Tuesday, March 30, 2010

May I See What You’re Working On?

She was sitting with her legs crossed at the ankle, wearing a beige Chanel suit, her perfectly made up face partially hidden by the pages of the New York Times Arts section.   For at least ten minutes, I had felt her gaze wandering up over her paper to where I sat, knitting. I never looked up to meet her eyes, but I could feel her watching my hands like a hawk watches a rabbit play in a meadow.  The tension was mounting, to the point I was fearful of dropping a stitch when, finally, she spoke...”excuse me, but may I see what you are working on?”.  And thus began our conversation.  I showed her what I was knitting, let her look over the pattern.  She wanted to know who it was for. I told her it was a Christmas present and that, yes, I worked on Christmas presents in March, one has to if one wants everything completed by December.  She told me she used to be a knitter, years ago, couldn’t remember why she gave it up...  we talked and talked as though we’d known each other for ages.

And then.....once, years ago, I was returning home on a plane from Los Angeles, passing the time by needlepointing a pillow for my brother and sister-in-law for Christmas.  Slowly I  began to notice several serious-faced, dark-suited gentleman coming down each of the aisles, looking over the passengers.  All of a sudden I was aware of someone standing at my elbow.  I looked up to see former President Jimmy Carter smiling down at me, surrounded by secret service men.  He asked to see the needlepoint,  told me he really liked it and we proceeded to talk about it for a good while. Before he walked away, he told me he thought I was a very pretty girl.  Gee whiz.   

Such is the magic of doing any type of needlework in public.  It is an activity that just seems to be approachable; to connect people to one another in a way.   Everyone, and I mean everyone, wants to see what you’re working on.  Whereas strangers might never inquire as to what book you are reading, or to whom you are writing that letter, they will almost always ask about what you are making. Who knows why?   Perhaps this particular art ties us a bit to the past, to those who once created this type of work out of necessity rather than luxury.

 I do know there is not much more satisfying that taking the time to make something for someone else, seeing the smiles when they realize how much you think of them is such a treat.  Believe it or not, yes, I am already working on Christmas presents.  Gathering beautiful wools and silks, deciding on patterns, and knitting away.... all activities I enjoy immensely, all year long. It is a sweet bonus to see all my  work later in its new home,  with the ones I made it for.  
Here.... see what I mean......

These beautiful eyes belong to Harlan. 
 You can see a bit of the hat that I hid in her Easter box last year. 
 Harlan is a magical creature, who makes exquisite little houses for the fairies in her garden and sleeps in a bedroom high up in the trees.

This is Walter. 
He is just a couple of  weeks old in this photograph, wearing a fair isle hat that I made just for him, before I knew his name of course.  
It happened to snow right after he was born, so with his new hat, Walter was ready for his very first snowfall.

This is my dear friend, Sandee, the divine photographer, modeling her most recent Christmas gift.  
We speak in shorthand and know each other’s secrets.  
You can see her amazing work HERE.

These lovely girls are my god-daughters,  Anna and Katie.
Don’t they look fetching
 in their colourful beehive hats?


Another hat, this time worn by the most exquisite, Sarah.

Oh, and this handsome fellow is Gatsby, wearing his Ralph Lauren coat and posing proudly by the petit-point pillow I made for him one Christmas.
  Gatsby goes to the steeplechase every year and has been on holiday in France where he managed to get off his lead one afternoon and cause his devoted owner no small amount of distress. 

My sweet friend Jan is modeling her latest Christmas presents. 
 Both the scarf and the hat were done in cotton in a colour I knew would suit the lovely Jan just perfectly.  Jan is my Francophile friend, the one who brought me home a fairy from the Ile Saint Louis, her favourite place in the world.

And of course, my favourite model is always Edward.
  This time he is wearing a scarf that I just completed using a pattern by the wonderful Emma Lamb.  This scarf works up beautifully, so much so that I’m in the middle of another one right now.  It’s a fun pattern and you can get it HERE.

