Friday, July 31, 2009


There is a video currently making its way through the ether, perhaps you have seen it. It features a wedding party’s merry entrance down the aisle at the start of the ceremony. One hears the beginning of an upbeat, fairly raucous, piece of music.... the doors fly open and one by one - or pair by pair - bridesmaids and groomsmen, dancing in exuberant free style, make their way into the church, followed eventually by a somersaulting groom and a frolicking bride. The longer I watched this, the broader my grin became, until naturally... I was crying.
Such joy!
Such felicity!
This is what marriage should be.
I thought about that video again today when I realized it was the anniversary of the 1981 royal wedding of Prince Charles and the former Lady Diana. The Wedding of the Century. Like multitudes of people around the world, I watched on that early morning 28 long years ago, enraptured by the intoxicating pageantry that seemed to radiate through the streets of London all the way to the altar of St. Paul’s. It was the very manifestation of a fairy tale. Or so we all thought at the time. Knowing what we know now, it is difficult to watch that ceremony without feeling a bitter lump of sadness tightening the throat.

So many weddings every single year. How does one know it will last? I have been fortunate beyond measure in my life, for the joy I felt on my wedding day remains even now after so many years. The Songwriter is still my favourite person on the planet. He makes me coffee every morning, makes me laugh everyday and rubs my feet every night. He is wonderful. I know I am one of the lucky ones, and I am grateful. I offer no advice however. I simply pray for everyone who chooses someone with whom to share their life till the end of their days, may the merriment so visible in this new wedding video remain with you always.
For, I know that it can.

If you haven’t seen the video, you can watch it

The whole life of man is but a point of time; let us enjoy it.
46 AD - 120 AD

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Ideas on Film

Over the past few months, I have had several visitors tell me that my bedroom reminds them of Hogwart’s Gryffindor house from the Harry Potter movies. I suppose I can see the resemblance..... dark wood canopied bed, aged honey colour walls, scarlet velvet upholstery, antique leather chairs, large oil paintings, and floral linen everywhere. No doubt Master Potter would indeed feel at home. I know I do.
Although I created my bedroom with no thought in my head about Harry Potter, there have been many rooms from film that have influenced me greatly over the years. In fact, I often go to the movies just to see the sets.
Here are ten of my most inspirational films.
See if you agree, and please share some of your favourites!

The Ghost and Mrs. Muir, 1947
With or without a ghost, Mrs. Muir’s, Gull Cottage, has to be the most wonderful seaside dwelling imaginable. I remember seeing this movie for the first time when I was a little girl and, even then, I was totally captivated with the thoughts of how I would decorate this amazing place if only it were mine. That bedroom of Lucy’s, upstairs with the landing that opened out to the sea! That sitting room with the large window! Even the big utilitarian kitchen was charming... the perfect place to heat the water for your hot water bottle whilst a ghost peers over your shoulder. I’ve always thought she should have kept the the Captain’s monkey puzzle tree, however.

The Philadephia Story, 1940
Who wouldn’t want to spend a lazy afternoon in Tracy Lord’s south parlor? That gracious floral upholstery, the gargantuan vases of flowers, the sparkling windows overlooking the gardens. I can almost smell the fragrance of old roses wafting in on the breeze. Even in black and white, or maybe especially in black and white, this movie captured the idealized image of the perfect American house in the 1930’s.
And Cary Grant was pretty ideal himself.

Practical Magic, 1998
Oh, you can just give me this whole house. What a place! Perched on a ocean bluff, this Victorian gem is like something out of a dream. And that kitchen! Be still my heart. All in creams and warm woods, with a big, fat Aga and high trussed ceilings. I am not sure how Practical it would be, but I have no quarrel with the Magic part.

Out of Africa, 1985
“I had a farm in Africa”, said Karen Blixen.... and boy, did she. This African farmhouse should have been credited as one of the stars of this grand movie. I adored it. In fact, so besotted was I with the floral upholstery in the sitting room that several years later, when I began decorating professionally, I was given the delightful task of totally doing over a charming house for an older lady who had just come into a generous inheritance. She wanted a “pretty” house, and I knew just which fabric to use! I tracked down the very linen floral that was used in the movie and did her entire bedroom in it. She was thrilled, and so was I.

