Wednesday, June 26, 2013

What We See... A List For Summer

What We See....
 a List for Summer

The wonderful British writer, John Lubbock, once said that “what we see depends mainly on what we look for”.  A brilliant observation and one that, if taken to heart, can ease someone's journey through life by illuminating all that is splendid and good along the way.  It is indeed my experience that if I set out each morning expecting to discover beauty, navigating each bend in the road with my eye out for the delightful, well, that’s generally what I find.  Indeed, these expected surprises are, as is the title of one of Mr. Lubbock’s more well-known works, The Pleasures of Life.  

This particular summer is proving to be a glowing example of this approach to life for it seems that everywhere I turn lately, I am finding serendipitous joy.  The flowers in my garden have never been so lush, the vegetables are growing as though bewitched.  There are bluebirds that dip and dive in front of me as I stroll through each morning making me feel a bit like Snow White.  The normally hot humid summer of the South has ceded control to a much more temperate cousin who is blessing us with breezy, gardenia-scented afternoons perfect for open windows and the occasional nap.  The sunlight slides through the windows like honey.  Even Edward, generally a melancholy critic of summer weather, is blissful. 

So, it is time for a list of summer things.  
Seven small delights that have captured my imagination lately.
  I hope you enjoy them.
As usual, there are links included for your further exploration.  Have fun!

1. Wings

Artist Susan Hannon creates the feathers for these magnificent wing sculptures
 from the pages of old abandoned Bibles.
  They take my breath away.
See more HERE

2. Tents

Confession:  I’m not much of a camper.
  Maybe I’ve never given it a chance,
 or maybe I’m too addicted to hot baths and too leery of bugs.
  But this tent could, just possibly, change my mind. 
Isn’t it amazing?
Find it HERE 

 3. Pillows

Even though these days, I only lazily wade through the shallow end of design, I do still take on a client or two and therefore I occasionally come across incredibly beautiful things - things I cannot resist, things I like to share.  Recently I discovered a new source for perfectly exquisite pillows made from antique rugs and, no, I could not pass them up.  I even picked up a few to make available in my etsy shoppe.  They have wonderful colour, delicious texture and are blessed with a reasonable price point as well.  
Come take a look.
There are only a few available now, but maybe more later.
(Update:... Only two left!)
Find them HERE

4. Goats

In spite of the hurly burly, speedster pace of modern life... or perhaps because of it... a delightful change seems to be taking place.  More and more people, in unexpected corners of unexpected cities, are returning to a handmade life.  More families are cooking and baking.  More people are growing their own food.  Knitting classes are overflowing.  I have several friends who keep their own chickens and, as a grateful recipient of just laid eggs, I can tell you this is a very good thing indeed.
  One of my more irresistible neighbours has just added to her urban farm by four.
  Four miniature goats by the name of Oscar, Otis, Elmer and Gwynnie Dulcinea.
  They arrived looking eerily similar to tiny, hooved puppies and have now grown into the cutest creatures one could possibly imagine and will soon be helping out in the cheese and soap department of the farm.  
I spent an afternoon with them recently and fell utterly in love.  
Sadly, after a talk with Edward and Apple,
 my idea of adding them to our own household was firmly voted down.
But you can read more about getting some of your own HERE.

5. Bracelets

The Victoria and Albert Museum is a must see whenever one is in London. 
 This in inarguable.  
But I’ll let you in on a little secret.  The gift shop there is to die for.
  The jewelry alone is swoon-worthy. 
 This last trip saw me leaving with three new bracelets in my bag. 
 I have a difficult time resisting bracelets.  I love them. 
I love the way they feel on my arm, the noise they make when they bump into each other.  
This is the one I’ve been wearing most this summer.
I found it at Anthropologie and
 no one can believe how inexpensive it was, so I decided to show you all and prove it.  
I’ve got the white one, but the blue or the yellow look equally tempting.
Find it HERE.

