Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Ever Smiling

Her beauty, while intoxicating, never overpowers as does that of her summertime sisters. She has never been as reserved, nor as wise, as her brothers of autumn. Ever smiling, she drifts in the doorway as a fragrance, trailing lilacs all over the floor, and a bit of her lingers, in the secret corners of the soul, long after her departure.

She flirts, she entices, she weaves flowers in my hair and puts ideas in my head. She turns my chair towards the window and makes me think of picnics. She lays out my linen blazer and finds a gardenia for my lapel. She wants me to wear white shoes.

She recites poetry at the oddest times, stanzas awash with chimerical gardens and follies of stone. Pale rooms with tall windows and blue nights full of stars.
She erases years and fills my plate with strawberries. She dances a waltz in an arbor at midnight and begs me to follow her down to the sea.
I am helpless in her presence.

She is May.
Open the windows.
She is almost here.

he month of May was come,
when every lusty heart beginneth to blossom,
and to bring forth fruit;

for like as herbs and trees bring forth fruit and flourish in May,
in likewise every lusty heart that is in
any manner a lover,
springeth and flourisheth in lusty deeds.
For it giveth unto all lovers courage,
that lusty month of May."

Sir Thomas Malory, Le Morte d'Arthur

Sunday, April 26, 2009

The First Few Notes of a Song

In recent days I, like so many others, have struggled to hold back tears as I sat in front of my computer screen mesmerized by the video of Scotland’s Susan Boyle on Britain’s Got Talent. An ordinary woman with an extraordinary gift, she accomplished a feat I would not have dreamed possible. In the first few notes of a song, her lovely voice effectively silenced the snarky, arrogant attitude that seems to permeate the culture of fame. In the first few notes of a song, she drew a technicolour line between talent and celebrity, placing both in sharp contrast and illustrating clearly how rarely the two intersect. Just why was everyone in that audience so certain this woman was incapable of such a performance?
Simple answer, really. She didn’t look the part.

So often these days it seems appearance trumps everything else. In Hollywood, apparently, there is such a sparse folder of acceptable definitions for beauty that people are willing to do just about anything to make certain their visage falls within the corporately validated range. True individuality, and the courage to retain it, seems rather thin on the ground at the moment. A naturally aging face or a bit of a crooked nose, both of which I happily own, are often difficult to find in the halls of celebrity.

Perhaps this is part of the reason that dear Susan Boyle has so transfixed the world. She has challenged the current, paperthin definition of beauty and has, just perhaps, made us wonder how many others just like her are out there in the crowd. How many talented, brilliant, remarkable souls are casually dismissed for appearance sake, and just how much wonder has our culture been denied as a result? I have often heard it said that Abraham Lincoln could never have been elected president in this media driven day. He just would not look the part.
A shudder worthy thought, to be sure.

It is quite impossible to fathom the white hot glare of the lights now focused on Ms. Boyle or what effect that glare will have. Indeed, I have recently read that she has undergone a makeover of sorts.
I do hope those blazing lights do her no harm.
And I hope she gets to sing for the Queen.

Painting above: The Mirror of Venus by Edward Burne-Jones

Friday, April 24, 2009

Our Friends

The morning had just awakened, stretching out her graceful arms in painterly strokes of pink and blue as she yawned with sweet breezes that sailed in from the east and made the windchimes sing in rounds of tenor voices.
The poplar noticed first.
Down below, the big white dog was tearing cross the garden, fur flying out behind him as he bore down on a fat grey rabbit whose spatula feet fast forwarded it... always just a bit out of reach... till it scooted under the wooden fence like a vapour. Stunned, the white dog watched the cottontail disappear with barks of frustration. The old poplar tree laughed, his lemonlime leaves fluttering in their Spring-born fuzziness, and soon, one by ever larger one, they were all awake to share in this comedy unfolding far beneath them on the garden floor.

They are the guardians of the ivy covered cottage that nestles beneath their greenly benevolent gaze. From their tip top branches where the Great Horned Owl surveys the midnight landscape, all the way down, down to their horrible-muddy, long-fingered roots clasping hands with one another far below the surface of the soil. They have stood their ground for decades. These venerable oaks and mischievous, cone-throwing pines. These girlish pink dogwoods and quietly handsome maples. Through winter snow and summer storm, they dance in the wind and lift their leafy faces to the rain, while mockingbirds nest in the crooks of their arms and squirrels chase squirrels on the tightropes of their high-wire branches.
Occasionally, especially in April, their bashful new leaves shyly brush the windows to say hello.

