Sunday, February 27, 2011

Pen Pals

Pen Pals

The Royal Standard whips round in the wind above Buckingham Palace, signaling the presence of Her Majesty. Fighting back the childish urge to press my nose against the damp glass of the black taxi in which I am riding, I watch, unblinking, as we speed past all the old familiar landmarks, standing comfortably solid in the waxen light of an early morning sun. Out the right side window I glimpse white swans gliding lazily along the pond in St. James Park. To my left, four black lions nod a regal welcome from their perches in Trafalgar Square, while down the street to my right, Big Ben gives me a wink. Suddenly the taxi wheels round in front of my destination, The Wolseley, where I am scheduled to meet a new friend for breakfast. I step out onto the grey pavement, push open the doors and enter into the grand art deco interior. If it were not for the contemporary air of the diners inside, I could easily be Miss Lemon herself, meeting Hercule Poirot for tea. As it happens, I am to meet someone I have never even seen before.

Just as Julia Child and Avis DeVoto forged a fast friendship through letters - it was ten years before they actually met face to face - I feel I know Jeanne the moment we say hello, even though our friendship has been heretofore confined exclusively to the written word. For, unlikely as it may seem, we have become friends through this newfangled form of communication, blogging. A truly lovely lady with genuine charm, Jeanne has five blogs, a fact I find utterly exhausting even to consider, particularly since each one of them is so different from the other and each is so artfully done. We spend the next couple of hours discussing everything from books to travel, from skin care to family, laughing and finishing each other’s sentences as good friends are wont to do. After leaving The Wolseley, we wander through Hatchard's, the oldest bookshop in London and five floors of total literary enchantment, where Jeanne buys a cookbook and I, a book of ghost stories. As we say our goodbyes, I watch her leave in her gorgeous grey coat and lavender scarf, grateful for the introduction that this blog has allowed.

I would consider this wonderful meeting an anomaly were it not for my experience a couple of days later. When I let it be known that I was coming to London, I received a sweet letter from Jayne, the talented blogger from A Novice Novelist, inviting me to tea. I adore Jayne’s writing, and accepted immediately. (How could I not look forward to tea with someone who states in their blog profile that they had wanted to be a cat when they grew up?) We arranged to meet at a place we were both are curious about, a place rather mysterious that I shall write about later.
But for now, come along with me to the following Sunday......
it is a grey day and....

My cab driver is lost, something frankly unheard of in London. As a cold and rather determined mist falls, we hurtle down one street, then another in a very strange and unfamiliar part of the city. Finally I suggest he simply put me out where we are and the embarrassed, but defeated, man agrees. I ask directions of several people along the way and, after a few wonky starts, I finally arrive in the appointed cobblestoned street - late, damp, and more than a bit concerned that Jayne might have given me up as a lost cause. But then I hear my named called and turn to see a lovely red haired woman in a magical coat crossing the street to meet me with a grin on her face. And again, it is as though we had been friends for ages. We wander through Sunday markets, getting delightfully lost, and finally end up in a warm and cozy spot for lunch where we talk for hours about words and writing, subjects dear to both our hearts. We discuss the delight in working out the puzzles of plot and discover, not surprisingly, that we were both the type of child who always asked for books at Christmas. Not once is there a lull in the conversation - not once is there an awkward pause. It is almost dark when Jayne puts me on the correct underground train back to my hotel and, just as with Jeanne, I feel as if I am saying farewell to someone I have known for years.

I suppose there is a lot to lament in the current state of the culture and, Lord knows, I have occasionally participated in that lamentation with vigor. I have whinged over the feared demise of the written word and wrung my hands at the awful diminishment of the beautiful English language. But this past week gifted me with a brand new take on the subject of communication. For just as those who came before us treasured the arrival of the post, for it brought correspondence from those far away, providing a connection unique, and sometimes even deeper than face to face communion could afford, I find I wait eagerly for the next postings of my favourite blogs. Through my enjoyable encounters of this past week, I have found this modern communion to indeed be real and the friendships it affords most authentic.
We reveal ourselves in a different way when we write. Our thoughts float to the surface with a purity unsullied by shyness, free of the distraction of gesture or expression. Such is the power of words and it is delightful to discover that power untempered by the medium in which it is conveyed. I have no doubt that, had the opportunity been available when they were writing, Julia and Avis would have been bloggers extraordinaire, much like my new/old London friends Jeanne and Jayne.

