Thursday, May 29, 2014

A List For May, Before She Goes

A List for May, Before She Goes
Looking back now, it’s easy for me to see that the movie Camelot was a bonafide product of the sixties.  Everything from the hairstyles to the set design echoed the bohemian look of that decade (though one could certainly argue that medieval England was no doubt blessed with more than it’s share of bohemian touches, so perhaps the movie was more accurate than was readily apparent at the time).  But when I was a little girl, I wasn’t parsing scenes with a critical eye towards design styles and influences.  All I saw was unrivaled beauty and romance and I simply adored every single thing about that movie, except the detestable Mordred, of course. When Queen Guinevere and her court picnicked in the forest in the “lusty month of May” I knew that May had to be the prettiest month of them all.  

This particular May has done nothing whatsoever to water down that  long held belief.  The earth seems to sigh in breezes that fill the air with the fragrance of tea olive and jasmine, invoking sweet memory and unguarded hope.  Not yet the uniform green of summer, each tree sports different shades of this  same colour - emerald, apple, lemon-lime - weaving a tapestry worthy of dreams.  There are tiny shamrock-coloured cucumbers on the vines in the garden.  The strawberries are red, all the way through.

Like October, May hangs in the sweet spot between seasons, sheltered from the extremes of weather that demand our attention and cause us to bend to their will. She makes me think of all good things.  And a few ones, simply fun.  Here’s a short list of some of those. 
 Enjoy the few remaining days of May!   
1.  Setting a Whimsical Dinner Table
It’s probably a good thing that I live in an old house with limitations of storage.  Otherwise I would be prone to indulge my passionate love of whimsical china and pottery even more than I already do.  As it is, I never set the same table twice.  I love to mix old with new, conservative with outlandish.   A centerpiece of artichokes and white roses?  Transferware and art deco?  Or a piece of art pottery with a medieval looking lady peering out from the center?  Well, why not.
This pitcher by Amanda Popham totally captures my heart.  
I can see the entire table in my head, right down to the napkin rings of wound ivy. 
Find more of Ms. Popham’s amazing work HERE.
2.  New Old Pillows
If you’re like me, spring cleaning is not a fictional activity.  In May, everything outside my windows is so fresh, so new, I want everything inside  to feel precisely the same.  So windows are washed and floors are waxed.  Closets are cleaned, drawers are straightened.  And often, new things are found to spruce things up a bit.  Or to be honest, it’s usually old things that are new to my house.  To that end.... new/old pillows have just landed in my etsy shoppe. 
Find them HERE..
3.  Maps
There are maps in my head. Whenever I’m trapped someplace where it’s difficult or ill-advised to read or knit - in traffic, for instance, or the security line at the airport - I often play a mental game in which I retrace the ones that wind through a particularly beloved journey from time past, recalling every detail, every bend in the road, from arrival to departure. 
 I remember the way the road curved down to the left
 the first time I spied Ailsa Craig. 
The blackness of the night on the unlit road through Acadia National Park
 that time we were scared out of our wits by the
 glowing eyes of a herd of deer on the verge.
 A woolen fog in the hills above Oban;
 fog that covered our path and rendered us hopelessly, happily, lost. 
 They are maps unique to my life; not of much interest to others
  Imagine how delicious it would be to have a map such as this in reality.  A document of a personal journey of your own, one that you wish to remember forever; one you often follow along again in your dreams.  

Well this is precisely what is created by artist, Connie Stone, at Redstone Studios.  Maps that look as though they were fashioned by wizards; maps that document special, personal, journeys as individual as each person who commissions one.  Just wonderful, don’t you think.  See more HERE.
 4.  Nell’s Pattern
It was a yarn shop on the Isle of Skye that made me a knitter. 
 Perched on a cliff above the sea - its shelves full of soft colourful yarns provided by the sheep right outside its windows and dyed with the herbs from the dye garden at the edge of the hill - it was the most beautiful spot in the world, at least to my eyes, and I vowed to learn to knit, and knit well, as I reluctantly drove away.  Coming home I knew I needed to find a really good, really patient, really talented, teacher.  And I did, in Nell Ziroli.  Wonderfully inventive and amazingly knowledgable, she led me into the knitting world with the enthusiasm of a life long knitter and I’ve never looked back.
  Nell is a brilliant pattern designer and it was such a delight to open the brand-new look book from the renown knitting company, Brooklyn Tweed, and find one of Nell’s new sweater patterns.   On a very famous model, no less!  If you are a knitter, and I know from my letters quite a few of my readers are just that, you simply must pick up this pattern.  
I know Nell’s designs to be both flattering and fun to knit. 
 I’m so proud of her!  
Find the pattern HERE.
 5. Key Lime Yogurt
I can’t tell you how often I forget to eat lunch.  I’m not sure what it is, but I’ll get busy and by the time my tummy tells me its hungry, the hands on the clock say 4:30 or 5.  Too late for lunch, too early for dinner.  We eat a lot of early dinners because of this.  Our schedule just might normalize this summer, though, because I’ve discovered this new Key Lime flavour of Chobani yogurt.  I wake up thinking about it.  It’s destined to be my summer lunch every day this year.  You must try it.
6. Radios
When the end of May rolls around and summer knocks on my windows with its fists full of kites and beach towels, I think of these.  
Old-fashioned radios playing crackly AM stations. 
 Listening to The Drifters, The Beatles - Bobby Darin, Petula Clark.  Maybe a baseball game.
 And they are even MP3 compatible. 
Find them HERE.
7.  Tree Swings
I mean, really.
Under the oak trees, just left of the croquet court?
Anyone wish to join me?
Wait till you see what they’re made of.
Find them HERE

