Monday, June 25, 2012

Advanced Style

Advanced Style

There are some  mornings when I awake with a bounce usually reserved for eight year olds.  My energy level is high as the clouds and the mirror is my friend, throwing back to me a reflection of bright eyes and happy outlook.  Then there are mornings when I crawl from my sheets with all the rapidity of an aged sloth.  I stare into the bathroom mirror and see a vision of myself that is less than all I would wish for.  My minds tries to name the person gazing prophetically back at me.  Margaret Rutherford?  Hermione Gingold?  Quentin Crisp? I splash cold water on my face.  I bend over and touch my toes.  But when I look back in the glass, there she still is, the foreshadowing of my future self.  How much longer do I have before Edward and I more accurately resemble the painting above instead of the photograph in the right corner?
What me?  Getting older? 
 Surely not.
Whilst I certainly do not consider myself old, one has to face facts.  I am no longer, shall we say, young.  It’s an odd place to be.  Rather like that time of transition from girl to woman when we weren’t quite sure how our appearances would shake out.  Our legs were too long for the rest of our bodies.  Our eyes were too big for our faces.  And then, like magic, the butterfly broke free of the chrysalis and everything coalesced into our own individual version of womanhood, a version we have retained, and relied upon, for years.  Not perfect perhaps, but pleasantly steady, for barring any poison ivy rash or bee sting, we pretty much knew what to expect when we looked in the mirror.
But now, just as we did in our early teen years, we are beginning to change.  Anyone over forty must feel it, surely.  A wee bit of ... um, slippage, here.  A few laugh lines there. And just like those early years, we still don’t know what this new version of ourselves will look like when this old age puberty is finally complete.  We spread out old photographs of grandmothers and aunts like tarot cards in a feeble attempt to divine the inevitable.  We become inordinately fond of older actresses who’ve managed the transition with grace, cherishing that now famous photo of a sixty-three year old Helen Mirren in her red bikini on an Italian beach.  We have been heard recently to remark how “amazing” Queen Elizabeth looks these days.  For myself, I can only hope there doesn’t come a morning when Dame Edna takes up permanent residence in my bathroom mirror.  But who knows?  I’m not quite there yet, so the jury’s still out.  
When viewed as a whole, the picture of old age style available to us when we were little girls was fairly bleak.  Times were different then.  Still considered a bit suspect, individuality was rarely celebrated.  The sartorial style of our schoolteachers was fairly uniform and succeeded chiefly in making them seem older than they actually were.  They fell pretty neatly into two or three categories. There were the matronly ones, formidable women poured into brooch-pinned shirtwaist dresses severely indented in the middle by thin leather belts.  The girdles these women wore were so effective they rendered their poor bodies as firm as car seats.  You could bounce quarters off their tummies, though I hasten to add I never tried.  On the other end of the spectrum sat the teachers who always reminded me of birds.  Tiny and timid, with pale pinched faces devoid of any type of make-up save a bit of red lipstick that was faded and smeared before noon, they seemed to always be waiting for a disaster of some sort or other and we were generally all too happy to oblige them.   Needless to say, if and when we girls gave any thought at all to what we might look like as older women, we looked around, we swallowed hard. 
Thankfully, mercifully, things have changed, and if you don’t believe me you have only to crack open the new book by Ari Seth Cohen, Advanced Style.  Mr. Cohen apparently got the idea for this book, and his delightful blog of the same name, from observing the enviable style of his own grandmother and within these glossy pages, he has captured the beauty, wit and individuality that can come with old age.  The women were all captured on the streets of New York City and they stroll through these pages with style in abundance.  It’s obvious each of them embraced her uniqueness a long time ago.  Advanced Style is fun to flip through and choose which of these ladies to hold up as a favourite example for your own future.  Fun, and difficult, for there is not a Dame Edna amongst them, I’m happy to say.
And personally speaking, I’m pretty envious of that outfit on page 84.....

