Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Beauty In The Broken

Beauty In The Broken

Staggering into the kitchen on a morning last week, still sleepy from too late a hour with an absorbing book, I lifted the domed lid off the china biscuit jar that houses Edward’s morning treats, and it slipped from my hands like sand - falling onto the floor and breaking apart not unlike Mr. Dumpty himself.  Edward and I stared - me stunned, him sorrowful - at the wreckage that lay at our feet.  I carefully gathered up the pieces and carried them like a supplicant to the one person I knew who could, like magic, return them to their original state.

You see, The Songwriter has an amazing talent, apart from his storied ability with lyric and song.  He can glue anything back together.  This astonishing knack was no doubt forged in the fires of childhood when he, being a boy, had the unfortunate, but typical, tendency to break decorative objects with a high degree of regularity.  One such item, an antique transferware plate, was shattered one afternoon - perhaps the victim of a wayward guitar neck - but so expertly was it glued back together - each tiny shard fitted in with the finesse of an artist - that his mother didn’t even notice until years and years later.
“Hey, who broke this plate?”
“Mother!  That happened twenty-five years ago!”
Decidedly too late for punishment.

As I sit here now looking at this newly, and meticulously, glued biscuit jar dome, marveling at the remarkable resemblance to its perfect former self, it occurs to me how often I consider something broken to be of little use and what an obvious mistake that is.  Oh, the monetary value may have decreased somewhat.  Antiques Roadshow teaches us that.  But is the beauty really so diminished?   

Several years ago, on a bright autumn afternoon, I stood in Lady Chapel at Wells Cathedral.  The sun poured through the fabled stained glass windows like wine, splashing rich colour all over the stone floors at my feet.  I stood with my head thrown back, awestruck by the massive magnificence of those windows, with a myriad of iridescent jewels reflected in my eyes.  
I had never seen windows so beautiful.
Gradually, I became aware of a tiny, tweed-suited gentleman standing quietly at my elbow.  I turned to meet his smiling face and he began to tell me the story of the windows.   All save one had been destroyed centuries before by Puritan soldiers on a window smashing rage.  Their hideous rampage had reduced the brilliant Holy pictures to smithereens, as though a giantess had spilled her entire jewelry box on the dusty floor of the earth.  In acknowledgment of their limitations, the craftsmen who restored the windows did not even attempt to recreate them in their original form, instead constructing new windows from the jagged shards of what had been.  
And I had not even noticed.  
Such was the beauty of the windows before me. 

And I now understood why I felt such wonder standing beneath those glorious windows.   In the loss of their ancient narratives, with only fragments of ecclesiastical colour left behind, I was now free to see myself within them.  They had become more personal somehow.  Through them, my own imperfect life, with all its blessings and mysteries, seemed to shine back at me.  These windows welcomed me, included me, in this consecrated place as the others, unbroken and pristine, could never have done. 
A little bit of wisdom was carried home in my pocket that day.

From stained glass to biscuit jars, broken lives to broken hearts. 
 I always wish for the imagination to see beyond what used to be.
 To wait for, to anticipate, the beauty that just may come.

Friday, September 24, 2010

In The Garden On The Last Night Of Summer

In The Garden On The Last Night Of Summer

A stubborn hot sun is grudgingly giving the day back to the moon. 
It is rising now behind me, full and smiling over my shoulder as I kneel in the black dirt of my new garden.
  Luscious black dirt, on my knees and under my nails, a trace on my forehead, a spot on my cheek. 
Seedlings of cabbages, purple and green - the pious spinach, the happy lettuce - all sit at my feet like a private audience, waiting to hear the story of their lives.  
I tuck tiny seeds into beds of ebony.  So small - mere notions of what they might yet become on the morning they choose to awaken. 
Rustlings are heard in the forest behind me - green eyes, and yellow, observing my work.
A stone statue of Mary watches over us all, her arms outstretched, moss-covered and sincere. 
Kneeling in this spot of tangible promises on this very last night of Summer, I take a deep breath of sweet-scented air, relishing the quiet, hopeful, waiting to see what will happen next. 
Welcoming Autumn back into my life.


