Wednesday, December 30, 2009

She Rests

One blonde.

Two weeks.

Three tall trees decorated.

Four large batches of homemade fudge.

Five green garlands draped.

Six dozen homemade cookies.

Seven Etsy sales, wrapped and shipped.

Eight arrangements of red and orange roses.

Nine fir wreaths hung in the windows.

Twelve handmade Christmas boxes.

Fourteen knitted garments for gifts.

Thirty-six gaily wrapped packages.

One hundred seventy-five handmade Christmas cards.

And now,

she rests.

In monogramed pajamas with her hair piled up high. With a seductive stack of new books at her elbow and hot cider simmering on the stove. A brand new Mac is being hooked up....from a most generous Santa Claus who knows she’s been good. Somewhere down the hallway, a Songwriter is playing a new ukelele, happy music drifting through the cottage rooms, the sound punctuated with occasional squeaks from a dog toy or two... for Santa was good to them all.

But still,

she rests.

Read and doze, nibble and nap, curl up, stretch out.

Watch The Man Who Came to Dinner and The Bishop’s Wife one more time.

Daydream and sleep. Relish the novelty of a vacant mind.

A movie? Dinner out?

Maybe later.

Painting by Victor Gabriel Gilbert

*****Hey, a question for my kind readers. With the arrival of my new Mac, the size of the type here on my blog looks bigger.

Is that a good thing for you all, or not? Weigh in with your opinion, do!*****

Monday, December 28, 2009

Friends at Christmas

My gloved hand places some coins into the cast iron kettle of Salvation as the bell-ringer wishes me a Happy Christmas. I pull the hood of my cape up to shield myself from the biting wind and hurry along up the crowded sidewalk, sharing smiles with the people passing by, every face a reflection of holiday cheer. Just up the hill to the right I see my destination, frosted windows glowing, a holly wreath on the door, one of my favourite lunchtime cafes, and the most festive spot for a Christmas lunch with an old friend.
The bell on the door jingles like a laugh as I enter.

Such a treat of the season, these lunches and teas, dinners and brunches. No matter our schedules throughout the year, Christmas is the time when my friends and I make those special appointments to meet face to face, over Earl Grey or coffee, mulled wine or Diet Coke. It is quite Dickensian, I know - for who can forget the reformed Mr. Scrooge inviting the astonished Bob Cratchit out for a discussion of his greatly improving circumstances “
over a Christmas bowl” - but this time of year, a phone call just won’t do. I do so love these holiday get togethers.

There is tea with the witty friend who seems to handle everything in life with a wink and laugh. We discuss shoes and boys, health care reform and climate change, make-up, skin care and which actor makes the better Mr. Darcy on film... in short, a real girly- girl lunch with a side order of seriousness. Lots of drink refills and lots of laughs.

Then there is the brunch with the Southern belle, the equestrian - she who wants me to take up riding again - who loves dogs and antiques, old houses and grand design. We discuss travel and books, dogs and horses, paint colours, Christmas ornaments and fabric swatches. She has the best stories, the best gossip, the best tall tales of the eccentric South.

There is the lunch with my oldest friend, the lovely photographer. She is the friend with whom I speak in shorthand, who knows what I am thinking before I speak, who laughs at my jokes before I tell them. She is the one who wants me to write a book, who believes I can do anything. Oldest friends are sweet blessings indeed. We have shared so many Christmases together.

And then there is the friend from the low country who arrives every year for a Christmas visit. She is the one who loves Keats and Hardy, who speaks French and longs to reside on the Ile Ste Louis. We always visit used book stores and knit shops, see a movie, and linger over long, long breakfasts.

There is the chap who shows up on Boxing Day with a truckload of firewood for a Christmas gift. There is the Songwriter's boyhood friend who sneaks up on the front porch on Christmas Eve to silently leave a sackful of gifts to rival anything Santa ever dreamed.

Old Friends.
One of the many treats of the festive season.
One of the many reasons I love it so.

