on the human condition.
The evening will also include a discussion of the book Annie’s Ghosts. Described as part memoir, part detective story, and part history, Annie’s Ghost’s tells of Steve Luxenberg’s investigation into his “secret aunt” who was confined to the Eloise Mental Hospital in Wayne County for many years as her existence was kept from Luxenberg and his generation of the family.
Pivoting off the book, the evening will also include a talk by Mark Bowden, a genealogy expert from the Detroit Public Library’s Burton Collection, who will lead attendees through the process of uncovering stories from their own past.
I mentioned before that I inherited a bounty of family heirlooms after my great uncle passed away. One of the things we discovered in his house was an old trunk filled to the brim with very old family photos, including the one above. Many of the photographs date back to the 1800′s and although I can assume they are pictures of my family members, I don’t know many of their names. I’m interested to hear Mark Bowden speak and hope to gain some new tools for tracing my family’s past.
I’m so excited to hear all the family secrets and to see the artwork they inspired! It should be a fun night.
If you’re interested in reading the book, copies of Annie’s Ghosts are available locally at Source Booksellers, 4240 Cass Avenue, Ste 105, Detroit, MI 48201 and will also be available for purchase the night of the event.
I hope to see you all there!
Growing up, we had a lot of pets. Not in a creepy animal hoarder way, but always a dog, a few indoor/outdoor cats, and usually a small creature like a hamster, rabbit, or fish. When a pet died, it was buried in our backyard with a proper funeral, and almost immediately replaced. Sometimes I’d find a stray cat and coax it home, sometimes my dad would show up after work with a new dog. My parents liked animals and all, but I can only assume they tolerated running a home for wayward pets because I loved those goddamn animals so much. Loved is probably an understatement. I’ve always been acutely aware that I need them more than they need me.
1980 – “holding” my first cat who we found in a tree.
Although I grew up in the heart of suburbia (30 minutes North of Detroit), our street, and the few streets surrounding it, somehow evaded development until the early nineties. Our tiny piece of town was a rural oasis tucked inside the neighboring suburban sprawl. Our street was narrow, barely paved, and covered in a layer of gravel. My mom & dad’s house, which they still live in, is very old (the title of the home literally states “old” as the date built). Instead of a garage, we had a dirt floor barn and attached to the back of our house was a pump house, which until the early 90′s, was used to supply our well water. Our yard, which contained several apple trees, two cherry trees, a pear tree, and a plumb tree, was surrounded by woods and farmland. My parents allowed a family of farmers, who lived a few doors down, to grow crops on an acre of our land in exchange for free fruits and vegetables. Once a week my mom and I pulled my little red wagon down to their farmhouse, and filled it with tomatoes, corn, lettuce, strawberries, and peppers from their produce stands. In the summer, if I craved a snack, I would run out to the field and pluck a green pepper from the ground or a pear from one of the fruit trees. In the fall, I’d pick my own pumpkins right from the patch just beyond our backyard. Not a dollar was ever exchanged between our families. It was all very Ann of Green Gables and back then I had no appreciation for how enchanting it all was.
The majority of my friends lived in the neighborhood across town, which seemed like a world away. With no sidewalks, no kids, no siblings, and no parks nearby, my pets, and any creatures within a square mile of our house, became my playmates. I often dragged a little wooden chair to a clearing in the woods just beyond our backyard. I would sit and read books aloud to the birds, the squirrels, and my cats. Every Spring, for a stretch of four or five years, one of my outdoor cats gave birth to a litter of kittens, and so would begin a new semester of Tracey’s School for Kittens. I’d teach them how to eat solid food, climb stairs, and use the litter box. They’d all sleep in my bed every night until they were old enough to be re-homed. When I was 7 years old, I got my first camera – a Kodak Ektralite 10. I followed the cats all through the house and neighborhood, shot countless pictures, and mailed all the doubles to my grandmother. She’d reply a few days later with an envelope filled to the brim with pictures of her cats. I realize this probably sounds like a terribly lonely and feral childhood, but it wasn’t. I loved my feline companions, and they loved me back.
A few of my cats, photographed by me, in the 80′s.
So yeah. All of this to say I LIKE CATS. And dogs, and birds, and forest animals, and well, people too, but maybe I like cats the most? Question mark?
A while back, I posted a throwback photo of myself on Instagram & Facebook wearing this shredded cat t-shirt.
That shirt elicited a bunch of enthusiastic comments, because apparently it was quite popular back in the 80′s. To celebrate my love for you (and cats) (and the 80′s) I thought I’d create a free download so you can make your very own adult sized shredded cat tee! CAT LOVERS UNITE!