Fall Song 
by Mary Oliver

Another year gone, leaving everywhere
its rich spiced residues: vines, leaves,

the uneaten fruits crumbling damply
in the shadows, unmattering back

from the particular island
of this summer, this NOW, that now is nowhere

except underfoot, moldering
in that black subterranean castle

of unobservable mysteries - roots and sealed seeds
and the wanderings of water. This

I try to remember when time's measure
painfully chafes, for instance when autumn

flares out at the last, boisterous and like us longing
to stay - how everything lives, shifting

from one bright vision to another, forever
in these momentary pastures.

Painting above:  Kitchen Garden in Autumn, 1947
  by Stephen Harris

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

The Invitation

The Invitation

Just this week, my invitation arrived.   
On the somersault of a zephyr, it sailed through my bedroom window - tickling Edward’s nose as it passed - to land in my hands with the softness of grace.
Hardly believing my luck, lost in anticipation, I held it awhile before opening - running my forefinger along the ruby red ink of my very own name, emblazoned upon the papyrus.  
Finally, I slid my finger under the seal and it opened.  
One thousand yellow butterflies flew up in the air and I knew it was actually true.
I sent my acceptance on that very day and here I now sit, hands folded, waiting for the performance to commence, waiting for the 22nd.

At present the stage hands are busy. Ripping down the humid curtains, sweeping out the sand.  The air in this old theatre fairly crackles with joy as I wait, and I watch, for her entrance.
I catch a glimpse of her every now and then. 
 See, there she is.
Oh, you can’t see her?  Here, take my hand.  Now look....
over here, no a little more to the left... now, can you make her out? 
 Just behind the velvet curtain, just off stage, pacing to and fro... make-up artists running along behind her, adding a bit of extra colour here and there.  Hair-dressers trying to tame her wild hair, wardrobe mavens pinning one more golden maple leaf to her russet coloured gown.
Can you hear the orchestra tuning up as I speak?  
The sonatas and fugues on the whip of a wind. 
The crackles of hearthsides, the hoot of an owl.

As I sit here, a sweetness, a gratitude runs through my soul. 
 So happy am I to once again be included, to once again nestle down in a familiar front row seat, once more to witness this splendour, this beauty, of autumn.
Open your windows.
Your invitation is coming, if not already here.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Meaningful Work

Meaningful Work

Having only had six of them, Edward realizes he is hardly an expert on summer.  But this particular summer, being the hottest he has lived through in his short time here on earth, must surely have been one for the record books.  The owls have told him that indeed it is so and known as they are for their wisdom, who is he, mere youngster that he is, to doubt them?

He does know that his walks have not exactly been pleasant at any time of the day for many weeks now.  In fact, so unpleasant have they been, he has ceased to request them, preferring instead to play ball with the lady down the hallways of the cool and comfortable house.  Although usually loathe to complain, he has even, on occasion, been rather expressive of his ennui by indulging in a few whinges and sighs - a few longing stares out the window, a few vociferous over-reactions to the neighbourhood squirrels.

But he is blessed with an unflagging optimism, and so has continued to bound out of the door early each morning, expecting the weather to have come to its senses and changed back to the crispness of autumn -  hoping for wind and longing for cold. And he has been decidedly disappointed every morning for weeks. 

So it was with a general lack of enthusiasm that he led the way out into the back garden on a still hot afternoon just this past week.  He joined his friend, Apple, in poking around the old climbing rose bush, trudging through the ivy that lines the side fence, and sniffing the birdbath to check for any evidence of his nocturnal nemesis, the bandit raccoon.  Fairly routine stuff, really. 
 Then, just as he heard Apple push open the back door to return to the house, he saw it.  That most infuriating rogue of the garden.
  The cockiest, sassiest, most impossible to catch pests of all time.  
The dreaded chipmunk. 
Without warning, it sprang from the ivy and ran like light towards the house, looking left and right so fast it appeared simultaneous.  Then it scooted straight up the downspout at the end of the cottage.
The nerve of the thing!  And right under Edward’s very nose.

Edward froze for a millisecond, then tore after the creature with all the force he could muster, sliding into the downspout like home base, and cramming his furry white face as far up the spout as he felt it was prudent to go.  
 And there, tail spinning like a top, he waited. 
 He heard the back door close.  He knew the lady thought he had followed his friend back inside the cool house.  She would imagine he was back in his spot underneath the piano, or perhaps curled up in his favourite red chair. 
 She wouldn’t feel the need to search for him yet.  
So he was on his own, on the job, waiting patiently by the downspout, determined to never again allow that blasted striped chipmunk to freely scamper along in the bright light of day.  
At least not in His Garden.