6. Paper Criminals

Patty Grazini creates whimsical, achingly imaginative, art out of paper.
Her creativity is inspiring.
The lady shown here is one in her series of New York Criminals,
 featured in the New York Times between the years of 1885 and 1915.  
This happens to be Mary Largo, Queen of the Beggar’s Society who was arrested for graft.  
I thought you might enjoy this video of Ms. Grazini speaking about her marvelous work...HERE

7. Photographs

Large and unwieldy, it had always sat in my parent’s closet.  
We’d occasionally take it down and look through it, but hadn’t done so in years.
The big box of family photographs was legend in our family and naturally, it was the first thing 
I removed from the house in preparation for the estate sale last month.  
When I finally saw my way clear to go through it all, what treasures I found.
  Ancient pictures, wrinkled and creased, that we managed to restore to original luster
(like the one of my Father and me above).
Old negatives, never before seen, that, through the magic of a scanner, were released from their spell of silence. 
 Unable to once again imprison these back in the box where they’d lain for so many decades, I decided to create a new gallery of sorts in the hallway leading to our bedroom.  We set about finding equally memorable photos from The Songwriter’s family and framed them all.  It’s such a treat for us both to see these lovely faces smiling up at us each day, reminding us, sweetly, of the arc of life.

Surely there are some old photos you’d like to frame for your own gallery.
I encourage you to do so!

That’s all for now, but stay tuned for a Summer Reading List
as well as The Best of London.
So much fun!

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

The Lure of British Books

The Lure of British Books

Barring one rather over-enthusiastic pat down at Boston’s Logan airport last year, I have never had an incident going through the security line before flying.  I take off my shoes.  I open my laptop. I make certain not to wear any jewelry that will anger the bells and whistles and, usually, everything is fine.  But leaving Heathrow a couple of weeks ago proved a mark on my previously unblemished record.  The problem?  Books.  My suitcase, which I always carry on to avoid those irritating lines at baggage claim, was incredibly heavier than it looked.  The security fellow lifted it up and his expression changed from helpful to suspicious in a twinkling.
“It’s books”, I admitted, feeling unpleasantly conspicuous.
“Really?  A walking book mobile, are you?”, he replied, narrowing his eyes.
  In an instant I was being moved to one side where I watched in abject horror as he opened my case and began the hideous process of going through every item inside. Incredibly relieved that I’d patronized bookshops instead of Agent Provoctateur, I stared as he lifted the contents of my case up in the air, one by one, till he reached the double layer of hardbacks, neatly arranged beneath the pajamas and pashminas.  He looked up in amazement and I swallowed a strong urge to say I told you so.  He opened each book, rifling the pages.  People were staring.  The Songwriter was shaking his head.  An elderly lady standing next to me exploded in outrage on my behalf shouting, “Look at her!  Do you honestly think this is necessary?  Fascism!  That’s what this is!  Fascism!”  I smiled weakly and quickly sidled away from her so as not to make matters worse for myself by association.
But really, what is one to do?  Is there any city in the whole of the world with more enticing bookshops than London?  John Sandoe’s.  Hatchard’sDauntPersephone.  Not to mention the literary treasures to be found in every single National Trust Gift Shop and art gallery in the land.  For anyone to expect a reader to leave Heathrow airport after ten days in the UK without books in their suitcase is ludicrous.  Of course, I did have fifteen in there.  But, well... you know.
Here are some of my recent finds.
 Resist them if you can.
(Just click on the photos to see more.)

Plus, from the wonderland known as Persephone Books,
I picked up this one and couldn't say no to this one.
Or this one.
Or this one.  Or this.

