Monday, March 30, 2015

The Singer

The Singer 

The rain fell in the night as predicted - straight-down, relentless, a carillon calling to sleep.  The big white dog slept with his head across my feet, occasionally letting loose a deep, contented sigh as the rain pounded the roof and lashed the leaded windows till, just as the hands of the clock drifted closer to three, we heard him.
  Out there in the dark, in the rain.  A bird, singing.

Not the soft lilt of the nightingale, nor the warm hoot of the owl, but a full-throated song more suitable to noon-time, more expected in the sun.   Hidden within the chartreuse leaves of a newly born Spring this feathered tenor lifted his voice to spite the dark, to ridicule the rain; neither would silence his obvious joy.  Though the lyrics were known only to him, he sang through the dark garden in notes of pure happiness, a celestial choir of one. 

The big dog stirred and met my gaze with understanding.
  “He has to sing”, he seemed to tell me. "He can't help himself.
“The rain is pushing away winter.  Spring is here.”

For, lo, the winter is past, the rain is over and gone;
The flowers appear on the earth; the time of the singing of birds is come….”
Song of Solomon 2:11-12

Friday, March 20, 2015



When I was really little,  I developed a simmering, and rather unfortunate,  crush on Jonathan Miller.  This is odd in and of itself, even more so for someone as young as I was.  (If you wish to know how odd, google him.)  Apparently I had seen him on some interview program and found him slightly irresistible.  This was not, I hasten to say, any type of romantic crush for I had not reached that stage of things.  No, it was, I’m quite certain, a crush on wit, that rare talent bestowed on fewer people than one might think and one that can still make me slightly weak in the knees.  I would still rather have lunch with Stephen Fry than Brad Pitt.  

For those of us who find this quality irresistible, our objects of attraction are sadly few and far between these days.  Those in the media capable of delivering the perfectly worded paragraph, or even quip, are … well… few.  The golden-edged bon mot seems to have been replaced by a ham-fisted humour awash in juvenile sensibility and designed to appeal to the greatest majority of twelve year old boys.  Not being a twelve year old boy myself, it leaves me cold, and worse, bored.

The world of books is hardly immune to this ever-increasing waste of language.  What passes for the modern day beach book takes six chapters to say what Edith Wharton managed between two perfectly crafted sentences.  So it was that I found myself surprised and utterly delighted last week when I picked up a book that had been working its way to the top of my ever-growing stack for quite a while.  “Love, Nina” is a collection of letters written by a London nanny to her sister in Leicestershire during the early 80’s when she served as the nanny to the two precocious, and charmingly witty, sons of Mary Kay Wilmers, the long-time editor of The London Review of Books.  The family lives on a street in London peppered with literary types who make frequent appearances on these pages, their comments and observances sprinkled with appropriate amounts of deliciously wicked wit.   Alan Bennett drops by for dinner most nights. (And yes, sadly,  I have a long-standing crush on him as well.)  And Jonathan Miller lives a few houses down.  

To be allowed into the private conversations of this cadre of wits brought to life by Nina Stibbe is a sheer joy.  I have laughed out loud frequently.  ( Sidenote:  Always, every time I laugh, Edward wags his tail.  This is particularly funny when it’s late at night and he’s sound asleep.  Sleep-wagging.  He did a lot of that while I was reading this book. )  
Check out “Love, Nina”.

And as for the utterly charming Alan Bennett,
 a new movie is being filmed of his play, “The Lady in the Van”. 
 Starring Dame Maggie Smith, it’s certain to be a winner.  
Be sure and read the book first!  
 Find it HERE.
and here’s the trailer for the upcoming film:

Monday, March 16, 2015

The Good Patient

The Good Patient

At a neighbourhood gathering last night The Songwriter was asked if I was a “good patient”.  I, of course, answered for him and in the affirmative, though he could be heard faintly muttering in the background, something that sounded suspiciously like the word “stubborn”.  But I couldn’t be sure.   Truth is, I’m rather ursine when I am recuperating.  I crawl into my four-poster and sleep till I’m better.  I prefer to be alone, the constant presence of Edward notwithstanding.   I don’t want visitors, food, or entertainment.  Flowers are appreciated, of course.  Flowers are always appreciated.  And the occasional kiss on the forehead, as long as I’m not contagious.