Edward burrowed his tummy down even deeper into the bed of old leaves at the base of the pipe, to give himself a better view.  Every now and then he smacked the downspout with his paw, sending a strange hollow thud reverberating through the back rooms of the cottage and, he hoped, relaying clear signals to the wretched rascal trapped up inside that this time he’d been pushed too far.  Lost in her own work, the lady paid no attention to the odd bangings and thumps.  But later in the afternoon, she missed him. Edward could hear her, faintly, going from room to room, calling his name.  
What a conundrum he now faced. 
 It was cool in the house.  There were treats in there, too. 
It was past time for his nap.
 He heard the lady call his name once again.  
He began to think. 

Surely, this chipmunk had learned its lesson.  Surely, surely, the thing would never return to this garden.  In fact, Edward reasoned, it might be better to let the chap live.  After all, in surviving such an ordeal, it could perhaps spread the word throughout the community of chipmunks, so that all would know of Edward’s fervent commitment to their permanent banishment from his particular corner of the earth. 
 Yes, that would be the best, the wisest, move by far.
He was satisfied.
His work here was done.

So it was, when the lady opened the door to the garden, her worried gaze was met by the bounding white dog, covered with the leaves of last season, paws muddy, fur mussed, with his furry face cracked open by the world’s happiest grin.  It was a grin that remained fixed on that sunshiny face all the long day, even during the depths of his afternoon nap, which he justifiably felt was well and truly earned.

Everybody needs meaningful work to be happy.
And Edward was. Happy.


“A mind always employed is always happy. 
 This is the true secret, the grand recipe, for felicity.”  
Thomas Jefferson

Monday, September 13, 2010

A Vegetable Garden

A Vegetable Garden

If Sir Paul McCartney were coming to my house for dinner, I know just what I’d serve him.  Vegetables, and lots of them.  Here at The House of Edward, we have lots of vegetable dinners, especially in the summertime when the farmer’s markets overflow with the bounty of local gardens.  Our protein comes from crowder peas and pinto beans, and we feast on silver queen corn and half-runner green beans, fried okra, heirloom tomatoes, and baby lima beans.  Cornbread and iced tea.  Beautiful colours, and fabulous flavours.  I think Sir Paul, noted vegetarian that he is, would approve.

To be honest, I’ve never been one for junk food.  The “drive-thru” is not a place that I frequent and I can clearly remember the one and only Big Mac I ever ate.  I was a teenager and I didn’t like it.  And yes, I’m often been teased about my preferences... “oh, Pamela won’t eat that!”... “ oh, Pamela is here.  Do we have any carrots?”.  Doesn’t bother me in the least.  Having long ago made the connection between what I eat and how I feel, I know that a bit plate of lunchtime onion rings does not bode well for a bouncy, bright-eyed afternoon.  Some people crave fries.  I crave cucumbers.  Takes all kinds, I suppose.

Imagine my delight when I heard that our city was creating a community garden in a brand-new park they were building.  Now, hydrangeas and owls adore my garden, because we have so many old trees. But a vegetable garden requires sun, and lots of it, and that has been a commodity our wonderful shade trees have always denied us. So of course I signed up for my organic 9 x 12 plot immediately.  The community garden is now completed, and planting can commence, although I’m not exactly certain what to plant at present.  Autumn is fast upon us, so it will likely be lots of lovely lettuces, fat cabbages and turnip greens.  I have lots to learn and any advice from you vegetable gardeners out there would be most appreciated.  But I’m excited.  

There is a garden that stays in my head like a painting.  I wander inside it often, remembering both its creativity and beauty.  It was the garden at a perfectly picturesque old house in which we were fortunate to stay one September in Scotland.  The house was named Ladyburn, and it nestled like a jeweled brooch on the green land of the Kilkerran estate outside Maybole.  Ladyburn’s owner, a talented firecracker of a woman named Jane Hepburn, cooked us one of the most delicious meals in our memories and it was she who planted all the gardens surrounding the house.  The image of her kitchen garden, filled as it was with vegetables, flowers and whimsy, has stayed with me and will serve as a valuable template to study as I endeavour to create my very own replica here in the States.

The Kitchen Garden at Ladyburn

Of course, one of the most enticing things about the Ladyburn garden was Hector, the plump pony that lived just behind the yew hedge.  
Come to think of it.... I’ve always wanted a pony, too.  
But, I guess I’ll save that for another year.