Find the book HERE

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Wildly Blessed

Wildly Blessed

The comments my readers leave here at The House of Edward are always a treat for me and I read each one with relish.  They are thought-provoking, unusually kind and much appreciated.  One such comment recently gave me pause and I have thought of it often during this past week.  The commenter said I was “wildly blessed”.   How I loved that.  So often when we think of “blessings” we see softness, quietness, bowed heads and piety. But to be wildly blessed feels different to me, calling up images of laughter, crashing waves and barking dogs - wind in my hair, walks through the forest, runs on the beach.   And yes, that is indeed what my life so often feels like, Wildly Blessed.
I have always backed off a wee bit from calling myself “blessed”, for if God blesses me, are those undergoing the trials and tribulations of life to assume he has turned his back on them?  I cannot accept that image of God as someone who picks and chooses whom to bless, willy-nilly.  Rather than pray for God’s blessings on me, I pray I can help to bless others.  That seems to make much more sense and it certainly serves to take my mind of myself, which is always beneficial.  If I have been blessed with anything, it is the valuable gift of recognition.  Given the fact that we all seem to find what we look for, I always choose to see the beautiful whenever I possibly can.  I notice the little things, for that’s where the truest, and wildest, blessings can be found.
Today The Songwriter is out of town for a concert in Virginia and I am home alone with Edward and Apple.  The windows are open and sunlight is pouring in, riding on a breeze that lifts the fragrance of the gardenias sitting on my bedside table and carries it gently through the house.  I have fresh strawberries and melon in the refrigerator for lunch.  New yarn arrived in the mail all the way from Colorado - a delicious chartreuse colour from an English longwool sheep that will soon be turned into mittens for Christmas presents.  Lazy Hawaiian music is floating through the rooms.  I plan to write during the afternoon and later, when the sun starts to dip into evening, I’ll walk out into the garden and pick armfuls of blue and white hydrangeas.  A jasmine scented bath will follow a dinner of fresh vegetables and I’ll read a bit before bed.   Now some would look upon this day as boring beyond belief.  It feels like twelve hours of wild blessings to me.
There are those today who say that God wants everyone to be successful and wealthy. Sermons are preached on it, books written about it. Personally I have a difficult time being told what "God wants" by anyone, but that’s another issue I suppose.  I will say that the most unhappy people I’ve encountered in my life are those who want more or, even worse, those who think they are entitled to more - always grasping, rarely satisfied.  Not rich enough, not pretty enough, not there yet.  I have no doubt there are wild blessings all around them yet they cannot seem to notice.  
 I love to watch Apple hang her head out the car window as we zip along down the road.  Her tail wags with enthusiasm as her big ears fly out behind her like furry banners. She is the personification of glee.  If Apple could speak, I have no doubt she’d call herself wildly blessed.  And the look on Edward’s face at the end of the day when he jumps up on the bed to lay his big head on my tummy while I read.  He gives a big sigh and I swear he goes to sleep with a smile on his face.  Wildly blessed?  He’d say so.  

Take a look around you and count the wild blessings you see right in front of your nose.   
I’ll give you a hint.... they’re found in the little things.
“May your prayer of listening deepen enough
to hear in the depths the laughter of God.”

From the marvelous book, 
To Bless the Space Between Us
 by John O’Donohue
Find it HERE

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

The Adventures of Apple

The Adventures of Apple

Although they look enough alike to be frequently mistaken for brother and sister, Edward and Apple are not related and are, in fact, quite different.  Edward’s tail curls up over his back and wags like a spinning top.  Apple’s tail is feathery, not unlike the tail of a Briard, a bit of which we suspect might be included in the potpourri of her lineage.  It gracefully swoops out behind her and she wags it theatrically, like a parade flag.  At dinnertime, Edward stretches out to wait on the kitchen floor, dignified and calm, while Apple sits directly beside the stove, as close to me as possible, following my every move with barely contained joy and behaving for all the world as though she hasn’t eaten in weeks. Edward saunters along by my side on walks, frequently stopping to sniff a flower or consider a vista.  From the moment we step out the door Apple tugs on her lead like a fireman en route to a fire.

