Wednesday, December 28, 2011

The Gracious Time

The Gracious Time

Some say that ever ‘gainst that season comes
Wherein our Saviour’s birth is celebrated,
The bird of dawning singeth all night long:
And then, they say, no spirit date stir abroad;
The nights are wholesome; then no planets strike,
No fairy takes, nor witch hath power to charm,
So hallow’d and so gracious is the time.
William Shakespeare

The presents have all been delivered. They sit under the sparkling trees of our friends and family, waiting to be unwrapped in the cool light of Christmas dawn. Wine is mulling on the stove and carols are softly playing through the cottage. Edward and Apple, tummies as full as their hearts, lay at our feet, breathing in the fragrance of fir trees, star anise, and orange, and no doubt planning what to say when midnight strikes, affording them their once a year gift of magical speech.
Thus begins the gracious time - an unhurried time of peaceful reflection.
A time to celebrate all the quiet joys; my favourite week of the year. If you chance to think of Edward and me during this week of endings and beginnings, think of stacks of books waiting to be read, long walks taken in the the cold afternoon air, soup simmering on the stove.
And please know how much I appreciate each and every one of my readers. Your letters and comments make my world a richer place and I am grateful for your friendship, each and every one of you.
As we enter this special season, I thought you all might enjoy a glimpse into the House, and the Garden, of Edward at Christmastime.

Edward and I wish all of you a most Happy Christmas!

Friday, December 23, 2011

Do They Even Need A Christmas?

Do They Even Need A Christmas?

Even though the night is clear, and sown with more stars than normally allowed this close to one of man’s more colossal achievements of a city, still, I cannot see it. I stand in the back garden staring up at fistfuls of shimmering diamonds casually tossed over the dark velvet cloak of a sky, looking for another blue ball with swirls of icing white - a sister, a twin, of my own.

But I am disappointed.

Well, I didn’t really expect to find it.

Too far away, after all.

But still.

I had been sitting in the center of Christmas, midst a swirling flurry of red and green - a bit of baking flour on my cheek, a snippet of ribbon stuck to my sleeve - when I first heard the news. Another planet had been found. This one a mirror image of our own, where water flowed and life could presumably flourish.

Information such as this has a profound effect on a dreamer.

It ensnared my thought for days.

So very, very far away .........

do other blue eyes watch the sky, eyes just like my own?

Do other lips sing carols?

Other hands hold other hands?

Do they even need a Christmas?

Is it necessary to remind them not to lie, to hate, to kill?

Would we have to explain war, or illness, or fear?

Would they look at us in horror, or too well recognize our state?

Or was the apple never eaten?

Did they never fall from grace?

The possibilities are amaranthine for this unknown kin wandering round their own blue planet. It floodlights the mind to imagine. I wrap my scarf a bit tighter round my neck as I leave the speckled darkness of the garden, climbing the back stairs with Edward close at my heels. He never worries about such things, I know. Contentment weaves a cocoon around him and he shares it liberally with me. Just sitting beside his quiet soul provides a balm to my own and I am grateful for his sweet example.

But still, I can’t help but look up over my shoulder as I enter the warmth of the house.

So far, far away...

It is always summer, never winter?

Do they even need a Christmas?


You can read more about this newly discovered planet,

found in what scientists call the Goldilocks Zone (I love that), HERE.

Monday, December 19, 2011



He was the mysterious figure in red that sat in the shadows of Christmas. Though I’d never seen him face to face, never hid behind the living room door to watch in amazement as his black booted feet descended from the netherworld of chimney darkness to land like raven feathers on the hearth, still I believed without question in his solid reality. He knew what I wanted for Christmas, always. I didn’t need to write him a letter. I didn’t need to share my requests with my parents, something that for some reason I never quite understood, tended to cause them a bit of consternation.

Why did they need to know what I wanted?

Santa knew.