They are our friends. They are our trees.
And tis too true, no poem could be lovelier.

Painting by Joyce Gibson

Tuesday, April 21, 2009


I have always had a thing for sheep. How well I remember the perfectly delicious feeling of having a chubby white ewe take treats from my little flattened palm under a cavernous tent at the state fair when I was a child. What a treat it was to enjoy a personal encounter with an animal that I had only met on the pages of story books. I have sat amused in my car on isolated, one-lane tracks in Scotland, patiently waiting for the flock of woolly wanderers gazing in my windows to deem me worthy of passage by moving out from the center of the road. And once, I sat on a windy hill by the sea and watched in fascination as a flock of sheep suddenly turned from the hillside and began to make their way, single-file and sure, out to the steep, winding road, over a small stone wall, and down to the beach below.
What an enchanting sight to see.... sheep enjoying a day out at the beach.

Maybe it is my new found love of knitting that has caused me to appreciate these remarkable creatures anew. I walk into my favourite knitting shop and stand there happily tempted by the myriad of colour and variety of texture they are capable of producing. Shall I choose Black Welsh or Jacob? Suffolk or Bluefaced Leister? I feel in partnership with them somehow, as together we team up to create such lovely things and Lord knows, I could not do it without them. Knitting is such a tactile activity, and as I sit for hours watching as a simple ball of delicate wool is transformed under my own ten fingers, I cannot help but wonder about the sturdy hillside fellow that sent it my way.

There are those who say the only thing that exists inside the mind of the sheep is a dial tone. But I don’t believe it for a minute. Especially after reading this truly wonderful new book by Leonie Swann. It is entitled
Three Bags Full and I most highly recommend it, even for those who might not be as besotted with sheep as I. It is the story of a certain flock of sheep who were read to every evening by their shepherd and consequently developed a higher, albeit quirky, intelligence than might otherwise have been afforded them. When their shepherd is murdered...in the first few pages...they take it upon themselves to solve the crime. Witty, original, and delightfully sheepy, I looked forward to my time spent inside its covers and I would be the first in line to purchase a sequel if one appeared.

Friday, April 17, 2009


Like most interior designers, I am a total showhouse addict. I love to see what other designers are thinking and how those thoughts are translating into new ideas for the decoration of houses. Generally speaking, showhouse rooms are not created for any specific client; a designer is totally unfettered when it comes to interpreting the images swimming in the forefront of his imagination. Thus, these houses are of unfailing interest to me because I can discover a bit of the current inspirations of my peers. Are they looking backwards, into historical interiors with document fabrics and aubusson rugs? Are they totally immersed in the current moment with clean lines, farmhouse sinks and blue grey walls? Or perhaps, are they off roaming the landscape of the future and, if so, just how do they see it?

As I read about New York City’s Kips bay Showhouse today, I must consider that, at least for a few of these artists, the future has become the present. Kips Bay has the reputation of being the creme de la creme of showhouses, consistently presenting top designers pulling out all the stops available. It is revered and highly publicized. And this year, it features a Panic Room. Windowless, with walls the colour of charcoal, it contains a disco ball hanging from the ceiling, a stainless steel toilet and a bearskin rug. I found this comically ironic and assumed it was meant to be so until I read the quote from the designer, William T. Georgis. When asked why we need a panic room Mr. Georgis replied, ”Do you read the papers? Economic mayhem, global warfare, take your pick. We have to hunker down, and where we do so has to be chic and comfortable”.

I shall set aside the question about this room being either chic or comfortable and consider this supposed need for mankind to “hunker down” . Really? Have we traveled that far full circle? How long till it is back to blood over the door and a necklace of garlic? Once, glowering gargoyles perched on rooftops to ward off evil spirits and moats encircled the manor house. Are we now to believe that those antediluvian fears have returned with such thunder as to force our retreat into prisons within our own houses? I am no Pollyanna - I read the same papers as those now altered by fear. I just refuse to bow to those headlines of doom. I much prefer to station round my home the safeguards of hope and faith, optimism and love. Strong guardians all, who will not allow panic into my house, let alone give him his own room.

Panic room? I am off to open my windows.

