It was a big fat birthday, the one I just had. True, I woke up that morning in one of the most glorious places I’ve ever had the privilege to sleep and, true again, I was kissed by men all day, men I didn’t know, who found out the significance of the date and, also true, I was happy all day long and remain so now. But, still. This was the sort of birthday that makes one struggle to justify one’s time on the planet, a birthday that prompts the inner questions of, “What am I doing?” and “What have I done?”, and perhaps even more pertinent, “Is that a wrinkle or a laugh line?”.
I tell myself that this birthday doesn’t bother me in the slightest. After all, I feel terrific, can climb mountains without getting winded or even particularly tired (though I hasten to say I seriously doubt I could climb for three hours straight up in the heat of Bhutan with my hair down, wearing knee high boots and a leather gilet, without a single visible bead of perspiration on my perpetually smiling, totally radiant, face as the Duchess of Cambridge did last Friday. I mean, honestly!) and I feel mentally adequate to practically any task I set for myself. However, I am frequently mistaken for ten years younger than I actually am and I am ashamed to say I hardly ever correct the kindly, short-sighted person making that flattering but inaccurate assumption. This must mean I have at least a little bit of discomfort with the number.
My grandmother dealt with this issue by simply shaving ten years off her age. She continued at a job she enjoyed long past the time when she would have been expected to exit by employing this fib and when she died, well into her nineties, there were people still remarking what incredible skin she had for a woman barely eighty. I am grateful for her genes, particularly as I have no intention of surgically altering my appearance in the always futile effort to look younger. As the guru on aging acceptance, Diane Keaton, so eloquently put it, “No one ever looks younger, just different”. As an unabashed lover of the uniqueness of faces it saddens me no end to see that irreplaceable quality erased in so many, all in the pursuit of the outer illusion of youth. One thing I have learned in my many years is that youth is an inside job. I am lucky to have older friends whose zestful curiosity, playful wit, and sincere empathy cause me to regard them as peers. These people, I know, shall remain young no matter their age. May it be so for me as well.
For those of you with big birthdays on the horizon, here’s what I can tell you. Grab a pencil, you may want to write these down.....
Everything you ever heard about sunscreen is absolutely true, it’s way more important than La Mer.
No matter how you feel, losing five pounds always makes you feel better.
Fruits, vegetables, fresh water, fish, and a little chocolate.
Flip through Vogue for inspiration, it’s not a manual.
Read everything, especially the classics.
Turn off the television, except for Grantchester.
Travel, travel, travel.
Do something creative every day.
Write letters, with pen and paper and pretty stamps.
Kiss, a lot.
Spend less time thinking about how you look. It’s totally true that nobody cares, they really are too busy thinking about how they look to consider you.
Always roll the car windows down on a pretty day.
Stilettos really are a tool of the devil.
Not everyone looks good in a hat.
Everybody really does look good in black.
Plant flowers round your door.
Don't dismiss God because so many people are doing stupid, cruel things in His name.
Sit by the sea whenever you can.
Never stop listening to The Beatles.
And of course, get a dog if you don’t have one. You will always be a thing of utter beauty and goodness in his eyes. No matter your age.
The photo above sits in The Songwriter’s studio.Me, around five I guess.There were two photos taken that day.One, perfectly posed and ladylike, with me smiling carefully so as not to display my missing teeth. That is the one my Mother framed. This one, however, is The Songwriter's favourite as he thinks it shows me as I really was.Here’s the secret, that still who I am. No matter my age.
No matter, my age.
**If you’re interesting in seeing photos from my recent journey, go HERE**
The lovely magazine, Country Life, recently published a list of the naughtiest dogs in Britain. That is Rabbit pictured above, posing with his adorable mistress, Violet. She would agree with me, I know, that “naughty” is merely a matter of opinion, despite the fact that Rabbit has some pretty impressive credentials in that department including, but not limited to, stowing away in an Amazon delivery truck and chewing up all the parcels before being discovered by the distraught driver. Our adorable Apple, not being British, was of course not eligible for this contest, therefore I can only picture the spot on on shelf where her trophy would go. But here are some of her claims to that prize, and I’ll let the reading public decide.
