Saturday, May 30, 2009

Apple and the Rose

Coming home from an late evening walk, a neighbour called to me from his garden.
He had snipped a fat orange rose from the cloud of blowsy blossoms that dangled like ripe tangerines from his wrought iron arbor, and he handed it to me over the fence as I passed. Such a lovely gift, I thought as I placed it in a vase by my bed. By midnight, the ambrosial fragrance from this lone flower had drifted into every corner of the room as if entire bouquets of roses had fallen from the sky.

When I slipped between the crisp sheets to sleep, both Edward and Apple jumped up to say goodnight, as is their habit. As I patted their furry heads, I lifted the vase to my nose again to drink in the delicious smell of the rose and I noticed Apple watching me with interest, no doubt wondering if I had sneaked a “treat” to bed with me. So I held the flower to her face and she bent close to investigate. As the sweet perfume of the orange rose reached her, her dark eyes grew wide and she backed up to look at me. “Smells good, doesn’t it”, I asked. She got the funniest little look on her face and bent down once again to sniff.
And then, I swear, she smiled.
Ah, every girl loves roses.

Apple wearing her favourite outfit during a neighbourhood festival.
Like any girly girl, she would wear this every single day if she could, whilst Edward will not tolerate it for two seconds.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

A Happy Mistake

For the past two Sunday nights, I have been lost in Sweden. Not serenely strolling through the softly sunwashed colours of artist Carl Larsson, but stranded amidst the harsh landscape of writer Henning Mankell, as his Wallander detective series has now come to television via the new BBC production starring Kenneth Branagh. Set in Ystad, it is a Sweden unfamiliar to me, with a midnight sun that pierces the summer night like the half closed eye of Apollo, never resting, always watching, and a noonday sun that enflames the colours of the landscape - all school bus yellow and chlorine blue - with such vividness they almost sting the eye. These bleakly haunting stories match the intensity of their setting with starkness and weblike intricacy. They are completely engrossing.

So engrossing in fact, that last Sunday after knitting my way through the second episode, I looked down and observed ...yikes.... a mistake. I had changed skeins right after the show had begun and neglected to notice an infinitesimal difference in dyelot. Now here I was, eight inches knitted, and the colours were off course a bit. The yarn I am using is a variegated cotton, sublime in texture and delicious in shades of watery greens, blues and lavenders, but now, about a third of the way into the scarf the colours were a tiny bit more blue than green. I sat stock still as I pondered my next move. As it was a fairly intricate pattern, the thought of ripping out my work was distasteful to say the least. But amazingly, the longer I looked, the more I liked what I saw.... the more I really, really liked what I saw. I am now completely thrilled with this new creation; one I never would have imagined myself. When the scarf is wound around my neck, the subtle change in colour is divine, and looks expertly planned. A happy mistake. The Songwriter says they happen in recording all the time.

It is amusing to think how we humans so often rigidly map out our lives, schedule our days, presuming we know best how things should proceed. Sometimes, if we can manage to let go of the reins a bit, it seems that circumstances may just hand us a better way, present us with a more wondrous idea than we ever could have imagined on our own. The holiday that was planned, the school that was counted on, the career always hoped for, the pattern so dilligently followed. When kismet laughingly shuts the door, that open window across the room just might lead to Neverland.

Or at the very least, there might be a fabulous scarf sitting on the windowsill.

Painting above by Carl Larsson

Sunday, May 24, 2009

A Quiet Day

I was presented with a quiet day.
A freshly wrapped candy box of calm and peaceful hours, each one nothing less than a divine morsel of indulgence. For it is rare to partake of an entire box of hours such as these all in one day, rather more likely to sneak a taste every now and then.... a bite of a nap here, a nibble of a garden stroll there. To have an entire day to myself, a glistening pathway of time stretched out before me, with no roadblocks, no detours, was practically an engraved invitation to happiness. Every unplanned hour, a confection, and I intended to feast on the complete collection.