Each year we would make the annual pilgrimage to visit the department store Santas, but being blessed with an imagination that was liberally sprinkled with a healthy dose of suspicion, no one could convince me those fellows were real. There were far too many of them for one thing. And it was a rare occurrence when even one of those chaps remotely resembled the genuine article. Too baby-faced and whiskerless, with beards that tied behind their ears. Or too bombastic and patronizing, lacking even the remotest twinkle in the eye that the real Santa Claus would most certainly have. Oh I still stood shoulder to shoulder with other children my age, as we wound our way through the sugar plum forests and candy cane villages of the toy departments in local stores, waiting my turn to relate to these red-suited impostors the things I most wanted for Christmas. It was a ritual not without amusement and I participated in the festivities quite willingly. But I knew, yes I did, that the actual Santa could only be seen in the silver light of Christmas Eve.

So every year, I would endeavour to stay awake and catch the old elf at his work. I would leave out the cookies and milk for his refreshment and toddle off to bed as usual, never hinting at my plans for a sleepless night.

Snuggled under blankets, eyes wide and heart thumping, I would lie awake in the darkness, my little ears tuned for the sound of sleigh bells, staring, unblinking, at the vertical crack of my bedroom door.

The longer I lay there the more terrified I’d become.

What would I say to him when we met?

Would he catch a glimpse of me and instantaneously evaporate into mist, leaving me stunned and present-less?

Or would he pack me off to the North Pole where I would become a toymaking elf, always wearing green, never to return?

Big thoughts for a little girl.

As the night grew frosty and still as the grave, I would strain to hear the hoof beats of reindeer from up above on my roof, my little body rigid with the increasing terror of my vigil.





And then - how suddenly it always seemed- the pale pink light of a winter dawn would nudge me awake. Awake to Christmas morn! And I would run, slipperless, down the hallway to the living room door and throw it open wide. There would be the Christmas tree shining and bright, almost laughing as it presided over a room full of presents.

The cookies were eaten, yes there were the crumbs!

The milk was drained from the glass!

Later on Christmas Day, when I was sitting amongst my new books and dolls, feeling richer than Croesus, it would hit me. I’d missed him again. Drat. Well, there was always next year, I’d say to myself. Always another chance.

But next year came and all the years after that, and still, ever tricksy, he eluded me.

But perhaps..... just perhaps....with Edward’s help....this year...

One never knows.

Now, I ask you.
Do you blame me for wishing myself far, far away
from this obviously spurious department store Santa?

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

The Aunt

The Aunt

It was a winter wedding, the very best kind, and I was attending alone because The Songwriter was out of town. Ushered into the splendid reception hall, I spied her, sitting beside my uncle at the round flower-filled table in the middle of the room. There was my seat, I could see it empty and waiting, beside her. This particular aunt had always been a bit of a mystery to me - a mystery still unsolved, for I rarely saw her. Straight-backed and starchy, she seemed to wear her propriety like a well-earned badge of honour on a cloak of unwavering religiousity that appeared, at least to me, to preclude any type of whimsy or fun. But this was a wedding reception, I told myself. Surely she’d be a bit more relaxed in this festive setting.

I squared my velvet-suited shoulders and headed her way.

Hello, Aunt J”, I said, giving her a hug and sitting down.

We exchanged a few pleasantries about the beauty of the wedding and I picked up the golden-edged menu that lay by my plate.

“Ooh, pink champagne”, I exclaimed.

We Don’t Drink”, came the instantaneous reply, delivered like an edict from on high, stern and autocratic, each word capitalized and underlined in invisible red.

I decided to have a bit of fun.

You don’t?”, I asked, in what I hoped was a tone of pure innocence. “Oh, but you should! Now let’s see, you’d probably not like sherry or port. Too strong for your palate if you’re just starting out. Although those can be incredibly delicious on a cold winter’s night. But now, pink champagne! I just know you’d love that! You simply must try some when it’s served!”


I could tell by her look of surprise that she thought I had missed her point entirely. It was not simply that she’d never gotten around to having a drink, for Pete’s sake. It was that she did not approve of the practice. How could she make this clear to me?

She began to elaborate her position, just as I noticed the tuxedoed band in the corner, beginning to tune up.

“How wonderful!”, I said with a grin. “There’s going to be dancing!”

“Your uncle and I Do Not Dance”, she sputtered, her face colouring with emotion.