In the realm of child psychology, it is widely believed that the most carefree child is the youngest child. I can empirically state that this fact carries over into the canine world as well. Apple, being a year younger than Edward, exhibits all the characteristics of a child without a care in the world. If she happens upon someone or something that gives her pause, she simply barks for Edward to come take care of things and on the occasion when she gets herself into such a pickle that even the infinite capabilities of Edward are stretched too far, she knows full well that The Songwriter or I will be on hand to bail her out. For example, there was the morning she dug underneath the fence and became wedged like a sausage between our fence and the one next to our property. She summoned Edward immediately, of course, and he, seeing he was seriously out of his depth on this one, came trotting inside the house to stare meaningfully in our faces. We know that stare. The Songwriter quickly followed him outside to find Apple, stuck fast. She put her front paws up like a toddler for him to pull her out.
Though she is undeniably a large dog, Apple feels entirely comfortable climbing over into my lap whenever I am occupying the passenger seat of the car. She began doing this whilst still a tiny puppy and does not consider her current size to be any sort of impediment in continuing the delightful habit. From this vantage point, if I am accommodating enough to roll down the window for her, she can hang her head out and fly, ears in the wind. Her obvious glee in this activity is what causes me to indulge her, though, if I’m completely honest, it’s never the most relaxing situation for me. Of course, Edward would never dream of doing such a thing and can always be found sitting in his back seat like an Edwardian gentleman being driven to the park in a coach and six. But Apple? Apple is another story altogether.
There have been countless evenings we’ve returned home to find yarn strewn all over the house, the result of a foray into my knitting bag. And in case you're thinking that perhaps I’m judging her too quickly,…. after all… it could be Edward, right?……. there was the night she ran with the yarn round and round and round a large rocking chair until she managed to tie herself to it as tightly as a damsel on the railroad tracks. We came home to find Edward lying beside her, looking both protective and irritated. I swear I think he rolled his eyes. She’s been known to run through the house with my undergarments on her head and just last week as I was writing I heard a strange rustling sound coming from my office and rushed in to find her finishing off a dozen or more foil-wrapped Easter eggs that had been carefully hidden in a sealed bag beneath my desk. This latest escapade saw the two of us rushing to the vet for an emergency “purging”, an event that gave neither one of us any pleasure.
Squirrels drive her crazy, but chipmunks are the bane of her existence. A couple of years ago, she chased one with such vigor she tore the meniscus in her knee, necessitating a three thousand dollar surgery and twelve weeks of crate rest. If we let her outside at night when it’s raining, she disappears completely and ignores our calls and whistles. The Songwriter finally pulls on his raincoat and troops out only to find her far back in the garden, standing stock still with her head tilted back, mesmerized by the sound of the rain in the trees. You simply cannot get mad at a dog so enamored of the world’s wonders, now can you?
She’s always thinking, always busy - but then there are times when she sidles up to me and makes it clear she’d like a hug. I sit down on the floor and she snuggles up to me, sometimes with her head on my shoulder, sometimes climbing atop that shoulder to look around. She’ll stay like that till she’s ready to tear off someplace new. If I’m ever ill, she exudes the sweetest sympathy, sticking beside me for hours. And she thinks The Songwriter hung the moon. A naughty dog? Perhaps, but a thoroughly beloved one.
It has been said that Pat Conroy put the low country of South Carolina on the map for most people. Indeed, his moss-draped language paints such luminous pictures of that part of the world one can almost see the changing colours of the marsh grasses as they follow the eye of a salty summer sun. It is a unique environment, rich with beauty, and in his books Mr. Conroy made it breathe, his pen full of memory and love. I came to the books of Pat Conroy in search of stories, and oh, he did not disappoint. He had that rare gift for language and, like most Southerners, he could spin words into tales that ensnared the imagination like a shrimp net.
The majority of Pat Conroy’s books were fiction, but thinly veiled. It was clear he was writing about his own life. The Water is Wide told the entertaining and compassionate story of his year teaching in a small island school. The Lords of Discipline - a coming of age story that grew from of his years at the Carolina Military Institute known as The Citadel. The Great Santini pulled the curtain back on a childhood endured beneath the tyrannical reign of an abusive, clueless father, and that same father would appear prominently in his glorious masterpiece, The Prince of Tides. Reading these books, I could not begin to imagine such a childhood; they made the quarrels and complaints against my own parents seem as trivial as dust. But as Mr. Conroy himself said, “One of the greatest gifts you can get as a writer is to be born into an unhappy family”, and he had no shortage of stories to tell. However, I found more than stories in Mr. Conroy’s books. I also found forgiveness, hard won and more valuable than gold.