Though my recent hospital stay only lasted a day and a half, I think the nurses who cared for me would say I’d been a good patient. I made no unreasonable demands; my only request being for crushed ice and cranberry juice. ( Of course I did spill the forthcoming cranberry juice down my front which made me look like I’d been attacked by a wild animal and which gave one nurse a bit of a fright, but I blame this little incident on my lack of coordination brought on by the after effects of anesthesia.)   I did what I was told which is, in my experience, the best way to get along in any sort of hospital setting and is highly advisable when one wants to be released as quickly as possible. Any tiny problems I may have had I blame entirely on the above mentioned anesthesia and subsequent pain medication.   For example…. 

At her first visit, my night nurse flipped over my chart and exclaimed,
 “Wow!  You do not look your age!”. 
 This of course comes in as a compliment and leaves as a worry because what she’s really saying is … “you’re a lot older that I thought you were”.  I mumbled some sort of thanks along the lines of … “no make-up… genetics… sunscreen” as she continued on in rapid fire patter saying..  “Yeah you know people always think I’m a lot younger than I actually am.  Gotta love that, right?”.   
Now, had I been in my right mind, i.e. not drugged, I would have politely chuckled and agreed with her.  Instead  , in my altered state, I heard myself say, “Well, let’s see now.  I’d say you were about forty-eight.”  
The room got quiet and she replied, “Yeah, well, my hair’s pulled back and I didn’t get much sleep last night.  I’m forty-five.”  
Damn.  Never insult your nurse first thing out. 

Then there was the issue with the bed.  It remains my contention that they shouldn’t put all those buttons on the side of the railings if they don’t intend for one to push them.  After considerable experimentation at about three in the morning, I can tell you that it is possible to get oneself into such a position that it will indeed require a nurse to straighten one out.  Fortunately, the nurse who took care of this particular problem seemed to find it endlessly entertaining, so I think she’d give me high marks on diversion alone, particularly as it was she who later found me sound sleep with my soup spoon held aloft in the air as though I were conducting The Boston Pops.  She proceeded to laughingly tell me this was a sure sign of someone who never takes pain medication:  give them some and they flop over like a fish.  

Then there was the owl.  I was fortunate to have a room with a huge triple window, unfortunate that said window did not open.  In my opinion, being of the belief that fresh air is in itself restorative, all hospital windows should open. (They could always be set someway so that they didn’t open wide enough for people to escape, if that’s the worry.)  Sometime in the middle of the night, I was watching the moon chase the clouds outside my closed window when I spied, through the trees, a huge owl on the window ledge across from me.  He was massive and still, and he appeared to be staring right into my room.  I would fall asleep for a few minutes, awake suddenly, and yes, he was still there.  Even I had enough sense not to call the nurse about this, but I was amazed, if also a bit unsettled.  
Next morning I saw him to be a gargantuan plastic owl, the sort farmers put in fields to ward off rabbits.  I couldn’t decide if this type of trick  was actually appropriate to play on people in hospitals, but decided it probably was.

Yesterday I negotiated Whole Foods in a shopping expedition for strawberries and flowers, so I would say I am well and truly recuperated.  There was a bit of a discussion between The Songwriter and myself when I attempted to take the stairs instead of the elevator. (It was just one floor, for pete’s sake.)  I assume this is where his use of the word stubborn would apply, but you’d have to ask him about that.  I’m just happy to be almost as good as new. 

Thursday, March 12, 2015

In Praise of Boredom

In Praise of Boredom

As a little boy, whenever The Songwriter ran out of activities to occupy his time he would run to his father emitting the universal whine of the bored child… “Daddy, what can I dooooo?”.  This plaintive inquiry was always met with the same unique reply.  His father would raise his hands over his head and with his two index fingers pointing skyward he would say, “Do this!”, as he waggled those fingers and made vociferous beeping noises.  This response always garnered a laugh or two, even as it showed the young Songwriter that not only did no one ever die from boredom but it just might not be as bad a state to in be in as he first thought.  

These days, no one is ever bored.  I sat at a red light the other afternoon and looked around me.  Every single person I saw, be they driver or passenger, was looking down at their phone.  No longer do we stare into space in the check out line at the market, or daydream whilst waiting our turn at the bank.  We check our phones as we wait for the waiter to bring us our menus at a restaurant and again as we wait for our food.  From doctor’s offices to airplanes, from football games to the car pool line, no one seems to let their minds off the leash of their phones anymore.  

 When we did we begin to view boredom as such a dreadful thing to be avoided at all costs?  What would the shelves of our libraries look like if great minds had never been allowed to wander?  And how can great minds wander if they are never bored?  To let one’s thoughts lift up and leave through the window, with neither schedule or map to consider……to stare out to that sweet spot of middle distance where all that exists is breezy nothingness…. these are the times when the shy thoughts appear, those schemes and ideas too timid, too ephemeral to take shape in the glare of modern life.  