“Oh, but you should!”, I said with a smile, feeling ever so evil but enjoying myself far too much to care. “It doesn’t matter whether you’re good or not, everybody’s just having fun. And I know you’d both love it. What a handsome figure you’d cut on the dance floor! And it’s such excellent exercise. You must try it tonight. No arguments!”

I batted my eyes in her direction and noticed to my great surprise - barely visible, but there nonetheless - an infinitesimal smile beginning to play around the corners of her pursed lips. Apparently, somewhere, deep down deep in her corseted soul, a bit of fun still lurked. She was on to me. And then, my soul, there it was. A grin. A genuine grin. From that moment on we chatted about everything, becoming fast friends before the evening wore down.

We stayed in touch after that wedding, exchanging Christmas cards and visits. She and my uncle even drove miles to hear The Songwriter in concert, my uncle leading the standing ovation at the close of the show.

These days it seems there are chasms that yawn between so many of us. We look across at one another, unsure of the best way to construct a passable, plausible bridge. Far too often I fear we simply retreat, preferring to remain in our more familiar climate where we’re comfortably surrounded by those who applaud our views and beliefs.

I could have easily stiffened at the implied judgment of my aunt that evening we were seated together at the wedding reception. Chilled by her provincial opinions , I could have chosen to maintain a polite, perfunctory silence and the night would have passed by pleasantly enough, I suppose. Instead, as is so often the case, a wee bit of humour was all that was needed to weaken her established defenses and allow us to forge a friendship in the few years remaining before she passed away.

I am grateful I made the effort.


I thought I'd better clarify.

The above photograph is certainly not my aunt.

It's Mamie Eisenhower.

However, the countenance is strikingly similar.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Let's Go Christmas Shopping!

Let's Go Christmas Shopping

While it’s true that all my Christmas gifts for friends and family are already wrapped and under the tree, I still like to pop into my favourite shops on a cold December afternoon, just the feel the excitement of the season. A leisurely lunch with a friend or two, then a wander through the gaily decorated aisles of festive stores... so much fun. And you never know, I just might find a treasure I cannot live without.

Here are a few items, all fanciful and fun, I’ve recently discovered.

You just might find a treasure of your own!

Happy shopping!


1. Fanciful Towels

I’m crazy about these pink carpet bath towels!

In sizes from washcloth to beach towel.


Find Them HERE.

2. The Solar Queen

I’m in love with the Queen.

She’s solar powered, and she waves in the sun!

There's even a limited edition wearing her yellow dress from Kate and William's wedding!

I think she’d be perfect sitting on the windowsill beside my desk.

Waving in the sunshine.

Find Her HERE.
3. Pendleton Blanket To Go

This roll-up Pendleton blanket would be wonderful to keep in the car for those times

when Edward and I pass by a particularly beautiful spot

and can’t resist an impromptu picnic.

Find It HERE.
4. Rickshaw


A way for me to transport Edward in the manner he truly deserves!!

Find It HERE.
5. iPod Victrola

A speaker for the iPod.

Blending the old with the new.

Love this.

Find It HERE
6. The Perfect Playhouse

I bet you know a special child who’d flip over this hideaway.

Or maybe a special adult!

Find It HERE.

7. And For The Cat

Yes, we are a dog family.

But for the cat lovers..... this is fabulous!

Find It HERE.

8. Gift Tags

To me, wrapping presents is almost as fun as finding them.

And these gift tags are a delight!

Find Them HERE.

9. iPhone Case
Love This!
Find It HERE.

10. The Perfect Stuffed Animal
And everyone, of every age, needs one!

Find Him HERE.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Books For Christmas