So I savored a butter creme morning festooning the house with freshly cut oakleaf hydrangeas and lemon scented magnolia blossoms. A truffle of an hour was spent finishing a book and then another lazily perusing my library shelves as I considered my next literary destination, with a newly manicured finger running along the colourful spines as if they were travel brochures to exotic locales, which indeed they are. Then, a caramel of an hour baking a coconut cake and licking the beaters myself. I whiled away a totally decadent chocolate bonbon of time dozing in the big red chair as a rainy breeze blew through the cottage windows and ruffled the fur of the white dog beside me. A butterscotch stroll down the lane with Edward and Apple followed by high tea in my favourite cup. A toffee of a hot bath with jasmine bubbles galore.

No phone, no radio, no television.
Just bird song and breezes, wind chimes and sighs.

"Happiness is as a butterfly which, when pursued, is always beyond our grasp, but which if you will sit down quietly, may alight upon you."

Nathaniel Hawthorne

Wednesday, May 20, 2009


A couple of nights ago I found myself in a car with three world class wits as we all returned home from a rather extravagantly overacted play. While we had managed to exhibit impeccable adult decorum during the performance, our facade cracked, then shattered, inside that car as we each offered up our increasingly hilarious reviews of the night. I laughed so hard that my sides literally ached; the kind of ache I remember from the belly laughs of childhood fun. As I reflected on the evening later that night, I had to admit that even while I find so much in this world to be amusing - even downright funny - real side-splitting laughter, real fun, is a bit of a rare thing.

To be certain, being an adult has its undeniable advantages. I can stay up as late as I want, and frequently do so. I can eat dessert first if I choose, even though I rarely do. However, along with the grand freedoms that come with all the costumes of adulthood, there is also the somber coloured, conservatively cut cloak of responsibility that we all must wear. An often itchy and uncomfortable garment, it is a cloak tailored for each of us individually, and sometimes, it seems, unfairly. Its powers are such that, strangely, it seems that if one never takes it off.... for a weekend, or even just an hour.... the more cumbersome it becomes, the scratchier its fabric, the heavier its weight, until it begins to alter the very posture of the spirit - the very lightness of the heart.

I can remember being a little girl and going outside every day, “to play”. It seems as if we adults could benefit from such an activity today. To run through a field, or bicycle through an afternoon, for reasons having more to do with joy than with exercise. To take a turn on the swingset, or a swing on the dance floor. To ride the carousel, sing along with the radio, play on the seesaw..... or just take the long way home.
To remember how to play and how to laugh till your sides ache.

So if you will excuse me, I think I shall go and play hide and seek with Edward. It is his favourite game.
And perhaps, I shall eat my dessert first tonight.

"What soap is to the body, laughter is to the soul."
Yiddish Proverb

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Eat, Drink and Be Merry

So many times, whenever a friend is embarking on a first trip to Britain, the inevitable question arises...”what about the food??”. It seems to be an untruth universally acknowledged that all British food is somehow lacking - in taste, nutrition and style. Perhaps that thought held some validity in decades past, but I can certainly argue empirically against it now. Some of the most deliciously satisfying meals of my memory were enjoyed in the UK.

Walking into Loch Bay Seafood, an unassuming whitewashed building by the sea on the Isle of Skye one windy day, I sat down to the best fish soup I had ever tasted. The incredibly delicious breakfast at Holbeck Ghyll high in the Lake District, which was served with a side of achingly beautiful view from my sunlit table. Lunch at The Witchery in Edinburgh, where I do have to admit I paid much more attention to the wickedly creative decor than to the dining, but which remains a indelible and most charming luncheon memory.

One of the best meals of my whole life was created by the proprietress of Ladyburn, an idyllic Bed and Breakfast on a greenly picturesque estate outside Maybole, Scotland. In a candlelit dining room of graceful proportions, with playful strains of Mozart coming from the kitchen, I sat beside a flickering fire and enjoyed the most delicate cheese souffle ever conceived - cooked to perfection, freshly caught Scottish salmon, sweet seasonal vegetables straight from the house garden, and a blissfully decadent chocolate torte. True culinary bliss. Afterwards we sat by a roaring library fire, with Bertie, the family’s warmth seeking Jack Russell, and slowly sipped a warm brandy before making our way to bed, where a piping hot water bottle had been thoughtfully tucked between our crisp cotton sheets. No hobbit could have been more fat and happy.