Hector and Pamela


By the way, you can watch the delightful Mrs. Hepburn conduct a tour of her flower gardens HERE.

and, you can see more of Ladyburn, HERE

Painting above by Kay Nielsen

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Cairo Time

Cairo Time

Given the fact that we grew up in the same town, even went to the same high school, I should probably be loyal to Julia Roberts. There is a “home town girl makes good” aspect to her that I both recognize and love. This month I suppose my loyalty should be exhibited by extolling the glories of her new movie, Eat Pray Love, at every opportunity. However, when it comes to a film about the enlightenment of a woman in an exotic culture, I cannot stop thinking about Cairo Time.
Smaller and quieter than its more visible cousin film, Cairo Time has been called a love letter of sorts to the city for which it is named, and that is certainly accurate. The colours, the postcard-worthy vistas, even the music, of Cairo are presented to the viewer in an enchanting and intoxicating package. One of my favourite scenes occurs when Juliette opens the door to her hotel room balcony and is mesmerized by the panorama that suddenly appears before her. Stunned, she steps back into the room, drags an armchair outside and simply sits there, trying to take it all in.
As a love story, Cairo Time shares a bittersweet tone with the old Katharine Hepburn movie, Summertime, one of my favourites. The city of Venice shared the screen with Miss Hepburn back then, and Cairo partners with the divine Patricia Clarkson, as Juliette, in this movie. They make an especially fine pair.

Although Cairo Time is a thoughtful love story with a soundtrack by Niall Byrne that is positively swoon-worthy, I came away thinking more about the whole idea of travel and its vital significance in the journey of the human soul. There are a lot of lovely silences in this movie, exquisite little moments where we are allowed to simply observe Juliette’s face as she is continually met with sights and ideas so foreign to the ones she has known. Gently wafting across her face are surprise, admiration, confusion, understanding - emotions common to the traveler and ones that are essential, in my view, to the development of vision and sagacity.

Last year, it was with a shudder that I heard the American politician, Newt Gingrich, state, with no small amount of pride, "I am not a citizen of the world. I think the entire concept is intellectual nonsense and stunningly dangerous!" I found this remark to be nakedly horrifying, especially since this man is rumoured to be mulling over a presidential run in 2012. One wonders at the sort of ignorance and arrogance that brings someone to a conclusion such as this. How can we expect anyone, anywhere, to give credence to our views and beliefs when the exchange is so wholly onesided? Personally, I think the best thing for every human being, Mr. Gingrich included, is to be plopped down in a country in which they are not the top dog, where they themselves are the “foreigners” - the ones in need of translation, the ones needing to learn. A certain kind of knowledge is born in situations such as these, a knowledge that, over time, can effervesce into wisdom. And Lord knows, the world needs more of that.

It is not a threat to patriotism to realize that the world is distinctly smaller that it used to be. Either as a country or as an individual, none of us can afford to live as an island, swaddled in the delusion that the problems, or the joys, of others are irrelevant to our lives here on this tiny blue planet. When I have traveled to places outside of my usual sphere - where the landscape is different, the language unknown, and the sounds, the smells, the tastes are unfamiliar to my senses - these have been the journeys that have shaped my thinking and expanded my knowledge of myself, my country and my world. I like to think travel has helped to provide me with what little understanding I possess.

Go see Cairo Time.
Watch as the feluccas slowly drift down the Nile.
Rest beneath the shade of a rock in the White Desert.
Sit with a stranger on the stones of the Pyramids.
Then call your travel agent and go somewhere you have always wanted to go.

The world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page.”
St. Augustine

See more about the film, Cairo Time, HERE

Sunday, September 5, 2010

September Means Autumn

September Means Autumn

Even though, technically, there are a few more days to go, here at The House of Edward we have declared the summer to be over.  
September means Autumn, as far as I am concerned. 
 So, I am back to baking bread and listening to Vivaldi. 
 I have purchased my ticket to Christmas and am preparing the gifts I shall wrap up in December.  
I am searching out antique turkey plates for my Thanksgiving feast.
I am on the lookout for a new witches hat to wear on Halloween.
It is the best time of the year.
So in celebration of my favourite season, here are some recent finds I could not resist sharing!  


1.  Pumpkin Teapot
With the arrival of cooler weather, the tea consumption here at The House of Edward goes up with every degree the themometer goes down.  Earl Grey, Darjeeling, English Breakfast and Spice..... every flavour of fall would be perfect in this adorable teapot. 
Don’t you think??   
Find it HERE.