The Uninvited, 1944
From the moment Ruth Hussey and Ray Milland, playing sister and brother, stumble on the mysterious, abandoned Windward House perched high on a rocky Cornish bluff in this delightfully spooky ghost story, I was hooked. To have the opportunity to bring this wonderful house back to life would have been worth facing down its rather malevolent ghost. Maybe.

Bringing Up Baby, 1938
There is a charming
inn on an estate in Essex, Massachusetts, sumptuously decorated and surrounded by lilac bushes. I stayed there one May when those lilacs were in bloom and there was still a nip in the New England air. When I walked in, I recognized the design of the front lobby immediately. With an book-lined alcove around the fireplace, it was almost identical to Aunt Elizabeth’s country cottage in Bringing Up Baby. A fabulous movie house, preferably sans leopard.

Sense and Sensibility, 1995
The Dashwood sisters feel quite deprived having to leave their grand family estate of Norland Park and relocate to their donated cottage in Devonshire, but to me, this was the better abode by far. Perched on a bucolic hill, this lovely cottage had a heart-stopping view and interiors almost Swedish in style, with faded blues and greys. Charming.

Gigi, 1958
When I was very little I remember watching this movie on television and being swept away by Gigi’s dramatic red apartment. I thought it was the most extravagant place I’d ever seen. With large windows opening out onto turn of the century Paris, and those scarlet walls! It seems Gigi’s grandmother, (played by the equally extravagant Hermione Gingold....who better?) was forever in the kitchen creating cassoulets. I was entranced.

Swiss Family Robinson, 1960
How the Robinson’s treehouse captured my little girl dreams and shook them till all sorts of colour flew round my head! It taught me that the most vital ingredient in any good design is imagination. Just imagine having a multi-storied home in the trees, complete with an organ!

Holiday, 1938
Upstairs in the great mansion of the Seton family, there is a room untouched by time. It was the children’s playroom, with a roaring fireplace, cushy upholstery, faded rugs and books everywhere. It is the room where the characters played by Katharine Hepburn and Cary Grant find comfort and solace and I have always understood why.

What houses from the movies have inspired you? Do share!

Friday, July 24, 2009

An Enchanted Souvenir

In my part of the world, this was a day rarer than pigs in flight.
Here, the month of July is more likely to be found draping itself over our shoulders in gelatinous fashion, rendering those brave enough to venture outdoors regretful of that decision within mere moments in the gummy air. Normally, a July afternoon swills up all our vim and verve with the lazy, blank-faced greed of a pudgy uncle parked by the punch bowl at a wedding reception.
But Someone waved a wand over this July day.
One of several in a salubrious row, this day stretched out its hours like shady garden stepping stones, enticing us along with feather-fan breezes and morning air as cool as the center seed of a honeydew. It was a day when Edward wore a Prussian blue kerchief round his furry neck and was petted and hugged by strangers. A day with fruit for breakfast, lunch and dinner. A day for linen shirts and plum coloured lipstick - for checking out crisp new library books and for sitting cross-legged in green grass within a grove of pear trees, reading Longfellow aloud to Edward as he dozed beside me.
Like an enchanted souvenir of autumn, this jewel of a day was dropped into our clammy hands as we sat fever-addled by summer - we turned it over and over, feeling its coolness against our skin. We held it up to the light in admiration, marveled at our spectacular luck, and knew all the while that it could not last.
But that only made it more dear.

a bit of what Edward heard beneath the pear trees....

Tell me not, in mournful numbers,
Life is but an empty dream!
For the soul is dead that slumbers,
And things are not what they seem.

Life is real! Life is earnest!
And the grave is not its goal;

Dust thou art, to dust returnest,

Was not spoken of the soul.

from A Psalm of Life, by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

The Orchestra

They are our artists in residence each summer, miniature virtuosos returning every year to serenade us in the darkness. One hears them tuning up at twilight, a discordant note here, a sawtoothed rasp there, as if they are arriving - some early, some late - from all parts of the woodland - flitting, flying, hopping, with tiny black-cased instruments held securely under their powdery arms. I imagine them getting comfortably situated in the elbows of the trees, atop the chalk white toadstools, or under the chartreuse hydrangea blossoms, readying themselves for their nightly performance in the velvet swelter of the black July air.

With a yellow moon as its maestro, this raucous orchestra plays at decibels disproportionate to its size, each greenly invisible cricket, cicada and tree-frog adding his own unique talent to the sonorous soundtrack performed with gusto from dusk till dawn. For the nut-brown chipmunk tucked up safe in his burrow, or the solemn row of grey flannel doves asleep on the crooked poplar branch, this cacophony is but a lullaby.
The whole of the silver garden hums along.

