Monday, May 30, 2011

Cheep Cheep Cheep!

It was with great joy that I observed in April two blue jays building a nest right outside my bedroom window.   Oh, to be a bird and make a nest, to sing and fly all the day long!  At least that is the fun part of being a bird.  They gathered twigs, grass, some mud and rootlets and constructed it into a cozy little cup.  Might I point out that on the average, the male does more gathering, and the female does more building.  My happy couple, mated for life,  worked together in harmony, intent on doing what needed to be done:  prepare to raise a family.

I'm not sure that this was the best choice  for the nest, in terms of real estate.  Remember the realtor's adage of Location-Location-Location?  We had a late April snowfall of 5".  It was a heavy, slushy snow that  had trees and bushes bent over by the weight.  The little nest was now on the ground.  I went out to try to shake the snow off.  I was happy that my efforts were successful.  However, I didn't anticipate being covered myself.  It was rather comical. 

View of nest obscured by the screen window

It was difficult to see the nest even from my seemingly ideal vantage point.  A few leaves of the holly tree prevented my prying eyes from enjoying a complete view of the future nursery.  When at first I jumped on the window sill in excitement to see the eggs that had been laid, they were very startled and flew away.  After that error, I put up a 6 foot ladder in the bedroom to see better.   Otherwise, I perched on the bed several feet away and used a pair of powerful binoculars.

I do believe the four eggs hatched around Easter.  It was then a flurry of activity for the parents: feedings  were required every 10-15 minutes from sun up to sun down for up to three weeks!  I watched with fascination while stuffing my own face with jelly beans absconded from the Easter basket I had sent to my daughter, Emily, in New Orleans.  One day I had the binoculars focused on the nest and heard the close-by call of  the "Caw Caw!"  I was so startled that I nearly fell off my ladder when the seeming enormity of the parents filled the lens view. To see the gaping maws of the chicks was astonishing. The babies grew rapidly and soon it was a packed house.  

I was concerned because at this time, I was leaving for New Orleans to see my daughter graduate from Tulane.  I was worried about the nestlings leaving the nest and me not being around to protect them from the horrible cat Simon.

The house-animal sitter informed me that one baby was out of the nest . I returned the following day, and was able to see that they had all left but one.  I also observed that Simon had a puncture wound on his ear. And can you imagine a cat's ear swollen?  It was a clear sign to me that he had gotten too interested in the fledglings: he was soundly reprimanded by an angry parent's beak in a serious dive-bomb. Unfortunately, it got infected and he had to be taken to the vet for antibiotics and steroids.  I had little sympathy for him though; only for myself that it cost $100. It was imperative that he and Howard be kept in the house for the duration of getting the babies off the ground. They were not at all pleased with the litter box and a locked cat door. Simon growled at the box and his  yowlings were annoying, but the birds deserved every chance they had.

The suspense and drama was electrifying:  the last baby perched at the side of the nest, ready to jump ship.  Everything seemed too premature, but the parents knew best; the squallings might attract predators, or maybe the nest was full of parasites.  Not wanting to be left alone, the baby  jumped overboard to the ground.  Hopping was the mode of travel; and even then there was a tumble every few steps. Amazingly, the fledglings were corralled with commando-like precision into the next door neighbor's catless back yard.

It was a nerve-wracking first day; yes, for the parents, of course, but for me, too!  I had so much invested in this little family.  It was as if my own little story had been condensed into the month and a half or so of this blue jay story.

The babies made various stages of progress.  This little one made progress to the top of the fence by mid-morning.  

Funny, I felt such an affinity for this family, having watched the whole incredible story from the start. And yes, there was the obvious metaphor for my own child, Emily, leaving the nest and being on her own. From dorm incubator to apartment rookery, she has taken all the standard baby steps toward independence.

As my car wouldn't start and I was waiting for lost luggage, my return from New Orleans had me housebound for two days and unable to go to my office.  It was perfect timing to watch the drama unfold and prevent a "cat-tastrophe".  Another fledgling made it to a low branch of a bush.  One of the parents was always in attendance, watching intently to assist them to safety and protect them from danger, while the other searched for food.  It was a symphony of cooperation, love,  and sacrifice.