Remember, it’s never to early to start on presents.  You’ll be entertained all year long,  and you never know who you’ll meet whilst you’re working.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Wolf Hall

History, although perhaps a dusty, dreaded subject when one is young, does serve a paramount purpose for those who pay attention in life.  History provides us with signposts which, though sometimes difficult to read, often warped and charred by time, warn of all the dark pitfalls that have so often claimed the breath and spirit of those gone before.  Surely, it is the intent of history to bequeath knowledge, in the hope that we as human beings may not follow the rutted pathways of the ignorant, but climb, century by century, bit by bit, ever higher, till we manage to reach a nobler, more enlightened hill from which to view the world.  For should we not learn from the mistakes of others, as well as the mistakes of our own?

It is, no doubt, a result of my Scottish DNA, but I have always been captivated by the history of Britain.  As a child, I knew all the wives of Henry VIII long before I could recite the names of my own First Ladies.  Somehow, although she was an interesting woman to be sure, the travails of Dolley Madison just never seemed to equal those of the ill-fated, black-eyed Anne Boleyn.  Recently, I have found myself mentally wandering the palaces of the Tudors once again, my torch held high in order to decipher all the brilliantly written pages of Hillary Mantel’s Booker Prize winning novel, Wolf Hall.  Set during the reign of Henry VIII, Wolf Hall shines its light on Thomas Cromwell, a figure usually found just outside the frame, a bit on the periphery, where one is forever likely to find the most powerful figures of any government.  It is through Cromwell’s sharp eyes that we are given a unique view of the events of that day.  As I read of the frequently barbarous nature of life in Tudor England - the crowds of mothers and children excitedly watching all manner of public executions, those in government so determined to hold onto the intoxicating notion of power that any idea of public good never crosses their minds - I suppose I indulged in a bit of quiet superiority, thankful for the civilized life that I lead, grateful that the past is now past.  
And then I picked up the newspaper. 

 As some of you know, we here in the States have been locked in a rancorous battle over health care reform, a battle that certainly came as no surprise, given the fact that US Presidents have attempted to tackle this problem for a hundred years, but to no avail.  The issue was voted on this past weekend, an occurrence that brought out opponents and supporters alike.  It happened at a rally in Columbus, Ohio.  A man was sitting on the ground with a sign that said he had Parkinson’s disease.  A group demonstrating against reform began taunting the man, accusing him of “looking for a handout” and throwing dollar bills into his lap.  In Washington, DC, racial epithets were hurled at a black congressman who is a hero of the civil rights movement, whilst slurs were shouted at another congressman because he is gay.

Juxtaposed against the illuminating passages of Wolf Hall, these news reports had a sobering effect.  I had to wonder:  How far have we really come?  Is it even possible for intelligent reason and compassion to exist in a world where any sort of vile behaviour is acceptable for those so encased in hatred and fear? Or are we merely like those little boats of Fitzgerald’s, forever beating against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.
Has history taught us nothing?

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Spring Sale

It is warm today!  Actually warm!
The sun has remembered how to shine, there are sweet breezes blowing, and Edward is staring at me with a gleam in his eye.
 I have rolled all my responsibilites up into a prickly, peevish ball and thrown them right out the window to be blown far away by a gust of March wind.
With an apple and some dog biscuits in my pocket, Edward and I are off to enjoy the glorious weather!
  No time to write today.  
So, as a part of our Springtime celebration, I am having a special sale in my Etsy shoppe, just for all you wonderful blog readers.  
Here's how it works.  From now thru Sunday the 28th, all items in The House of Edward are 25% off.   If you purchase an item, send me an Etsy message, or regular email, and let me know that you came from the blog and I will refund your paypal account 25%.

In the shoppe you will find Easter bunnies and wedding cakes, silver dogs, babies and lovebirds, and one happy, laughing pig.  All are boxes that open to hide away special keepsakes, special memories, or even chocolate eggs!
Have fun.
And, more words soon!
I promise.