8.  Naps
Like my father before me, I have a great affinity for naptime. 
 The health benefits of naps are, to me, undeniable. 
 Although I have never been able to convince The Songwriter of this,
 a twenty minute escape before an open window, eyes closed,
thoughts adrift until they evaporate into brief sleep,
 is a blissful way to recharge and reboot. 
 And now that I’ve found this new chart I feel completely validated 
in my devotion to the practice. 
 See it HERE.

9.  Library Wallpaper
Even with the weather rapidly dialing up to HOT,
 I always have a little bit of autumn tucked inside my soul. 
 When I spied this new wallpaper from House of Hackney in London,
 I couldn’t help myself. 
 I could see an autumn library, complete with dark woods and a roaring fire.  
A little dash of brandy in a crystal glass.
  A big white dog on an Axminster.
  Can’t you just see it?  Or is it just me?
  Find it HERE.
10.  Espadrilles
The only thing that can take away the sting of having to package up my favourite boots till fall is the total delight in wearing espadrilles all summer long.  My toes are in heaven.
These are the best espadrilles in the world.
I bought the peach ones this year.
Find them HERE 

10.  Recipes for Life, Love and Art
Last year, May found me in the land of Bloomsbury. I was in heaven wandering the rooms of Charleston Farmhouse... a private tour no less. I adored Monk’s House and Berwick Church, where we were again fortunate to be the only ones present in that beautiful place. We even stayed right at Sissinghurst Garden, an experience I highly recommend. 
This May, instead of boarding a plane, I went back to Bloomsbury via this marvelous new book. Ostensibly a cookbook, but so, so much more, The Bloomsbury Cookbook is chock full of wonderful photographs, delightful selections from writings and letters, little snippets of remembrances from various and sundry Bloomsbury members, and yes, even recipes from those heady, creative days; 
recipes with charming names such as Meat Bobbity and Bunga Bunga.
 You’ll find Dora Carrington’s Sloe Gin and Roger Fry’s Orange Marmalade. 

Just take a look at this quote from a letter 
to Virginia Woolf from T.S. Eliot, dated June 2, 1927:
“I am free for tea on Wednesday or Thursday or for dinner on Wednesday.
 And if any of those times suited you, I should be very glad to show you
 what little I know about The Grizzly Bear, or the Chicken Strut”

Trust me, this book is a treasure.
Find it HERE.
Summer Reading Post Coming Soon!

Monday, May 19, 2014

Why I Write

(Though I greatly enjoy the various themes and questionnaires that occasionally pepper the blogosphere, I rarely take part in them.   A holdover from adolescent rebellion perhaps, but whenever I agree to participate in something like that, I find my commitment soon undergoes a dark alchemy, taking on the personality of an “assignment”, the result being a procrastination that is both irritating and familiar.  However, when not one, but two, of my favourite blogging friends asked me to take part in a collective topic on writing, I felt I should comply.  Both Jeanne Henriques and Cait O’Connor are wonderful observers of the beauty of life and I would no doubt want to do whatever they asked of me.  However, I’m late with this posting and having read the instructions thoroughly only after I finished writing, I realize I flubbed them a bit.  But I hope they’ll forgive me and accept my little offering nonetheless.)

Why I Write 

For as long as I can remember, the written word has been as much a part of my life as food and drink, soap and water, earth and sky.  My Mother read to me every day and night which is an activity known to infect most children with the tendency to crave words for the rest of their lives.  It was, and remains, a bright fascination to me that the apparent simplicity of black words on a white page contains such revelatory and transformative power; power to call forth laughter or sobs, power to change a mind, power to bring back the dead.  