Whenever we are out for a drive, Edward sits in the backseat like a gentleman, only occasionally putting his nose close to the edge of the window to investigate the scents flying past.  Apple hangs out the other side as far as she can, convinced, I am sure, that she’s flying. In the mornings, Apple follows The Songwriter out to the studio to spend the day on his screened porch under the ceiling fan.  Edward stays with me.

Apple hides behind Edward if something truly frightens her and she’ll always step back to let him enter or leave the house first in a display of canine deference that never fails to make me smile.  And while the two of them are less than thrilled that the evolutionary process has granted passage to both the chipmunk and the squirrel, only Apple finds this fact unbearable enough to follow these creatures to the ends of the earth in her efforts to eradicate them from the planet. 
  To this end,  Apple can sometimes be found frozen over a chipmunk hole in the garden with her furry head completely underground, looking for all the world as though she’s been cleanly decapitated in the midst of a hydrangea bush.  You may stand right above her and call her name as loudly as you might, she’ll never respond.  In fact, her focus is such, I doubt she even hears you.  The Songwriter has learned not to waste his breath in the trying; he simply pulls her out - her head making a vacuum popping sound as it dislodges - and carries her inside, a rather heroic feat, for she is not a small dog.  Needless to say, she gets more baths than Edward, who usually regards her exploits with bemusement.
For the past several nights we have suspected an unusual creature might have added our back garden to his midnight ramble route, for Apple has been more and more difficult to round up at bedtime.  Both she and Edward usually go out for awhile before bed and both generally come back in after a few minutes, pushing open the back door with a paw and heading straight for their beds.  Last evening, however, this well-worn routine veered off course with a bang. 

While turning back the bed and drawing the curtains, I heard the back door fly open with a crash.  Looking up, I saw Edward running down the hall, taking the stair into the bedroom with a leap and stopping, out of breath and furrowed of brow, to sit at my feet.  I could feel his frustration over his lack of language; it was palpable.  But he didn’t need speech.  I could easily imagine the conversation that had just taken place in the far back garden, under a hemlock tree to be precise.  
Edward:  “Sister, leave that thing alone! 
 He’s too big for you and he’s dangerous besides.  
Don’t you hear him hissing?
Apple:  nothing
Edward:  “I mean it, Sister.  If you don’t leave it alone and come back inside with me right this minute, I’m gonna tell!”
Apple:  nothing
Edward:  “Here I go!  Last chance, Sister!  Okay? 
 Okay.  I’m gonna go tell!”
It wasn’t hard to ascertain the meaning of Edward’s breathless stare, particularly as he’d come in without her, so The Songwriter grabbed a light and headed out to find the indefatigable Apple.  Sure enough, exactly as Edward was attempting to explain, she had indeed bitten off a bit more than was advisable, as she had a rather large, rather upset, opossum cornered just this side of the fence.  The creature, never the most attractive member of the marsupial family, was bare-toothed and hissing like a cobra.  Edward and I sat side by side in the bedroom windowseat - his heart beating fast and me silently wondering how difficult it would be to reach our vet after midnight - as we waited to see what would happen next. 
 Soon, through the shadows of the poplar trees, we could just make out the figure of The Songwriter coming down the stone pathway.  He had a huge mass of black dog slung over his shoulder and although he, too, was out of breath, unlike Edward, his power of speech was working most efficiently. 

Apple will be taking her midnight ramble with supervision from now on.
Oh and yes, she is fine.