A plain white t-shirt, iron-on inkjet transfer paper, scissors, iron, inkjet printer.
If your shirt is wrinkly, give it a good ironing so you have a smooth surface to work with.
Download the cat image here. Right click on the image and choose “save image as” to save it to your computer. Print the image at it’s full size onto 8.5 by 11 iron-on transfer paper. Be sure to follow the print instructions included with the paper – it will explain how to create a mirror image in your print dialogue box.
Cut out the printed image leaving a 1/4 inch border all around.
Place the printed image face down onto the front of the shirt. Make sure it’s centered.
Iron the printed image according to the instructions included with the paper. The paper I used called for two minutes of even pressure at the highest cotton setting.
Once the paper has completely cooled, gently peel it away from the shirt.
Cut off the hems on each arm, the bottom of the shirt, and the neckline as shown below. I like my shirts to have a bit of a scoop neckline, but that’s just my preference.
Make a series of vertical cuts up each of the arms. I made mine about a third of an inch thick, but you don’t have to be super accurate with this. Then, make a series of vertical cuts from the bottom of the shirt in an inverted triangle pattern (make sure to cut through both layers at the same time so the front and back are identical). Tug down on each strand to elongate them, which will make the edges of the fabric curl in.
Add a pair of saucy swants and you have a fierce ensemble. This outfit says you value comfort, but you’re not afraid to party. Meow.
What is it about the word MOIST that offends our delicate senses? Certainly you agree that many things in life are preferable when moist. Chocolate cake, Thanksgiving turkey, our eyeballs, the rainforest, Ryan Gosling.
So why are we so grossed out? Could it be the texture of the word? The way our lips pucker like a “real-doll” in that first syllable? MOY. Moyyyyyst. MOIST.
This is the worst blog post I’ve ever written.
Right, then. The winter from hell. I’m suffering through a terrible case of Seasonal Affective Disorder – S.A.D. (but true). Did you know the saddest day of the year was January 20th? I drove for 45 minutes, in the snow, during rush hour, to get two teeth filled on January 20th. So I concur, Wikipedia. I concur. Winter sucks the ever living soul out of me, and to add insult to injury, it takes whatever moisture it can find with it. If you’re like me and fed up with dry skin, itchy eyes, and static electrifying your loved ones, then you may appreciate some of these tips to add moisture back into the air.
Now, before you say “Hey Tracey, you beautiful creature – why don’t you just buy a humidifier?”, I’ll tell you why. Humidifiers can be great but ONLY IF you use them properly and are diligent in cleaning them. If you don’t, you’re doing more harm than good. I bought a humidifier a few years ago, and after three days of use, I had a sore throat and noticed a thin powdery residue on the surfaces in our house. After doing some research via the Environmental Protection Agency, I found that the residue is a byproduct of minerals found naturally in tap water. Ultrasonic and cool mist humidifiers disperse materials such as microorganisms, metals, molds, and pollutants into the air. Breathing in these materials can serve as an irritant that can cause bronchitis, aggravate asthma, and can be especially dangerous to people with respiratory allergies. Gross, right? To avoid exposure to these pollutants, it is recommended that you use distilled water (never tap water) in the tanks. It is also recommended that the tank be emptied and wiped dry DAILY before refilling. Additionally, the entire unit should be taken apart and thoroughly cleaned with a brush, removing any scale, deposits, or film that has developed on the sides of the tank or interior surfaces and all surfaces wiped dry every THREE DAYS. Um, yeah. That lasted for about a week before I kicked the humidifier to the curb.
Ten Ways to Naturally Combat Dry Air in Your Home:
1. Simmer a big pot of water on the stove for a few hours. Try adding a few lemon and orange slices, a dash of cloves, and a sprinkle of cinnamon. In addition to adding much needed moisture to the air, your house will smell SO GOOD for hours. Believe that. Don’t go too crazy on the cloves though. Those suckers are fragrant.
2. If you take baths, or give your kids baths, let the water sit for a while and cool completely in the tub afterwards, with the door open.
3. Turn off the exhaust vent and open the bathroom door while showering. Skip this one if you have roommates because that would probably be weird. Or maybe not? I don’t know your business.
4. After bathing, hang wet bath towels in the bedroom to dry.
5. Use drying racks to lay out your freshly washed clothes. You can also drape a dampened sheet across a drying rack in the bedroom at night.
6. Add plants to your home. Not only do plants add moisture to the air, but they also clean the air of pollutants. I keep a few plants scattered throughout the house, and always next to the bed.
7. Set out decorative bowls/vessels of water. Maybe add a drop or two of essential oil. Pick up some inexpensive flowers from the grocery store and drop them into vases of water.