Last week, in those few remaining vestiges of winter before Spring arrives with her list of new chores, I had a spot of surgery I had been putting off for awhile.  It was my plan to get a lot of reading and writing and knitting done during the couple of weeks of my recuperation… my to-do list was long.  But when I came home the next night, though all went perfectly,  I found I was too tired to concentrate on much and found myself, frankly, bored.  After tapping my fingers on the arms of my chaise for an afternoon, I decided to just enjoy it.  Who said I had to accomplish anything over the next week or so?  Would the Earth slip from her axis if I didn’t?  

So I’ve let my thoughts drift and waft, hither and yon and before I knew it, boredom had opened the door to daydreams.   All in my head I’ve designed cottages beside riverbanks and castles on mountainsides.  I’ve braided Edward’s fur.  I’ve sailed out through green seas to small islands where I’ve spent the afternoon lying in the sunshine.  I’ve dodged fat raindrops on the streets of Istanbul.  I have not checked my email, nor the front page.  I have been lazily, deliciously bored and nothing bad has happened.  I just might try this more often. Who knows what it might lead to.
To read more about the benefits of boredom, check out the podcast at New Tech City.  They are currently championing boredom and all the many ways it can lead to brilliance! 
 Take a look and a listen, HERE!

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

A Tapestry

A Tapestry

“That’s where you get your cheekbones.”
This was the reply given to me by an elderly great-aunt as I gaped at her in disbelief.  You see, she’d just informed me that despite my sugar-white skin, light eyes and blonde hair, I had a full-blooded Cherokee Indian woman sitting comfortably in my family tree, waiting to be acknowledged.   A great-great-great grandmother I’d known nothing about.  To say I was a bit gobsmacked is putting it mildly.   My great-aunt turned me towards the mirror and ran her knobby index finger along the line of my cheek.  “See those?  She gave you those.”, she said with theatrical effect.  She proceeded to tell me the story of a distant patriarch who fell in love with a Cherokee woman and of the marriage that, eventually, led to me.  

Looking in the mirror later that night it was difficult to see past the light eyelashes and pale skin to a woman with a life I couldn’t even imagine.  My experience being limited to the schoolroom, I had always thought of Native Americans as exotic, almost storybook, individuals.   To think a measure of their blood ran through my veins was just astonishing.

As Americans, our eyes, be they blue or brown, hazel or green,  reflect the shadows and light from other lands.  We all have ancestors who made that one great wrenching choice:  to leave home and make a new life.  The tapestry of America is woven and knotted with uniquely colourful threads, each unlike the other, and the resultant creation is stronger and more beautiful than any woven with a single hue.  I have felt the primal pull of ancestral memory in the hills of Glencoe; my MacDonald lineage stirring in the marrow of my bones.  There are grains of my life in the soil of Yorkshire and Skye, beneath the bracken of Roslyn and on beaches and hilltops I know nothing about.  I am even, as I now know, native to this country I call home.

I once heard Stephen Fry expounding on his affection for Americans.  It was his belief that our optimism and fearlessness is an ancestral trait springing from all those distant relatives who took squared their shoulders and swallowed their fears to take the great risk of leaving their homelands for the journey to an unknown land.  He could see those strong strains of hopefulness and bravery still running through Americans.  I love that thought, just as I love the fact that America is made up of so many different nationalities.   I find it amusing when I hear Americans speak of “foreigners”, for we are all of us foreigners in this country.   
If one has been blessed with the gift of curiosity, it is impossible not to wonder about one’s own personal history.  I have journeyed to a few of my own ancestral lands and I know how unusually meaningful those explorations can be.  I wonder, have any of you made similar journeys?  What magical parts of the world joined together to make you who you are?  
Do share!

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

The Promise of Snow

The Promise of Snow

In the days of my childhood when the skies dipped low, when the clouds turned grey-clustered and crowded as flocks, when the air lost its lightness and slid down the lungs like ice water, my Father would look up, eyes gleaming, and say, “It feels like snow”.  And it always seemed, just like that, it would happen - tumbling, falling, white over white, snow would fall in blankets and drifts - till all the world was changed. 
 Schools would close.  Fires would blaze.  Soups would simmer.  