Monday, March 22, 2010

The Owls Watch

On a branch in the top of the poplar tree, far down at the bottom of the garden, the owls sit,  watching.  Like a row of pious, brown cloaked friars they wait, silently wondering when the performance will commence.
  Knee deep in the carpet of emerald ivy, hidden away from the rapier gaze of the owls, a family of rabbits nestles shoulder to shoulder - patient, alert.
The mice nibble birdseed nervously, looking up, wishing again that they were taller.

 The navy blue big top sky is festooned with glittering stars, each a tiny spotlight to illuminate the stage set below.  Only the March wind dares to make a sound tonight.

Suddenly, the owls sit up straighter, lemon yellow eyes fixed in unblinking stares.
  A rabbit’s nose twitches.  
A mouse drops a sunflower seed.  

Look. There he is, the masked bandit of the midnight circus, making his way up the tallest pine tree.  Furry gasps are heard as this acrobat jumps to the highwire roof of the studio, and stops.  Has he lost his nerve?   No, no, here he goes... cautiously, carefully... one nimble paw in front of the other, his ringed tail following behind him like a convict’s shadow. 
 Never looking down...yes, that’s the trick.  
Perhaps he’ll make it to the other side tonight. 
 Perhaps he won’t get caught. 
 A hero raccoon at last.

But with a sound like a gun shot, a door flies open and the large white dog flies down the steps - roars down the pathway.  The dog looks up in growling shock to see the silhouette of the audacious bandit himself, a black cut-out in the dark blue sky, frozen precisely on the tightrope of the roof, impossibly high. 
The two creatures lock eyes.
 For a millisecond, all the world holds its breath.....then explodes. 
  A  fur-scurrying, feather-flapping, claw-sliding melee ... a cacophony of chattering, scrambling, barking, chirping, cheeping, as everyone runs from everyone else, clamboring up and over fences, diving headfirst into burrows, feetfirst into nests.
Then.  Quiet.
Indignant, the big white dog stands alone in the clearing and shakes himself furiously.   To get his fur back in place; to regain his composure.  With a final warning glare over his left shoulder and one last huruump to the darkness, he trots back up the pathway, satisfied that once again he has saved his family from certain danger.  What on earth would they do without him?  
Back through the silent garden he goes - back up the stairs, back into the house. 
Back to the warmth of his bed.  

While up, up, from their seats in the balcony, the owls watch.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

One of the Crowd

The fountains ran green in my town this week. From shoreline to shoreline, in big city and small, Americans celebrated the Irish on St. Patrick’s Day.  As happens every March the seventeenth, toasts were made and parades were held, Yeats was quoted and misquoted. Danny Boy was wistfully sung in voices both in tune and out, and from the tiniest babe to the grey-haired amongst us, all wore a bit o’ green for the day.

One of the most remarkable things about the United States is that we are a nation of immigrants.  It is our most marked characteristic and what makes America unique.  For each of us has, somewhere in the upper branches of our family tree, someone who came here from another country, and while we share a fierce love of our United States, for each of us there is another homeland in our history, another flag that knew us when.   We cannot escape our geneology, not should we wish to.

It is said that America is a melting pot, and I personally have always loved that description. So many colourful seasonings from so many countries all mingling together make for an flavourful, one-of-a-kind concoction.  This myriad of amazing representatives from foreign shores has enriched our culture immeasurably, and continues to do so.   Our music, our cuisine, our literature, our spirit - take away one ingredient and this grand experiment called America would be so much the lesser for it.

 So La Paix, or Fois Scots, Saanti, Siochain, or Pax.
  Tonight I am happy to be but one of this crowd called America.