Monday, June 11, 2012

American Food

American Food

I was dreaming of a city street in the rain.  Snug under a big, black umbrella, I made my way along the wet pavement, en route to an unknown destination when all of a sudden the buildings on either side of me began to melt like hot fudge - roof lines slipping, windows sliding - and an enticing aroma started to seep into my senses.  Unrecognizable at first... too rich to be flowers, too savory to be cake... Ah, fresh coffee.  Breakfast.  My favourite meal of the day.
I crawled out of bed and made my way to the kitchen table where I sat down before a gloriously yellow gathering of scrambled eggs provided by a brood of winsome ladies named Charlotte, Flannery, Guinevere and Dooley.  No, I haven’t employed a quartet of cooks.  These ladies are the chickens of a good friend of mine, a friend kind enough to bestow on me a carton of homegrown eggs.  And oh, my soul... one can tell the difference at first forkful.
Although chickens are probably out of the question here at The House of Edward, due to the fact that both Edward and Apple have decidedly negative opinions on a flock being installed in our back garden, I can, after two years of growing my own vegetables in our city’s community garden, wholeheartedly attest that fresh is best.  There is simply nothing better that taking a basket into my garden and picking dinner.  Beans and zucchini, okra and peas, cucumbers, tomatoes and corn.  Cooking these treats while they are still warm from the sun is a delight unmatched in my culinary experience.  
I suppose I’m fortunate, for I have always craved healthy food.  My favourite snack is a big bowl of cucumbers, raw carrots and celery.  I know, I know... it’s downright weird.  But after years of eating this way, I can tell a distinct difference when I diverge from habit.  A big stack of pancakes might be tempting but, as I know from experience, if I scarf them down in the morning, I’ll feel like a gloomy hippo in the afternoon.  The modern day diet is a strange one.  From reading food labels I have learned that a lot of prepackaged food doesn’t really have any “food” in it at all.  Ever read a Cheetos label?
Here in the states we are in the midst of a food debate.  The Mayor of New York City recently proposed a ban on 16oz sugary sodas and, while I’m not sure that can be legally enforced, which he probably knew all along, at least he has raised awareness about the issue.  One in three people here are overweight or obese.  One in three.  That’s, pardon the pun, a huge problem.  Type II diabetes, an awful disease, is running rampant.  Once known primarily as adult-onset diabetes, statistics are showing its rise amongst American children to be alarming.  Only two percent of high schools still have daily physical education classes, so we don’t move around like we used to either.  Our first lady, Michelle Obama, has gently tackled this issue and is leading by example.  Two months after moving into The White House, she enlisted a group of school children to help her plant a vegetable garden on the South Lawn.  The largest vegetable garden that famous house has ever seen, it now provides fifty-five varieties of vegetables for the White House kitchen as well as a large hive of bees for pollination and honey. 
 Mrs. Obama has been vocal in encouraging us not only to recognize the connection between what we eat and how we feel, but how important our activity level is to our overall well being.   It is a noble and worthy effort, but of course, as had been the case since President Obama took office, those in the opposition can let no good deed go unpunished.  Writing about Mrs. Obama’s garden on the rather ironically named website, “American Thinker”, conservative Betsy Galliher declared that “gardening is the brainchild of the liberal elites” and “a cover for the food oppression narrative required for wealth distribution.”  And of course, the incessantly farcical Sarah Palin weighed in, accusing Mrs. Obama of an attempt to strip us of our “God-given right” to eat the way we want to.  The nadir of these criticisms had to have been when some in the conservative press suggested that Mrs. Obama was endangering people, blaming an increase in pedestrian deaths on her encouragement for us all to walk more.  These criticisms would be laughable if they were not so sad.
For myself, I am proud of Mrs. Obama and happily applaud her efforts.  This week she published a new book on American gardens, the White House one included.  I am buying my copy today to read of others in this country, just like me, who enter their vegetable gardens each evening wondering what’s for dinner.  All the profits from this beautiful book are going to our National Parks.  
What could be bad about that?
I’m sure there are those already hard at work on that one.   

