Wednesday, December 31, 2008

A Peek Through the Opening Door

A bit of a new look here at The House of Edward as the old door opens on the fresh green day of the infant year.
With more than the usual challenges to face in every corner of the planet, but with reasons aplenty to hope for a brighter year and lighter hearts, I am filled with admiration and gratitude for the many charming and creative new friends I have encountered through this little blog effort of mine. Having really started this as an entry for my Etsy shoppe, I found that I enjoyed writing so much the shoppe sort of took a back seat. I have always loved words, and writing, but had previously only written via long letters to certain souls during my travels. I really feel as if that is what I have continued to do through this site. Thank you all for reading my letters to you. Your comments and emails have been incredibly enjoyable, interesting and kind. I do appreciate them greatly.
And just now, as I peek through the opening door at the grand mystery of a pristine new year, this particular quotation of William Ellery Channing resonates like music with the desires of my soul.

"I will seek elegance rather than luxury, refinement rather than fashion. I will seek to be worthy more than respectable, wealthy and not rich. I will study hard, think quietly, talk gently, act frankly. I will listen to stars and birds, babes and sages, with an open heart. I will bear all things cheerfully, do all things bravely, await occasions and hurry never. In a word I will let the spiritual, unbidden and unconscious grow up through the common."

Edward and I wish you all a most Happy New Year.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Sleep At All Hours

The three big Christmas trees continue to sparkle. The music, gauzy and classical, drifts through the old house like a mist. The sheets are linen and the blankets, wool. Down pillows are fluffed like marshmallows and clothing is warm and rather eccentric. The books, oh the books.... all crisp, all new...massive, slipcased and magically illustrated or small and utterly engrossing..... are stacked in teetering towers beside me. The drinks are hot and the food.... is pie. All responsibility has been banished - flown with a whoosh out the shuttered window, not to return for at least one week. I shall venture outside my wooden door for only two good reasons..... long, bracing walks with a furry dog in the cloudy cold, or a comfortable seat in a darkened movie theatre. And I shall sleep at all hours, whenever I wish.
One of the best weeks of the year!

.....Just as the spiniest chestnut-burr
Is lined within with the finest fur,
So the stoney-walled, snow-roofed house
Of every squirrel and mole and mouse
Is lined with thistledown, sea-gull's feather,
Velvet mullein-leaf, heaped together
With balsam and juniper, dry and curled,
Sweeter than anything else in the world.

O what a warm and darksome nest
Where the wildest things are hidden to rest!
It's there that I'd love to lie and sleep,
Soft, soft, soft, and deep, deep, deep!

From the Poem, Winter Sleep by Elinor Wylie

Wednesday, December 24, 2008


Edward is a creature in possession of a myriad of magical qualities- qualities which draw people to him, friends and strangers alike, wherever we happen to go. They gather round him in outdoor cafes, follow us on our walks, roll down their windows at traffic lights to say hello to him, they get out of their cars to come squat down in front of him, they even allow their toddlers to kiss him smack on the mouth. Edward, ever patient, is consistently tolerant of these advances. So much so in fact, that last Halloween, when friends dressed their three adorable stairstep daughters as characters from Peter Pan, they asked if Edward would be willing to play Nana for a photo. He was honored, although a bit reticent about the bonnet he was supposed to wear. I realize I may be slightly prejudiced, but he really is an extraordinary dog. However, tonight and only tonight, he just may share one very special gift with every other animal on the planet. He just may speak. For tonight is Christmas Eve, and it is a tale well told that on this night of nights, the animals speak at midnight.

For those of you fortunate enough to live on a farm, take a stroll past your barn at that hour. Stop. Listen. Do you hear the whispered conversations of those enchanted creatures within? The tabby cat on the windowsill, gazing out at the frozen garden....what is he saying? Did you catch it? The Lioness on the moonlit plain, the Mountain Gorilla beneath Rwandan trees - from the Great Horned Owls at the bottom of our garden, to the ice white Polar Bear sitting alone on the top of the world, what words will they choose to speak for this, their once a year soliloquy. Words of despair, or words of hope? Of recrimination, or of praise? While I would certainly never deign to speak for Edward, I can only imagine his statement to the holy darkness will be the simple, pure words of gratitude.
On this night, what more is there to say?

Merry Christmas to All, and to All a Good Night!!