“I've seen the nations rise and fall
I've heard their stories, heard them all
but love's the only engine of survival”

from “The Future” by Leonard Cohen

Painting above: Princess Elizabeth in Prison by
Sir John Everett Millais

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

The Storm

The full moon covered his eyes with clouds, not daring to look as the boiling darkness filled the skies above our cottage. Suddenly, like the flash of silver light when a sword is unsheathed, the room was lit like a momentary noon, while off in the distance we could hear the thunder, coming ever nearer, as a herd of black riders galloping over the heavenly plains.

Silent and still we lay there and counted.....one....two....then
whoomp - Edward landed with conviction atop the bed, only to be followed, a short second later, by Apple. In possession of entirely too much dignity to act frightened, they both merely appeared to be checking to see if we were alright. Then agreeing together that we might be just a wee bit nervous, they resolved to stay and keep us company. Edward settled himself with his big white head on the Songwriter’s chest, while Apple cozied up against my knees. The windowpanes rattled and shook with the force of the tempest outside, while the four of us snuggled down and listened. The wind howled and the trees cracked and the rain pelted the windows like slingshot stones. But we lay warm and dry, safe and sound, together. A picture perfect illustration of the sweet eccentricity of family.
For surely as the Windsors or the Waltons, we four are a family .

Sharing one’s life with animals is such a delightful way to live. Having two bright souls around who love without prejudice or condition is a bounding and abiding joy.
Whenever I shudder at the horrors of the world, pain that I am incapable of erasing or evils I can only fight with prayer, I look at my dogs lying contentedly by my chair - with their tummies full, their coats brushed, and their paws dry - and I feel comforted. Here are two kind creatures who were rescued from potential disaster and who are now happy, loved and cared for. Perhaps that is a small thing, but somehow it always makes me feel just a bit better.

My favourite quote remains:

Man with dog closes a gap in the universe.”
C.S. Lewis

Edward and I are so tickled to see the charming photographs
of Bo Obama, or BoBama as we like to call him, the handsome new addition to America’s first family. May he bring them much joy and happiness as they begin their new life as a family of five.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

I Have Seen the Bunny, and He Is Me

Unusually large and unnaturally bipedal, they are outsized versions of the storybook characters and cartoon creatures of old, most prevalent in the land of parties and Magic Kingdoms. They count chipmunks and tigers, hound dogs and ducks in their numbers, these anthropomorphic animals adored by children everywhere who entertain no doubt of their living, breathing reality.

Every Spring at Eastertime, one of the more heralded members of this fraternity of fake fur ventures outside the confines of play to the gardens of the everyday world. Perhaps you saw one yourself this weekend, his stitched-on smile never fading as he awkwardly stood in a neighbor’s yard, surrounded by awestruck toddlers anxious for their one special moment with this mysterious annual visitor, this giant rabbit, this Easter Bunny.

I have always been a sucker for the Easter Bunny, and for all of his compadres. Donald Duck, Tigger, Goofy and Pooh Bear - for years I bought the illusion completely, gleefully posing for pictures with these charming fellows whenever the opportunity arose, never thinking, not once considering, the poor suffering wretch hiding inside his suit of stifling polyester. And then, it happened.

One lovely Spring, I helped to plan our neighborhood’s first Easter Egg hunt. Being the sort of person who never likes to ask others to do something I am perfectly capable of doing myself, I decided to play the Bunny. How hard could it be? Rent a furry suit and climb inside. Right? Oh, the naivete.

Tickled with my sartorial choice - for I had chosen a Bunny suit that I found quite fetching, complete with a colourful little vest, bright blue bow tie, and requisite cottontail - I had actually begun to look forward to the event. I mean it is not everyday when one is, without question, destined to be the star of the show. So when the big day arrived I happily bounced out of bed in anticipation.
My confidence began to ebb ever so slightly when I slipped on my rabbit feet. As large as cross country skis, I could see that these newly acquired appendages would make getting around unaided almost impossible. But a touch of real gloom descended when I pulled on my gargantuan rabbit head. Ostensibly, these costumes are meant to fit everyone, but it was quite clear that no one of my exact proportions had been considered during the creation of this particular cranium. If I was ever going to suffer from claustrophobia, this was going to be the day.
Barely able to breath, I could see out the darkly screened eye holes only when I stood as ramrod straight as a palace guard, and achieving this particular posture made my chin jut out at a rather irritating angle. It was at this exact point that I noticed the smell...an overwhelming sweet scent of fabric softener, which made me consider for the first time how many other human heads had been stuffed inside this rabbit skull before my own. And as I am a person who would never dream of renting a pair of bowling shoes because I find the thought of wearing “public” footwear more that a little distasteful, well..... imagining all those previous tenants of my big rabbit head began to make me feel just a wee bit woozy.
But, in for a penny , in for a pound, and besides...my public was waiting, so off to the car I went. I could tell by the none too subtle way The Songwriter was doubled over in laughter that this was destined to be an afternoon I would remember for a long, long while.

