Wednesday, November 30, 2011


The afternoon before Thanksgiving found me sprinting the aisles of the market, on the hunt for cranberry cheese, sparkling wine and a very specific colour of candles.  That last item was, I realize, a symptom of the dreaded disease of perfectionism but as I did find the colour I needed ( the precise hue of a ripe blood orange, to be exact) I refuse to waste time thinking about it.  I was making my way to the checkout lane when my phone rang.  Fishing it out of my pocket and placing it to my ear, I was tickled to hear the voice of an old friend.
  “Happy Thanksgiving!”, he said.  “I”m on my way to the wine shop. Where are you?”  
We proceeded to compare our list of holiday chores and then I asked him if the “green stuff” had been made as yet. 
 “Oh yes”, he replied.  “The green stuff is in the refrigerator”
 And we both laughed.  
The green stuff, as it is affectionately called, is part of his family’s holiday tradition.  It is a congealed salad - marshmallow filled and lime flavoured - the sort of concoction that is frequently found on the holiday tables down here in the south.  I have always found it to be an acquired taste, and one I myself was never quite able to manage, a sad quirk of my personality that caused relatives round the tables of my childhood to shake their heads and wonder at the oddness of my palate.  But to my friend, it is a tradition set it stone and it simply would not be Thanksgiving without the green stuff. 
Though congealed salads do not grace my holiday tables, I do have a gaggle of traditions I could never part with.  I never think of myself as dictatorial about these personal customs of the festive season, but I will admit that The Songwriter often chuckles during the opening scene of the holiday classic movie, Miracle on 34th Street, when Santa is walking down the street and spies a chap decorating a holiday window.  Santa stops, gazing in at the man and his work.  Then he frowns, finally rapping sharply on the window.  “You’re making a mistake”, he says loudly.  “You’re making a mistake with the reindeer.  You’ve got Cupid where Blitzen should be.  And another thing... Donner’s antlers have got four points instead of three.”  
When I ask The Songwriter why he finds this particular scene amusing, he looks over at me indulgently and smiles.  
Surely I’m not that bad.
Now is the season for traditions and I believe they serve us well, providing a comfortable continuity that allows us to feel all is right with the world.  They are the creators of family legend and we jettison them at our peril.  Each of us has our own set of traditions, personal and precious, and to alter even one can seem so strange, like wearing someone else’s clothes.  For instance, one year The Songwriter and I decided to open a present or two on Christmas Eve instead of Christmas morning, as was our life-long habit.
  It felt exceedingly weird and we never did it again.
Each year our main tree is purchased from the same tree lot down the street.  It comes home with us the day after Thanksgiving, without fail, and we put it up over the weekend. 
 The antique nativity scene always goes in the bookcase in front of the Egyptian mural, a blending of historical locales that matters not a bit to us.  
The first batch of fudge is always made with Bing Crosby singing in the background, and the first presents are wrapped to Vivaldi. 
Fir wreaths are hung on the inside of the windows, tied into place with embroidered bows. 
We always watch The Bishop’s Wife at least once, by the light of the Christmas tree, with mugs of hot chocolate warming our hands.
On Christmas Eve we listen to A Child’s Christmas in Wales.
I could never entertain the idea of doing any of these things differently.
Sometimes I think of spending Christmas in London, in a quintessentially English hotel room, with snow falling softly outside my window and a fire roaring in an old stone fireplace.  At three 0‘clock On Christmas Day I would walk to evensong at Westminster Abbey, in a red coat with a black velvet collar.  I would indulge in the grandest of afternoon teas and I would open one perfect present at midnight. 
 Could I scrap all my home-grown traditions for such a trip as this? 
 Believe it or not, I’m not sure I could.  
Anyway, Christmas morning without Edward is unthinkable.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Giving Thanks