Friday, December 19, 2008

The Journey

Pull on the woolen mittens, wrap the shawl tightly. It is time for the journey into winter.
For six months now, the iridescent curtains of the earth have been slowly closing. The unseen, pale blue hand has moved them, bit by bit, an infinitesimal distance towards the center, shutting out the light in minute amounts each and every evening since the month of June. On this very weekend he stands back to admire his handiwork. With wizened hands on hips, he smiles his ancient silver smile as he observes the many hours of darkness, the iced moon hanging in a starry sky, taking up its lofty post earlier this weekend than at any other - the fewest hours of the sun - the shortest day of the year. It is complete, and he is most pleased, for he has once again fashioned Winter. White grey, silver blue, Winter.
And yet, he does not trouble us. As we make our way into his boreal creation, our provisions are sufficient. For even in the piercing cold of the bleakest of mid-winters, there is such warmth to be found. True friends, glowing fireplaces, fuzzy slippers, furry faces. Cinnamon toast, spiced tea. Days spent in cozy kitchens where copper kettles sing and savory soups simmer atop cherry red stoves - with nights burrowed snug under tartan blankets, lost inside the crisp pages of adventurous books.
Oh yes, we are quite prepared for this journey, for we have taken it before. And well we know, even now, as the old man takes his leave, rightly satisfied with his design, a smooth and tiny hand, the colour of peridot, is reaching for those curtains, ready now to pull them, bit by bit, every so slightly, open.

Painting above: Atkinson Grimshaw

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

In a Snow Globe

Long after midnight, when the silence is a sound unto itself, a soft blue blanket wrapped tightly around the house, enveloping all in the deepest quiet, I slipped out of bed. Lifting a woolen throw from off the chaise, I made my way to the biggest Christmas tree in the house and switched on the lights. Fairyland descended gently on the usual. What is it about this season that lends itself so readily to magic? Everything, it seems, conspires to wonder and amaze. The long-fingered frost on the windowpanes, the winter aroma of fir trees and hot chocolate, the ornamental colour - bells and carols, secret whispers and stolen kisses. I think of our little cottage here in the trees, bathed in moonlight and fairyglow and it almost seems as if we four are dwelling within a snow globe of our very own. A little wonderland separated from roving darkness by the clear glass dome of Christmas. It is said that Christmas is for children, but I don’t think that’s necessarily so. As the years go by and I see more of the sadness and trouble this world can parcel out, Christmas seems more of a mystery to me than ever. To think that no matter what occurs, it still settles joyously into my heart every year, retaining its full power to amaze and delight, to liberally sprinkle the enchantment of hope into every room. Merry Christmas, indeed.
I could have sat by the glimmering tree for hours, but soon I heard a soft yawn behind me and turned to see Edward, the fur atop his head mussed and askew from sleep, his thoughts nearly audible...”Come. Back. To. Bed.”... So, I did.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Being Watched

This morning, while wrapping presents at the old octagonal table in my office, I knew I was being watched. Not just by Edward, who had finally begun to abandon his enthusiastic attempts to claim the ribbons for his own - but by others, many others, just outside my window, curiously looking in at me from their place in the cold early sunlight. The Birds. Cardinals and chickadees, fat grey doves and red-winged blackbirds, titmice and towhees. Constant companions here in my little wing of the house, surrounding the cerulean glass feeder at all hours of the day, taking turns, crowding occasionally, chirping often, singing frequently. They are here in all seasons of the year, splashing around in their stone bath nestled in the holly bushes in summer, gathering twigs and pine needles for their brand new nests in spring, but oh so playful, so cheery in winter. They seem to love this time of year as much as I and it almost seems as though they themselves are filled with the happy spirit of Christmas and wish to join in the festive work they see just beyond the glass. Feathers fluffed, eyes bright, happily enjoying their breakfast, they watched me work all morning.
Like Edward, like myself, they call this cottage home.

Bird Sanctuary

Between the cliff-rise and the beach
A slip of emerald I own;
With fig and olive, almond, peach,
cherry and plum-tree overgrown;
Glad-watered by a crystal spring
That carols through the silver night,
And populous with birds who sing
Gay madrigals for my delight.

Some merchants fain would buy my land
To build a stately pleasure dome.
Poor fools! they cannot understand
how pricelessly it is my home!
So luminous with living wings,
So musical with feathered joy . . .
Not for all pleasure fortune brings,
Would I such ecstasy destroy.

A thousand birds are in my grove,
Melodious from morn to night;
My fruit trees are their treasure trove,
Their happiness is my delight.
And through the sweet and shining days
They know their lover and their friend;
So I will shield in peace and praise
My innocents unto the end.

Robert W. Service

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Beautiful Things

The world is full of beautiful things
Butterfly wings, fairy tale kings,
And each new day undoubtedly brings,
Still more beautiful things.

The world abounds with many delights,
Magical sights, fanciful flights,
And those who dream on beautiful nights,
Dream of beautiful things.

