Monday, August 29, 2011

Edward, Under Pegasus

Edward, Under Pegasus

Midnight came on the heels of an eerie day when the earth shuddered and quaked, cracking nature’s molds like the thunder of Lear and pushing angels off the roof of the National Cathedral. Pegasus cantered across a moonlit sky to take up his autumnal position to the east of a swan while under the trees of the garden, in a nest of shadows, the big dog sat listening, then suddenly turning in a bolt for the door. Crashing through the mudroom, barreling down the hall, he leapt onto the bed with a thump of white fur. He ignored his usual spot at the lady’s feet and made his way up the blanketed bed to sit squarely in front of her face. She peered up over her book.
Edward?”, she asked.
The big dog stared.
The lady looked over at the man to see if he was noticing this most unusual behaviour.
He was.
Maybe he needs to go out?”, he asked.
He just came back in”, she replied.
And still the big white dog sat staring at the lady, a look of worry in his almond eyes.
I’ll go out with him”, the man said, and with a barely audible sigh, he put down his book and threw back the covers.
He opened the door to the garden and the big white dog followed him out into the night.
The lady waited.
Soon they both returned, the man shaking his head.
“I don’t know what’s the matter with him, but whatever it is, the owls seem to share it. You should hear them. They’re all out there calling - barred owls, screech owls, great horned. It’s odd.”
The big white dog nodded, wishing not for the first time for the great gift of speech.
He jumped right back up to lie squarely between the man and the lady, eventually falling asleep with his head across the man’s chest.
And the owls called out for hours.


Over breakfast the next morning, the lady and man learned that the earthquake of the previous day had produced an aftershock at precisely the same moment of Edward’s strange behaviour.
Though far away from the epicenter of this event, he knew it was happening.
And so did the owls.
Such is the inherent symbiosis shared between animals and nature, a connection that one would assume, with their supposed elevated state, human beings would share.
But do not.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

To Be A Girl

To Be A Girl

Dessert had been served and the talk around the lunch table had turned to children. I listened in rapt attention as mothers of little girls clued me in to the changing times.
“Kitten heels are everywhere, even for five year olds!”
“Oh, they wear makeup at eleven and twelve now, sometimes younger, where have you been?!”
“Oh yes, they’re dyeing their hair before they’re teenagers.”
“Don’t look so shocked!”

That last comment was directly squarely at me and, I suppose, justifiably so. I didn’t say much. After all, parenting a big white sheepdog doesn’t exactly qualify me to speak to the pressures of bringing up a little girl in the age of such paragons of good taste as Britney Spears and Miley Cyrus, especially when my own role models had been the likes of Hayley Mills and Liesl von Trapp. It did cross my mind, however, that the job of raising a well-adjusted girl in the world we know today has to be incredibly difficult. For instance, the model for Mui Mui this fall is fourteen year old actress Hailee Steinfeld. The French company Jour Apres Lunes has just come out with a line of lingerie for little girls, complete with an ad campaign that would be comical if it wasn’t so disturbing. How are little girls supposed to digest these images?

Let’s face it, ever since Eve succumbed to a craving for apples, growing up female has not been an easy path to negotiate. Our current culture requests women to be beautiful and smart, maternal and ambitious, wasp-waisted and healthy, open and circumspect. If we don’t cry when we’re supposed to, we’re cold. If we cry when we shouldn’t, we’re emotional. And that’s all before we start to age. God help us then. One crow’s foot and and we’re expected to immediately inject eau de botulism straight into our faces. It’s a lot to deal with for a woman, impossible for a child.

I left the luncheon that afternoon feeling grateful for my childhood. Looking back, I can’t remember ever feeling pressure over my appearance when I was little. If my dress didn’t quite cover up my skinned knee, well so be it. All my girlfriends had skinned knees and besides, our thoughts were elsewhere. We were busy pretending to be spies, or pirates. We loved ghost stories and horses. And dogs. How we loved dogs! We watched The Wonderful World of Color every Sunday night. We wondered what sat at the end of a rainbow. When I was little, makeup was something we wore on Halloween to make us look scary. (And, funnily enough, it still frightens me to see it on the faces of girls far too young.) It was years before I realized how much emphasis society would place on my appearance and I am forever grateful for a childhood that gave me valuable time to discover my true self before that realization occurred.