Do stop by and say hello to them both.
I know you will be happy you did.

Jeanne’s blogs .....

Jayne’s blog, A Novice Novelist

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Jet Lag

Jet Lag

The unholy combination of a five hour time change and a nine hour plane flight does something unique to the equilibrium of a normally anchored human being. I speak empirically, for having arrived home yesterday from a perfectly divine trip to London, I now find that my body clock has gone completely haywire. I have no idea what day it is. I neither know, nor particularly care, what time it is. I find myself eating clementines and cheese at three in the morning and nodding off like a pensioner at eight at night.

Edward is beside himself with joy at my return and flatly refuses to leave my side. He’s under my chair when I’m seated, across my feet when I’m in bed. I even have to step over him getting out of the bathtub. Although I was able to talk to him every evening whilst I was away - due to the strange and wonderful powers of Skype - he obviously prefers my physical presence and is determined to make me aware of that fact during every hour of the day.

Thank you all so much for your tantalizing suggestions on what to see and do in London. They were much appreciated. I will share my adventures here soon, and I’m so looking forward to catching up as best I can with all my favourite blogs.
London is a magic, magnificent city, but there’s nothing quite like the welcome home of a big, white, lonesome dog!

Thursday, February 17, 2011

To London

To London
“Please write and tell me about London. I live for the day when I step off the boat-train and feel its dirty sidewalks under my feet. I want to walk up Berkeley Square and down Wimpole Street and stand in St. Paul's where John Donne preached and sit on the step Elizabeth sat on when she refused to enter the Tower, and like that. A newspaper man I know, who was stationed in London during the war, says tourists go to England with preconceived notions, so they always find exactly what they go looking for. I told him I'd go looking for the England of English literature, and he said: "Then it's there."
This quotation, taken from the wonderful movie, 84 Charing Cross Road, has always resonated with me, for it is a fairly accurate description of my own feelings about the city of London. So I am off to London today. In search of inspiration, ideas, and felicity. I am wearing an antique locket with Edward’s photograph inside and I’ll write if I can.
Tell me, what should I do whilst I’m there?

Monday, February 14, 2011

The Mystery of Happiness

The Mystery of Happiness

I am someone who refused to ever again wade into the surf higher than my ankles after seeing the movie Jaws. I designed my winter wedding to echo the one in Camelot. I have wept along with Emma Thompson’s Eleanor in Sense and Sensibility, shuddered at the Nazgul in Lord of the Rings, and swooned over Cary Grant in almost every movie he made. As a little girl, I thought Pollyanna was a real person for the longest time and, even now, I find it a bit difficult to look at Anthony Hopkins, so many years after his Hannibal Lecter ruled the big screen. So yes, I am well aware of the power of film. Movies are fun, and so often are we entertained and transported by their magic, I suppose it’s easy to find ourselves surprised when one comes along constructed with the sort of revelatory wings that can soar high above entertainment to enter the realms of art - art capable of illuminating and, perhaps, even redeeming, the human spirit. Director Mike Leigh seems to make these kinds of movies and his latest offering, Another Year, could well be his greatest example.

Compassionate, yet unflinching, Another Year, is a cinematic contemplation on the nature of happiness. It follows a long-married and still in love couple through four seasons of their quotidian life as they cook dinners, tend their allotment garden, snuggle, go to work and entertain friends, all the while enveloped in the quiet folds of obvious contentment. This contentment, this happiness, shines ever more brightly in comparison with the lonely, emotionally impaired lives of some of their friends and we are left with questions to ponder. How is happiness attained, really? It’s obviously important, here in the states our constitution declares its pursuit to be an “unalienable right”. But is it achieved through choice, or genetics?
No doubt, our choices are vital, for we all do reap what we sow, even though the sharpness of that truth is often hidden from us until later in life. But I have those of my acquaintance, as no doubt many of you do as well, who remain rather defiantly unhappy in spite of the good that flows all around them. Quick to point out the cloud that floats inside each silver lining, they hold so tightly to their pessimism that their gloom eventually defines them - they wouldn’t be comfortable without it.