The Merchant Ivory film adaptation of Howard’s End would, to me, be a magnificent treat even if the only frame I had ever watched was the Christmas shopping scene. Set in the resplendent halls of turn of the century London’s Fortnum and Mason, Emma Thompson attempts to introduce Vanessa Redgrave to the “scientific” approach to Christmas shopping, - “the list”-, all the while wandering around the most sumptuously decorated holiday set ever created. My heart beats a bit faster every time I see it. It awakens in me the passion I possess for the enticing experience that is Christmas shopping. Given my profession I have the occasion to frequent delightfully unusual and off-the-beaten-track shops all throughout the year. Between those visits, and given the fact that Christmas presents are often a handmade affair here at The House of Edward, my holiday shopping is completed each year long before the first decorations pop up in the shops. But that does not for one second mean I don’t go Christmas shopping in December. It just means I can enjoy it a bit more. Being an inveterate observer, there is nothing I like more than strolling through the storybook decor of all the various stores... watching the holiday shoppers - bundled up and muttering- rushing to and fro....listening to the sweetly familiar holiday songs that provide the festive soundtrack... stopping to enjoy the show as one after another little gaily dressed and pressed children are plopped onto Santa’s lap to relate their deepest desires to the red-suited old man... and then finding the perfectly warm spot in the perfectly cozy cafe to enjoy a marshmallow topped hot chocolate with a good book or a good friend. Sometimes I discover something I just have to purchase, some sort of curious bauble or frippery, magically feathered, sugared or flounced. But mostly my Christmas shopping is a reconnaissance mission, meant to store up valuable inspiration for the later hours of future days. I will wrap it carefully and pack it away in its holly and tinsel and on some future frustrating or sweltering afternoon - some troublesome or mind-numbing morning, I’ll have a peek inside that memory and all the colourful flurries, carillon melodies, the hope, the happiness, the wonderment that is Christmas will swirl around my life once more.

Lyrics above by Leslie Bricusse

Saturday, December 6, 2008

With Every Christmas Card I Write

As the calendar pages turn and the years go by, it seems some long held traditions are increasingly susceptible to evaporation. Women in white gloves at Sunday services, men in dress hats and overcoats nodding to one another along busy weekday sidewalks, the far off sound of mother’s voices heard through neighborhood streets as they call their children home from outdoor play at suppertime, always adding a few more syllables than the name actually possesses. Once commonplace, I fear these sights and sounds are long gone now. One can look for them only in books, on film and in the halls of memory. Here in my own little world, I do try to keep alive meaningful customs and traditions that I sometimes fear are perilously close to the endangered list, and I think my life the richer for the effort. I still hand write thank you notes, still keep fresh flowers in my rooms, I do RSVP and I do not wear white at weddings, or after Labor Day. I take a gift when I’m invited to dinner, I attend funerals, dine by candlelight, I still even iron my sheets, God help me. And, I still send Christmas cards. In fact, one of the most delightful aspects of the entire festive season is, for me, the Christmas card. In a special wooden box, I have kept every card the Songwriter and I have sent out during the many years of our marriage. Each Christmas, as I add another, I take out all those from years past and enjoy them once more, each one reminding me of who we were then.

The hunt for the perfect card begins in the summer. For a few years in a row I had the luxury of being in Britain during the fall season when the shops were already stocked for the holidays. What bliss! No one does Christmas like the British. For three years straight, I found the perfect card there. Then the next year, naturally, I was spoiled. No card I found even approached the bar set so high by those wonderful elves in the UK. So, I decided to create my own. And lo, another tradition was born. Now it seems, everyone expects an original Christmas card from me each season and the ritual has become much more involved. But, how I do love it. With mellow strains of Perry Como, Vivaldi and Nat King Cole playing through the house, hot tea at my elbow, furry dogs under tables that are spread with papers, inks, glitters, stamps, envelopes, embossing tools...I am in complete holiday heaven. Thinking of each person as I write their name on their envelope, I am silently thankful for their friendship and wishing them well for the coming year. Yes, it is time consuming. Yes, it costs some money. But, oh is it worth it. This year I am happy to report that I am on schedule and I’ll soon be dreaming of a White Christmas once again. With every Christmas Card I write!

Above picture is my Christmas Card from 1990

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Red Flowers

My father never read to me as a child. I was reading pretty much on my own at a very early age. Instead, he told me stories. Some were his own versions of classic tales, often made a bit scarier, or funnier, by his personal renditions. I particularly liked the scary ones such as the big-big monster that lived way-way out in the ocean. I would stand, with my little feet dug into warm sand and stare and stare, as far out as I could, holding tightly to his big hand, deliciously scared but truly doubtful about any imminent danger to either of us. Santa Claus, The Easter Bunny, The Headless Horseman... all these famous folks benefited greatly from Daddy’s embellishments to their biographies. He was sweet, and he was funny, calm, steady and incredibly stubborn. He had a great laugh, red flowers were his favorites, and he always told me he loved me any and every chance he got. He adored dogs and actually cried when he met Edward for the first time. I think he couldn’t bear the thought of big sweet Edward ever having been out on the streets by himself.

I have had long hair most of my life. The only time I ever had it cut short was when I was little and my Mother and I had gone on a train trip to visit relatives. This was not an unusual thing for us. Daddy would stay in the city and meet us at the train station at the end of the week. Our favorite game was to watch for each other as the train pulled into the station. I would press my nose against the train window, looking intently at the blur of people lined up outside, while he would be watching all the faces in the train cars roll past. When we spotted each other we would wave like crazy. Except that one time my hair was short. Daddy didn’t recognize me. It doesn’t take a psychoanalyst to decipher why I have worn my hair long ever since, now does it?