It seems worthwhile to consider ways in which we can prevent little girls from allowing their mirrors to reflect their self-worth. For when the image that they see begins to change with time, will they even recognize the woman who looks back at them then? Will they see someone witty, someone kind - a woman with so many interests and passions in life that she laughs right out loud with joy at her options? Or will they waste the rest of their days in futile attempts to regain the face of their youth?

I recently read a wonderfully wise article by Lisa Bloom entitled How To Talk To Little Girls in which she discusses the vital importance of relating to girls in ways that have nothing to do with their appearance. I found it both charming and enlightening. Take a look and let me know what you think.

Image above pilfered from the lovely blog Castles, Crowns and Cottages

Monday, August 22, 2011

What To Wear In Books

What To Wear In Books

I recently returned from the Amazon jungle. Now before your jaw drops, let me hasten to add that my trip was a mental journey made possible by the writer Ann Patchett. You see, I have just finished her new book, State of Wonder, in which she writes so visually about this part of the world that I had no difficulty at all following her along through her story, tripping over tree roots in the mud as I kept a wary eye out for strange and lethal insects. I came away with volumes of new thoughts after reading State of Wonder, not the least of which was the absolute certainty that Amazonian weather would give me a migraine of colossal proportions. I also had no idea what I’d wear. And after all, this is the month when I think about clothes.

Here, in August, the noonday sun melts the air into a gelatinous soup that even the most hopeful of breezes can never quite perforate. For lunch we have peaches and cheese, then join Edward for an afternoon nap.
Even the sunflowers droop.
This is the month when I hibernate with books and the September issue of Vogue. I indulge in daydreams as I read and often my daydreams feature those most colourful of temptations.... fall clothes. I read and I read, and I dream and I dream and, eventually, the two seem to merge into one - I see another glorious autumnal ensemble and then, quite naturally, I imagine myself in another glorious book and eventually, like magic, the two become one.
Take a look at these four mouth-watering new designs from the fall collections and see what I mean.
I know just what books they’d be perfect for.


For A Grand Party
My invitation has been sitting on the mantel for weeks.
Propped up against the silver candlestick, it is reflected in the old mirror above, thus doubling my joy over its presence.
I am going to Mrs. Dalloway’s party in this dress.
Of course I am.

“It is angelic - it is delicious of you to have come!” She loved Lords; she loved youth, and Nancy, dressed at enormous expense by the greatest artists in Paris, stood there looking as if her body had merely put forth, of its own accord, a green frill.
“I had meant to have dancing,” said Clarissa.

from Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf
dress by Valentino, Fall Couture Collection 2011


Looking for Houses in England
I have joined Vita Sackville-West in a house hunting expedition and our train has just pulled into Staplehurst station. We set out walking, past the old church, to the footpath that turns off to the left. It is an autumn day and everything shimmers in colours of nut brown and orange. The crisp air enters our lungs like an elixir.
We walk briskly, as is Vita’s way. Eventually we see it.
On the market for over two years now.
I wonder what Vita will make of it.

“Vita, peering through a hole, at once exclaimed, “That will be my library, and this, “ waving a teaspoon around the walls, “will be my sitting room”. Within a month or two it was, and it remained hers for the next thirty-two years. Few were ever admitted to it...She filled the rooms with books and her personal mementos - a stone from Persepolis, a photograph of Virginia, one of Pepita’s dancing slippers - and as the wallpaper peeled and faded, and the velvet tassels slowly frayed, she would never allow them to be renewed. Her possessions must grow old with her. She must be surrounded by the evidence of time.”

from Portrait of a Marriage by Nigel Nicholson
Ensemble by Ralph Lauren, Fall RTW Collection 2011


A Snowy Night in London
I have been driven through the London snow to Number 14, to accompany Mr. and Mrs. Darling to a party at Number 27. There is a strange chill to the night air, and I find myself frequently turning my gaze upwards, as though I expect to see something wonderful just beyond the grey clouds.
I pull my gold coat a bit tighter around my shoulders and shake my head.
It must be my imagination.