The bracing tea we had after a windblown hike around Buttermere, the savory dinner brought to our room at The Torridon, the inviting little Italian cafe we found one misty night near Harrods, the opulent dinner at Inverlochy Castle, the luscious grilled salmon at a friendly restaurant beside Loch Linnhe, even the quintessential fish and chips we enjoyed near Covent Garden.... all mouth-watering memories to treasure, and not a fried Mars Bar or blood pudding to be found! If you’re planning a trip across the pond, feel free to look forward to the food, you’re sure to enjoy it.

However, will perhaps notice I did not mention Haggis!

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

John Romain Changed My Life

There are people who dwell in the rooms of my memory and I try to visit them often. Strangely, some begin to disappear after a year or so, fading slowly into shadow. No doubt, a malady due to lack of attention on my part. But the others who remain, colourful and complete, are all there for the very same reason - they have helped to create, in bits and in bobs, the person that is me.

See the elderly lady in the shirtwaist dress, watering the ferns at the window? She has lived here for decades for she long ago gave me my love of flowers. And the smiling chap sitting at the piano? A fairly new arrival, he taught me that happiness is a choice one makes every day. No doubt some in this crowd are recognizable to you. The two ladies in the library? Yes, that is indeed Virginia Woolf discussing Bloomsbury’s Charleston farmhouse with Sister Parish. I also have it on quite good authority that Walt Disney walks my childhood dogs every afternoon at four. But, look. See the gentleman over there in the tufted leather chair by the fire? The one flipping through an old copy of Country Life? That is John Romain. He was a handbag designer and he has dwelt here for ages. For you see, when I was eight years old, John Romain changed my life.

When I entered third grade, it seemed every girl I knew was longing for a John Romain handbag. Nut brown, tweedy creations, with butter soft leather trim, they were the ultimate acquisition and a sure symbol of fashionable acceptance. Although an admittedly unnecessary accessory, parents soon began to acquiesce to the pleas and the whines of their daughters, and one by one, these objects of
pre-teen desire began to show up on the little arms of my saddle-shoed classmates. As a happily only child, I was always amused by competition. It seemed such a quizzical activity to me. Keeping up with other people was an alien notion to a little girl whose favourite confidant was her dog. But oh, how I wanted one of those bags. It came over me like the flu and I was introduced to my first chilled feeling of envy.

Then, on a cold Christmas morning, I opened an elaborately wrapped present and... there it lay. My very own John Romain bag. And wonder of wonders, my parents had ordered one with a
horsehead clasp! The Ultimate. I was beside myself with joy and could hardly wait for the holidays to be over when I would join the ranks of those sartorially in vogue. But a funny thing happened when I walked into class, proudly carrying my celebrated bag like the trophy it was.
I was now just like everyone else.
And, I hated it.
Oh, I loved the handbag. But I hated being part of the herd.

So yes, John Romain remains anchored in my memory for having taught me a priceless lesson about myself; a lesson I am most grateful to have learned early: I am happiest following my own path. Utterly skeptical of trends, I much prefer to trust my own eye. Preserving my individuality is vital to me and through the years I have found such joy in aiding my clients in the discovery of their own unique voices and enabling them to express those personal voices in the design and decoration of their homes.

So if you’ll excuse me, I think I’ll just sit here with Mr. Romain for a bit. I am curious for his opinion on a couple of articles I have just read in the latest Elle Decor.
I am sure you can find your way out.
Just don’t let Mr. Disney con you into walking those dogs.
That’s his job.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

The Flower Moon

In icy fullness he sits aloft, enthroned in the blue-black January sky, a lambent wizard whose incantation of frozen light is cast down over snow covered hills for the wolves to find their way home. He does his best throughout the year to live up to the names he’s been given and the first month knows him, by legend and lore, as the Wolf Moon.