Friday, December 25, 2009


It came upon a midnight clear,
That glorious song of old,
From angels bending near the earth
To touch their harps of gold:
“Peace on the earth, good will to men,
From heaven’s all gracious King.”
The world in solemn stillness lay

To hear the angels sing.

Edward and I wish a most Happy Christmas for all our sweet readers.
May it be peaceful and cozy, merry and bright,
and may you all have a blessed moment of quiet
to hear the whispers of the animals and the song of the angels.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009


Through a door buried deep in the woodland, one carved by the ancients on a day long ago, the Old Man enters. Gone are the casual visitors now - the springtime picnics, the cotton lawn dresses that danced through the clearing on mid-summer’s eve.
The forest belongs to the Old Man once more.
He steps cross the threshold and smiles as he drinks in his lifeblood of sharp December air. Slowly he strolls down a pine-needled pathway, where the mummified leaves of his brother-season, only just now departed, still occasionally crackle neath his suede covered feet, while all around him ancestral trees stretch their ebony arms up, up to the leaden grey sky far above.
His silver blue robes trail behind the Old Man like peacock feathers, leaving snowflakes and ice crystals along in their wake. He claps his delicate hands, only once, and the light from the sun, so recently golden, suddenly changes to alabaster - becoming one with the snow covered scene, it sets all beneath it aglow with the fire of ice.
The tiny ones, nearly invisible and brief as a wish, return once again, to dance with the Old Man at twilight, as the snowy owl glides through the wind, as silent as a reflection.
Tangled up as they are in strings of fairy lights and clefs of carols, the humans are unaware of the magic reception just now unfolding within the dark woods. Yes, Old Man Winter has arrived, having completed his wanderings on the other side of the orb, and the landscape belongs to him now.
So put down the pudding spoon!
Come and celebrate!
Run through the white meadows, skate paisleys over the frozen ponds.
Celebrate, with bells on the horse's halter, ribbons round the white dog’s neck... with bright eyes and pink cheeks, with mittens and scarves, firesides and hot chocolates.
For after all, as the wise Old Man teaches,
if we never know cold, how can we hope to recognize warmth?
Welcome, welcome!

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Scenes From Edward's House At Christmas

Glad Christmas comes, and every hearth
Makes room to give him welcome now,
E'en want will dry its tears in mirth,
And crown him with a holly bough.
Though tramping 'neath a winter sky,
O'er snowy paths and rimy stiles,
The housewife sets her spinning by
To bid him welcome with her smiles.

Each house is swept the day before,
And windows stuck with evergreens,
The snow is besom'd from the door,
And comfort crowns the cottage scenes.
Gilt holly, with its thorny pricks,
And yew and box, with berries small,
These deck the unused candlesticks,
And pictures hanging by the wall.

Around the glowing hearth at night,
The harmless laugh and winter tale
Go round, while parting friends delight
To toast each other o'er their ale.
The cotter oft with quiet zeal
Will musing o'er his Bible lean;
While in the dark the lovers steal
To kiss and toy behind the screen.

While snows the windowpanes bedim,

The fire curls up a sunny charm,
Where, creaming o'er the pitcher's rim,
The flowering ale is set to warm.
Mirth, full of joy as summer bees,
Sits there, its pleasures to impart,
And children, 'tween their parent's knees,
Sing scraps of carols o'er by heart.

Old customs! Oh! I love the sound,
However simple they may be:
Whate'er with time hath sanction found,
Is welcome, and is dear to me.

Verses from the poem, December, by John Clare
Photographs taken 'round the cottage

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

"We’ll take care of each other and we’ll all sleep together in a real pile.”
from the movie Where The Wild Things Are

I was born a bit too early for Maurice Sendak’s delightful book Where The Wild Things Are to be one of my treasured tomes of childhood. But I fell hard for the movie. When the wild things spoke of their love for “sleeping in a pile”, I was enchanted. These oversized creatures, furry and feathered, would all pile on top of each other, and finally, after much squiggling and snuffling around, with everyone comfortably situated, they would sigh a big sigh and sleep the night away - safe, secure, all for one and one for all. From my seat in the theatre with a tear in my eye, I was totally charmed.