There are no strangers here; 
Only friends you haven’t yet met”.
William Butler Yeats

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

A Real Friend

Once, and only once, I played the Easter Bunny at the neighborhood Easter Egg Hunt.  During my rather uncomfortable afternoon as the iconic big-eared fellow, I had to constantly keep reminding myself that I had indeed volunteered for the assignment.  After the hunt for the eggs was over and all the little bunny fans had gone home for their naps, happily carrying their baskets of chocolate eggs, I was finally free to go. Unfortunately, in my size twenty rabbit feet and my three foot rabbit head, I could not exactly drive myself.  This duty fell to my suspiciously too eager chauffeur, The Songwriter, who simply could not resist this delicious opportunity to show me off to friends and family.  My protestations were futile, and we were off, soon passing by the home of a favourite neighbor, an elderly lady who was kneeling in her front garden, planting red geraniums.  We pulled in the driveway, The Songwriter giggling, and I struggled out of the car, stood up to my full Easter Bunny height and waved my platter-sized Easter Bunny hand.  She glanced over her shoulder nonchalantly and, in the most unimpressed voice one could possibly imagine, simply said, 
“Oh, hi Pamela.” 
I mean, really?  Just “Oh, Hi”?  She didn’t even require an explanation as to who this was?  The life-long, well-tended image of myself as a woman of elegance and decorum evaporated like the morning dew.  She did not even pretend to be surprised to see me dressed up as a ten foot rabbit.  And I loved her for it.

I attended this wonderful lady’s funeral a few days ago, just one week shy of her ninety-fifth birthday.  I had to smile when the speaker, an elderly man himself who had known the lady for years, told of the time when, tired of the slow and inevitable process of going bald, he had decided to shave his head.  Everyone told him how “wonderful” he looked, although he knew pretty well that the mirror disagreed with this flattering assessment of his new visage.  Only one friend, the lady in question, told him the truth when she declared, 
“Lord, Albert.  What did you do to yourself?  You look positively awful”.
  As everyone in the church laughed, he added, 
“You know, I always knew I could trust her after that.  A real friend is someone who will tell you the truth.”

 Now, I certainly do not hold with those who, seemingly unencumbered by the virtue of tact, simply spout harsh opinions willy nilly to any and all ears.  These people can be hurtful at worst, annoying at best.  I do however, know the value of a good friend - most often an old friend - who will tell you the truth.  She is the one who will quietly let you know you have lipstick on your teeth or a snag in your stocking.  He is the one with whom you can argue, who never demands your allegiance to his opinions - a bit of a rarity in this polarized age.  She is not afraid to tell you she did not care for the book that you loved; the two of you can discuss it freely.   A friend such as this will let you know if they think you are about to make a wrong choice.  And they will always defend you to others.  Their honest criticism makes the praise they bestow all the sweeter, for one feels more comfortable believing it.

How sweet it is to have friends such as these, and even sweeter when one's spouse is such a friend, as mine is.   It makes life so much more pleasurable. While they could never be as devoted as Edward, (who could?) I do feel most fortunate in my friends and I wish the one recently departed a sweet and peaceful rest.

For more on my Easter Bunny escapade, including incriminating pictures, read HERE.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

The Gift of Flight

Sometimes, especially when I find myself ensnared in the metal trap of a traffic jam, one of hundreds just like me, each of us caged inside our respective vehicles - hands on wheels, eyes straight ahead - my mind tends to wander right out of my car and away to the wildest of places.  I often find myself playing the solitary game of “what if”.  No doubt, you are familiar with this game, perhaps even playing it yourself on especially boring occasions.  One plays the game simply by imagining scenarios that are wildly divergent from the usual routine of one’s life, mulling over the myriad of resulting possibilities that arise from questions such as.....“what if I won the lottery”... “what if I had been born on another continent”.. “what if my parents had been wildebeests”....  you know, that sort of thing.  