He’s christened Pink in the month of April, as he gently drapes the glow of a rose petal over the luminous newness of a Spring night, while the chill of October finds him clad in the orange robes of a Harvest Moon, illuminating the autumnal gold that is sprinkled across the dark fields of the world.

But as all lovers of his magical light can easily agree, he achieves the full height of his powers in May. For this month, this very night in fact, he becomes the Flower Moon, when the spirits of beauty flock to the gardens to drink in the sight of May flowers aglow. They stroll down moss pathways in clear star-strewn dresses, beneath radiant rose arbors he has lit so divinely, they look as though all the world’s fireflies have come there to pose. Indeed every flower, from the aristocratic white orchid on the manor house windowsill to the happy brotherhood of bluebells that holds court on the forest floor - like gemstones from Heaven, all shall bedazzle tonight.

So, look to the flowers when the warm sun sets. For no candle, no kleig, no footlight or floodlight could ever compare to the pure, perennial splendour
that is the Flower Moon of May.


Fly not yet; 'tis just the hour
When pleasure, like the midnight flower
That scorns the eye of vulgar light,
Begins to bloom for sons of night,
And maids who love the moon.
'Twas but to bless these hours of shade

That beauty and the moon were made;

'Tis then their soft attractions glowing
Set the tides and goblets flowing
Oh ! stay, oh ! stay,
Joy so seldom weaves a chain
Like this to-night, that, oh! 'tis pain
To break it's links so soon.

by Thomas Moore

Thursday, May 7, 2009

The Ghost in Love

Every Friday , the New York Times publishes a special section in their newspaper entitled Escapes. Different from the Travel section, Escapes showcases second home locales or places just perfect for the perfect, well..... escape. I both look forward to, and slightly dread, dipping into these weekly pages, for I know I shall find myself sorely tempted by the words I read and the pictures I see. Faded seaside towns with steep cobbled streets where I might just find the weathered beach cottage I keep in my treasure chest of secret longings. Or green mountain villages where people of a lilting language could point me in the direction of that stone cottage with the diamond paned windows that often haunts my daydreams. Every Friday morning with paper and coffee, I pore over this section and my mind begins to roam. Soon I am perusing real estate websites and visualizing paint colours. By no means am I disenchanted with my current place in the world, but there is something that, to me at least, is so deliciously tempting about the idea of escape.

Fortunately for me, there are all sorts of definitions for escape. And one of the best, and certainly most cost efficient, is within the pages of a book. I have just returned from such an escape and am still unpacking all my shiny souvenirs. What a time I had! Generally, when I pick up a new book, I have some sort of hint as to what to expect. Either I have read a review, been given a recommendation, or perhaps I am already acquainted with the author and have returned to sample more delights from their literary table.

But I had no idea where I was headed when I cracked open
The Ghost In Love by Jonathan Carroll and began my journey through its pages late one stormy evening last week. I settled back into my pillow and just held on for dear life. All the dependable touchstones and signposts were thrown out the window pretty soon after page one and I was left as giddy as a buttoned-up passenger on a runaway train of ideas.

With talking dogs, reincarnations, and angels of death, not to mention time travels, picnics in the rain with all one’s former selves...and yes, even a ghost in love, this surreal book may not be for everyone. Frankly, I wasn’t sure if it was for me. But I soon discovered it felt quite refreshing to read something that stretched out my mind like a difficult yoga pose. I was entranced by the sheer scope of the writing and I relished my escape into this author’s expansive imagination.
The Ghost in Love may not equal that stone cottage in the faraway trees, but it will more than suffice as my escape for this week.