It wasn’t long until I realized I loved putting my own words down on paper.  Poems, long letters, little stories; I wrote these for many years.  But it wasn’t until about six years ago that I began writing on a regular basis and pushed open a door in my life, long open only a crack, to enter a colourful world full of delight and sorrow, future and past.  I have reveled in this world ever since.  Though it’s true that we often only see through a glass darkly, in writing I’ve discovered quiet, tiny clues to a greater understanding of myself and the world around me.  I have learned to better read between the lines of my own life.  As Flannery O’Connor so eloquently put it: “I write because I don’t know what I think until I read what I say.”  I now know precisely what she meant.

Writing for me is the net with which I catch all those microscopic moments that disappear in an instant; too seemingly insignificant to be captured and held for later, too ordinary to be remembered, but that, with a writer’s eye, contain more wisdom and beauty than a grand parade.  Virginia Woolf once said,  “I have a deeply hidden and inarticulate desire for something beyond daily life”.  For myself, I think there are riches hidden inside daily life which need only to be  mined and held up to the light to reveal more magic than we can imagine.  Writing is how I mine those riches.

Writing is also how I harness memory.  The more I write, the more I remember.  It is perhaps no coincidence that my writing began in earnest the summer after my Father died.  As Eudora Welty said in her brilliant book, The Optimist’s Daughter, “Memory returned like Spring.... had the character of Spring.  In some cases, it was the old wood that did the blooming”.    The trees of my memory blossom anew each time I sit down to write and I find a  greater capacity of understanding and acceptance drifting down on my shoulders even as the words are written, and it is often the oldest memories that are the most prolific.

My process is not as disciplined as I would like.  I often watch The Songwriter head to his studio - coffee cup in hand, Apple at his heels - and marvel at his consistency.  I seem to store up ideas and thoughts until I overflow in a marathon of writing that results in a bleary-eyed, stumbling appearance that has been known to scare off the UPS man at one glance.  I do find however that the more I view my writing as a priority in my day, the more control I have over the ebb and flow of my inspiration.  It seems the muse can be tamed.  It’s something I’m working on.  

As to what I’m working on now.... as I type I am currently ensconced in a serene house in the marshes of South Carolina where I am writing away.  But it’s secret.  We’ll see what happens.  I promise, ... you’ll be the first to know!  Some of my earlier essays can be found in the book, From the House of Edward... you can find it HERE.  

Me and my writing partner on the marshes this week.

I know, now after I’ve written this, that I didn’t follow the instructions well.  I hope Jeanne and Cait will understand.  I also hope you’ll visit their blogs as well.  You’ll find wonderful writing there.  I would also recommend you visit Angus, Bob and Sophie  for daily observations of life as they live it in deepest France where great wisdom often masquerades as ordinary life.  It’s a daily read for me.  Then I would send you over to The Weaver of Grass for a beautiful account of daily life on a Yorkshire farm.  If you’re lucky, perhaps Pat will have posted a poem that day.  And on to Edinburgh to Cornflower Books, for stimulating discussions on the written word.  And back round to Dartmoor to visit Into The Hermitage, a world as unique and beautiful as its writer.  Enjoy!

Top photo:  Virginia Woolf's writing desk at Monk's House.
I was fortunate to have been there this week last year.


Thursday, May 8, 2014

Five Things That Drive Me Crazy... By Invitation Only

Five Things That Drive Me Crazy!!
Even though I’m a wee bit late, I’m so delighted to be participating in sweet Marsha’s Splenderosa monthly, By Invitation Only.  The topic this month is fun and, as always, generated a lot of ideas.  So without further ado... here is my own personal list of Five Things That Make Me Crazy.  Do tell me if any are familiar to you.  It can’t be just me.  Can it? 

1.  Stickers on Fruit
They are on every banana, every orange. 
Every grapefruit, every pear.  
These ubiquitous little blue stickers! 
I don’t think one has to have a design background to both love the look of a colourful bowl of fresh fruit sitting on the sideboard and abhor these sticky, vexatious blights on each and every one.
  Do they really need to be on every one?  Really? 
 And yes, I pull each and every one off.  
They drive me crazy.  Seriously.

2.  Guests Who Arrive Early To Dinner Parties
The flowers are arranged and the stickers are off the fruit.  Dinner is cooking; the music is set.  I have forty-five minutes to freshen my lipstick and check my hair; forty-five minutes to sit in the quiet and collect my thoughts and ... then... oh, it can’t be!  A knock at the door! 
 “Oh, sorry we’re a bit early.  We knew you wouldn’t mind!”
Well, guess what?  Sometimes I do mind! 
Five minutes I can handle; thirty or forty-five, I’d rather not, thanks.
  I’ve toyed with the idea of answering the door in my underwear when this happens because, yes, it drives me crazy! 

3. The Over, and Improper, Usage of the Word, “Awesome”
There was a day when it was used to describe the staggering bulk of Ben Nevis; when it was the only word appropriate for the face of a lion.  But these days this wonderful word is forced to slum as a description of every triviality from the perfect parking spot to a well-done hamburger.  It drives me crazy!  And don’t even get me started on the word, “like”.