Daddy slipped away a year ago today. Even though his illness was relatively brief, losing him wasn’t nearly as difficult as seeing him sick. I was an only child, and a Daddy’s girl to boot. So, watching him go was difficult to say the least. Today as I was placing red flowers on his grave I thought of this song I heard for the first time a couple of weeks ago. It is by Emmylou Harris, off her new album entitled All I Intended To Be. The song describes so sublimely the way I have felt about my father’s death. Here are the lyrics, but one should really hear Emmylou sing it to feel the truth living inside the words.

When I Go Sailing Round The Moon
by Emmylou Harris, Kate and Anna McGarrigle

One last gaze upon the sun
Bid farewell to everyone
Kicked that bucket out the door
Where I'm goin I won't need it anymore
Gonna lay my burden down
Take a birdseye look around
From the tall pines of Carolina
All the way to the Wall of China

So I go sailing round the room
Through my window, cross the silver moon
No flesh and bone to hold me
I'll finally set my soul free
When I go sailing round the room

Life may be just but a dream
Rode my boat on down the stream
To wake up on a different shore
Wind up as something I aint never been before
I could be a drop of summer rain
Fallin down on an Oklahoma plain
Gonna leave the world behind me
Look around and you will find me

So I go sailing round the room
Through my window, cross the silver moon
No flesh and bone to hold me
I'll finally set my soul free
When I go sailing round the room
In the smoke from Mauna Loa
Morning mist on the Shenandoah

I.....will be.....
Grain of sand in the Kalahari
Magnolia by the Mississippi

I.....will be.....
Bird song when the day is breaking
Words of love when your heart is aching

Blue bonnet by the highway
I'll be everywhere and always

When I go sailing round the room
Through my window, cross the silver moon
No flesh and bone to hold me
I'll finally set my soul free
When I go sailing round the room

First photo: Daddy and Me with my one and only short hairstyle.
Second Photo: Daddy and Me later after my one and only turn as the neighborhood Easter Bunny.

Monday, December 1, 2008

The Eloquence of December

From a long ago harbor on a far away shore, three splendid ships set sail. While at a bend in the road, the pathway narrows underfoot. Hemlocks and shining spruce trees move in close, linking their emerald arms overhead and scenting the wood with crystal winter. The moonlight is colder now. Having replaced its tarnished gold for sharpened silver, it illuminates a more enchanted landscape, one where snowy owls soar silently through icy air and alabaster stags raise frosted antlers to gaze in wonder at blanched and glowing stars. Wafting through ivory-tipped evergreen, gossamer glorias can barely be heard; bell-like whispers that become clearer with every muffled boot step along the pine needled pathway. The ice bear, august and all-knowing, walks alone. Forest oaks, each as unique as a fingerprint, no longer hide their true natures behind leafy raiment, but stand tall, proudly revealing their darkly graceful bone structures as they reach heavenward. The eloquence of December is everywhere. Through the mystery a cottage is just visible, its frost rimmed windowpanes painting squares of gold on the pale frozen ground.
Come inside, all are welcome. There is much to celebrate here.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

“I awoke this morning with devout thanksgiving
for my friends, the old and new.”
Ralph Waldo Emerson

“Me, too!”

Edward and his very best friend, Apple, wish one and all the happiest of Thanksgivings.

Sunday, November 23, 2008


It is difficult if not impossible these days not to think about money. Everyone, everywhere seems to be catching the fading green virus that began here in the states and is now spreading ominously across the globe. Not only does it appear that our famed financial experts live in houses of straw, but one is uncertain if any houses made of brick actually exist. And the big bad wolf has entered the village determined to huff, and to puff, and to blow some things down.
While I am cognizant of the fact that the situation is serious and I certainly appreciate that money is a crucial commodity for us all, there seem to be pivotal issues in the air at the moment, more essential issues, and those have led me to contemplate the somewhat skewed and earthbound meanings that seem to have been bestowed on our twenty-first century ideas of worth, of value and of success. How do we define success? Do we feel someone is worth more, or is more successful, when their bank account is chubby? How exactly do we measure our own value as a lone individual wandering the world at present? What is our definition of greatness, for a country or for an individual?
As is my wont, whenever I am in a pondering mood, I turn to my books, for I know others before me have surely studied over the same questions as I at some point in their lives, and history is such a great teacher. It is often a comfort to read what greater minds than mine have had to say on whatever subject I am mulling over. At the start of this, our Thanksgiving holiday week, I found this particular passage from a speech given by Bobby Kennedy in 1968 especially meaningful. Perhaps you will also.

..the gross national product does not allow for the health of our children, the quality of their education or the joy of their play. It does not include the beauty of our poetry or the strength of our marriages, the intelligence of our public debate or the integrity of our public officials. It measures neither our wit nor our courage, neither our wisdom nor our learning, neither our compassion nor our devotion to our country, it measures everything in short, except that which makes life worthwhile. And it can tell us everything about America except why we are proud that we are Americans.