This past October I attended a 70th birthday celebration for Pat Conroy in the low country hometown he so eloquently immortalized in his words. I listened as he and his brothers and sisters talked about the childhood so many of us were privy to through the pages of his books. There was laughter, lots of laughter, as they told stories that, frankly, made me shudder and I realized I was witnessing an extraordinary example of the bounty that springs from forgiveness. The publications of Pat Conroy’s books dislodged his siblings from their individual shelters of denial. His words laid their pasts bare to bake in the South Carolina sun and forced them to deal with painful personal issues whether they wished to or not. I can only guess how hard a process that was. But it was clear to me that each of them, in their own way, had risen up to face those issues and had wrestled them to the ground. It was a wonderful thing to witness and it so beautifully illustrated the astounding power words can have when they clasp hands with honesty, love and truth.
I was fortunate, so fortunate, to talk with Mr. Conroy that evening and to tell him how much grace he’d been given, and that from the forgiveness he’d managed to carve from the block of hurt he’d received, he had made a pathway for others in similar situations to find their way out of their own pasts, their own bitterness. He was a delightful, sweet man.
They buried Pat Conroy today, in the sandy soil of his beloved Beaufort. The flags there are flying at half-mast. I have thought a lot about legacy since I learned of his death. Pat earned his legacy through his remarkable books, it’s true. But perhaps even more importantly, his books were a way for him to do the inner work of his own soul, the work we all must do to ensure personal peace and unassailable joy. He did not give up in his quest for truth and understanding.
May that be said of us all on our last day.
“When the words pour out of you just right, you understand that these sentences are all part of a river flowing out of your own distant, hidden ranges, and all words become the dissolving snow that feeds your mountain streams forever. The language locks itself in the icy slopes of our own high passes, and it is up to us, the writers, to melt the glaciers within us. When these glaciers break off, we get to call them novels, the changelings of our burning spirits, our life’s work.”
We heard them long before they came into view, their conversations dominating the air all around us with the sort of fluttering, chattering, deafening sound only created by nature herself. A large flock of red-winged blackbirds, filling the bare trees with ebony leaves that flashed scarlet like the blinking eyes of wolves whenever they rose and resettled. We stopped still. I held my head back and closed my eyes to listen, feeling almost avian myself - feathered, light and quite able to fly. Edward gave a tug on his lead and we continued on our way, but the message was heard, loud and clear.
Spring is coming.
Of all the seasons that I love - and I love all four with abandon - Spring seems to be the one that arrives with such fanfare. It has none of the sublety of Autumn - no slow fade, no gentle fall. Rather, it bursts, it fills, it overflows - its colors fairly leap over the hillsides; brown becomes green overnight. It is a season of elation, not reflection, a season in which we throw open the windows and turn up the music. A season for setting into motion all those dreams that we dreamt by the fire. I’ve always been grateful for a Spring birthday, happy to have been born in this season of discovery and celebration of new life.
Spring is a season for looking forward, not looking back.
So, here’s a list to help us all do just that.
As for me, I’m looking forward to…
1. A Springtime Dinner Party
with this on the table.
I adore the embroidered table linens at Coral and Tusk.
If you're looking for home inspiration, there’s no better place to discover it than in Patina Farm, the brand-new book from Brooke and Steve Giannetti, of Velvet and Linen fame. My copy arrived this week, and I find I just fall inside it whenever I open it even a crack. It’s lovely, and so inspiring.
Fabulous theatre sets from London and New York HERE
A celebration of the life of Charlotte Bronte HERE
and a show I myself am heading to soon, one just perfect for Spring, beautiful paintings of gardens HERE
(the Monet at the top of the post is part of this show!)
10. and Lastly, Farewell to Harper Lee
I think Spring will indulge me a small moment of looking back, to the most wonderful writer America can claim. Harper Lee. Miss Lee passed away a couple of weeks ago and I doubt we’ll see her like again. I came across an essay she wrote around the time of the publication of her miraculous book, To Kill a Mockingbird. These paragraphs seemed pertinent to our times.
Love to You All.
“Avarice never wrote a good novel; hate did not paint "The Birth of Venus"; nor did envy reveal to us that the square of the hypotenuse is equal to the sum of the squares of the two sides. Every creation of man's mind that has withstood the buffeting of time was born of love--love of something or someone…..