8. Crack open a window for a few minutes every day. Although it feels dry outside, there is more moisture in the air outside than there is inside our homes. Cracking a window for a few minutes lets in moisture and cleans the air of pollutants.
9. Open your dishwasher after the cleaning cycle is done to release the steam and allow dishes to dry naturally.
10. Fill a spray bottle with water and mist the curtains in each room.
Now get to moisting! Moist. MOISSSSSST.
Winter of 2004 – Just after I got the keys to my house.
Ten years ago I bought this house. I was 25 , and although Mike D and I were dating, we had no immediate plans to move in together. I was terrified to make such a huge financial commitment on my own, but I was also tired of renting and pouring my time and money into someone else’s space. It was 2004, and home prices were at an all time high. My options were slim – either an updated home in an undesirable neighborhood or a fixer upper in a great location. I chose location. Over the next ten years I learned so much about decorating, DIY-ing, and sprucing up a home on a budget. I made some mistakes and suffered many headaches, but it’s all been worth it.
For me, making a home is about designing a space that has meaning, character, and story. A space that is welcoming. I want to be surrounded by beautiful things that lift my soul – art, photographs, personal collections. It is important that our home feels calm, happy, and reflects our sense of humor. Luxurious, but not fussy. Organized and clean, but not sterile. I want to sit on my sofa, turn on Girls, and enjoy a glass of red wine and a slice of pizza without worrying obsessively about spills and crumbs. I want my friends to come over and feel like they can be rowdy and have fun. I want to live in a space that makes me (and Mike D) feel happier than any other place in the world.
Designing our home has been a slow process, and one that will never be “done”. I like change, and I often move things in, out, and around to keep things fresh. I hunt for sales. I scour thrift stores and Craigslist. I mix inexpensive pieces from big box stores with vintage flea market finds. Nothing in my house is high-end or unattainable. I’d like to say that I learned this thrifty business on my own, but it’s not true. I stand on the shoulders of giants. And by giants I mean my mom.
1979 – My mom andI in my bedroom at our house in Detroit.
When I was 10 years old, my parents took me shopping for new carpet for my bedroom. As we entered the local flooring shop, my dad made a beeline to the back of the store. Rolls of remnants were stacked under a sign that said CLEARANCE! SALE! BARGAINS! I followed him through the store, running my hand through rows of carpet samples, a rainbow of berbers and shags. My eyes landed on a dusty rose plush and I fell hard.
Me: “Dad! I found it! The carpet of my dreams!”
Dad: “Oh yeah? How about this blue remnant? It has some vomit stains but it’s only ten cents a square foot! There’s a nice poop-brown shag back here too!”
*The accuracy of these quotes is questionable, but conveys the spirit of the conversation nonetheless.
I exchanged a look with my mom and pulled something from my limited arsenal of beggary. As she looked back and forth between us – me, my dad, the carpet of my dreams – I saw a look come over her and felt an acute sense of solidarity. She understood how that carpet made my heart sing. I was a moth and the carpet was the flame. My poor dad never stood a chance.
Soon after, my mom took me shopping for bedding, curtains, and accessories. We combed through discount department stores and thrift stores, and though she cringed at many of my choices (ahem… teal Aztec-print wallpaper), she used her decorating magic and her ability to stretch a dollar to make it all come together. It turned out super cute, super 80′s, and super me. I spent a good portion of the next ten years of my life in that room. It’s where I hosted sleepovers, read Nancy Drew books under the covers with a flashlight, wrote epic missives in my diary, listened to purple rain at least a million times, and cried into my pillow over the calamities of being a teenage girl.
1987 – My BFF and I in my bedroom (pre-dusty rose carpet of my dreams).
My mom gave me a beautiful and comfortable space of my own to get through those magical and difficult years. That room was my refuge. She taught me so many things, but most importantly, she taught me the meaning of home.
1981 – My mom, my dad, my powder puff big wheel, and I.
In honor of the ten year anniversary of buying my house, I thought I’d share a few photos taken on my first day as a home owner, compared to how things look today. Behold! Faux wood paneling, dirty carpet, and dusty old drapes abound!
Before (Living Room):
Before (Living Room & Breakfast Nook):
Before (Master Bedroom):
After (more details on this room over on Design Sponge):
Before (Dining Room):
More befores to come – namely the full bathroom and my office. I have some plans for those rooms over the next few months.
A special shout out to my dad for showing me how to do so many home-ownery things, such as installing light fixtures without getting electrocuted and the many uses for a crowbar.
(And for buying me the dusty rose carpet which he now gets to enjoy in his exercise room).
1984 – My dad and I.