Painting above: Earthbound by Evelyn de Morgan

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Surrounded by Old Trees

The leaves are letting go. Their grip, so tight-fisted in green, is looser now in scarlet and gold and has begun to give way completely. They are tumbling from their lofty perches, en masse. If only their voices were just a bit more audible, one could perhaps hear squeals of delight as they fearlessly slip from their branches and chase each other round the garden in jeweltoned, featherlight flocks. Continuing all the day long, all through the cold November night, seeming to multiply by the thousands each hour upon hour as if bubbling up from the cold ground itself or being thrown down by the fistfuls from the hand of a mischievous angel high up beyond the clouds; an angel amused by her overhead view of us pink-cheeked beings as we scurry and worry in our feeble attempts to contain this ever growing torrent of falling, flying colour. Until we, not as slow to learn as might be supposed, finally lay down our wooden rakes and march towards the waiting warmth of the fire, realizing at last that this uncontrollable, technicolour horde is perhaps meant as a gift best enjoyed, with hot chocolate in hand and dogs snuggled beside us, from a soft chair by the window.
Oh, let them fall.

Monday, November 17, 2008

We're Blushing!

What a treat to find The House Of Edward Shoppe featured today on the delightful blog of
Junk Style Diva! We are honored! Be sure and visit her to take a look and say hello. I have been up to my eyelashes in Christmas boxes for the past two weeks, as you can see above, and will be restocking my Etsy shop during the week. Polar Bears and Magical Stags, Enchanted Cottages, Vintage Santas, Antique Sleighs and Vintage Wise Men ....
Edward and I are having so much fun!

Friday, November 14, 2008

A Chore Neglected

Sometimes one neglects a common, everyday activity and that simple neglect turns out to have a decided effect on the course of one’s morning. For me that morning belonged to this very day and the chore neglected was the making up of my bed. I left this particular duty until after breakfast during which I observed a slightly misty, rather scowly morning squatting like gloom itself outside my cottage window. A dull grey grumpy morning that seemed most determined to cast a dull grey grumpy light through each windowpane, washing dull grey grumpy shadows over every room. Just as I was beginning to wonder if my mood was going to succumb to the same fate as those shadows, I passed by the bedroom door and spied it. Sitting there serene and stately, fluffy, warm, and only slightly rumpled, with fat, fat pillows and feather down blankets. The Unmade Bed. I could almost hear it calling my name in downy whispers. I looked around. Only Edward returned my gaze, and I knew what he would advise without having to ask. I looked at the telephone. So easy, really, to remove the little cord that controls the sound. For just an hour. Perhaps two. Gently setting down my coffee, I padded down the hallway and silently slipped between the crisp linen sheets. The wind chimes sang soft lullabies and the rest of the world was quiet. Edward, sensing his fondest wishes answered, landed lightly at my feet, placed his big wise head atop my ankles and heaved a restful, happy sigh. I could barely hold my eyes open lying as I was in the arms of such white comfort. The sing song, sing song, of the wind chimes began to recede away and away as I wafted down a twilight corridor holding on to the gentle hand of repose. Somewhere a mauve door closed and I was asleep. And I regret nothing.

Painting above by Vittore Carpaccio

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

By Train

My father was a railroad man and I grew up traveling by train. The romance of this form of transportation was not lost on me. Even as a little girl, I knew the cavernous halls of the towering terminal station held special, unique wonders and I loved it all with such a passion. With ceilings so high they might as well have been sky itself... mesmerizing echoes of the varied voices of porters, travelers, ticket takers... mingling aromas of coffee, leather, diesel - the colours, the movement, the sounds, the smells- to me it was all a whirling blur of excitement and delight. How well I remember descending those crowded staircases that led down to the train platforms where deafening, almost frightening, noise met glorious anticipation in waiting for my train to arrive. And then... “Do you see it??" Around the curving track, here it came, thrillingly loud, colossal, slowly screaming to a halt at my feet. The fairy tale arrival of a magic carpet could not have been more wonderful. I remember the feel of the soft wool blankets the porter would tuck around my shoulders on cold days as well as my nervy apprehension when moving from one car to another as I made my way for hot chocolate in the dining carriage, with the raucous wind whipping round me and the inevitable childish worry....what if I fall???? Trains have the luxury of traveling through countryside unseen by roadways and winter trips were often spent with my nose pressed against cold window glass as I counted grey squirrel nests in tall, naked trees, while summer excursions gently swayed along through ever lengthening tunnels of green. Is it any wonder so many novels feature train travel? Is there any more evocative mode of transportation known to man?
Sadly, passenger trains have all but disappeared in this country. But happily, they still remain in force in the United Kingdom, where traveling by train is one of the joys of my visits there. The last long journey I made by train was a nighttime trip from Inverness to Edinburgh,
And oh, it did not disappoint.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Walking Through Autumn