I was brought to tears when I discovered this little one dead on its face.  I think the baby's leg got tangled in the foliage and he struggled too long for his endurance to last.  I can not imagine his parents' distress;  I was a mess of emotion.  

Two days later, high in the trees now, where they all belong!  I hear their squalling and squawking, still being fed by their parents. I read that the parental care will last up to three more months while they continue their education in learning survival skills. This seemed to be a good measuring stick for how long to help Emily, which had had me in a quandary. Her New Orleans apartment lease expires in three months. Like the fledglings, she'll need to learn how to fend for herself, avoid predators, and improve her communication skills. Not to be shown up by my blue jay family, I decided that what was good for them was good for Emily.   

Now can I get on with my life and not have to worry and obsess about my feathery family? Tonight my neighbor informed me that the little ones had been taking drinks from their pond. I caught a glimpse of one taking off into the  treetops after a sip.  I was so happy to know they are on their way to independence!  Now to get my own little baby aloft into the wild blue yonder!

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Cheap Cheap Cheap!

Pecking for crumbs in this crummy economy,  we as designers are reduced to begging for one-size-fits-all, if we're lucky, of taupey linen-look swatches.   Yes, I am like a magpie,  flitting hither and yon, scouring the landscape for bits of flotsam and jetsam with which to feather my clients' nests.  That it has come to thumbing the various high style catalogues available to everyone and anyone has me stupefied.  I marvel at design that was formerly available only to a select few, now being offered at bargain basement prices.  As an elitist snob since birth, this is a new twist for me to adapt to.  But adapt I will, to survive, because at heart, democracy and equality has always been my clarion call.  

The deafening chorus of clients cry "Cheap, cheap, cheap!"  And they want it "Now, now, now!"  China, India, and Viet Nam are ever ready to heed the call.  Where did it all begin?  About 30 years ago, I wager. 

I could look to the democratizing of interior design with such pioneers as Philippe Starck.  And then Michael Graves started designing for Target, too,  and who else did  I see there recently but Marcel Wanders! Martha Stewart embraced K-Mart of all places. That doyenne of taste-making jump-started the do-it-yourself business that has culminated in such phenoms as HGTV.  These names of sophisticated, functional design are now on the tips of tongues of millions.  How could I complain about everyone finally singing in tune?  How could I complain about a chicken in every pot?

First IKEA store in Sweden, opened 1958

IKEA, has been at the forefront since 1943.  Today it is the largest furniture retailer!  This is a brand that oozes high design with unbelievably low price points.  The multitudes can have an extremely stylish interior for next to nothing. 

It's a brave new world.  And one of disturbing extremes when the great divide between the rich and the poor becomes greater and greater and the middle class erodes on both sides.  The bible of interior design I would say is Architectural Digest.  Though started in 1920, it was a stodgy quarterly publication that didn't garner much general interest until Paige Rense took over as editor in 1971.  I remember being completely converted to the field of interior design as a career choice when I first got hold of an issue, and no, it wasn't in a black plastic cover!  It is amazing that peons are permitted to enter into palatial homes where cost is not an issue.  Art and antiques alone shoot into the stratosphere.  These are interiors, furnishings,  and designers that the catalogues try to copy on the cheap.

Which came first:  the chicken or the egg?  And this barn sells a lot more than pottery!  Though started in 1950, it wasn't until GAP purchased it in 1986 that a lifestyle brand was created and a whole new game plan for interior design.  

And then there is RH. When the "new look" of the catalogue came out a few months ago, I was shocked.  The Dutch have invaded and conquered!

Restoration Hardware in St. Louis during remodeling

I felt taupe-i-fied when I walked into the new St. Louis store. Gone were the little gimcracks and knickknacks.  It looked very much like it was trying to be a designer showroom, but open to the masses. I was wanting to purchase some gray towels, but was thrown off by the taupe ricocheting around.  Taking them to a window for the natural light allowed me to see the real color.

Bottom line, all this stuff in the catalogues looks great in their fantasy stage-sets, but how do you put it together in your own home?  How do you coordinate a design concept appropriate to your home's architecture, evaluate scale, do a floor and lighting plan, harmonize textures and colors, put in the right art and accessories, and personalize it as well? How do you make it look like you didn't just order the Sears #5 Living Room?

At the end of the day, I say, you still need a good designer to put it all together.