2.  Man Shops Globe
I have to confess that I’m not a big watcher of television.  Old movies, Masterpiece theatre and the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show are exceptions.  But I am thoroughly uninterested in competive cooking, hateful political diatribe, or those programs that follow ordinary bipeds around with a camera, somehow transforming them into celebrities whose every squirm and twiddle then becomes fodder for magazines and even more worthless television.  Yes, I am teetering on the precipice of a rant, so I’ll move on. 
I say all this to explain the healthy scepticism I felt when a good friend told me that I simply “must “ watch a new program on the Sundance Channel entitled “Man Shops Globe”.  Well, one viewing and I was hooked.  The series follows uber-shopper Keith Johnson around as he hunts for objects to fill the Antropologie stores worldwide.  What a job!  In each country he visits, someone has already ferreted out the most fascinating artists for him to meet with, and we get to come along to their quirky studios in every corner of the globe.  At the end of each episode, I am so creatively jazzed that I have to write something, knit something or bake something almost immediately just to tame the imaginative beast inside me that has been set dancing by the sights I’ve just seen.  
Here are two of my favourite artists (who just happen to create two of my favourite animals) recently featured on the show. 
Click the link under the photo of their work to see a video clip.

3.  Owls by Anna Wili-Highfield

See More HERE

4.  Dogs by Domenica More-Gordon

See more HERE


5.   Same Sky Bracelets
I am often appalled at the prices of fashion.  Yes, I am completely in love with that new sharp-lined grey coat by Stella McCartney, the one with the cut-out lapels, but I simply could never rationalize spending 2,300 dollars to make it my own.  But now.... these gorgeous glass bead bracelets... that’s another story.  Of course, they are much less costly to begin with, but one could actually purchase an armful and feel wonderful because the money is going to such a marvelous cause. 
Take a look see.... I want the butterscotch one...

See More HERE


6.  The Best Hat Ever
I downloaded this pattern the moment I saw it on Stephanie Dosen’s wonderfully creative blog, Owl in the Dark.  
The only question left to answer... do I make it for someone else, or do I make it for myself??

Find it HERE


7.  The Best Necklace Ever
Whimsy bordering on beauty.  A delightful spot to be any time of the year, but to me this booklover’s necklace seems tailor made for autumn. 
I just love this.

Find it HERE


8.  Pincushions
“Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful.”  This quotation by William Morris is oft repeated, and one I have certainly taken to heart in my life.  Useful and beautiful....these happy little pincushions fit the bill on both counts.  Everyone needs one, and each is a lovely little work of art.

Find them HERE


9.  Ironing Board Covers
At the risk of being accused as someone who has taken her love of the domestic arts to dangerous heights, I must confess that I do so love to iron.  I know, I know, weird, huh?  The Songwriter says it must be somewhat of a physical metaphor for wanting to smooth out the world’s wrinkles and make everything better.  Maybe he’s right, but I don’t analyze it too deeply.  I even iron sheets, a fact that makes quite a few of my friends howl with laughter.  Howl if you must, I say.  You shall never know the luxury, the absolute sublime feeling, of slipping betwixt crisp, freshly ironed, lavender scented sheets and, I am here to tell you, few things in life are better. 
So, just perchance, there are any out there who share my love of ironing.... take a look at these...

Find Them HERE


10. Fine Editions
Several friends of mine have recently gone over to the dark side. 
 By that I mean that they are extolling the virtues of book reading via the iPad or Kindle. 
Quelle Horreur!!
Maybe on an overseas trip. Maybe.  After all, I am the person who generally loads down her luggage with too many books and it just might be more convenient to have a book (or five) loaded up and ready to read on the plane, ferry or train. But, that’s all.  Nothing could ever replace the feeling of a book in my hands.  Ever.  With all this recent talk of real books eventually going the way of the dodo, I have begun to collect fine editions of my favourites.  
These publications by White’s Books are simply wonderful. 
 Richly decorated cloth covers and beautifully printed on gorgeous paper, they are a true pleasure to own and to read.  Over and over.  

Find them all HERE


 and of course....
the very best thing about Autumn...

11.  Long Happy Walks With Edward

Like this one that we took this week, around a North Carolina lake.  
Cool breezes and bright sunshine.