Trolling through the index of all the most entertaining “what ifs” the other afternoon as I sat on the highway going nowhere fast, I came to the inevitable “what if I could have a superpower, which one would I want? ”... one of my favourite what ifs from childhood.  Considering this proposal from the prospective of an adult instead of a child caused me to reject the answer I always gave as a little girl.  In those days,  I would have wished for the ability to fly, which of course, remains a tantalizing prospect to ponder.  However, now I realize all too well the sort of inconveniences the gift of flight would bring to the recipient.  I can just picture it... there I would be, happily swooping over the fields, diving with the seagull, racing the honeybee,  only to return home, land upon my rooftop,  and behold a crush of horrid reporters and film crews lined up in my street, anxious to record my latest excursion for the nightly news, or worse.  It is easy to imagine that one might eventually become a prisoner in one’s own home, unable to ever lift off for a spin over the treetops without a most unwelcome audience of shutter clicking note takers. That would be a serious downside to the owning the ability to fly and, for myself, one quite impossible to overcome.

Of course, these were problems I never considered as a little girl as I watched Mary Poppins drift through the foggy skies of London holding on to nothing more than her parrot head umbrella, touching down lightly at Number Seventeen Cherry Tree Lane with every hair in place.  Her entire descent seemed utterly plausible to me.  I looked on, transfixed, as Peter Pan sprinkled fairy dust over the Darling children, enabling them to easily follow him right out their bedroom window.... turning at the first star on the left, going straight on till morning.  
Seemed simple to me.

Being the child that I was, naturally the time came when I had to try this out for myself.  I can clearly remember the sunny afternoon when, as a six year old,  I stood with my dog atop a neighbour’s stone wall about fifteen feet above their back garden thinking.... I bet I can fly, too.  I just bet I can.  So strong was my conviction that of course, yes, I jumped, leaving my little terrier alone on the wall, no doubt wishing fervently that she possessed the gift of speech, for surely she would have attempted to talk me out of it.  But with the anticipation of sailing far up over the pine trees shining like fairy dust in my head, I jumped without giving the matter a second thought.

And it was as though Isaac Newton arm wrestled Tinkerbelle in that briefest fraction of a second that I hung with my hope in midair. And of course, Isaac won.  Most decidedly.  Gravity wasted no time in claiming me for its own and I crashed to the ground below, which would have been the end of the story had my left leg not landed on a nasty piece of rock, breaking in three places.  The poor leg was placed in a cast and I received quite a bit of attention, which was rather thrilling for awhile.  Everyone assumed of course that I had simply slipped and fallen - a typical childhood accident.  Only my dog and I knew the truth, and we weren’t talking.

I suppose this event should have doused me with doubt and convinced me that magic and dreams are just faint wisps of smoke to be blown out by the gales of reality.  But my failed attempt only showed me that I myself did not possess the particular gift of flight.  It never once made me doubt that Mary and Peter had it.  I simply turned my thoughts to all the other gifts that perhaps could be mine.
Like time travel, for instance. 
 Now there’s something I’d most definitely like to try.

"You are never too old to set another goal or to dream a new dream.”
C. S. Lewis

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

A Dozen Springtime Smiles

Perhaps it’s because it  falls on the last day of the first week of April, but the accoutrements of Springtime have always seemed completely intertwined with my birthday.  My special day sometimes landed on Easter Sunday which meant that, along with the requisite birthday cake, my celebration included anthropormorphic bunnies and innocent lambs, polka dot dresses, milk chocolate eggs, flamboyant hats, pastel jelly beans, and a beribboned basket at the end of my bed, waiting patiently for me to awake on Easter morning.   It could sometimes be a wee bit confusing, but always fabulous.
During recent long walks with Edward, I have begun to see the signs of the new season to come - the birds are out house hunting, the hydrangeas are slowing waking up, the light is softening.
I still feel like this season rather belongs to me- everything about it makes me smile.  
In no particular order, here are a dozen special reasons why.