These days we have meteorologists.  Learned men and women who stare pie-eyed from our television screens as they warn us of weather, employing adjectives normally reserved for war in their rabid desire to be heard.    Snow is no longer fun; it is “disaster”.  We no longer see the “promise” of snow, but the “threat.”

Being Southerners, we are ill-prepared for snow.  We rarely see it, and when we do, we are prone to slip and slide in our cars without chains on the tires;  we run into one another on our hilly roads, veer off into ditches, get stuck inside drifts.  So at the first fearsome warning we rush to clear supermarkets of anything edible and hunker down for the siege that usually never occurs.  We find ourselves in this situation today.  Warned of white peril and reminded of past failures, our schools have closed.  The mad rush to the market happened last night.  I doubt there remains a loaf of bread to be found in the county.  The fire is blazing.  The soup is simmering.  And here we sit, watching it drizzle.  Am I the only one disappointed?

Does anyone still thrill at the hint of a snowfall?  Do children still sit at windows and wait for that old unique magic drifting down from the skies?   Do little girls still play inside frosted castles that were hours before only cedars and hemlocks?  From my friends in Boston, I know there is such a thing as too much snow.  But today as I pull on my boots and head out for a walk in the cold with Edward, I cannot help but look up and wish the skies were a wee bit lower, the air a tiny bit heavier. 
 I wish I look hear my Father say, “It looks like snow”.

A few years back.....

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Touches of Green

Touches of Green
for "By Invitation Only"

With my hands folded, I sat on a moss green chair and looked around.  The walls of the  room were painted moss green.  The sofa was covered in a moss green brocade.  There was moss green carpet on the floors and moss green curtains drooped at the windows.  No prints of any kind.  Even the throw pillows were green.  The effect, which I was trying valiantly to ignore, was both amphibious and unsettling in the extreme.  I looked over at the elderly woman sitting benignly across from me and smiled weakly.  As this was my very first assignment as a professional designer I was desirous of appearing both creatively confident and reassuring.   Clearing my throat, I asked her, 
Is there anything about this room that you particularly like?”.  
After a frightfully long pause she said, “Green.  I like green.”  
Believe it or not, this reply, though both unnecessary and discouraging, told me volumes about my first client.   It told me she hated change, wasn’t comfortable in her own choices, and, as she had called me in for design help, longed for something more. 

The legendary decorator, Sister Parish, used to roll a tea cart through the rooms of a new  client, loading it up with every offensive object she encountered and instructing her hapless employer to dispose of them all posthaste.  Though occasionally tempted I myself have never possessed the audacity for such an exercise, preferring instead to call upon a wellspring of tact cultivated from years of dealing with unusual requests.  For instance…..

There was the client who wanted an unobstructed view of a television from every chair in every room.  There was the client who wanted a ballroom-sized family room designed around an antique electric blue rug.  There was the client who had just, days earlier, ripped down everything another, more famous, designer had installed and filed a lawsuit against the fellow. ( And if that doesn’t make one swallow a bit hard, nothing will.  Fortunately, for me and my lawyer, he loved what I did.)  I once met with a woman who couldn’t understand why no one wanted to spend time in her living room.  “I’ve spent a fortune in that room, and no one ever goes in there.”  One look and I knew precisely why.  Pale Easter-pink walls and white plush carpet.  Formal chairs lining the walls.  And a lavish, lugubrious, lily-heavy, silk floral arrangement draped across the mantel.  It looked for all the world like a funeral parlor.  Defoliating it was a challenge, I can tell you.

More than education, more than travel, it was literature that taught me about design.  Loving houses from an early age, I learned from my beloved books that every one was different; every house reflected the personalities of the souls who resided there.  The invitingly snug abode of Mole in Wind and the Willows wasn’t anything like the eccentric splendor of Mr. Toad, but each suited its owner perfectly.  I could easily envision the black and white marble tiles in the entry hall of Number Seventeen Cherry Tree Lane; could easily see the shadow Mary Poppins would cast on those tiles as she rapped at the glass front door with her parrot-head umbrella.  I clearly saw, in detail,  the rooms of everyone I ever read about, from the reverse-painted lampshades Lady Slane would surely have had in her Hampstead cottage in All Passion Spent, to the microscopes and birdcages striped with the rays of a Grecian sun as it fell through the shutters of little Gerry Durrell’s room in My Family and Other Animals.  These were the kind of rooms I wanted to create for people:  rooms as unique as they.