I consider myself fortunate, for I was born with a tendency to see good. My eye seems to spot beauty just about everywhere and I hope I can always recognize what really matters. I take absolutely no credit for this way of seeing the world but this movie made me wonder - is it a bright thread woven in my DNA, or is it something I, perhaps unconsciously, choose?

Films such as Another Year are often overlooked, due, no doubt, to their lack of the sort of bells and whistles known to tickle the ears of the 21st century audience. But it would be a shame to miss this movie, for its gentle revelations place a small crack in the window of our own mysterious humanness and we catch a glimpse of our universal similarities - our pain, our kindness, our tolerance, our grief.
And we leave with questions.
Questions worth pondering.
And after the movie, later that night, The Songwriter was gazing off in the distance with a faraway look, which is not an unusual thing. When I asked him what he was thinking about, he replied, “I’m just so glad we found each other”.
One sentence.
The perfect Valentine gift.

Click to see the trailer for Another Year

Sunday, February 13, 2011

The Traveling Coat

The Traveling Coat

I collect coats the way some women collect shoes. Cashmere and capes, camel hair and tweed - keep them far away from me for I need no more. But what a challenging task it can be to resist them. Strangely enough though, given my extensive collection of these garments, whenever I reach for my passport for a wintertime trip, I seem to also, always, reach for the same coat. It's the one I'm wearing in the photograph above, taken at Tintagel, in Cornwall, near Merlin's cave.

It's a near perfect traveling coat - rainproof and windproof, long and black - it has taken me up mountains in the afternoon and out to dinner the same night, without the tiniest sacrifice of comfort or style. I love it. The only problem is, when I look at any photographs taken of my travels, I'm always wearing the same coat. It looks as though I'm on one long interminable journey, instead of several separate ones. Just take a look at the next several photos and you'll see what I mean. These were all unique trips, but they look like the exact same one, all because of that coat. (And yes, I realize my hair stays the same as well, but this post is about coats.)

Edinburgh... love that sign above my head.

Deep In Thought In A Garden in Aryshire

Inverlochy Castle Hotel in the Highlands of Scotland

Coming Through Beatrix Potter's Garden Gate on a Rainy Day in Cumbria
Sad, isn't it? I have looked for a replacement, believe me. But try as I might, I simply could never find a traveling coat that I liked as much as that one. Then lo and behold, a catalog arrived at my door last week and as I flipped through it over lunch, my eyes fell upon a fabulous coat.
Black - the perfect colour for traveling.
Rainproof - a necessary requirement.
Large pockets - I'm crazy for pockets.
And, a hood! Oh, I do adore a hood.
So yes, I took the plunge and now this new upstart is hanging on my closet door, ready and waiting for its inaugural trip to London next week!
Is it my imagination, or it this an ideal coat for strolling the winter streets of that most magical city?

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Looking For Magic in the Year of the Rabbit...A List

Looking For Magic in the Year of the Rabbit...A List

If it wasn’t for that lovely splash of red that occurs on the fourteenth, the entire month of February would be monochromatically grey. Skies and earth share the same hue, obliterating the horizon. The novelty of snow, once so brilliant and clear, has worn rather thin and begun to fray - it doesn’t fit us in quite the same fashion as it did just a few short weeks ago. In fact, there are some days when we would shed it completely, if only the bright cloaks of tulips and clover were safely within our grasp. We stare out the window at the bare naked trees and wonder if green has been permanently retired from Mother Nature’s palette.
Magic doesn’t easily find us.
We must go in search of it.
I was able to find a bit to share, starting with the painting above. That wonderful rabbit is the work of artist Amber Alexander.
You can see more of her work HERE.


1. Reading Aloud
As I mentioned in my previous posting, The Songwriter has recently been reading aloud to me at night and the experience has reminded me how wonderful it is to have someone read you a story.
If you have the opportunity to read aloud to someone, grab it.
Let your inner thespian loose and do all the character’s voices.
Make up a theme song for the story you’re reading.
You’ll have as much fun as your lucky listener.
I recently came across these marvelous handmade shadow puppets that would add such delightful drama to storytelling time.
Try the one above with St. George and The Dragon.
See more of these magical puppets HERE.
Find the book HERE.