Giving Thanks
On Thursday of this week, we here in the states shall celebrate Thanksgiving Day.  A marvelous tradition, even if sometimes we do have to burrow down beneath football games and feasts, holiday sales and family friction to find its true purpose, sitting unnoticed, waiting for our eventual consideration as it calmly holds out its soul-cleansing magic of gratitude.  Patriarchs will say grace over tables groaning under the weight of sweet potato casseroles and pumpkin pies.  In a truly American touch, gargantuan balloons shaped and dressed like Mickey Mouse and Underdog will float down New York streets and we shall thank the Lord for our food, our families, our freedom, our health.  
It is a day for remembering the big things with thankfulness and perhaps it serves as a reminder to notice the little things as well.  I hope so, for living in the midst of gratitude every day of the year makes for many happy days. There are a myriad of delights for which to be thankful, but they are often disguised as commonplace, so one must learn to look carefully to find them.  
 I think as I write of maple trees and autumn winds.  
The first taste of Christmas fudge.
The way the bottom of Edward’s paw smells just like Fritos.
Shakespeare and Kate Atkinson.
Leonard Cohen and Mary Oliver.
The Philadelphia Story and The Wizard of Oz.
Freshly ironed sheets.
 and, rain.
 Here are just a few more of my special thank you’s for this year.  

The Dog Sitter
Ramona is the person who moves in to stay with Edward and Apple whenever we travel without them.  She feeds them scrambled eggs.  She gives them the fish oil capsules that make their furry coats shine like new money.  She never gets her feelings hurt when Edward pouts - he only does this for a day or so.  Both dogs adore her and she’ll be joining us for dessert on Thanksgiving Day.   
And yes, that is a chimpanzee she’s holding.


The Songwriter sang at the wedding of a friend this past weekend, and I was reminded once again how much I love those ancient ceremonies.  To see two people stand facing one another, their faces lit by the love that they feel, pledging that love to the world, well... it’s incredibly moving.  
I absolutely love this photo of the recent wedding of David Lauren and Lauren Bush and I just adore that wedding dress. 
 And I may be alone in this, but it's so good to see the elegance of sleeves again.


I am grateful to be someone who enjoys her own company. 
 I don’t need a crowd to be happy. 
 I'm comfortable alone with my thoughts. 
After all, it is there, in the quiet, when the muses come. 


There is a multitude of amazing blogs today, blogs that I read as often as I possibly can.  But the one I never, ever miss is written by Angus, a transplanted Scotsman living a delightful life in a French village with his Polish Lowland Sheepdog, Wilf.  Wilf bears a striking resemblance to Edward.  Sometimes the pictures Angus posts cause me to do a double-take.  
The blog was started to chronicle the travels of both Wilf and his twin brother, Digby, but sadly, Digby passed away in 2010 after a sudden illness.  Then several months later, in a quirk of horrible timing, Wilf was diagnosed with cancer and given only three days to live. 
 That was a year and two months ago! 
 Each day since a gift, each month a miracle.

One of the best blog writers I’ve found, Angus takes us through the seemingly ordinary days of a life with an old dog, all the while freely handing us jewels of wisdom about friendship, loyalty, humour and love.  I am so grateful that Wilf has defied the odds with such heart and grace and I wish for both he and Angus a perfectly wonderful festive season.
  If you’ve yet to visit this very special twosome, you are missing a true treat. 
 Go say hello HERE.


An Ivy Covered Cottage
The Songwriter and I have an ongoing battle over the English Ivy that grows over our cottage.  
He worries that it will damage the windows and gutters if it gets out of control. 
 I find it unutterably romantic.  
We have reached a ivy truce of sorts. 
 It may clamber over the brick as much as it likes but must be trimmed when it reaches the windows or roofline.  
I can certainly live with that.  I love my ivy-covered cottage. 
But Songwriter beware,  I also love the look of the house above!

What about you?
What little thing are you thankful for today?