Through all my years in design, despite the popular trends that march dictatorially across the pages of current shelter magazines, my goal has remained the same:  to create surroundings for my clients that reflect who they truly are while at the same time gently nudging them towards the beautiful, the meaningful, and the fine. Oh, and the lady with the green room?  The finished product featured Scalamandre chintz that echoed the flowers outside her window, polished wood floors, creamy sofas, pale green pillows, and lacy green ferns.  Yes, lots of touches of green.
(To read more on the topic of design today, 
check out all the participators in By Invitation OnlyHERE)

***** Note:   One of the most delightful design books I’ve encountered recently 
is "Novel Interiors" by my friend, Lisa Borgnes-Giramonti.  It’s as though she crawled inside my own head to capture the decorative influence of books.  Marvelous.

Illustration of Wind and the Willows by Inga Moore

Saturday, February 7, 2015

Dame Judi Put Me To Shame

Dame Judi Put Me To Shame

She was all of seventy-eight when I saw her on stage.  Dame Judi Dench.  She is not a tall woman, yet when she strolled from the wings she seemed to fill the The Noel Coward Theatre with an unearthly light that soared through the silent air, coalescing somewhere near the opulent ceiling before gathering itself, turning, and focusing its glow entirely upon her diminutive frame.  One simply could not look anywhere else.  This was a new play, with long, emotional soliloquies delivered by Dame Judi in her role as the elderly Alice Liddell Hargreaves, the inspiration for Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland.  The play had some problems, but Dame Judi was magnificent.  The words she spoke could not have been buried in her memory like Shakespeare, ready to call up on a whim.  No, these were all new words and not only had she memorized them, she knew them so well as to imbue them with appropriate sensitivity and feeling.  She was Alice.  I was transfixed.

Angela Lansbury is currently on tour in Noel Coward’s Blithe Spirit, never missing a beat, or a line, as she dances and prances across the stage as Madame Arcarti.   She is earning rave reviews wherever she goes.  She is eighty-nine.

Now, I do both the New York and Los Angeles Times crosswords every day.  I knit rather complicated patterns every night.  I read.  I write.  Yet when I witness the accomplishments of these two women, and others like them, I cringe at how little I challenge myself.  My soul, I doubt I could learn even one paragraph of the dense dialog Miss Dench preformed so effortlessly that Spring night I saw her in London.  Or could I?  Is there a challenge I could set for myself that might hone and sharpen the more indolent cells of my brain till they gleamed as brightly, well nearly, as hers?   And that’s when I thought about poetry.

How wonderful, how marvelous it would be to call up stanzas of great poetry whenever one wished.  Imagine if you will, a dull party, one where guests stand shoulder to shoulder with glasses of flat champagne in their hands, nodding politely at soporific conversation as they long to be home watching re-runs of Downton Abbey.  Imagine I slam down my drink, stride to the center of the room, hop gracefully atop a tufted ottoman and launch into a recitation of “Casey At The Bat”, in full-throated, confident voice…..

With a smile of Christian charity great Casey’s visage shone;
He stilled the rising tumult; he bade the game go on;
He signaled to the pitcher, and once more the dun sphere flew;
But Casey still ignored it and the umpire said, “Strike two!”

  All boredom now extinguished; the party crackles with fun till the wee hours.  

Or…. snowed in at an airport in Manchester, I spy a fidgety child on the verge of a meltdown.  I motion the tyke to my side, widen my eyes, lower my voice and begin…. 

“’Twas brillig, and the slithy roves
Did gyre and gimble in the wabe,
 All mimsy were the borogoves, 
And the mome raths outgrabe.”

The Jabberwocky has been known to silence the most fractious of minds.  The child is awe-struck to the point of fright, but at least he’s quiet now. 

I could throw the words of Seamus Heaney in the face of the news of the day:
“History says, don’t hope
On this side of the grave.
But then, once in a lifetime
The longed-for tidal wave
Of justice can rise up,
And hope and history rhyme” 

Poetry has influenced my view of the world since childhood.  I sit by the window on stormy nights and Robert Louis Stevenson is at my side whispering, “Whenever the moon and stars are set, Whenever the wind is high, All night long in the dark and wet, A man goes riding by.  Late at night when the fires are out, Why does he gallop and gallop about?”.  Because of Dylan Thomas I see “wordy women and rows of star-gestured children in the park”.    Because of Mary Oliver I frequently ask myself “what do you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”. 