I lumbered into the grassy garden filled to bursting with children of all shapes and sizes and I must say that that I played my part to perfection all afternoon. Never saying a word, I shook my basket full of eggs, I hugged giggling toddlers, I bounced babies on my knee, all the while being gazed up at by these happy, shining faces with total adoration. Funnily, it took me hours before I stopped smiling when a camera was pointed my way and now whenever I think of myself grinning like a cat inside my giant rabbit head, I have to laugh. Once I figured it out, the freedom of actually sticking out my tongue or making a monkey face whenever someone said “smile”, was quite delicious.

It was an experience everyone should have at least once in their lifetime, although I am glad to say that other neighbors have been enlisted for this Easter duty in recent years. But as we gain empathy through experience, I am now unfailingly kind to those Disney ducks and Pooh Bears whenever I happen to be in their presence.
For I know that inside that festive attire there lurks a silent sufferer; a hot, nearly blind soul, standing tall, and balancing on feet that are way too big to count for much.

You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view... until you climb into his skin and walk around in it."
Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird

Saturday, April 11, 2009

And Death Shall Have No Dominion

And death shall have no dominion.
Dead men naked they shall be one
With the man in the wind and the west moon;
When their bones are picked clean and the clean bones gone,
They shall have stars at elbow and foot;

Though they go mad they shall be sane,
Though they sink through the sea they shall rise again;
Though lovers be lost love shall not;
And death shall have no dominion.....

From the poem by Dylan Thomas

Painting -
Why Seek Ye the Living Among the Dead
by Howard Pyle

A Most Happy Easter to Everyone!!
From Both of Us!

Thursday, April 9, 2009


Her writing was oft considered somewhat strange, so it seemed only fitting that I embarked on my birthday pilgrimage to her farm just as a somewhat strange April snow was falling all around me. And I fell with it, back decades in time, to a day when this enigmatic writer lived and wrote in this white wooden farmhouse with its red tin roof and wide screened porch.
She kept a flock of fifty peacocks.
And she died too young.

Whispers of her stories are everywhere here, one can hear them on the very wind that rustles through the towering oak trees above, soft echoes caught in corners of the unchanged rooms - snippets of stories that gently point to all those colourful symbols she once used to paint her shining paragraphs. Her inspirations are still manifest everywhere I look.

Sanctification floats on the quiet waters of the pond at the bottom of the hill, grace flutters through the hundreds of white lilies that line the trail by the meadow, suffering sits with the cold metal crutches that still silently lean against her writing desk, and dark humour glints the eye of a crotchety old mule as he stares down a large, white, rather flabbergasted, dog.

My words would be inadequate to say what it means to
stand at her bedroom door; to see where she worked, where she slept, where she met the day.
I left with that memory and one perfect peacock feather.

Andalusia is the home of American writer, Flannery O'Connor.
She wrote two novels and thirty-two short stories and was the first fiction writer born in the twentieth century to have her works collected and published by the Library of America.
She died of lupus at age thirty-nine.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

William and Me

“We have within ourselves
Enough to fill the present day with joy,
And overspread the future years with hope.”

William Wordsworth
born April 7th

I have always been proud to share my birthday with Mr. Wordsworth and have always thought this old postcard to be one of the most delightful illustrations of pure happiness I have ever seen.
Like the pair in the picture, Edward and I are off to have a happy day!