“No. 27 was only a few yards distant, but there had been a slight fall of snow, and Father and Mother Darling picked their way over it deftly not to soil their shoes. They were already the only persons in the street, and all the stars were watching them. Stars are beautiful, but they may not take an active part in anything, they must just look on forever. It is a punishment put on them for something they did so long ago that no star now knows what it was. So the older ones have become glassy-eyed and seldom speak (winking is the star language), but the little ones still wonder. They are not really friendly to Peter, who has a mischievous way of stealing up behind them and trying to blow them out; but they are so fond of him that they were on his side tonight, and anxious to get the grownups out of the way. As soon as the door of 27 closed on Mr. and Mrs. Darling there was a commotion in the firmament, and the smallest of stars in the Milky Way screamed out:
“Now, Peter”

from Peter Pan by JM Barrie
dress by Valentino , Fall Couture Collection 2011


After Dinner in Italy
The night air is cool in Italy this April.
I’ve left the dinner and wandered out on the terrace to stand in the moonlight and consider how far away I am from home.
I hear the others begin to assemble behind me and I retreat to a cover of green behind five tall cypress trees that stand guard in this part of the garden, protecting the unaware from the steep path down to the sea.
In my black dress, the only part of me visible is the gardenia that glows in my hair.
I look and I listen.

“That evening was the evening of the full moon. The garden was an enchanted place where all the flowers seemed white. The lilies, the daphnes, the orange-blossoms, the white stocks, the white pinks, the white roses - you could see these as plainly as in the daytime; but the coloured flowers existed only as fragrance.

The three younger women sat on the low wall at the end of the top garden after dinner, Rosa a little apart from the others, and watched the enormous moon moving slowly over the place where Shelley had lived his last months just on a hundred years before. The sea quivered along the path of the moon. The stars winked and trembled. The mountains were misty blue outlines, with little clusters of lights shining through from little clusters of homes. In the garden the plants stood quite still, straight and unstirred by the smallest ruffle of air. Through the glass doors the dining room with its candlelit table and brilliant flowers - nasturtiums and marigolds that night-glowed like some magic cave of colour, and the three men smoking round it looked strangely animated figures seen from the silence, the huge cool calm of outside”.

from The Enchanted April by Elizabeth Von Arnim
Dress by Valentino, Fall Couture Collection 2011


I wonder.
What are you reading? And what will you wear?

Tuesday, August 16, 2011



I had a cucumber with my dinner last night. Not just any cucumber. This one was a perfect specimen. Cool, crunchy, and green as Oz. From its fragrance to its flavour, it was everything a cucumber should be. And I should know because cucumbers have always been one of my favorite treats of the summer season. However the most amazing thing about this particular cucumber was neither is colour, its taste, nor its crunch. You see, this is a cucumber I actually grew myself and I couldn’t be prouder if I’d invented fire.

I have always wanted to grow my own vegetables, but the many towering trees that surround our cottage eclipse the sun required for a healthy crop. So when I heard last year that my city was planning to build a real community garden, a place where citizens could lease a plot of ground to grow their own fruits and vegetables, I was delighted. In my town’s case, they really went above and beyond in the construction of this garden. They located the perfect sun-filled site in a brand-new park. They fenced it in, built raised beds and filled them with soil so rich Jack would have had no need of magic beans to grow a beanstalk fifty feet high. They placed lots of water outlets on site and added a well-stocked tool shed for everyone to use. The Songwriter and I leased two 5x12 plots as soon as they became available and this spring found us planting seeds with a hopeful spirit. And we weren’t alone. In our community garden there are experienced gardeners of course, but also quite a few novices just like us, those whose home gardens are either too small or too shaded to accommodate a flourishing vegetable patch.

I have learned quite a lot about gardening in the past several months. Who knew okra would grow taller than me? But, I’ve learned even more about gardeners. Gardeners are a friendly lot. Calm and considered, they are not prone to selfishness nor hyperbole. Gardeners share and they tell the truth. If you have planted mint because you thought it was pretty and liked the way that it smelled, an experienced gardener will gently pull you aside and clue you in on the invasive properties of that particular plant. And a novice gardener will take that advice and relocate her mint to a container instead. We freely share advice and information. We delight in each other’s successes and keep an eye out for squash worms in each other’s plots. In other words, we’re a real community.