Caught in the act in Kent.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Keep Always

Keep Always
It wasn’t until about ten years ago that I realized my parents weren’t going to be around forever.  Oh, I’d been aware of that fact intellectually, of course.  But emotionally?  Practically?  I don’t think I’d given it a great deal of thought on those levels.  But around ten years ago it seemed doctor’s appointments were becoming more of a regular activity for them both and it slowly dawned on me that there was going to be a day, not long off, when I would be presented with decisions and responsibilities unique to the only child, not the least of which was what to do with their large, furniture filled home.
Daddy went first, five years ago. Afterwards, it was clear Mother had no intention of changing anything, or moving anywhere, so when we buried her on New Year’s Eve of last year, the house was as full as ever.  After the funeral, I locked the door with the intention of letting those decisions wait for a good long while.  It had been a difficult year and I thought the luxury of procrastination was one I both needed and deserved.  But each time I visited to check on the house, it seemed to look sadder than the time before and I soon realized this was not something I could put off for too long.  Knowing we were heading on holiday to the UK in May, I wanted to get this emotional chore behind me before we left as I didn’t want it looming up on the horizon as the plane touched down on my return.  The estate sale experts I enlisted told me to just to take the things I wanted and leave the rest to them so the week before leaving town, I tackled the task of gathering together the items that meant the most to me from our family’s house.  
My parents built this house, we are the only ones to ever live here.  My Mother hated change, of any kind, and when they decided to leave our home in the city and build this one further out, she was anxious about it.  So my Father took to sharing his excitement over the building process with me.  Each afternoon I’d wait till he got home from work and together we’d drive the seven or so miles to the site of the new house to check on the progress made that day.  Every nook and cranny was inspected and I could sense Daddy’s pride and joy in watching his new home take shape.  He’d never been much of a gardener before, but soon after we moved in, he became obsessed.  He found he had a knack for garden design and would frequently disappear into the woods behind out house, only to return a few hours later carrying a large poplar or sweet gum seeding over his shoulder.  He’d find the perfect place and proceed to plant these baby trees.  They are towering specimens now.  I would take them with me if I could.
I didn’t go trick or treating in this neighbourhood.  By the time I moved here, I no longer believed in the Tooth Fairy or the Easter Bunny.  This was not the house of my childhood.  No, this was the house of my teenage years.  Dates picked me up at this front door. I left for my wedding from here.  The memories are sweet ones and they came flooding back as I walked from room to room trying to decide which items to take and which to leave behind.  Opening one cabinet in the sitting room, I found all the cranberry scented candles my Mother used at Christmas and suddenly I could clearly see her baking fruit cookies on Christmas Eve.  I found my baby clothes.  A lock of my own hair.  Inside a box of old photographs was an envelope with the words, “Keep Always” written across the front in my Mother’s hand.  Inside were the love letters my Father wrote to her before I was born.  He’d made them rhyme.  They are treasures richer than veins of diamonds to me. 
In the end I kept the lamp I was always warned not to knock over every time I ran through the house.  I kept the fine china. I’ll set my Thanksgiving table with it from now on and see their faces sitting there.  I kept the mantle clock that chimed every fifteen minutes of my childhood.  It rings outs from my library now.  In a favourite photograph of my Father and me we are visiting my great aunt at her home in the country and Daddy is sitting in her goose neck rocking chair, with one arm around me, smiling.  The photograph has sat in my bedroom for years.  And now the chair does as well; a continuance, a comfort.
In performing this task I only recently realized would one day be mine,  I discovered it is impossible to predict which items from lives gone will be imbued with memory for those who are left behind.  My Mother’s rolling pin.  My Father’s hats.  Two tiny bells that hung on the Christmas tree.  These are more valuable than paintings or silver.  These are the precious and the prized.  These are the talismans held close as I handed the key over and walked away.