Like most dogs of his furry lineage, Edward is utterly repelled by the thought of wet feet. On a soggy day, he is bound and determined to remain indoors and when forced into a necessary foray into the back garden he will high step comically along the stone pathway in an often futile attempt to remain dry-pawed. One can clearly see his mood begin to cloud when the skies do. But in all other weather, he adores nothing more than heading out with me for a long walk. In the hot summer, when the days become mossy and oppressive, those walks are frequently enjoyed late at night. After dark, when the swelter has abated a bit and the shrill crescendos of the cicadas can be heard sawing loudly through the pine trees, we become moving, moonlit shadows as we take our slower strolls through the waning heat. Our winter walks are often experienced at our fastest pace, as the cold is a friend to Edward, of course. When the temperature falls, his normally jaunty step is transformed to a run of pure joy, with some jumps and scampers thrown in for good measure, while I, bundled up like a toddler, try valiantly to hold up my end of the leash. But, autumn. Is there any season better suited to long walks with a furry dog than autumn? Overnight it seems, Mother Nature has lit her trees with fire, each one more magnificent than the last, like forest jewelry, more fine and precious than deserved. The air is cleaner, crisper; it enters the body like a cool honeyed tonic and we take great drinks of it as we meander along beneath a sky the very definition of blue. Having spent many a long day just this way as a little girl, nothing makes me feel happier, healthier, or more appreciative of life than walking briskly beside a beloved dog on a most salubrious day. And from the way Edward often looks up at me as we go along, smiling his big happy smile, he obviously feels the same.

From childhood, perhaps you remember this poem by
Winifred Welles :

Dogs and Weather

I’d like a different dog For every kind of weather -
A narrow greyhound for a fog,
A wolfhound strange and white,
With a tail like a silver feather
To run with in the night,
When snow is still, and winter stars are bright.

In the fall I’d like to see
In answer to my whistle,
A golden spaniel look at me.
But best of all for rain
A terrier, hairy as a thistle,
To trot with fine disdain

Beside me down the soaked, sweet-smelling lane.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Let Us Now Praise Witty Men

In this increasingly homogenized world of target audiences and common denominators, someone in possession of true individuality is a rare bird indeed. I was reminded of this fact one Thursday morning a couple of weeks ago when, over my coffee and strawberries, I opened my favorite section of the Times and spied a wonderful article on one of my decorating heroes, Keith Irvine. Now 80 years old, Mr. Irvine’s penchant for original thought and singular taste has not diminished one wee bit. If anything, as happily often occurs with age, it has only intensified, this being evidenced by his sharp pronouncements on topics ranging from the imperiousness of Sister Parish to the tentacles of Crate and Barrel. Mentored by the best, with talent to spare, the Scotsman Irvine combined what he learned with who he was and proceeded to concoct designs that were ever consistent in their beauty and their comfort; enchanting, inviting, and imminently livable rooms. In reading this entertaining interview with the man himself, and recalling all the pictures I had seen of his amazing work over the years, I recognized afresh an essential ingredient that is shared by all creations that I find most inspiring in the art of interior design, or in the art of life, for that matter. That most crucial element is Wit. For me, a room cannot sparkle without it. It is of no consequence the cost of the fabrics, the importance the paintings, or the provenance of the bibelots - when a room is devoid of wit it sits as lifeless and dull as a physician’s waiting room on a sunless day.

Many years ago, when I was just beginning to be fearless, I saw a magazine photo that effected me greatly. It was of a sitting room at Gipsy House, the home of the late author Roald Dahl.
Dahl had hung an immense and flamboyantly opulent mirror on the pale peach wall of the tiny room; a mirror which touched both ceiling and floor and straddled a ceiling beam to boot. Needless to say, it totally dominated the room, and I found it entrancing. With a beribboned bouquet of dried flowers tucked along one side and an emerald green tote bag hanging from the nose of a carved dolphin on the other, it was a wink to the seriousness that can sometimes exist in design. It was completely charming. It was witty.

While intelligence can be present without wit, and sadly often is, wit simply cannot breathe without intelligence. Wit springs from, and thrives on, intelligence. Think Austen or Rowling, Hepburn or Vreeland, Leonard Cohen or The Beatles. Think Keith Irvine. Intelligence plus wit so often equals magic. Perhaps that is why the most sought after dinner guests, the longest married couples, and yes, the most creative decorators seem to possess that bit of a sidelong glance at gravity, that crinkly sprinkle of amusement that just makes everything, in art and in life, better.
Keith Irvine has it, has always had it.
Long may he reign.