I open the window and lie back in my cool bed, listening - to Summer, to Memory, to the bewitching omnipresence of Nature - and not for the first time, I feel delightfully small, remarkably young; just a girl with so much yet to learn.

Friday, July 17, 2009

A Dozen Favourite Things For Summer!

1. The beautiful, whimsical artwork of Amber Alexander, shown above.
Visit her and see what I mean.

2. The Secret of Roan Inish - a completely magical film,
and the perfect summertime escape.
You can almost smell the salt air through your open windows.

3. Yoplait Thick and Creamy Key Lime Pie Yogurt, only 100 calories and tastes totally like the real thing!

4. Milkmoon - blogger Ciara Brehony takes the most charming photographs of her family’s life in Ireland. She really has an eye for beauty.

5. This enchanting bed

6. These autumnal fact this entire
Fall Collection
I cannot wait to wear these kinds of clothes again.

7. This holiday rental.....oh, to spend August
And Edward could come too... Pets are allowed.

8. Cheese souffle and watermelon for lunch while Sinatra sings Summer Wind in the background

9. Adorable Luna Lovegood

10. White linen trousers and shell bracelets

11. Knitting Christmas’s only five months away you know

12. And finally, this quotation by Iris Murdoch:

"Happiness is a matter of one's most ordinary everyday mode of consciousness being busy and lively and unconcerned with self. To be damned is for one's ordinary everyday mode of consciousness to be unremitting agonizing preoccupation with self."

painting by Amber Alexander

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

There Is No Frigate Like A Book.....

“The past is a cupboard full of light and all you have to do is find the key that opens the door.

These sagacious words spring from the voice of Ruby Lennox, in the closing chapter of the most wonderful novel to come my way in ages,
Behind the Scenes at the Museum, by Kate Atkinson. This incandescent tale of a young girl growing up in the northern British city of York is ostensibly the wry and charming record of several generations of her family, warts and all, but it is also a shining three-way mirror that reflects much more than it pretends as, over and over, it gifts the reader with poignant, piercing examples of those universal moments we all recognize from our own families. Moments of tragedy, hope, disappointment and grace.

From the very first line of the book when our wise and witty heroine finds herself conceived and celebrates that fact by announcing proudly, “I’m alive!”, I knew I was in for something special. So many books are published every month, with tantalizing covers and enticing press releases. But it seems a rare thing when, in the midst of this sardined sea of words, a truly original voice bobs to the surface, with a unique way of bending the language to relate a story that no one else could tell. Such is the voice of Kate Atkinson in this marvelous book, which remarkably, was her first.

I realize I prattle on about books quite a bit, and this time I am more than a trifle late to the party, for
Behind the Scenes at the Museum won the Whitbread award in 1995. Nonetheless, if there are any other latecomers like myself out there unfamiliar with this book, take it from me.... you owe it to yourself to read it.
It is the perfect entertainment for a summer afternoon, witty, funny and oh, so wise.

There is no Frigate like a Book
To take us lands away,
Nor any Coursers like a Page
Of prancing Poetry -
This Traverse may the poorest take
Without oppress of Toll;
How frugal is the Chariot

That bears the Human soul!

Emily Dickinson

Thursday, July 9, 2009

The Very Definition of Summer

If summer could be defined without words, if its very essence could be gathered up enmasse - from a Provencal orchard in August, a Corfu seaside in June ... a bit of a taste of strawberries and cream in St. James Park, or one perfect peach eaten on a screened porch in Georgia - and if that essence could be crystalized into one single all encompassing moment, then this must certainly be it.
For surely, this is the very definition of summer.......

I am wading, chin deep, in a saffron sea, with the drone of honeybees filling the air, a multitude of tiny violinists tuning up for their daily noontime symphony. Beneath a cloudless ocean of sky, I stand at the heart of ten acres of sunflowers, a mere dot of white linen on a canvas of gold. True to their nature, for they are always the friendliest of flowers, they have made me most welcome, nodding and waving as I have passed deeper and deeper into their midst until now they are all that I see. I feel almost one of them, a living, breathing representative of summer.