Monday, June 3, 2013

The Tour

On Tour
The Songwriter, brave soul that he is, takes on the duty of driving our rental car whenever we are in Britain.  This is no small feat, I assure you, for as we all know, the British insist upon driving on the left side of the road.  This means that in addition to driving on what we Americans consider to be the “wrong” side of the road, one must adjust to the driver’s side of the car being switched to the passenger side.  This also means the driver is shifting gears with his left hand. To us, any of these situations is disconcerting at best, all of them together can occasionally be a nightmare.  Through the years we have worked out a system of sharing this uncomfortable experience.  While The  Songwriter grips the steering wheel, unblinking, and negotiates the narrow lanes and roundabouts, it is my job to scream “CURB”, or “HEDGE” or “WALL” whenever he occasionally veers too close to the side of the road.  I have also perfected a siren call of “LOOK RIGHT!” upon the approach of any intersection.  I perform these duties very well, without fail, all the while offering encouraging and complimentary comments about his efforts.  (I also frequently dig my fingernails into my seat cushion but have no illusions that this activity either adds or detracts from our motoring successes.)  Happily our system seems to work, for we have had no incidents in our travels, although a morning rush hour foray into the center of Bath once bore a strong resemblance to two unhinged individuals in a clown car, that city being much larger and entirely more populated than we’d counted on.
We endure these little adventures in mobility not because we have a low threshold for excitement, but because we are ill-suited for group activity, a fact that was lit in neon for us on this most recent holiday.   Having been in Sussex and Kent for awhile, we traveled up to London for the latter part of our trip.  Now of course, Mr. Johnson was correct when he uttered those famous words, “When one is tired of London, one is tired of life”.  There is so much to do and see in the old city that one never needs to consider any sort of “side trip”.  But we were seduced by the words, “Lunch in the Cotswolds” and as our adventurous spirits are not capacious enough to encompass the possibility of driving in London proper, we decided to do something we’d never done before.  We decided to take a tour.
So, freshly scrubbed and sharply dressed, we boarded a large tour bus with a large group of other people.  Wedging ourselves into our bright blue velveteen seats, we immediately noticed our knees were now positioned roughly in the vicinity of our chests and a frisson of worry ran up our spines.  Not wanting to point this uncomfortably obvious fact out to each other, The Songwriter made a weak joke about the Magical Mystery Tour while I did the same about Agatha Christie... “Wonder which one of them will commit the murder?”, I giggled feebly.  
It was about this moment that we noticed our tour guide climbing aboard.  A tall man, sporting a straw hat, he looked harmless enough.  Appearances can be deceiving, however, and despite an overwhelming lack of encouragement from his captive audience he began an incessant stream of verbiage consisting primarily of bad jokes, gripes and self-serving stories that increased in obnoxiousness with every bend in the road.  We were not out of London before I decided it was going to be me who committed the upcoming murder, for I wanted to kill this man.  
Staring forward as though drugged, our fellow passengers sat stock still in utter silence as our guide droned on through hill and dale.  The villages we were scheduled to stop in were obviously welcoming of large tour buses which meant nearly every building was dedicated to the tourist trade and chockablock with souvenir shops of every shape and size.  We were allowed to disembark at these places only after being given the precise time we were expected to return along with a stern warning as to what would happen if we were late.  I am afraid it was shortly after the first stop that my rebellious spirit took hold.  As we were expected to follow our straw-hatted Moses through the town like a brood of newly hatched ducklings, I naturally positioned myself at the end of the line in an effort to better enable my escape.  One town saw me heading to the train station at a clip with The Songwriter fast on my heels.
“We can’t just get on a train!”
“Well, why not?  What are they going to do?  Arrest us?
“They’ll wait for us.  We’ll hold up the whole tour! 
 We can’t do that to those other poor people.”
Realizing he was right, knowing I’d been beaten, I limped back to the bus where I endured the praise of our leader for my prompt return.  As I swallowed an urge to laugh maniacally, I silently vowed a return visit to see the Cotswold region properly and slept the rest of the way back to London with my knees tucked up under my chin like a bat.  We both laugh now when we seen the photos of me taken on that day.  The look in my eye escalates from amusement to irritation, from irritation to mutinous animosity at an alarming rate.   
A wasted day?  Not in any sense.  Sometimes it is beneficial to be reminded of something one already knows.  While neither of us is in anyway shy, we both delight in each other’s company and crave the freedom that traveling alone offers. Tour buses are not for us.  We know that now.  Sure, driving presents a few unique challenges.  There are Highland cattle that sleep in the middle of the road on the Isle of Skye.  We frequently get stuck behind a flock of sheep, lazily strolling en masse down a one track road.  And of course, we get lost occasionally.  But that’s all part of the fun. And anyway, how lost can one get in England and Scotland?  One is on an island, after all.