And, as we all know well, life so often imitates art....

We had strange night of weather last week, one to make the old-timers look to the sky and shake their heads with a worried look. Winter-rainy and December-cold all the long day long till midnight came round with an eerie stillness. Where had the wind gone? Where was the rain? We heard it first at two am, that sharp whipcrack of thunder. The bedroom was hit with a nanosecond of the white hot glow of lightning. A thunderstorm in December?
Edward, who tolerates storms in daylight but has never been overly fond of lightning in the night, considered it wise to move from his customary spot across my feet at the end of the bed, much closer to the center of things. So, he plopped down between us just as Apple hopped up to take over the feet-warming spot. She settled in immediately, but Edward was still unconvinced that this was the absolute safest place to be and I felt him make his way further up the bed, lie down and sigh his most contented sigh.
A few seconds later I heard the Songwriter laughing and he whispered...”Are you awake?? You have to see this. Edward is sleeping on my head.” Sure enough, the poor Songwriter looked exactly as though he were sporting a polar bear hat, for Edward’s big furry head was resting right atop his own.
More quiet giggles and then....”Hey, we’re Sleeping In A Pile!!”
And do you know, those Wild Things have something. There is indeed a delicious comfort to be found in a pile of sleeping loved ones atop a feather bed in the midst of a strange December thunderstorm.
I can most highly recommend it!

I could eat you up I love you so
from Where The Wild Things Are

Sunday, December 13, 2009


Much like the fox buried deep in his den or the robin tucked up in her twiggydown nest, I am exactly where I should be. Snuggled in feathers and linen and down, I feel the welcome weight of a furry white dog lying across my feet as I ebb and flow through the dawn. An icy wind blows through the windchimes, those cathedral bells of the morning that dangle throughout the thorny rosebush scrambling over my window. They are calling me to rise.
I burrow further down, in no hurry to partake of the coldest day yet this season. But eventually, reluctantly, I open one eye. Yes, it is just as I thought. The flamboyant Jack Frost has been at work through the night, I can see his artistic flourishes on the borders of my windowpanes. He will have painted the garden with silver, for his colour palette never alters. A nomadic soul, he travels the globe hand in hand with the cold, an itinerant painter of polar renown. The hoar frosts of Yorkshire, the frozen shoreline of St. Kilda, the rime rink lake in Maine - all bear his shivering signature.
He has found his way now to my very own garden and the sheen that emanates from his latest lifesize creation has changed the morning light that streams across my sleepy face. Sharp and insistent, it pierces the quiet room like a laser, with no intention whatsoever of allowing me to remain in my bed. It nudges, it taps, it calls to me of the tasks of this December day.... cake baking, present wrapping, cookie doughs and Christmas cards.
Ah, but is that not the goal of every great artist? Do they not wish for their work to inspire, to lift their audience out of themselves, to spur them on to greater things? And who am I to deny the artistry of Jack Frost.
I have seen his handiwork this morning.
So, I rise!

"Frost is the greatest artist of our clime - He paints in nature and describes in rime."
Thomas Hood

Wednesday, December 9, 2009


They always bewitched me, those three richly robed men who traveled by camel, bringing gifts to the Christ child in a land far away. Such an exotic picture they painted as they moved across the sugar sands of the midnight desert, following that blazing, mysterious star. Even the names of the gifts that they carried were mesmerizing ..... gold, frankincense, myrrh. For a contemplative child who dwelt in a house under tall southern pine trees, this was heady stuff. The significance of their mission was no doubt given short shrift by my imagination, so lost was I in the romance of the colourful scene. However, they were but one piece of the puzzle.
I was to learn more later.
When I was around six, my father .... who always loved Christmas ... whispered to me to come take a ride with him. On tip-toe, I followed him out of the house, clambering into the cold family car. I still remember how freezing it felt that afternoon, the icy car seats, my breath like smoke on the frosty air. We drove for awhile and then Daddy pulled over, reached in his pocket and pulled out a box. It was the watch he had purchased for my mother’s Christmas present. He was so excited he had to share the secret. It was a gorgeous watch to be sure, but I could never tell you exactly what it looked like now. What I do remember clearly was the look on my father’s face. Pure delight. And that was the day that I learned firsthand it is truly more fun to give than receive.