Our vegetables, so hopefully planted in April, have delighted us each summer evening when we all show up with our snippers and baskets to see what’s ready to harvest. It’s been like Easter egg hunting for adults. One often overhears exclamations of delight when a zucchini is found or a bean has suddenly appeared on a curly tendril of green. I did some whooping of my own in June when I lifted a fanlike leaf and spied my very first cucumber, the first of a great many. For the past several months we’ve enjoyed fresh tomatoes and okra, basil and watermelon (fifteen of them!), half-runner beans, oregano, lemon thyme and rosemary, and as many flowers as I could manage to fit it... purple coneflower, marigolds, cosmos, black-eyed susans, lavender and zinnias. The Songwriter even made pickles! A first in our many years together.

One night’s harvest shown here
in my marvelous gathering basket
In the face of so many food recalls and ecoli scares, such as the one that made its virulent way across Europe in June, many of us are more concerned about how our food is grown and harvested. There is even a vegetable garden on the Obama White House lawn. This can only be a good thing. Many cities across the US have begun community garden programs and I can heartily, and empirically, recommend taking part in the opportunity they afford. Homegrown food tastes better, it’s nutritious and growing it is just downright fun.

Here’s one of the dishes I’ve been concocting from our bounty all summer long. You can make it in a flash, it goes spectacularly well with anything you can think of, and it’s just delicious. Give it a try and see what I mean.

House of Edward Corn and Tomatoes

2 teaspoons good olive oil
2 ears fresh corn kernels
1/2 cup sweet onion
2 fresh tomatoes, diced
1 tablespoon fresh chopped basil
sea salt, to taste

Heat oil in large skillet till hot. Add corn and onion and saute until the corn just begins to brown, usually about 7 minutes or so. Throw in the diced tomatoes, basil, and salt. Stir together a couple of times and remove from heat. Let stand for about 5 minutes before serving. Reheats wonderfully, if there’s any left.

Top photo from the blog of Miss Moss.
A wonderful place to visit!

Friday, August 12, 2011

All Is Well

All Is Well
I once heard an interview with uber-director, Martin Scorsese, in which he recalled a childhood event that I found completely disturbing. Although he told this story with a good-natured bemusement, I couldn’t help but think his clement attitude was hard won through years of therapy, for it seems one day when he was little his mother told him they were going to the circus when, in actuality, she took him to the hospital where she dropped him off to have his tonsils removed. She had the cheek to actually describe him as “a bit peeved” when she came to collect him the next day. Well, I guess he was.
Strange how I can’t get Mrs. Scorsese out of my head on this early morning, the first day of school. I follow the buses - a interminable line of fat yellow bumblebees transporting shiny new students to the halls of learning. On the seat beside me, a big white furry dog, thrilled to bits at this unusual cockcrow jaunt. I know, as he sadly does not, that our destination is not the park nor the garden - not the library, nor the cafe with the cool porch under the dogwood trees. No, we are on our way to the vets, an appointment made necessary by a slab fracture of Edward’s back tooth. He was stoic as ever, but I could tell something was bothering him a few days ago and, on inspection of that polar bear mouth, I found the wicked looking culprit. So, here we go to surgery - one more car in the coil of traffic that makes up the morning rush hour. Except I have no desire to rush.

Finally at the surgery, the attendant comes to get him and Edward trots back, ever smiling, and I think once again of little Marty Scorsese. I am left alone in the waiting room. I try not to worry. I try to write, but can’t concentrate. I try to knit, but drop stitches. I might as well be knitting with my toes. I do the crossword. I scan the paper. I call The Songwriter, home with a dejected Apple, both of them anxious for an update. Thoughtful as always, the vet sends assistants out to me every thirty minutes with progress reports.
We’re starting now. It should take about an hour.”
“He’s doing fine, but it was a nasty tooth.”
“We’re removing the anesthesia now, he’ll sleep for a few hours. You go get something to eat”.

He’s awake by three. The vet brings him to the front and Edward, feeling the aftereffects of morphine and valium, cuts the corner too wide with a goofy grin on his face. I help him into the car, he sleeps the way home and, once there, continues his nap in a chair by the window. I sit across from him, relieved that he’s better, happy that he’s home..
And it’s chicken and scrambled eggs for dinner.
All is well.
One of the best dog poems ever.
For Edward.