2. Tea Parties
I occasionally entertain some of my younger friends at the dining table that sits deep inside the huge magnolia tree in my front garden. There, an antique chandelier hangs overhead, wind chimes and candles sway in the branches and, once inside, one is completely hidden away from anyone who might be passing by.
Unfortunately, this is not the month for such outdoor pursuits.
But how about a special tea party by the fire.
I can only think any child would love to be served tea and cakes on these amazing altered plates.
Whimsical and funny.
Find them HERE.


3. Stella’s Spring Coat
When I saw this magical new coat by Stella McCartney, I knew spring could not be far away.
Just imagine this paired with slim white trousers and pale pink toenail polish.
Find it HERE.


4. Handmade Coin Purse
Even an activity as mundane as fishing for the correct change can be elevated a bit when you are opening such a lovely little coin purse.
The beautiful tree serves to remind you that the leaves will be back on the trees in no time.
Find it HERE.


5. New Books
I suppose all of us are a bit like Mr. Mole in Wind in the Willows when Spring rolls around. We become focused on our homes... throwing open windows, fluffing pillows, arranging flowers. It’s always the time of year when I think about recovering a chair, or looking for a new lampshade. I’m often found out in the garden with a notebook in hand, mulling over new colour combinations for the flower beds. Will it again be white for the back garden and pink for the front? Or should I do something wild and plant orange everywhere I see? Fun decisions, all.
And just in time for this type of inspiration, there are four new books I’m anxious to see.
Take a look and see if you don’t feel the same.
Click on the photos to find the books.


6. Carpet Bags
I loved Mary Poppins when I was little.
I loved the way she could slide up a banister, loved how she could jump right inside a sidewalk painting.
Oh, how I wished for a talking parrot head umbrella for my very own.

And a carpet bag from which I could produce a floor lamp! Imagine.

Now, I don’t expect to find anything similar inside this bag, but one never knows.

And I just love this.

For short trips or overnight stays, this has magic sprinkled all over it.

Find it HERE.


7. Feathered Headbands
Every girl needs a bit of glamour on these steely grey days.
No matter how old she is.
Isn’t this the cutest thing ever?
Find it HERE


8. Magazines
Here in the states, so many magazines have disappeared over the past several years, victims of the turbulent economy. There are still a few that I wait for each month however, ones that cause me to smile each time I see them in my mailbox. Of course, my favourite magazine, UK Country Living, is far too costly to purchase through subscription and so I find it at the local book shop. It is a happy evening when I can spend it deep inside the pages of that delightful magazine, despite the fact that reading it always leaves me with a ardent wish to own a pig. Or maybe a couple of goats.
And just recently, I discovered a new magazine that has me totally entranced. It’s called Selvedge and it’s divine.
If you can find it, you’ll be glad.
See it HERE.


9. Macbook Air
I’m rarely excited by technology, I’m really not.
But I simply couldn’t resist this.
Like magic, it’s less than an inch thick, thin as a saltine cracker and weighs less than two and a half pounds.
It’s going with
me everywhere.


10. Valentines
There was a little boy in my first grade class who always wore a bright red blazer, complete with a crest on the pocket, and he gave me a Valentine on Valentine’s Day. The significant thing about this story is that I remember it. Valentine’s Day is like that. Memories are made on this day.
So, go out to lunch together and split a slice of Key Lime Pie.
Take a walk in the fresh air and hold hands.
Steal a kiss in a romantic movie.
Or, fill one of these boxes with chocolates, or diamonds, and give it to someone you love. I only have two left, and I’ve popped them into my etsy shoppe.
Find one HERE. SOLD
And the other one HERE. SOLD


11. Garden Gates
The most charming gate I’ve ever opened guarded a tiny church in the village of Buttermere in the Lake District of England.
But this one has its own special charm.
Can’t you just imagine this one in your very own rose garden?
Find it HERE.


12. Finished Sweaters!
I love this photograph of Vanessa Redgrave and her daughter, Natasha.
And, once upon a time, if I had been told that I would knit my very own sweater and wear it out to Sunday lunch, I would have certainly have expected magic, and lots of it, would have to be involved.
But lo! That is precisely what happened.
And I am proud as a peacock!!
Here’s the finished product.
Believe me, magic exists.
Even in February.