So, as a personal challenge, I have decided to memorize a favorite poem.  Choosing just one is a difficult task.  “Fern Hill” by Dylan Thomas is a favourite, as is Shakespeare’s Sonnet 116.  And of course, there’s always “Casey At The Bat”.  But these lines from Tennyson are calling my name.  What do you think?  Can I do it?
If Dame Judi can, well so can I. 
Read this out loud and think…. 
Care to join me?

“Old age hath yet his honour and his toil;
Death closes all:  but something ere the end, 
Some work of noble note, may yet be done,
Not unbecoming men that strove with Gods.
The lights begin to twinkle from the rocks:
The long day wanes:  The slow moon climbs:  the deep
Moans round with many voices.  Come, my friends, 
“Tis not too late to seek a newer world.
Push off, and sitting well in order smite
The sounding furrows;  for my purpose holds
To sail beyond the sunset, and the baths
Of all the western stars, until I die.
It may be that the gulfs will wash us down:
It may be we shall touch the Happy Isles, 
And see the great Achilles, whom we knew.
Tho’ much is taken, much abides; and tho’
We are not now that strength which in the old days
Moved earth and heaven, that which we are, we are;
One equal temper of heroic hearts, 
Made week by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.

For more inspiration, try this book.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Forced Hibernation: A List That Makes Me Smile

Forced Hibernation.... A List That Makes Me Smile

At the risk of sounding like a tiresome Pollyanna, my recent week of forced hibernation was really not so bad.  Not only did I have one of the sweetest, furriest, most devoted nurses imaginable,  but the weather seemed to have heard of my plight and decided to send the rainiest, the dreariest, the coldest of its creations to my side.   For days, a white wooly fog wrapped itself tightly around the cottage; the gas lamp in the front garden flickering like a beacon and casting shadows into the rooms that swirled and twirled like grey-gowned Russian dancers.  A fire crackled in the old stone fireplace and the tea kettle whistled happily.  While it was true that the medication I was on made me feel like another, slightly inconscient, version of myself, all in all, it could have been much worse.  

During this week, I found many things to make me smile. 
 And what kind of friend would I be if I didn’t share some of them with you?  
So here’s a list - highly subjective and a bit disorganized -  of smiles.
Which one do you like best?

1. George
I recently discovered this photograph, released around Christmas.
I mean, really.
This adorable child has so much personality, so much confidence.
It’s as if he knows he’ll be King.

2.  Vanessa Bell
Given my reverence for Virginia Woolf, I have generally regarded her sister, Vanessa, as a supporting player in her story.  While I wandered through Vanessa’s exquisite Charleston House in 2013, my opinion changed and I began to see Vanessa’s place in history as much more important than I’d previously realized.  I usually steer clear of fictionalized history, but this book caught my attention and I couldn’t resist.  It’s marvelous.
Find it HERE

3.  New Old Pillows
I’ve just restocked the shoppe with several exquisite old pillows.
Trust me, they add something delightful to any room.
Find them HERE

4.  Meryl
Meryl Streep at the London premiere of Into The Woods.
This is what I want to look like when I grow up.

5.  The Great British Bakeoff
Whilst in the UK last autumn, I overheard so many people talking about this program.  The finale was about to happen and the air was practically buzzing with speculation on who was poised to win.  Having never considered the enjoyable activity of cooking to be a competitive sport, I never watch these shows.  But one night during my medicated hibernation I happened to switch on PBS and came across the first episode of The Great British Bakeoff and was instantly hooked.  A group of very pleasant people baking British goodies underneath an Alice in Wonderland tent on the beautiful grounds of a country house in Britain.  I mean, what’s not to like?  Puddings and treacle, Victoria Sponge.  Tartlets and chocolates and scones.  The contestants are all so nice, so interesting, I want everyone one of them to win.  Nobody yells, nobody acts like a brat.  It’s wonderful.
The result of this, of course, is that I get so inspired the next day becomes baking day at The House of Edward.  I’ve baked two loaves of Cinnamon Bread that made the house smell utterly divine and gave us days of delicious breakfasts. (You can find the recipe on page 126 of THIS BOOK.)  And I made the most delectable sugar cookies.  (Find them HERE.  Note:  I didn’t ice these, and I baked them a wee bit longer than suggested.  The icing would make the cookies very, very sweet, and I wanted a crisp cookie for tea time.  It worked perfectly.)
You can read more about The Great British Bake Off, HERE.