What The Dog Perhaps Hears
by Lisel Mueller
If an inaudible whistle
blown between our lips
can send him home to us,
then silence is perhaps
the sound of spiders breathing
and roots mining the earth;
it may be asparagus heaving,
headfirst, into the light
and the long brown sound
of cracked cups, when it happens.
We would like to ask the dog
if there is a continuous whir
because the child in the house
keeps growing, if the snake
really stretches full length
without a click and the sun
breaks through clouds without
a decibel of effort,
whether in autumn, when the trees
dry up their wells, there isn't a shudder
too high for us to hear.
What is it like up there
above the shut-off level
of our simple ears?
For us there was no birth cry,
the newborn bird is suddenly here,
the egg broken, the nest alive,
and we heard nothing when the world changed.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Patina Style

Patina Style

Let me take you on one of my favourite walks in London. Ready? It’s best if we wait until dusk, and if we can arrange to have just enough of a fine mist falling that we need to put up our hoods.... ooh, perfect. We are leaving Harrods from the side door of the food hall. Wait, don’t turn right towards Brompton! Come this way...we’re turning left, back through the neighbourhood of secret squares and elegant row houses. Don’t worry, I know the way. We can make it back to our hotel really easy from here. See, the lights are just beginning to turn on. Walk slowly now, so we can gaze in the windows as we pass. Oh look, that sitting room is painted scarlet... and, is that a George Smith sofa by the fireplace, covered in Bennison roses? I wonder who might live there?......and look in this one... ah, William Morris paper on the dining room walls. Look how the candlelight makes the chrysanthemums dance.....

Yes, I admit it. I adore rooms. Even as a little girl I loved to ride through neighbourhoods at night, my nose pressed against the window of the car, catching glimpses of other people’s rooms, other people’s lives. I still find that I tend to create narratives from special rooms that catch my eye and, even though their number has diminished over the last several years, and they have serious competition from many inspiring blogs, I still look forward to the shelter magazines that visit my mailbox monthly. Nothing much I like better than to curl up in a comfortable spot, with a cool drink in my hand and, by way of the glossy page, enter into lovely rooms in other worlds. Much like my nighttime strolls through Chelsea, I like to imagine the lives lived in the dwellings I see on the page. In fact, one of my odd little rituals is to pick out the one photograph in the magazine that I find especially intriguing and create a back story for the ones who might live there. Sadly, not all magazines contain a photograph that prompts such imaginative exploration, for too often I find the rooms today either far too formulaic, too outlandishly glamorous, or just too cold somehow to welcome my mental wanderings.

But there are exceptions, and several years back, I found a grand one when interior designer, Brooke Giannetti, began showcasing her work with her husband, Steve, through her blog, Velvet and Linen. It seemed as if every photograph Brooke chose to feature took me on another wonderful flight of fancy. With Steve as architect and Brooke as interior designer these two create places that are beautifully magnetic and each one seemed to have the power to draw me in like a sweet fragrance. Their rooms were lovely, to be sure. But they also possessed a certain intangible personality, a certain warmth, that completely set them apart. Giannetti rooms tell stories. What Brooke and Steve do together could never be taught - it is an intuitive talent that obviously springs from who they are as people - their love of beauty, of family, of a contented life well-lived.

I can happily state this empirically, for I was fortunate to spend some time with both of them when I was in LA in May. Brooke and I talked that afternoon about the upcoming release of their new book, Patina Style, and just this week she graciously sent me my very own copy. I am happy to say it is just as wonderful as I knew it would be. Now everyone can have a collection of gorgeous Giannetti rooms to step inside anytime that they wish. In addition to all the luscious photographs of their work, Brooke and Steve also speak eloquently about their design philosophy which I think can be summed up by this opening sentence...”Life isn’t about the things you own but the experiences you have with them”.

Go order your copy HERE, grab a cool drink, curl up in your favourite chair and open this glorious book.
I wonder what stories you’ll find there?

To get you started.... below is a room that the Giannetti’s created for the LA Gilt Showhouse in February. When Brooke posted this photograph, I simply couldn’t resist sharing with her, via a comment, exactly who popped into my head the moment I spied this fabulous room.
Look closely.
See if you can see him there as well.