Any act of love …. no matter how small--lessens anxiety's grip, gives us a taste of tomorrow, and eases the yoke of our fears. Love, unlike virtue, is not its own reward. The reward of love is peace of mind, and peace of mind is the end of man's desiring.”
***** If you enjoy these lists, you might wish to follow Edward and me on Instagram, HERE Loads of photos of Edward, movies, books, gardens, and fun.
Whether you make your home on the left shore or the right, it is nigh impossible to find a safe place to cross the howling wild waters of American politics these days. There was a time when intelligent discourse could form a bridge betwixt the two sides, but listen for that now and you might as well put your ear to a shell. It has become commonplace to hear presidential candidates regularly, and at high volume, call each other the sort of hateful epithets formerly unwelcome in the schoolyard and, astonishingly, be applauded for it. I feel nothing but embarrassment at the spectacle. All of which makes the recent passing of US Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia noteworthy, and not for the reasons you might think.
There was a photograph that surfaced amid the predictable, petulant firestorm that immediately erupted concerning Judge Scalia’s replacement; a photograph that, for me, elicited the most interest. A picture of two people on holiday in India, sitting atop an elephant and beaming with obvious pleasure. Judge Scalia and Judge Ruth Bader Ginsburg. One a hero of the right, the other a champion of the left, rarely in agreement in the cases they judged, yet apparently, clearly, good friends.
It is now known that these two polar opposites were indeed close friends, or “buddies”, as Judge Ginsburg recalls. They attended the opera together. They teased each other with the sort of good humour that is indicative of an easy friendship. (For example, regarding that elephant photo, when Judge Scalia pointed out that she had to ride behind him, Judge Ginsburg countered that it was all due to a proper distribution of considerable weight and nothing more.) They respected each other’s intelligence and humanity, though they frequently, vigorously, disagreed on the cases they judged.
I’m not sure when we began to demonize those with whom we disagree. It takes a certain kind of hubris to think one is right all the time, to refuse to make room for other ways and other opinions, but that hubris becomes dangerous when we condemn those who hold different views than ours or when, God help us, we use our religion as a scythe to cut another’s humanity and patriotism to shreds. This past week I heard a wise man say that we no longer look for information, but for ammunition, and I fear this is all too true.
Recently I received a letter from a reader who told me, although they had always enjoyed my blog, they were now “never going to read it again” because of a comment I made concerning a certain presidential candidate. I wished them well, but couldn’t help but wonder how difficult it must be for them to get along in such a wide, wide world. If we only associate with those who applaud our views, if we only read affirmation of our beliefs, if we never consider other opinions….. well, I guess we’re now seeing what that brings. How I hope that photograph of those two smiling people
on that elephant gets the attention it so deserves.
Everywhere I look this week I see chocolate, flowers and hearts.
Just look at this photograph of a house I frequently drive past....
Restaurants are offering special menus.Florists are in hyperdrive.Married couples can even renew their wedding vows in the Botanical Garden’s rose garden, which I admit is a bit confusing as it’s rare to see a blooming rose in February, but I appreciate the sentiment behind the ceremony.
Here at the House of Edward, The Songwriter and I prefer to stay in, finding it difficult to imagine a cozier, more romantic, spot than our own fireside. If you are a bit like us, I’d like to offer up a list of our favorite romantic movies to enhance your evening. There's a quote from each movie, just to tempt you with how wonderful they all are.
And please do share some of your own!
Kisses and Hearts to All!
“You’ve got no faith in Johnny, have you, Julia? His little dream my fall flat, you think. Well, so it may, what if it should? There’ll be another. Oh, I’ve got all the faith in the world in Johnny. Whatever he does is all right with me. If he wants to dream for a while, he can dream for a while, and if he wants to come back and sell peanuts, oh, how I’ll believe in those peanuts!”
“ I won’t allow it to be any more man’s nature than women’s to be inconstant or to forget those they love or have loved. I believe the reverse. I believe…. Let me just observe that all histories are against you, all stories, prose, and verse. I do not think I ever opened a book in my life which did not have something to say on women’s fickleness.”
Writer, Interior Designer, Baker, Knitter, Gardener, devoted to Beauty.. on the journey through life along with her big white furry wonderful dog... living in the American South and dreaming of the Scottish Highlands