See the book HERE.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

The Southern Jubilee

The Southern Jubilee 

It mattered not that the tea shoppe ran out of scones well before half past noon and, though disappointed, the enthusiasm of the crowd remained high when the last fish and chips dinner disappeared not long after.  The insurmountable challenge of our geographical distance from authenticity was not once mentioned.  We came to celebrate and for one bright, sunny, and blessedly cool afternoon we were all British, and happy to be so.
The grounds of the picturesque old college teemed with attendees in extravagant hats and costumes.  Bentleys and Rolls were parked curbside and The Beatles were blasted from speakers.  It was an event best enjoyed by giving humour free reign while at the same time keeping one’s sense of irony firmly in check, a feat difficult to master when Southern drawls could be heard emanating from kilt-wearing souvenir hawkers and meat pie sellers alike.  The Commonwealth was well represented by Indian dancers in colourful saris and Tonganese twirlers in grass skirts and bone necklaces.  There was an egg and spoon race, as well as a three-legged one and the announcer sounded suspiciously like Jonathan Ross.  A cricket match was played in the stone seated arena after which versions of the same sentence were uttered over and over like a mantra, ...
 “I simply cannot understand that game!”. 
 But at least we tried.
The Welsh tent had the friendliest workers.  The Scots had bagpipers.
The Indians gave us free mango juice.
The Irish had the best tea towels.
And at two o’clock on the dot we all lined up, some fighting back giggles, as a polished black car rolled up to deposit “the Queen”, a most surreal sight to be sure. We watched in amazement as an elderly lady in an embroidered gold dress negotiated her way down the grassy hill between two rows of pipers lustily playing Scotland The Brave.  To the discerning eye, the look on her face revealed she had been vigorously talked into this, but she managed a frozen smile and an unpracticed wave as she passed.  In her wake came several lovely ladies in princess dresses as well as, quite inexplicably, two tall creatures in microscopic blue skirts who were immediately dubbed, The Bond Girls.  A mother was overheard leaning down to her little boy and saying, “Look!  There’s the Queen!”, at which point the father sputtered and said, “For God’s sake, don’t tell him that!!  He’ll grow up thinking he actually saw The Queen!”.  
Like I said, surreal.
I am sorry to report that we left before this Southern version of Her Majesty made it all the way down the promenade to her throne, but as I was told it consisted of nothing more than a red folding chair and a couple of ferns, I don’t think we missed too much.
True, it was an event that enabled even those devoid of wit to conjure a bon mot or two.  It was silly, perhaps, in the extreme.  But in its own way, it was also a celebration of a marvelous sixty year reign- a day full of good will, a day with more than its fair share of smiles and, despite ourselves, we rather enjoyed it.
God Save The Queen.
Both of them.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

June! A List to Celebrate

I still remember it.  The feeling of the last day of school.  Three whole months stretching out before me like a yellow brick road, disappearing in the rosy haze of a summer sun.  How much longer those three months seemed back then.  
Now that I’m an adult, well sort of, I can see serious September sitting at the end of the summer pathway.  I know she travels faster than she did when I was small.  She'll be here before I know it.
But still.    There is just something about the closing of those school doors and the first morning in the month of June.  Don’t you feel it, too?  A certain freedom, a collective sigh?  I say goodbye to boots and wiggle my bare toes in hot sand.  My hair goes up and my heart rate goes down.  Food is from the garden and so are the flowers that fill each room - gardenias, hydrangeas and roses.  Even the music that dances through the house changes as I listen to Astrid Gilberto and Erik Satie.  
I still see summer as a holiday and try to celebrate it as such.
Here are ten favourite things for the start of this particular three month holiday.
I hope you enjoy them!
Happy June to you all!