“The gentleman who lives here has just stepped out to the kitchen to pour himself a San Pellegrino with lime. He is a man of French descent who grew up in Charleston, SC, where his childhood was ruled by the tides. Following extensive studies at the University of Gothenburg, where he met his wife of 22 years, he became a Physical Oceanographer, an occupation that opened up the entire world to him and one that led him to the National Science Foundation where he now works in the field of Antarctic Sciences. They moved into this house 5 years ago, and this room quickly became his favourite. It is here that he enjoys reading Conan Doyle on a Sunday afternoon. It is here that he listens to Coltrane and Puccini as they compete with the crashing of the ocean that pitches and pounds on the rocks just outside. His wife runs a small art gallery in town and likes to experiment with Greek cuisine on occasion, and he has a Clumber Spaniel named Bobby who can often be found asleep on the rug when his owners are home, and asleep on the sofa when they are out. He has recently been considering a sailboat trip around the Canary Islands, just the three of them. But then again, he might just stay home."

Friday, August 5, 2011

Something To Do

Something To Do

As I sat down to breakfast a few mornings ago, I took a sip of coffee and popped a fat, red strawberry into my mouth and unfolded the Times, still warm from the early morning heat of the driveway. It was then I saw the photograph on the front page, and everything in the sunlit room began to fade into shadow until that sad image was the only thing I could see clearly. A dying child, a victim of another monstrous famine in Africa, a victim of another deplorable regime so determined to hold onto power that they are actually blocking their people from leaving the country at the same time they are blocking aid from entering. Heartbreaking, and so horribly familiar.

I took that child with me all day. She joined me in my closet, where I stood in front of a kaleidoscope of clothing, deciding what to wear for the day. She was beside me as I went down the over-stocked aisles of the market where, looking through her eyes at the sheer volume and variety of food available, I began to feel a bit nauseous. She listened alongside me to the news that afternoon - one more account of the recent performance by our intransigent congress, a spectacle that was not only frustrating, but downright embarrassing. The problems we all face as citizens of the world are far too monumental for our elected officials to behave in such a childish, obdurate fashion but unfortunately, so many seem unmotivated by anything but winning the next election. When I contrast the starkness of that child’s pain with Washington’s impotent silliness I find it both appalling and sad.

When one takes even a cursory look at the world today, it is incredibly easy to become so overwhelmed as to risk inertia. I must admit that sometimes I have to skip the front page and go straight to the arts section, the news being just too dreadful to bear. After all, I think, what exactly can I do about anything? But then, sometimes, I try to do something. I send a check, I sign a petition, I write a letter. Small, tiny acts that, I have to believe, add up for good down the line.

Later that evening, that tiny Somalian child sat beside me as I opened an email from Style Blueprint informing me about a new project being launched by a fair trade shop in Nashville, Tennessee called Ten Thousand Villages. For the month of August they are partnering with Little Dresses For Africa to see how many new pillowcases they can collect. These ordinary pillow cases are then repurposed into dresses for little African girls who have need of them. From Style Blueprint.... “With the wide-spread AIDS pandemic, young girls are many times left orphaned, often becoming the primary caretakers for younger siblings. Little Dresses for Africa was started to show these girls that they are also cared for and to bring them a bit of joy from a new dress made from a simple pillowcase. Shorts for boys are collected and distributed, and each distribution gathering provides a chance for the volunteers to teach about nutrition, clean water, sanitation and family skills. More importantly, it’s a chance to spread love.”

Go HERE to read more and see the little girl at the top of this post receive her new dress.

Something so small as a pillowcase, from people who have so much. Oh, I can do this. And I hope many of my readers can do the same. Tell others about this. You have my enthusiastic permission to link to this post. How wonderful it would be if, during the month of August, from all over the world, pillowcases came into Nashville, Tennessee for these children.

If you, like me, are looking for some small way to do a little bit of good, this is a lovely opportunity. I’ll be sending my pillowcases this week. If you would like to join me, simply pick up a pair of new pillowcases and mail them to:

Ten Thousand Villages of Nashville

3900 Hillsboro Pike

Suite 20

Nashville, Tennessee 37215


Edward and I thank you!