To choose which ones to take home to my vases is a task more difficult than I had imagined, for each is unique in its beauty and grace and each seems to wish for an adventure, a journey away to places unknown. Feeling richer than Midas, I fill my green bucket with gold and marvel at my bounty. Eventually, I make my way back through the smiling rows, back to where Edward and Apple wait with the Songwriter under the cool damp shade of an oak tree.

And now....
there are vases and vases of butter-yellow faces wherever I choose to look.
My rooms are filled with summer.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Walking Home On A Night In Midsummer

A firefly followed me home last night.
Bobbing and bouncing like a fairy’s torch, it appeared at my shoulder and remained there all the way to my door, a tiny glowing escort, perhaps sent to guide me through the mystery of the twilight. Past the tall poppies holding court in the garden on the corner.... was it my imagination, or did they cease conversation at our approach? On down the side lane where the precocious nicotiana breaches her borders and lolls about in the pathway, scenting the warm air with a heavy perfume that makes it quite difficult to think of a serious thought. I wonder, did I hear a hint of a throaty giggle just as we passed? And behind the weeping willow tree, or beneath the white gardenias.... could those have been scores of green eyes, widening and narrowing as we went by?
It was not yet dark, but not quite light, as if the daytime had lingered a bit to flirt with the night before traipsing off to sleep in her silent bed of violets. The magical hour of an ordinary day when cabbage leaves turn to velvet and the glow of a rose paints the air all around us with the pink gauze of a dream.
We made our way, all alone in the lane, Edward and I, with our own blithe spirit aglow just beside us - our very own Peaseblossom, Mustardseed, Cobweb or Moth - and as we opened our gate, the firefly nodded and wove his way off in the dream of a midsummer’s night.

Over hill, over dale,
Thorough bush, thorough briar,

Over park, over pale,
Thorough flood, thorough fire,

I do wander everywhere,
Swifter than the moon's sphere;

And I serve the fairy queen,
To dew her orbs upon the green.
The cowslips tall her pensioners be;
In their gold coats, spots you see;
Those be rubies, fairy favours,

In their freckles live our savours.

I must go seek some dew-drops here,
And hang a pearl in every cowslip's ear.
Farewell, thou lob of spirits, I'll be gone;

My queen and all her elves come here anon!

Act II, Scene I
A Midsummer Night's Dream
William Shakespeare

Saturday, July 4, 2009

I Like Americans
by Edna St. Vincent Millay

I like Americans.
You may say what you will, they are the nicest people in the world.
They sleep with their windows open.
Their bathtubs are never dry.
They are not grown up yet. They still believe in Santa Claus.

They are terribly in earnest.
But they laugh at everything…

I like Americans.
They give the matches free…

I like Americans.
They are the only men in the world, the sight of whom in their shirt-sleeves is not rumpled, embryonic and agonizing…

I like Americans.
They carry such pretty umbrellas.
The Avenue de l’Opera on a rainy day is just an avenue on a rainy day.
But Fifth Avenue on a rainy day is an old-fashioned garden under a shower…

They are always rocking the boat.
I like Americans.
They either shoot the whole nickel, or give up the bones.
You may say what you will, they are the nicest people in the world.

Happy 4th of July to All

Photograph of Jacqueline and Caroline Kennedy
Hyannisport, Mass.
By Mark Shaw

Thursday, July 2, 2009


This is the week I think of the owls, for this is the week when the fireworks come.
On a night very soon, on the heels of a faintly heard march by Sousa, the black sky shall split under salvos of colour, the heavens recast as bomb shattered stained glass. Umbrellas of red, blue and green, opening and closing, then opening again, each jewel tone joined by concussions of sound that tromp through the woodlands like the footfalls of giants.
I have always wondered. What must the owls think? Those silent night gliders with their secretive lives, who normally have the darkness all to themselves. Do they lose their way with reliable Orion now obliterated by this strange detonation of rainbows? Do their orange eyes widen in fear of this technicolour end of the world?
Or perhaps, given their wisdom, do they have this night circled on their woody kitchen calendars, to remind themselves that this is the way the people below express their patriotism every Fourth of July?

The day will be the most memorable in America. I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated by succeeding generations as the great anniversary ought to be solemnized with pomp and parade...bonfires and illuminations from one end of this continent to the other, from this day forward, forevermore."

John Adams, in a letter to his wife, Abigail,
after the Continental Congress decided to proclaim the American colonies
independent from Britain.

Painting above: Fireworks, by James Lynch