6.  I Know Where I’m Going
One particularly stormy night, Edward and I curled up with The Songwriter in front of the fire (Apple underneath the piano) to re-watch one of our favourite movies, I Know Where I’m Going.  Like a dream, each shot is achingly lovely and incredibly atmospheric.  It stars Dame Wendy Hiller, she of the magnificent face, and was filmed entirely on Scotland’s Isle of Mull, one of the most wonderful places I know.  So many of the scenes were filmed in spots I’ve sat, all alone, looking out to sea.  It makes me swoon to remember.  If you love Scotland, you’ll be intoxicated by this movie.  And if you’ve never traveled to Scotland, you’ll be purchasing a ticket before the closing credits roll.
Find it HERE

7.  Nail Polish
In summertime, when my toes are on display in sandals of various shapes, I paint them discreet and quietly pretty colours bearing names like Sweetheart, Bubble Bath and Mimosa.  But come wintertime, when they are forever enclosed in woolen socks and riding boots, I get a bit more adventurous. 
 This week they’re wearing a new colour from Nars.
 A deep, earthy, verdant green that reminds me of
 forests, moss, and skeins of Shetland wool.  Love it!
Find it HERE

8.  Knitting 
See.  This is why I knit!
A friend’s new baby wearing the cardigan I knitted for her.
Yes, this makes me smile.

9.  A Fabulous Christmas Present
I adored The Grand Budapest Hotel when I saw it last summer.  And I loved Tilda Swinton’s outrageous character, Madame D.  So, a good friend’s delightfully talented daughter made me this for Christmas.  I’ve put it next to the mirror where I get ready to face the day.  It guarantees I’m smiling when I do.
(By the way:  The fabulous frame this photograph is in?  I received TWO of these for Christmas.  From two different people who don’t know each other.  What does that say about me do you think?  *laughing*)

10.   The Porch
My Father always had a devil of a time raking leaves from our front garden.  Just as he’d get a pile raked up, I would be disassembling it to create the house plan I was fashioning under the sweet gum trees.  Rooms and windows, doors and porches… I laid them all out on the ground like a blueprint, making sure the room I chose for my own had the best view, naturally.  It’s never been a secret that I love houses.  As a child, there was nothing I liked better than riding in the back seat of my parent’s car at night, gazing into the windows of the houses passing by, each one different, individual, mysterious.  When I saw the movie Out of Africa, while all my friends were swooning over Robert Redford, I was in love with Karen Blixen’s house.  I have seen the ghosts of great men and great women drifting in the sunbeams of the houses in which they once lived.  Hammersmith Farm and Monk’s House.  Andalusia and Mendips.   Red House, Leighton House Charleston House.  Wandering through the rooms of these magical places  - each so different, each so evocative of their enigmatic owners - gave me such inspiration.  
Needless to say, my roots are deeply entwined round this cottage I call home.   Each and every corner is imbued with what I find most beautiful, most personal, and I love living here.  Any changes to the place are thought out and dreamed of with great seriousness.  So in October, when we finally decided to release a particular dream from my imagination and make it real, we were most excited. 

In our bedroom there has been, for years, a window seat underneath three large windows that looked over the back garden.  In my dreams I saw one of the three windows  becoming a door opening on a screened breezeway leading to a round screened porch, a birdhouse of sorts, just for us.  Seeing this long-held dream blossom into reality was a thrill involving many serendipitous components:  antique leading glass windows, handmade gothic chairs made of willow, a fir tree weathervane atop a large octagonal cupola that glows with a green light at night, paintings of Scotland on the new curved windowseat and, of course, two new large fat tartan dog beds.  It is finished now; a thoroughly magical place that transcends my dream. 

11.  And then there’s this:
“How far that little candle throws his beams.
  So shines a good deed in a weary world.”

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I hope you're smiling!

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Thoughts on a Holiday

Thoughts on a Holiday

During the civil rights movement of the 1960’s I was too little, and way too sheltered, to be of much use.  Even though Martin Luther King Jr. and I grew up in the very same city, his noble activities were something I only saw occasionally flash across a black and white television screen as I ran through the living room on my way outside to play.  Ensconced in my leafy enclave where swing sets sat under tall trees and the ice cream truck sang its way down our street every afternoon round four, I was blissfully unaware of injustice, ignorant of racism, and oblivious to hate.  It was very different across town.  I know this now.

Whenever I watch the films of the civil rights marches I am always struck by the faces of the men holding the fire hoses.  I compare them to the expressions worn by the men and women being thrown up against buildings and face down on streets by the force of the water shot towards them.  Strangely, it is the perpetrators who wear the faces of hate.  Self-righteousness twisted into thin-lipped, steel-eyed grimaces that perfectly illustrate the monstrosity of their wearer’s actions even as they manage to reveal the fear lurking just beneath the skin.  For there’s one thing I’ve learned in my years since that time:  fear is generally the precursor to hate.  