Sunday, April 5, 2009

No Lovelier Spot

As usual, his dark eyes were hidden in the mist, but I could still sense him gazing down on me from his place so high above as I made my way along the path to the garden. The tallest of his kind, for years he had kept a benevolent watch on the divinely turreted manor nestled below him. Floating islands of cloud cast giant navy blue shadows on the grass; shadows that moved over the hunter green lawn like ball gowns waltzing in the wind. I followed their dance to the stone gate hidden amid the towering firs. Once behind the garden wall, cabbage leaves and dahlias painted tableaus in deep purple, while sun orange pumpkins sat serenely waiting to be turned into midnight fairytale coaches. The air smelled like holidays. Plump raindrops began to fall at my feet, those slow, wet drops that herald downpours, so I started back. Off in the distance, I could see the old stone tower of the great house, stately and mysterious, standing proudly impassive, with stories to tell but with no intention of doing so. The majestic lady, for whom an entire age was named, once wrote in her diary of this very place declaring, “I never saw a lovelier or more romantic spot”.
I would have been foolish to doubt her.
I pulled my hat brim lower, my pace quickened with the raindrops. I knew, inside that tower, wood fires were burning, my name was remembered and my tea was waiting.

For the first person to correctly guess this location, I shall be happy to send
an Easter Keepsake Box!

(Congratulations to Martha from Lines From Linderhof!!!
She was the first to guess correctly!)

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Bits of Simple Paper

With the back of a gloved hand, I wiped away a crescent of fog from the taxi window and gazed up at the enigmatic old building rising solidly before me in the steel coloured sky. The British Museum. Home to more enchantment than the mind could fathom. Paying the driver, I joined the muffled throng ascending the stone steps and soon found myself inside. There, in the glowing cavernous room to my right, within ancient wooden cases with heavy glass tops, lay the wonders I had come to see.

Inside the first, lying there open, was a small notebook containing all the magical words that made up the novel, Jane Eyre, the very words written by Charlotte Bronte herself, in her very own tiny, perfect script. There it was, the book that I had read at the age of thirteen, under the blankets with a flashlight - the book that left me with an abiding thirst for all that literature could offer. I could scarcely breathe as I stared at this original manuscript. Then I noticed, over to the side of the room, a crowd was gathered around another case. Walking over slowly, I could see that inside rested the handwritten, iconic lyrics of John Lennon and Paul McCartney. Words that defined a generation; words that had changed the culture. I stood a bit off to the side and watched as people of all nationalities approached these bits of simple paper with near reverence, some of them softly singing the songs to themselves in a melange of exotic accents. Tears stung my eyes as I witnessed the astounding power of the written word. Whether book, poem or lyric, when the very words that have been instrumental in shaping your life and your heart, words that have influenced the way in which you see the world or helped you find your way in it....when the original incarnation of those words is right before your very eyes, well... it is an overwhelming experience.

I think back often to that drizzly afternoon in the British Museum. I have never lost the awestruck feeling of gazing down at those wondrous written treasures. And these days, I have to confess, I fear for the written word. There does not seem to be a day that passes without reports of another newspaper switching over to online availability only, while I myself find it utterly impossible to imagine a morning without a pot of hot coffee and the Times spread out on the kitchen table. Now, I am no Luddite. I use technology almost as much as anyone, with the possible exception of a teenager. I find email a valuable tool for handling business and for staying in contact with people one might otherwise lose track of, and I am writing these words on a
blog, for goodness sake. But I do wonder what sort of legacy is being left and what sort of environment is being fashioned when so much of what is written and read exists only in the digital realm.

When I look into the eyes of Vincent Van Gogh as they stare out at me from one of his many haunting self-portraits, the experience is infinitely more powerful because I have read the moving letters that exist between the artist and his beloved brother, Theo. Indeed, the letters of E.B. White or C.S. Lewis, Virginia Woolf or Beatrix Potter are so inspiring, so enlightening, it grieves me to think of the scarcity of such correspondence in the current age. The love letters I have tied up with a velvet ribbon in the box under my bed? Somehow I cannot imagine retaining the same sweet fondness for a folder full of emails. And it seems, with the current text and tweet phenomenon, the infinite glory of the English language is constantly being whittled to an ever more insignificant series of nonsensical acronyms, dashes and dots.

I realize I am perilously close to the edge of a rant and I hasten to say that I am fresh out of answers. Perhaps the ship has sailed. But I for one shall go down swinging. And who knows, maybe one day I myself shall be in a museum, sitting upright in a mahogany display case with a hat on my head.

No doubt my label shall declare me to be ...
The Last Surviving Letter Writing, Newspaper Subscribing, Hardback Reading,
Old Crank on the Planet!

Painting: Self-Portrait With Straw Hat, 1887 by Vincent van Gogh