Through the years that have passed, the biggest pleasure of Christmas has never been found in the gifts I have been given, amazing though they have been, but rather in the gifts I have given to others. I squirrel away treasures all during the year, revelling in delicious anticipation for that crystalline moment when I can present them, wrapped up divinely, to those that I love.
The wise men are still my favourite members of the old nativity set that I set out every year, and I think perhaps now I can see a bit clearer the vibrant illustration drawn by their journey.
Christmas really is all about giving. In every gift that is given, a tiny picture of love is painted, an infinitesimal reflection of that ultimate gift.
Perhaps giving is a blessed act.

Perhaps that is why it feels so good.

The Nativity Set at The House of Edward

Sunday, December 6, 2009

The Best Christmas Presents

Excuse me.... do you suppose is it possible to extract yourself from that cacophonous swarm at the mall? Perhaps step over here and join me in the quiet?
There now. Stand for just a moment and watch the snowflakes fall. Yes, those are bells you hear in the distance. Nice, aren’t they? Here, have a cup of cocoa. Take a deep breath of winter air. Now.
Can you see it? Perhaps if you stand on tiptoe?

Far away from the bustling bump of the crowds, off by itself down a crooked cobblestoned lane, its windows throwing golden squares of light onto the frozen sidewalk. There it sits. The bookshop of your dreams. It is where the best Christmas presents can always be found - worlds of wonder and imagination bound up tight between the covers of books. Is there anything more pleasurable than bookshop shopping? A cold afternoon spent picking out volumes to perfectly suit those lucky few on your list. The traveler, the gardener, the cook or the child. The dreamer, the knitter, the optimist or the crank. There are treasures here for everyone, and what pure delight it is to search for them.

I am known as someone who often gives books for Christmas. What other gift offers so much and lasts so long? Long after the sweater has frayed, the toy is broken, and gravy stains the tie, a magical world still exists intact inside a book. Whether you choose to hunt for that fantastical shop in person, or simply browse online in your pajamas at midnight, I can empirically recommend bookshops to be the most sublime places to finish your Christmas list!

Here are some of my ideas for this year.....

Some of my favourite books
to give, or receive,
are exquisite copies
of the classics.
One of the best places
to find these is at
The Folio Society.
If you don't wish to join,
their books can often be
found at
Gorgeously illustrated
and slipcased,
these are treasures indeed.

Just look at these recent editions of Possession by A. S. Byatt and
Remains of the Day by
Kazuo Ishiguro.

Every year there are scores of new cookbooks released and I have to confess, I am often tempted by each and every one. Ina Garten, Nigella Lawson, Dorie Greenspan. I often read their cookbooks in bed like novels, with a grocery list at the ready. The one that has captured my fancy this year is Sophie Dahl's
Voluptuous Delights. Unfortunately, it is not yet released in the states, but you can order it from

Since I discovered knitting last year, it has become a serious passion of mine. I can think of few things more satisfying that sitting in front of the fire with a furry dog on either side of me, a ball of incredibly beautiful yarn in my lap, knitting needles clicking away. Perhaps you or someone you know shares this passion. If so, here's a lovely book they are certain to appreciate.
It is
Knitting Nature, by Norah Gaughan.


For the Anglophile, the decorator, or the lover of beauty on your list, here is a must-have! In fact, it is sitting squarely atop my own letter to Santa. Culled from the pages of Country Life, it is a fat, magnificent pudding of a book!
The English Country House by Mary Miers.


Has there ever been a better book to tweak and hone the imagination of a child?
Here is a brand new edition of
Alice In Wonderland
with amazingly inspired illustrations by the genius Robert Ingpen.
I am afraid it is on my list as well!