1.  First of all, I cannot think of a better representative of his kind that the Easter Bunny shown above.  His name is Beau Bunny and he is the whimsical creation of The Decorated House on Etsy.  You must visit and see him in all his delightful incarnations.  
He is the perfect ambassador for Spring!

2. The past week, I have been literally surrounded by bunnies and lambs, paper flowers and birds, glitter and paint and boxes.  I have been making Easter boxes for my Etsy shoppe, The House of Edward.  So much fun.  I also recently completed a custom birthday box for Isabelle, Angie Muresan’s winsome little daughter, who was turning four.  Angie had told me that Isabelle is a budding ballerina, and I was fortunate to find a vintage ballerina to pose atop her double tiered box.  What a thrill it was to get this photograph of the lovely Isabelle with her box!  Is that just the most adorable face ever? Be sure and visit Angie at her insightful blog and wish Isabelle a happy year.


3.    I can see this adorable radio by Cath Kidston sitting next to my beach chair, side by side with a sweaty glass of limeade, playing Beyond the Sea by Bobby Darin at a soothing volume.


4.   In the kitchen of my imaginary beach house, these chairs from Anthropologie would encircle my dining table. 
 I love these.


5.   And without question, this wonderfully retro refrigerator would reside  in that same imaginary kitchen.  In seafoam green, naturally.  Big Chill Fridge has an entire line of state of the art kitchen appliances, all bearing the cheerful expressions of a bygone era.


6.  I am besotted with this vintage wallpaper from Secondhand Rose in New York City.  I can just see it covering the walls of a bathroom, with a view of the sea out the large oval window above the capacious tub, and one orange towel hanging from a shell-shaped hook.


7.  Before I became obsessed with knitting, I was a dedicated needlepointer.  I preferred to work in petitpoint, and loved to work with charts.  One of the best resources I found for beautiful, intricate charts was The Scarlet Quince.  I know the website says these are for cross-stitch, but most of them can easily be done in needlepoint, provided there is not too much backstitching in the pattern.  
Wouldn’t this one be amazing on the bed of an all white bedroom with watery blue-green walls?


8.  I am an enthusiastic fan of Stephen Fry.   I adored his latest PBS series, Stephen Fry in America, and he remains the quintessential Jeeves to me.   I had always wanted to listen to him read all the Harry Potter books on audio, but unfortunately, they have never been available in the US.  But joy of joys.... this past Christmas, a couple of our best and kindest friends gave us Mr. Fry’s version of the first two books, all the way from the UK.  I am now seriously addicted to these.  He reads them in such a way that I am completely captivated, his resonant, avuncular voice renders the words almost visible.  Highly recommended.


9.  One of the anticipated joys of Spring, is the totally different wardrobe one can now choose from.  Crisp linens, big straw bags, spectator oxfords... all waving at me from the back of the closet, ready for their time in the sun.  I just found this linen blazer and pair of yellow shoes from TOAST. 
 They make me swoon.


10.  I know I have showcased these handmade journals from Kreativlink  on an earlier occasion, but the new ones for Springtime are simply too beautiful not to share.  I can just imagine sitting under a flowering apple tree on a warm afternoon, writing a story about the wanderlust of hedgehogs in this enchanting handmade book. 
 It seems as though it would foster technicolour creativity.


11.  I have always been a bath person.  At some point every night, I can be found, up to my chin in a cloud of scented bubbles in my big, clawfoot tub - music playing, lights dimmed, with Edward dozing on the bathroom rug.  Consequently, I am a serious connoisseur of bubble baths and soaps.  I like to change them with the seasons - vanilla and pomegranate for winter, jasmine and seaside for spring.  This soap by Mistral is my favourite this time of year. 
 It smells divinely of the sea.


12.  And finally, this photograph just makes me happy. I will always have a big old crush on this man.  Daughter Mary is an accomplished photographer who is responsible for this gorgeous portrait.  
And the other daughter, Stella, designs clothes to die for.