“No matter how much restriction civilization imposes on the individual, he nevertheless finds some way to circumvent it. Wit is the best safety valve modern man has evolved; the more civilization, the more repression, the more need there is for wit."”
Sigmund Freud

If you are unfamiliar with the work of Keith Irvine,
a wonderful book was published last year that I would recommend.
It is entitled Keith Irvine-A Life in Decoration, and was written by his wife, Chippy

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Lift every voice and sing
Till earth and heaven ring,
Ring with the harmonies of Liberty;
Let our rejoicing rise
High as the listening skies,
Let it resound loud as the rolling sea.
Sing a song full of the faith that the dark past has taught us,
Sing a song full of the hope that the present has brought us.
Facing the rising sun of our new day begun,
Let us march on till victory is won.

by James Weldon Johnson

Monday, November 3, 2008

Song of Hope
A Poem by Thomas Hardy

O sweet To-morrow! -
After to-day
There will away
This sense of sorrow.
Then let us borrow
Hope, for a gleaming
Soon will be streaming,
Dimmed by no gray -
No gray!

While the winds wing us
Sighs from The Gone,
Nearer to dawn
Minute-beats bring us;
When there will sing us
Larks of a glory
Waiting our story
Further anon -

Doff the black token,
Don the red shoon,
Right and retune
Viol-strings broken;
Null the words spoken
In speeches of rueing,
The night cloud is hueing,
To-morrow shines soon -
Shines soon!

Saturday, November 1, 2008

And now, November

All down through literary time, poets have turned to the seasons of the year as the perfect metaphor for life. Who could blame them? With innocent lambs frolicking in new green meadows, what could Springtime be but a crystalline illustration of youth? The juicy ripe abundance that is Summer is such an obvious representation of mankind at the peak of his power, it seems almost prosaic to draw the parallel. And now, November...when the clocks are turned back and the days become shorter. If one follows the poet’s well-trod path, this is to be a month of gathering in, of reaping what has been sown, of thoughtful contemplation of what has gone before and preparation for the colder days to come. I have always considered November the more serious of all the months; when conclusions are drawn, decisions are made and, if one is fortunate, contentment settles round the bones like down. It seems much more temperate of spirit than May or September, certainly. It is fitting, therefore, that we as a country make a most momentous choice every four years in November. Fitting also, that at the end of this reflective month, we observe a day of Thanksgiving for the gift of the year past.

No matter what month we happen to be in as we move through our year, November is always there, on everyone’s calendar, with his hands folded under his chin, patiently awaiting our arrival. In all the days of all our months may we endeavor to sow kindness and compassion so that we may reap contentment, thoughtfulness and tolerance so that we may reap wisdom, and love so that we may reap more love.
And may this November be a thankful one indeed.
I for one am thankful for this amazing poem from my favorite poet,
Mary Oliver.

When death comes
like the hungry bear in autumn;
when death comes and takes all the bright coins from his purse

to buy me, and snaps the purse shut;
when death comes
like the measles-pox;

when death comes
like an iceberg between the shoulder blades,

I want to step through the door full of curiosity, wondering:
what is it going to be like, that cottage of darkness?

And therefore I look upon everything
as a brotherhood and a sisterhood,
and I look upon time as no more than an idea,
and I consider eternity as another possibility,

and I think of each life as a flower, as common
as a field daisy, and as singular,

and each name a comfortable music in the mouth
tending as all music does, toward silence,

and each body a lion of courage, and something
precious to the earth.

When it's over, I want to say: all my life
I was a bride married to amazement.
I was the bridegroom, taking the world into my arms.

When it is over, I don't want to wonder
if I have made of my life something particular, and real.
I don't want to find myself sighing and frightened,
or full of argument.

I don't want to end up simply having visited this world.

Painting Above by Atkinson Grimshaw

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

The Visitors

I am the happy owner of quite a few extravagantly dramatic witch hats. It’s a delight each year to choose which one to wear as I perform my witchy duties of greeting the bands of small goblins who visit my door in search of treats on Halloween night. I love to see the various reactions of the little trick or treaters when I open the door. Some stand back shyly as if distrustful of any procedure which requires human beings to dress is such an unusual manner...some charge forward in full gory glory, determined to scare the wits out of everyone they see, little thespians in the making, no doubt. The ones I love the most though, are those out participating in the revelry for the very first time. These are the ones holding their little orange buckets with chubby hands, trying not to trip over their pink princess dresses or looking rather lost inside their red and black Spiderman suits. I once had one of these wee ones take one look at me, smile sweetly and march right inside the house. Evidently I am not as scary as I think. Last year we had oodles of visitors, but one in particular stole my heart. A tiny sweet-faced little fellow, dressed most incongruously as a vampire, and followed closely by his dad, made his way tentatively up the walk. As I bent down and held out the big bowl of candy for him to choose his favorite, he stared at me in grave study, never saying a word. Many, many visitors and a few hours later, as things were winding down, I was standing out in the drive talking to neighbors, when I noticed this tiny vampire and his father approaching once again. His dad said, ....”I’m so sorry, but all he has wanted to do all night is come back here. He just keeps saying that he wants to go back and see the good witch”. Well, I ask you, just how many ways can one’s heart melt?? I bent down to talk to the little guy and it soon became apparent that he sort of wanted to stay for awhile. His father was explaining that it was time to go, and he was having none of it. Finally, I put on my most good-witchy voice and said, “I really must go I’m afraid.... It is time to feed my flying monkeys.” The little guy nodded knowingly and took his father’s hand while his dad gave me a grateful thumbs up.