One of the most troubling facts to me today is the devastating effect our changing climate is having on the magnificent, magical polar bear. It breaks my heart and makes me angry. Perhaps the politicians who choose to deny the reality of global warming should have a look at this amazing new book by Paul Nicklen, just to see what wonders are at stake.
The book is entitled
Polar Obsession and it is a wonder itself.


As the last book shows, the glorious beauty of nature is staggering. So much to be grateful for and so much for us, as the supposedly wiser species, to protect.
A Shadow Falls, the new book by photographer extraordinaire, Nick Brandt, is jaw-dropping grandeur page after page.

This past year, I have revisited the genius of Jane Austen through a delightful book club. We read Miss Austen's entire canon and all of us, I believe, realized anew what a sublimely wise writer she was. We are not alone in that realization however, and here is a book that proves it.
A Truth Universally Acknowledged is a delightful, and insightful, collection of essays from eight-eighty well known authors, all on the subject of Jane Austen. Fun!


I loved so many books as a child, but few better than
Mr. Popper's Penguins by Richard and Florence Atwater. Happily, there is a new hardcover edition of this book!
Trust me, it is a treat! For any child, whether they happen to love penguins or not.


One Christmas was so much like another, in those years around the sea-town corner now and out of all sound except the distant speaking of the voices I sometimes hear a moment before sleep, that I can never remember whether it snowed for six days and six nights when I was twelve or whether it snowed for twelve days and twelve nights when I was six."
Has there ever been a more splendid collection of words than those of Dylan Thomas in
A Child's Christmas in Wales
? Poetry, prose, dream, reality - it is truly heartspeak, calling forth memory and sprinkling pure gold over one's soul. Normally, I would recommend the written word over the recorded one any day, but this version of Child's Christmas read by Mr. Thomas himself is enchanting. To hear the poet's own words in his own tongue is magic, and an experience worthy of becoming a Christmas Eve tradition.

And finally... A GIVEAWAY!!.
I am always mesmerized by the incredible pop-up books by artist Robert Sabuda. I give them away, I buy them for myself. For this Christmas post celebrating the wonder of books, I can think of no better book to have as a giveaway than Mr. Sabuda's version of
The Chronicles of Narnia.

This is truly a wonderful creation and would make the perfect gift, even for yourself.
Just leave a comment here on this post and include a book recommendation of your own and you are entered to win! Edward will help me draw a winner on
Monday night at midnight!
Good luck to everyone and I so look forward to reading your book suggestions!
Happy Bookshop Shopping to All!!
12.08.09, 12:15am........I asked The Songwriter to pick a number between 1 and 45.... which was the number of comments received.... and he said..."17!"
So... Congratulations to PVE!! You have won the Sabuda pop-up book!!
I hope you enjoy it!!

Thursday, December 3, 2009

The Wonder of December

Magic dwells within every month, from the ruby red of a February heart to the chromium yellow of a sunrise in August. It drifts like wandlight over the gardens of June and flies along with October leaves. But every month holds something back, keeps a petal of unique enchantment in quiet reserve, for each one desires to contribute just a bit of themselves to the most magical month in the circle, and now that time has come. They have gathered together in celestial towers to bestow their gifts upon December. The cool mystery of an April dawn, the bronze glow of an afternoon in November, the stretched-long hours of a carefree July, the playful winds of March that dance amongst the trees - all can be found here. For we have arrived at the zenith of the visionary year, the very place where all the delights of each and every month now gather as one.
Yes, this is the month of true wizardry, when the hillsides dress in silver and fairies wear feathers and sleep in bare trees. Chimerical worlds are sheathed inside a single drop of ice, and an auroral star glitters high in the eastern sky.
The animals speak at midnight.
Goodwill cracks the hardest soul.
All of the wonder of the long wondrous year can be found in the month of December. It fills us up, floods through our spirits until every room is full and we must share our felicity with others. We give gifts, we share smiles, we ring bells. We are beguiled by the blessed beauty of life.
It is all astonishing goodness in thirty one days.
It is now December.