Friday, February 4, 2011

But I'm Not Afraid Of Bears

But I’m Not Afraid Of Bears

For the past several nights, The Songwriter has been immersed in the new autobiography of Rolling Stone, Keith Richards, a Christmas gift given to him, rather amusingly, by my mother, a woman completely unaware of Mr. Richards’ fairly intemperate lifestyle of which she would most decidedly disapprove. He has been chuckling and sighing, and reading passages out loud for my benefit which in turn has gifted me with the most outlandish mental pictures just before sleep. Images of Mr. Richards, sleepless for days, hurtling over the Atlas mountains in a rental car, dodging missile-laden military vehicles. Visions of bathtubs full of champagne, copious amounts of illegal substances, fist fights, arrests, and overall jaw-dropping mayhem. In other words, descriptions of the type of life I was never meant to live. To thine own self be true, I suppose. Thus, I’m quite happy to confess that I just wasn’t hardwired for wildness.

I was the kid who stood back in observation while others walked on the razor’s edge. I was the one bent over her Bronte book, shaking her head, convinced that a few of her friends had regret in their futures. I suppose I did take my fair share of risks, but they were a bit more singular in nature. For instance, there was the afternoon I jumped off a very high stone wall, utterly certain that I could fly. A broken leg convinced me otherwise. And it’s true that I have no fear of furry animals - large or small, wild or tame - a fact that causes The Songwriter no small amount of consternation as he attempts to drive home the fact that grizzly bears are, indeed, dangerous.

But compare my habits to those of the Keith Richards’ of the world and, most assuredly, mine would land with a thud in the category of the prosaic. For try as I might, I’m unable to imagine Keith listening to a podcast on knitting, thrilled at finally being able to master the perfect decrease. Would Keith look forward to curling up in front of the fire in flannel pajamas to watch Downton Abbey? Would he delight in the sight of a bluebird at his feeder? Would he more often than not prefer a cozy night with a good book to a raucous one on the town? Nope, facts must be faced - Keith Richards and I belong in entirely different subsections of the human race.

But now, before I give the erroneous impression that I am a boring old dullard, let me hasten to say that The Songwriter and I have sat on the front row of a Stones concert, close enough to touch the aforementioned Mr. Richards, and we had an utterly fabulous time. However, there did come a point in the concert when Mick Jagger stripped off his sweaty shirt, pointed straight at me, and threw that soppy thing directly at my head, experience having no doubt taught him that most girls go ape over that particular move.
But me? I ducked.
No, a sweaty shirt is not my idea of a memento.
Not even from a rolling stone. Just read to me about it, okay?


Wednesday, February 2, 2011

To Remind Us Of May

To Remind Us of May

Half asleep, I see it, dancing on my bedroom wall like a Neverland fairy. Drifting up from the pool of clear water now shimmering in the old stone birdbath outside of my window, a reflection, a tiny flower bed of light, is waltzing like a figment just below my ceiling. It swirls and twirls, a hypnotist’s dream, and I know without doubt something’s strange. Winter light never behaves in this fashion, not even on Sundays. I throw back the blankets and Edward looks up, yawning, from his place at the foot of the bed. I run to the windowseat, where Apple is snuggled down, to pull back the lace curtain and peer out to the garden.
Bright sun.
Brilliant sun.
Shining from a sky so blue it could be a mirage.
A blue bird is splashing in the bath down below, no frozen water today. Sighing and swaying, the bare trees slowly stretch out their winter numb limbs in the warmth of this oddly timed breeze.
None of us are asking why.
None of us are waiting.
We head out to the forest as fast as we can, to walk in this glorious gift of a day. No boots and no coats, not a hat to be seen, we push up our sleeves and lift our faces to the sun.
The snows are forgotten.
We remember Spring.
We are not yet too old to be surprised.
Soon, as we know, Mother Nature will look down and be shocked at her lapse, sending grey icy winds to wrap round our days once again. But how grateful we are her attention was elsewhere on this wonderful, beautiful gift of a day.
And, during this shortest and coldest of months in the year, we will hold this day in our pockets.
A talisman to remind us of May.