Painting above: On Top Of The World by James Hill

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

A Dozen of My Favourite Things for May

The Imaginative Art of
Gretel Parker
Illustrator and Toy Maker Extraordinaire
Her painting featured above, and below are a few of her latest toy creations:

Charles Dickens on PBS

The resurgence of wonderful wallpapers, as evidenced by
Grow, House, Grow...
a most creative company after my own heart...glorious wallpaper designs - each with its very own narrative!
I can just see a elegant entry hall... with this on the wall above glossy white panelling...

and dark antique furniture, sunburst mirrors, cut crystal vases of orange parrot tulips and a West Highland Terrier sitting on a black and white marble floor waiting patiently for the postman to put today’s mail through the bronze slot in the forest green front door.

Listening to Astrid Gilberto with the windows open while I make a pie and the dogs sleep on the floor at my feet.

blog that I discovered just as its writer was on holiday in London.
It has now become a regular morning coffee stop for me.

Sharp cheddar cheese melted on toasted sourdough bread

Planting flowers, flowers, flowers!

Lemon Ice Cream

My collection of cotton pajamas from
The Cat’s Pajamas

SPF 90 and sun hats by

This wonderful, wonderful

I can just see it, lying on a polished wood floor in a room painted the palest shade of citron, with a magnificent stone fireplace, weathered leather chairs with tapestry cushions, the complete works of Simenon and Conan Doyle bound in red leather in French Deco bookcases, and leaded glass casement windows that open out onto a peony garden where a vaguely surly bulldog is waiting to be let back inside before it rains.

And finally, this poem by Mary Oliver.
If only you could read it with your eyes closed.

Sleeping in the Forest

I thought the earth remembered me,
she took me back so tenderly,
arranging her dark skirts,her pockets
full of lichens and seeds.
I slept as never before, a stone on the river bed,
nothing between me and the white fire of the stars
but my thoughts, and they floated light as moths
among the branches of the perfect trees.
All night I heard the small kingdoms
breathing around me, the insects,
and the birds who do their work in the darkness.

All night I rose and fell, as if in water,
grappling with a luminous doom. By morning
I had vanished at least a dozen times

into something better.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Green Gardens

The recent airing of the remarkable production of HBO's Grey Gardens has precipitated quite a lot of conversation in my circles on the subject of eccentricity. Is it a singular characteristic; one to be celebrated and encouraged? Or is it simply the more fanciful relative of insanity? In regards to the ladies from Grey Gardens, one might certainly argue that eccentricity veers solidly into madness when squalor, stench and raccoon roommates enter the picture.
I do feel qualified to say that I can recognize the difference, for I am from the South.
Though our gardens may be green, we are well acquainted with eccentricity here.

There are those who have read John Berendt’s Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil and believed it to be a wonderfully imaginative tale. For us, it was totally non-fiction. The colourful characters that populate the works of Eudora Welty, Flannery O’Connor and Pat Conroy...not to mention Tennessee Williams and Truman Capote? I could introduce you to their prototypes any day of the week. In fact, more that a few of them are nesting quite comfortably in my family tree.

We have swimmers in our gene pool who have broken limbs as the result of ill-considered efforts to fly. While a few of these painfully hopeful attempts employed the aid of umbrellas, at least one depended solely on the flapping of arms. There is the uncle who named his truck, painted that moniker on the side of the door, bought a police radio and spent his days waiting to hear of any and all disturbances at which point he would jump in the christened vehicle and head to the scene. Needless to say, he was a bit famous in law enforcement circles. There is the neighbor who swears he witnessed a group of houseguests levitate in another neighbor’s back garden and of course, there is the gentlemen who frequently strolls out to get the morning newspaper in a short baby blue negligee.

Maybe it’s the heat. Or the humidity. Perhaps the moss that hangs from the trees somehow finds its way inside our heads. But here in the South we dwell within a veritable petri dish of eccentricity. It permeates our literature, our music, our humour, and it is often the prism through which we view the world. To be sure, it does make life interesting and, I suppose, as long as the raccoons remain on the other side of the doors, we’re safe.

We are all mad here
The Cheshire Cat,
from Alice in Wonderland