4.  Designing Rooms To Look Like Hotel Lobbies
I recently had the good fortune to meet the uber-designer, Nina Campbell, and was utterly thrilled to hear her say how much she, like me, detests the current trend in design of creating rooms that resemble hotels.  Sleek, cool, always neutral.  Straight-lined and contemporary, with nary a personal object or whimsicality to be found.  Rooms that appear more suited to a business meeting that to curling up with a good book and a furry dog.  Happily, and I got this straight from Nina herself, this trend is dissipating, with colour and personality on the rise, so perhaps it won’t drive me crazy for too much longer.
(Here’s a photograph of Nina and me.
  And yes, having it turn out with my blasted eyes closed drives me crazy, too.)

5.  The Marketing of Beauty Products as “Anti-Aging”
Talk about setting women up to feel badly about themselves!  Who amongst us can really be “anti” aging?  We are all doing it, whether we’re twenty-five or fifty-five.  And guess what?  Aging is not a disease, it’s a privilege.  Yes, I love my creams and potions but I want to believe they make me look my best, not that they are stopping me from aging.  Because when we stop aging, we cease to exist.  You guessed it... this drives me crazy.  How about you?

So there you have it.  Five things that drive me crazy.  Hardly a complete list, mind you.  I didn’t even get to mention when the car window rolls up and catches my hair.  Or American Idol. Or commercials in movies!  Whatever happened to cartoons??  Or when the Sunday edition of New York Times arrives and is missing the book review section and I call to report it but it’s too late to deliver another copy and the lady offers to credit my account but I don’t want my account credited I want the dad gum book review section! 
Or... guess I should stop now.
Thanks Marsha!  It was fun!

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Passionate Signs

Passionate Signs

Dreary.  The only word to adequately describe the scene outside my car window last week as I waited, somewhat patiently, at a red light on a busy city street.  An evocative word, possessing an uncanny power to ooze and drip its two grey syllables into every atom of the atmosphere, permeating each and draping the collection like a shroud over every steely inch of pavement, every brave spring flower.  As I peered out from inside the relative comfort of my car, I spied three people on the corner, huddled together in the misty rain.  A well-dressed trio, with intelligent faces, and sincere expressions; each one holding up a homemade sign decrying one of the more egregious decisions recently made by the governor of our state.  As so happens, this particular traffic light has a deserved reputation for sluggishness so I had ample time to consider these three as they stoically stood on the corner.  The light turned green and I moved on but found their dignified visages remained in my mind throughout the rest of the day.

Like many people, I feel strongly about a wide range of issues that vary in their level of importance. I believe in treating other people the way I’d like to be treated. I believe our slavish devotion to money coupled with our hobbling terror of change prevents us from dealing effectively with the changing climate and I believe we shall all regret this. I believe health care is a right, not a privilege.  I believe our country’s love of guns is ludicrous and shameful.  I believe that every effort should always be made to prevent the cutting down of tall trees and the razing of historic architecture.  I believe Walmart destroys communities.  I believe people should adopt dogs and children.  I believe teachers should be the highest paid members of society.  I believe the book is always better than the movie, fox hunting is cruel, and stilettos are bad for the feet.  But am I on a street corner holding up a sign?  No, it is true; I am not.
Like the waters of Corryvreckan, these thoughts swam round and round my head all afternoon, reaching no port of conclusion.  My beliefs were strong, but did I lack the appropriate passion?  Was I apathetic?  Oh God, was I cynical?  Was it that I didn’t believe the type of action I’d witnessed would ever bring about change?  Truth be told, I seriously doubt those three people at the traffic light realistically thought our illustrious governor might perhaps drive by their corner, spot these signs, and be racked with a sudden repentance.  No, I rather think it was sheer ardor that put them there; an ardor that, apparently, I seemed to lack.  I thought back to the brave people of the sixties, whose heckled marches and homemade signs had indeed, eventually, brought change. Would I have been one of those revered individuals?  Are the injustices and dangers of today any less great?

At the end of the day, I turned my car towards home, still pondering these thoughts.  As I drove along the street leading to my own I saw up ahead on the side of the road a man dressed in the unmistakable clothes of the eccentric.  Obviously obtained from a costume rental agency, his garb was made up of red and white striped waistcoat and trousers, fire-red tail coat, and an impressively tall, consistently red, top hat.  His grin was as wide as his confidence was deep and he was holding up an enormous sign that read, “Jesus Loves You”. 

Now everyone knows the best way to deal with these sorts of pavement people is to refrain at all costs from making eye contact.  But this day I chose to look at this chap straight on.  He grinned at me broadly, waved his sign vigorously, then nodded.  And somehow, in spite of myself and my doubts, despite my concern that the fires of my passion were too cool to be effective, in spite of it all, I felt better.