There is much to fear today.  This past year has been a ceaseless parade of unparalleled atrocities, played out on screens for all the world to see.  It is cavalier not to be frightened of these brutal savages who slaughter the innocent before our very eyes.   But like all dark emotions, fear lives next to neighbours capable of great damage.  It can lead us to airless places where bitterness pulls the curtain down on hope and hatred slams the door to love.   It can - slowly, almost imperceptibly - fashion an unrecognizable world.

Today on this day when we pause to remember the achievements of Martin Luther King Jr., I am thinking it is easy, too easy, to hate those who commit these acts of barbarism across our world today.  It is easy to stay in our homes and arm ourselves;  easy to applaud the torture of our enemies, even as Christ called us to love them.  It is temptingly easy to categorize man as good or evil and easy to banish the evil to hell. But in doing so, in taking this easy way out of the confusion and fear that we all must feel when faced with our current realities, what do we do to our culture?  What do we do to our souls?

“Returning violence for violence multiplies violence, 
adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars... 
Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.”
MLK, Jr. 

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

So Sure, and So Wrong

So Sure and So Wrong

They were the treacherous triumvirate that hid like trolls under fairy tale bridges waiting to snatch unsuspecting saddle-shoed children as they skipped merrily by at the close of an otherwise carefree day.  Mumps, Measles and Chicken Pox.  Though rather Seuss-ian in name, make no mistake, in the days before vaccines for these three, they barred the way to our adulthood like invulnerable dragons.  We simply had to let them do their worst before we could pass. How well I recall the heavy discomfort and freak show visage I had with the mumps.  When the measles struck I ran a fever so high I still remember all the furniture shimmering like liquid.  But I was always too fast for chicken pox.  Try as they might, they could never quite manage to catch me.  It is a part of my family lore and legend:  I never had chicken pox.  “Remarkable!”  “Amazing!”  These were the astonished comments uttered by the mothers of my playmates as they placed cold compresses on the foreheads of their itchy, irritable children and warned them not to scratch.  I myself vividly recall being quickly packed up and bundled away from any spotty child who happened to be anywhere in the vicinity. 

As an adult it was, I’m ashamed to admit, with a mixture of pity and unflattering smugness that I watched the television ads for the new shingles vaccine.  As the poor sufferers recounted their tales of woe, I stared blithely down from my safe, impregnable mountain secure in the knowledge that their affliction could never touch me.  It is a well known fact that one cannot get shingles if one has not had chicken pox and I, it was just as well known, had never, no never, had chicken pox.

So here I was, on the eve of epiphany, staring like a codfish at my doctor as she squinted knowingly at the small, oddly painful, spot on my forehead and stated emphatically, for the second time, “Shingles.  Yes. Absolutely."

“But, but”, I began again.  “I’ve never had chicken pox.”

“Yes.  As you’ve said.  But I’m telling you that’s impossible.  No doubt you had a mild case,
 or even an asymptomatic one.  It happens.  But there is no way you made it to adulthood in this country, before the vaccine, and didn’t have chicken pox.  No matter now.  You had them.  And you have shingles.  Now go home, take your medicine just as I’ve told you and go to bed.”

So I drove home with a couple of bottles of pills large enough to choke a horse sitting beside me and thought.  I was so certain.  My parents were so certain.  I called my very first friend to tell her and even she was so, so certain.  But we were all wrong.  About what else could I be so sure, and so wrong?  It was most disconcerting. I thought of oysters, pea soup and asparagus.  Long ago I decided I hated them.  Maybe I don’t now.  Perhaps I no longer look embalmed whenever I wear yellow.  Could it now be possible I might be good at math?  Ballet?  Could I sing harmony now? It gave me much to ponder on the road to recovery, I can tell you.

*A personal note:  I know without a doubt I have the most thoughtful readers in the land.  The notes, the cards, the little movies!  You all were so sweet and your correspondences made my dreadful week much less so.  Thank you!  Now all of you go out and get the shingles vaccine.  Trust me.  You don’t want this.  I was most fortunate to catch it very early, when just a teensy spot on my forehead, and start strong anti-viral medications that, although they made me feel pretty crummy themselves, did the trick beautifully and stopped the process cold.  I cannot imagine the alternative, though I know many people have experienced it.  Now, go get the vaccine!