Wednesday, November 16, 2011



Hands gripping the steering wheel of my little green car, I sat at the red light, looking around. This hillside must have been magnificent once. Before we humans arrived, with our love and devotion to commerce. Once a great forest, it is now all concrete and steel, a bit of glass, some neon.
I sigh.
My list of the day’s chores lies face up on the seat beside me, each of its many tasks, almost growling in animation earlier in the day, are now mercifully struck through with a red ink pen, silenced at last. Dealing with them all has rendered me tired and depleted, every corpuscle of my being squeezed and dried like a raisin. I think of my fireside, the smiles that await me at my front door - furry and bearded, both - and I long for this traffic to stir.
And it was then, in mid-sigh, that I saw them.
A black lace ruffle densely gathered on the telephone poles and electrical wires that preside over this harsh slice of Americana. A massive flock of birds, their numbers so completely overwhelming we humans encased in our metal cages upon this paved mountain as to suggest our utter insignificance. They stared down at us in pity, turning and nodding to one another, no doubt in comment on our trapped and earthbound existence. I rested my chin on the steering wheel, my eyes fixed upwards to this ebony congregation of freedom.
And then, almost as if they noticed my gaze and wished to give me a gift - they lifted as one up into the waning light of the afternoon. Floating on the autumn air like dancers, clad in the black silk of their ancestors, they twirled and swirled in time to the music I had momentarily forgotten, lost in a choreography I have never known.
Moving in concert with the intricacy of a kaleidoscope, their feathered ballet captured my soul. I felt my spirit rise up into their midst and, for a brief moment, it floated amongst the throng of their wings, backwards and forwards, reaching up to the rising moon, diving back to the tired earth, ransomed and loose.
And then, without a backwards glance, they suddenly turned to go.
Like candle smoke, their dark, joyous cloud disappeared into the heavens leaving me behind on the hillside, clutching a restored spirit, and a promise.
The traffic moved on and I turned for home.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Flying Round My Head.... A List and a Giveaway!

Flying Round My Head
... A List

November is such an anticipatory month. As if by magic, the calendar fills up with dinners, parties, concerts, lunches. Edward and I sit by the fireside, planning meals and flowers, Christmas presents, Christmas cards.
My head swirls with holiday colour. Will it be gold and silver? Red and green? No, this year I’m planning the very medieval combination of copper and crimson with a touch of fir green.
And then, of course, on the last Thursday of the month comes the most celebratory meal of the American year. Thanksgiving. One perfect meal that requires days and days of happy preparation during which I become a cook and a baker, a florist, a decorator, a hostess. Such happy work for a thankful person. Thanksgiving comes early this year, did you know? A delightful fact that brings us a full extra week of the Christmas season.
Ideas have been crowding my brain, each leap-frogging over the other, each requesting my full attention.
I have caught a few of these thoughts in the net of this blog post to share with you.
And an extra treat sits in the middle of the list.


1. Holiday Tables
As much as I love cooking, and I do love it, especially during the holiday season, I also love creating special holiday tables. As an avid collector of unusual china that I squirrel away anywhere I can (don't look underneath the skirted tables!), I love doing something different at each holiday meal, often at each place setting.
My heart skipped a beat when I saw this collection from Hermes.
See it HERE.

2. Goblets
I have a small collection of Weller Pottery’s Woodland Series that I completely adore for it’s fairytale quality and beautiful colour.
Wouldn’t these goblets be the perfect addition?
Perhaps for a glass of mead?
I love these.
You can find them HERE.


3. Gloves
When cold weather falls down from the sky I head straight for my glove drawer with a smile on my face.
Velvet gloves, fair isle gloves.
Knitted, leather, cashmere.
I can never have too many.
I recently found these and am besotted.
Find them HERE.

4. Learning Something New
When I saw this recent photograph of Emma Watson on her first day at Oxford, it echoed the feeling that always seems to find me every fall. The craving to learn something new. Perhaps it’s a holdover from my own school days, but whenever shiny notebooks and pens show up in the stores and the mornings turn crisp and cool, my brain wakes up from its summer holiday and starts to look around for a challenge.
A couple of autumns ago, I learned to knit.
And last year, I attempted a mastery of Scottish Gaelic, which, I am ashamed to admit, I was completely ill-suited to learn. I would get into the car, pop in my CD of Learn Scottish Gaelic The Easy Way and commence my lesson, only to become tongue-tied and confounded before I’d backed out of the driveway. (Any advice, Angus?)
This year, I’m busy writing something. Believe me, that has my full attention and is exercising my brain thoroughly. Although, I’m also planning to bake my very first plum pudding. Does anyone have a good recipe? I’m considering Delia Smith’s, but do I really have to use suet?
Advice from those who’ve made one is heartily appreciated.
And what about you?
Are you learning something new this autumn?