1. Summer Bag
I have tried, I really have, to carry a small handbag.  
There was a certain Calvin Klein clutch that I found especially appealing and almost bought one afternoon at Bloomingdales.  Before I did, however, I took out the absolute essentials from the bag on my arm to see if they would, possibly, fit in this new one.  Well.  Even the saleslady laughed. 
 No, I need a big bag, especially in summer when sunscreen, water and, occasionally, a hat are added to my usual items. 
 I always have a book.  Usually have my knitting. 
 Dog biscuits.  Lipstick.  Writing notebook.  Fan.
No, this is the bag I need.!
I love this one.
In green, please!
Find it HERE.
2. Summer Sandals
Ever girl needs a pair, don’t you think?
No matter how little she is.
Aren’t these baby girl sandals the cutest things ever?
Find them HERE.

3. Summer Sunglasses
Jacqueline Kennedy had the right idea.  
Big sunglasses are fabulous.
I’m never without my huge black pair.
But when I saw these new ones from Liberty, I fell in love.
Find them HERE.

4. Summer Hideaway
When my neighbours decided to renovate their hundred year old home, they gave their imaginative daughter the attic as her bedroom.  Sloped ceilinged and full of delightful little nooks and crannies, it was a child’s dream.  But the piece de resistance was the secret room they installed behind the built-in bookcases.  I would have been over the moon with one of those when I was little. 
 Didn’t we all love hideaways and huts, secret rooms and tents?
  Spaces just big enough for us, spaces to dream our dreams and think our big thoughts, all by ourselves? 
How about this one for your little dreamer?
Isn’t it sublime?
Find it HERE.

5. Summer Houses
Who doesn’t dream of a beach house in summer? 
For myself, it would have to be old, and have to be small. 
 With weathered floors and wide porches - large windows to catch the sea breeze.
  There would be wind chimes hanging from the eaves and exuberant roses climbing up over the roof. 
 Until I find a place just like that, this book satisfies my beach house desires just fine.
It’s lovely.
Find it HERE.

 6. Summer Rugs
Of course on the floor of every beach house, there needs to be the perfect rug.
I am crazy about these.
Handmade, and made to order if you choose, these come in a rainbow of colours.
This beachy grey one is my favourite, though.
Find it HERE.

7.  Summer Music
With the windows open and the house scented with vases of white gardenias, the music just has to compliment the setting.
  Appropriately enough, just in time for summer nights, the wonderful artist Melody Gardot, pictured above,  has just released her latest CD.  
Such a summertime sound. 
 I am also listening to the delightful soundtracks of The Descendants and The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel.
  One takes me to the islands, the other to India.  
All are perfect for summer.
Find Melody Gardot HERE.
The Descendants HERE
The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel HERE.

8.  Summer Jubilee
I cannot mention June without bestowing a curtsy on Queen Elizabeth II.
Sixty years on the throne, but a lifetime of dignity and grace. 
 Britain is so fortunate to have her. 
 Truly a remarkable life.
Long may she reign.
How I’d love to be in London this week!
9.  Summer Jubilee Shoes
And if I was in London this week....
I’d be wearing these!
Find Them HERE.

10. Summer Book
Ever since childhood, summer has meant reading for me.  I’d head to our city’s main library, a huge old stone building with dark mahogany floors and long corridors full of magical books, and leave with my arms full.
Not much has changed. 
 I still visit the library in summer and find treasures galore.  
My latest favorite is The Uninvited Guests by Sadie Jones.
At first bite, The Uninvited Guests is a sweet little bonbon of a book and one that is tailor made for reading outdoors in a garden.  Nibble a bit further, however, and one encounters the spicy taste of mystery and a hint of the macabre.  Set in England during the infant years of the 20th century, not unlike our beloved Downton Abbey, The Uninvited Guests contains characters with perfectly scrumptious names like Emerald and Patience, Clovis and Smudge.  There is a capacious old house full of paisley carpets, unreliable settees and vases upon vases of hyacinths, roses and lilies.  There is a recalcitrant cook.  There is a pony.  And yes, hence the title, there are some decidedly uninvited guests who manage to arrive at a most inopportune time, right before a birthday dinner, and who happen to be much more, and much less, than they seem.  
A delightful book, perfect for summer.
Find it HERE.

Top photo via Pinterest