Oh yes, I do love my Halloween visitors. And I so hope that little vampire returns on Friday night!

Monday, October 27, 2008

Wind Advisory

There was a wind advisory for today. Meant as a warning, but taken as glad tidings, for I dearly love the wind. The day ahead was easy to predict when I spied the tops of the tall trees dancing together at dawn. Roundelays and reels, jigs and tarantellas, they wheeled and whirled with abandon while the wind chimes that encircle the house kept a delicate rhythm with the orchestra that played through the branches. It made the old magnolia tree jolly, its stout and leafy limbs bouncing up and down, up and down, in fat green chuckles. It played chase with the birds and loosened the maple leaves who were busy preparing for their colourful November tumble to the garden below. It ruffled Edward’s white fur, thicker than ever now with his own glad anticipation of the colder days to come. Edward responded by running full tilt throughout the sunny garden, leaping and rolling with the wind like a friend. Coats, newly unearthed from hall closets, whipped around the knees of dog walkers who were yanked up the street at at faster than desired pace by dogs who couldn’t believe their good fortune in waking to such a gloriously windy day. On and on it blew, creating shadows that gamboled across the carpet under my feet; shadows that brought the wool patterns to life as bubbling paisleys and animated florals, impossible to catch or to hold. It called to me from outside my window, throughout the long morning, with its promises of a carefree afternoon while I, determined to complete the tasks I had at hand, endeavored not to listen. But soon, unable to withstand temptation any longer, I acquiesced. Laying down my work with a thud, grabbing my coat and my dog, I made for the door.
The wind laughed with a bluster, for he knew I would come out to play all along.
He remembers me of old.

He shouts in the sails of the ships at sea,
He steals the down from the honeybee,
He makes the forest trees rustle and sing,
He twirls my kite till it breaks its string.
Laughing, dancing, sunny wind,
Whistling, howling, rainy wind,
North, South, East and West,
Each is the wind I like the best.

By Amy Lowell, from her poem The Wind

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Backward, Turn Backward

In the halcyon land that is my childhood memory, Halloween stands proudly alongside the most celebrated holidays as a time of unparalleled flights of fancy and fun. Before the likes of Jason and Freddy or any of their chainsaw wielding compadres, Halloween season meant the innocently spooky charm of black cats, grinning pumpkins, green witches on broomsticks, and all of the windy, dark, giddy, laughing, orange mystery that was October. Crimson leaves blew across grey neighborhood streets made strangely ominous by the curiously dressed small people, masked and cloaked as they were, who made their way past familiar houses that seemed more than willing to put aside their normally dignified facades to play along, sporting ghosts in their trees and jack-o-lanterns on their porches. How well I remember gathering my courage to knock on the front doors of unknown neighbors, grateful for the anonymity provided by my plastic mask - often a mask whose eye holes never quite matched up to my own, rendering me a bit wobbly on occasion. How I loved those weeks of agonized thought as I tried to decide “who to be” for the night. Halloween gave me the glorious opportunity to dress for one lone evening in a style I wished I could don every day of the year, so I had to choose most carefully.

And then of course there was The Halloween Carnival. The Carnival was produced by my grade school a few nights before the 31st, and it was a true highlight of the school year. Red-brick and tree-shaded, our school was quintessential Americana, and quite honestly, so were we. It felt so odd to enter the school building at night, something we students never did; it was a spooky prospect in and of itself. The father of one of my close friends was in charge, every year, of the haunted classroom where, in total darkness and giggling nervously, we would line up to place our hands into bowls of wet grapes masquerading as eyeballs, while slimy cabbages and cold spaghetti were enlisted to represent other various and sundry body parts best forgotten. Each year, one of the more exotic mothers had the honor of playing the role of the gypsy fortune teller. Sitting in her brightly coloured booth, bejeweled and heavily made-up, she looked quite the part. However, she seemed to annually foretell the most optimistic fortunes imaginable which, to my mind, diminished her authenticity and made her just a bit suspect. But I was a questioning child. There were cake walks and kissing booths, along with blue ribbons presented to the most frightful and terrifying of costumes. Of course, nothing could have compared to the sheer horror of witnessing one’s parents and one’s teachers socializing. Together. None of us could ever manage to wrap our minds around that one.

Those days are past and I am grateful for the priceless memories which help me now to re-create a similar Halloween here in our own little cottage. We are fortunate to have lots of those strangely dressed little people who roam our streets on this spookiest of nights; little people who are brave enough to march past the ghosts and goblins hiding behind our tall trees, lift the latch to our squeaky gate and climb the stairs to knock on our door. When they do, they find a celebration not unlike the one that made my own childhood Halloween a holiday to fondly remember.
And they also find a large white dog who is completely convinced that they are all arriving just to say hello to him!

“Backward, turn backward,
O Time, in your flight
make me a child again
just for to-night!”

Elizabeth Akers Allen

Painting by August Malmstrom