5. Beautiful Shawls
.....and A Giveaway!

Anyone who knows me knows I’m often swaddled in shawls in cold weather. Love them with a passion. Some of my favourites, like the one above, can be found on the wonderful web store, Novica. I’ve featured Novica before - it’s a company I love, both for it’s amazing selection and for it’s fair trade practices.
They recently contacted me and offered to award one of my readers with a gift code of $50 to use any way you like. You may like the shawls, like me, or the jewelry, or a new hat, or.....!
What a treat!
Get an early start on your holiday shopping, or give yourself a special present, your choice.
I often find myself getting lost in Novica’s accessories, either for women, or for men.
And they have recently started a program for in home group shopping parties.
Like the Tupperware parties of old!
You can find out more HERE.
And for a chance to win the $50 gift code, just leave a comment on this post.
Edward and I will hold the drawing on Friday the 12th at midnight.
Good Luck All!


6. Bottle Stoppers
All these holiday parties and dinners mean lots of hostess gifts. Personally speaking, I love it when guests arrive bearing flowers, even though it’s often not recommended due to the supposition that it takes too much time to find a vase, and often the flowers have already been done and your gift may clash with the theme of the evening. Bah, I say. As a hostess, I always have time to grab a vase, and one can never have too many flowers in my estimation. But... here’s a great alternative idea for a hostess gift, or any gift for that matter. These bottle stoppers from Pottery Barn are gorgeous, inexpensive, and come in several gorgeous designs. See them all HERE.

I love decorative bottle stoppers myself, and use a special one atop a cut glass bottle of emerald green dish soap by my kitchen sink.
Isn't she wonderful?


7. Taking the Dog Along
The one drawback of our recent trip to Maine was, of course, that Edward and Apple had to stay behind. We are so fortunate to have a lovely and trusted dog sitter that moves in when we move out. Both dogs adore her and we can leave without worrying about their safety. Apple, having terrier blood in her furry veins, rolls with the punches with glee. But I know Edward pouts, and I hate, hate, to leave him. We often arrange our trips to include the dogs. They’ve come along with us on holidays to the beach and the mountains and we’ve all had so much fun. When I saw this pet travel case, I flipped.
What a brilliant way to repurpose old luggage.
There is space for the food underneath the bowls.
Completely ingenious!
Find it HERE.


8. Sylvia
The Songwriter insists on calling the GPS lady who lives in our iPhone by her official name of Karen. However, she sounds nothing at all like a Karen to me so I call her Sylvia. Sylvia sounds more obdurate and imperious than Karen and just seems to suit this cool voiced directional know-it-all a bit better. I might manage to convince a Karen to listen to me if I really and truly thought she was leading me down a wrong path. A Sylvia would pay me no mind.
Based on her voice, I imagine her bearing more than a passing resemblance to Agnes Moorehead. I often think of her, grumpily throwing down her magazine, or climbing out of a bubble bath, whenever we call her for assistance.
Honestly. Can’t those two go anywhere by themselves?”
I confess, I was a total snob about using a GPS. “We’ve managed perfectly fine for years without one”, I haughtily said. “It’s just a toy”.
And then we went to Maine.
We picked up a rental car in Boston so we could dilly-dally through the fall colour of Massachusetts and New Hampshire as we followed the smell of the sea up to Maine.
But darkness fell before we made it up to our friend’s house. Pitch-darkness. Really, really dark. Our friends live by a lake in the deep woods and it was so dark we couldn’t even see street signs, if there were street signs, so The Songwriter thought it prudent to pull Sylvia away from whatever it was she was doing.
And sure enough, she began telling us to “turn left in 30 feet”.... “continue on for 1.4 miles”.... etc.
If we happened to let the phone slip down in the seat, she would discipline us with a sharp, “Please place your iPhone where it can receive a clear satellite signal”.
It was easy to imagine her icy visage as we hurriedly put the phone on the dashboard.

At her insistence, we drove down winding lanes, far, far off the beaten path. I was utterly convinced she was delusional or, even worse, out to get us good, as we sat staring into the forest at a long, long, fir lined path.
You have arrived at your destination”, she said, smugly.

Imagine the above picture in total darkness.
She’s having us on”, I told The Songwriter.
“She’s never liked me since I changed her name.”
But I shall never doubt her again, for after bumping along this lane for a while we did indeed arrive at the correct door. Amazing. How does she do it?
Sylvia and I have now become friends.
If you have yet to meet her, you should.

