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All the time — all the time I tell you! — people are asking me: how do you lead such a stylish and enchanting lifestyle despite the hardship and limitations of your surroundings?

Why, I simply don’t know! I usually answer. But really. How unfair of me not to give it more thought and care. And so, dear readers, a little gift.  A how-to, of sorts, for building around you a coccoon of domestic bliss and contentment with everyday materials you too can find in your very own homes and neighborhoods.

Winter Warmers

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“Is there still much more?” she asked

Perhaps you’ve found that your snug little bungalow, for all its winsome charm, is not quite up to the insulation standards of those dreary new buildings back home.  Are wind gusts finding their way through those thin and rattling steel plates that separate you from the elements? Are they blowing out the matches you use to ignite your stove when you’re trying to make dinner? Yes? Well!  All you need is a steady supply of firewood for your fireplace and you can say goodbye to hypothermia.

Step one: Take a month or two and ask every expat you meet where they found their firewood. Sift through rumors, hearsay. Discard suggestions of finding those guys with the trucks on the side of that one road that’s after the tunnel that’s on the way out of town you know?  Wait until somebody has a phone number for a guy called Zakro.

Step two: Ask a Georgian friend to call Zakro. Learn Zakro no longer exists.  Return to step one. Repeat.

Step three: When your Georgian friend connects to, erm, let’s call him Zakro II, be sure you have some conceptual understanding of metric measurements for volume. <—- IMPORTANT!

Step four: Arrange the delivery. Be home two hours before the agreed-upon delivery time, because that is when Zakro II and colleagues will turn up.

Step five: Be ready to explain to the grizzled village men standing on your doorstep with appraisal in their eyes that your Gigantic Fake Husband is still at work but should be home at any moment. Poor Gigantic Fake Husband. Between all the business trips and long hours. It’s like you hardly see him anymore.

Step six: Watch with interest as a poor broken man carries your wood up four flights of stairs, taking something like 25 trips, hauling around five logs at a time in a ragged flour sack. When you hear him approach your landing by his groans and wheezing, find something interesting in the kitchen to wash to distract your debilitating guilt. Every few trips, smile sweetly and offer him water in hopes that his family won’t come after you when he collapses from cardiac arrest on your stairs. Tip him outlandishly.

Step seven: You really might have overdone it on the firewood order.

Step eight: Google time!!  Try these search terms: “How to burn a metric ton of completely fresh cut, dripping wet wood” and “creosote buildup.” There is nothing the internet can’t solve!!

Step nine: Make a mug of hot chocolate, relax in your bean bag, and enjoy applying an even coat of singe to your smoking and hissing water sticks all winter long!

Not pictured: the rest of it.

Not pictured: the rest of it.

Sustainable, Reclaimed, Artisanal Clothing Racks

No closet or wardrobe in your little bungalow boudoir? No IKEA from here to Moscow? No sweat! If you’ve cracked an interiors magazine recently, you already know that a stylish and sustainable solution is well within your grasp.

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Just stroll down to your nearest wooded parkland (or in a pinch: abandoned lot/makeshift dump), and reclaim yourself a branch. Try to select one with a delicately undulating arch and smooth profile. Also, one that is not entirely buried in decomposing organic matter. Pro tip: wear tall boots!

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With a few decorative chain links discovered in the haberdashery located in the underpass, voila!

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Sheepskin from Scratch

Speaking of stylish interiors mags, who hasn’t noticed that sheepskin throws are popping up everywhere these days?

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There’s an argument to be had that decorative items in the shape of dead animals can be something of a bummer, but who am I to flaunt the prevailing style zeitgeist? Also, there’s a lot of sheep here. I spied a quest.

First, I asked my hunter friend Giorgi for tips. He spends a lot of time in lodges with disturbing taxidermied wildlife and is an all-around go-to guy when it comes to dead animals. I figured he’d know the best local craftsman handling pelts and skins.  Sure enough, he got a name, and one afternoon we drove on the old road out to the airport, down a nondescript and shattered alley, to knock on the gate of the skin man.  Giorgi spied him over the top of the gate, which he had briefly scaled to yell over the wall. “I hope he survives long enough to open the door,” he warned me.

A charming but quite toothless ancient answered at the gate and confirmed that yes, he was the guy.  When asked about sheepskin he laughed with a sudden snap of youth that made him look not a year over 95.  “Sheep? No! Why sheep? It’s not even worth it! I do wolf… tiger… Why sheep?”

“For decoration,” Giorgi explained. The man looked skeptical. Hmph. Clearly not up on the latest. I pulled out my phone and (fully aware of that ringing sound from the clash of civilizations) flipped through a photo selection of tastefully styled modern interiors like the above.

Right, says the guy. I can do it. Just bring the carcass.

*Blink*

I had not considered I would have to procure my own dead sheep.

It is not really part of my normal retail therapy routine.

When somebody throws down “bring me fresh hide of sheep” into conversation, that’s kind of it for me. Time to call it.

But Giorgi’s mad for these quests and has to see where they end up.  The skin guy told us where to get the sheep, pretty easy, just these guys down the road.  Of course you don’t need a whole one.  They just use the meat and throw the skins away as worthless, so you can pay ’em a little tip to skin them nicely and you’re on your way.

Just one little thing, says the skin man. It really might be better in summer, when the sheep are moving around. In winter they just stand still pissing themselves and their legs turn yellow and really, nothing gets that white.  Pro tip!

So I’m nearly there.  Once I get my urine-free sheep carcass and deliver it to the ancient skin man, (provided he survives the winter, inshallah), I’ll be well on my way to luxurious comfort and serenity.

Bread and Circuses

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There was a restaurant called Moro by my old flat in London. Once famous and sought after, by the time I got there it had settled into comfortable neighborhood institution.  Moro had a rep for great sourdough bread, and I love few breads on this earth more than sourdough.  In one of Moro’s cookbooks, they tell you how to make your own sourdough starter from scratch.  There is no reason on earth why you should ever contemplate this. Sourdough starters require care and attention, regular feeding sessions and bake-offs. Lovingly stored and tended, they can live more or less forever.  There are bakeries for a reason.

But I haven’t found any here. Anyway, I rather feel it would good for me to have some other living thing to care for beyond myself and my rosemary plant, and a pet is like wooooah slow down.  Besides the rosemary plant is looking a little peaked these days. I need a new object of nurture. And so I’m pleased to tell you that I’m now expecting. A precious little sack full of bacteria.

Step one! Gather your materials.

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  • One bunch of red grapes
  • 500g flour
  • One litre water
  • One muslin bag
  • One bucket that has not recently housed a bat body

Step two!

Mix up the flour and water in the bucket.

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Place the grapes in the muslin bag, and smoosh em good with a rolling pin. Or failing that, a handy empty bottle of Georgian vino will do.

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Squeeze out some grape juice into the flour paste and then submerge the bag entirely.  Cover, and let it gestate for the next two weeks.

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I took a peek yesterday, one week in. Moro the Cookbook did not say it was strictly forbidden, but it felt a little naughty. Moro the Cookbook is also silent as to whether the bucket should now house a moldiferous mess, but I don’t see much way around it so I’ll assume everything’s right on target. Next week, the great unveiling.

So that’s it: just get a hold of a minor himalayan range of green firewood, incontinent dead sheep, some buckets of mold and a dried out stick and you too can have it all!

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