By the way, I had an aunt who was the mirror image of Agnes Moorehead.
And I'm not joking.


9. The Secret
Since my engagement anniversary post of a few weeks ago, I’ve had a few people ask me for the “secret” to a happy marriage. Lord, I couldn’t answer that if I tried. I know there are those who say a good marriage is “hard work”, but to me it’s just the opposite. I can’t imagine laboring over my marriage - isn’t that the one place we should be able to relax and just be ourselves?
Oh, I have no advice to give.
Humour, trust, friendship - all those are in there, I know.
When I saw this photograph of Paul and Joanne, I thought to myself... there it is!
All the secrets to a happy marriage are right there in that picture.

Happy November,
And don't forget to enter the giveaway!


Congratulations to Deniz Bevan!
The winner of the Novica gift code!

Sunday, November 6, 2011

On The Path To Wow

On the Path to Wow

Leaving the post office after mailing a few Halloween cards, I turned into the roundabout that clasps our city center and spied him. Sitting on a small hill to the right of the library, his goatee twitching as he focused his gaze like a spotlight on the four tall cryptomeria trees that stand sentinel around the town fountain. Bert. The worker bee responsible for the design and execution of our city’s annual metamorphosis out of the ordinary world and into a wonderland of fairy lights, candy canes and Christmas trees. Glancing over my shoulder I could now easily see the two city trucks, full of ladders and lights, sitting on ready to begin the festive work.
Christmas Lights? Really? Well, I suppose, considering that it takes them several weeks to complete this task, and taking into account that the lights will be switched on in less that 30 days.... no doubt this is taking place precisely on schedule.

It seemed that everywhere I went that day people were shaking their heads at the speed in which the calendar pages were turning.
I can’t believe it’s almost November”, said the lady at the cleaners as she handed me my favourite black blazer, the jam stain now removed from its cuff.
Where did the summer go?”, asked the grey-haired gentleman who pushed his cart alongside mine as we both stocked up on Halloween candy.
Where indeed?

Later that afternoon, Edward and I were strolling along on our afternoon walk, our pathway strewn with the fallen scarlet maple leaves of autumn. I thought back to this same pathway in April, when the first hopeful tulips stood, new-baby pink and arrow straight, in garden after garden. I remembered our twilight walks of July, when the heady fragrance of honeysuckle and rose seemed virtually woven into the heavy humid air. I recalled our bundled up rambles in January when the colours of the day were charcoal and silver and our breath turned to fog right before us.
Cliche as it sounds, it seemed like only yesterday.

As I followed along behind Edward, I considered the now disappearing year, and it occurred to me, once again, that the natural world gives all we need to know about life - its calendar blending seamlessly with the seasons of our own existence - from carefree springtime to contemplative fall. We are all on a pathway of sorts, one often so crowded and noisy we sometimes find it hard to see all the wonders we are passing by.
There are those who hold their faces up to the sun, their ears tuned to bird song, their eyes trained for beauty.
There are those who rush along, forever looking down.
Uphill. Downhill.
There are times when we all walk alone.
Some of us can only see miles and miles of colour stretching out endlessly before us like a napping rainbow - the grass greens of May, the golds of September. Some of us - squinting perhaps, our hand over our disbelieving eyes to see a bit better in the light of the sun - can almost spot the point where the pathway might end.

Like most of the world, I was sorry to see the departure of the visionary, Steve Jobs. His remarkable journey ended far too soon. Tears pricked my eyes when I read of his last words. Looking past his family, into the space behind them, he was heard to say,
Oh wow. Oh wow. Oh wow”.
No matter where we are in the journey, be it winter or spring, those are the words I believe we all will be saying when our pathway runs out. And from Halloween candy to Christmas lights, I mean to enjoy the ride.
Wishing you all a most happy November!

The secret of life is enjoying the passage of time
Any fool can do it
There ain't nothing to it.
Nobody knows how we got to
The top of the hill
But since we're on our way down
Might as well enjoy the ride

Isn't it a lovely ride
Sliding down
Gliding down
Try not to try too hard
It's just a lovely ride

James Taylor