Books For Christmas
The book store was bustling. I had popped in just to purchase the holiday issue of my favourite magazine, British Country Living, and was now inching my way up to the front of a line full of Christmas shoppers. Having an insatiable curiousity about the reading habits of others, I busied myself in an attempt to appear disinterested and nonchalant all the while sneaking secret glances at their choices.
There was the young fellow in the Apple sweatshirt with his reading glasses perched on his nose, already an eighth of the way through the new biography of Jack Kennedy by Chris Matthews. The tall woman in a camel hair coat whose lipstick matched her nail polish perfectly, her hair piled atop her head and secured with a sharpened pencil, smiling dreamily as she flipped through the massive new book, Entertaining, by Martha Stewart. Directly behind me stood a three foot high little boy, clutching a copy of A Sick Day for Amos McGee by Philip C. Stead. By the look on his face as he held this wonderful story of a zookeeper close, I could tell this book was an early Christmas present for himself alone. He had no intention of giving this one away.
There was a little round lady directly in front of me, paying her bill with a grin on her face. The total rang up to be quite astronomical, but she didn’t bat an eye. Instead she triumphantly said to the clerk, “That’s me done! Every present is in here!”. As I watched her walk away, a heavy sack in each hand, I thought about how much fun she’d no doubt had selecting those presents.
I hope you are planning to give books this holiday.
I can think of no better gift to give, or receive.
Here are some to consider this year!


1. Pilgrimage
by Annie Leibovitz
For someone so adept at photographing others, Annie Leibovitz claims to abhor having her own picture taken. I can sympathize, I hate it as well. You won’t find any portraits in her new book, however. In Pilgrimage, just released a couple of weeks ago, Ms. Leibovitz visits some of the most inspiring locations in our world. From the houses of Emily Dickinson and Virginia Woolf to Georgia O’Keefe and Freud. She wanders the trails above the Yosemite Valley, in the footsteps of Ansel Adams. She photographs the site of Thoreau’s cabin on Walden Pond. This is a truly remarkable book and one that’s on my list to give as well as, hopefully, receive.


2. The Eye Has To Travel
by Lisa Immordino Vreeland
Let’s face it. We all have need of those steady, solid sorts of people. The ones we depend on to balance our checkbooks when they get out of joint and fill out our tax forms each April. Those who make sure the firewood’s stacked before the snow starts to fall and the cars are filled with gas before before the journey begins. They are the ones who occasionally grab our feet and pull our heads down from the clouds so we can see where we are going and where would all be without them?
But then there is Diana Vreeland. The legendary doyenne of fashion and style who, in her once famous monthly column for Harper’s Bazaar entitled “Why Don’t You” suggested,
Why don’t you wear violet velvet mittens with everything?.
Other suggestions....Why don’t you....
put all your dogs in bright yellow collars and leads”
buy a geranium chiffon toque”
or, my personal favourite,
paint a map of the world on all four walls of your boys’ nursery so they won’t grow up with a provincial point of view?”
A swirling dervish of creativity and unpredictability, the incomparable Vreeland was a standard bearer for wit and a champion of individuality. This beautiful book, The Eye Has To Travel, chronicles her remarkable fifty year career in fashion and it promises not to disappoint.


3. The Art of Eating
by M.F. K. Fisher
Mary Frances Kennedy Fisher is often called a food writer, a label I have always found to be a staggering limitation of her luminous work. MFK Fisher wrote about all the tiny miracles of life, miracles too often disguised as commonplace. Her graceful words seep into one’s psyche like honey on a biscuit, they marinate in the soul and, as evidenced in this glorious collection, just recently re-released, they age like the finest of wines. Fisher can describe the peeling of a tangerine with such natural, sensual passion that one can practically taste their magic orangeness. Five of Fisher’s wonderful books are here in this grand new edition of The Art of Eating, a book that is always within reach in my kitchen.
You simply must read this!


4. Charles Dickens Set
You’ve been burning the candle at both ends”.
These irritating eight words were directed at me by my hairdresser last week as I sat, almost dozing, in his chair.
How do you know?”, I asked.
“I know you. I can tell”, he replied.
Realizing I had just been informed that I looked tired (something no lady wants to hear), I decided to treat myself to a leisurely lunch out alone and pointed my car towards my favourite cafe where, over a lovely lunch of grilled salmon and salad with blackberries, I pulled a small copy of “A Christmas Carol” out of my hand bag and began to read. Though the words were so familiar I could practically quote them, they were such a joy to read and I remembered how much fun Dickens can be. I was fascinated by the names of his characters when I was a child. It didn’t require a blazing imagination to clearly picture Uriah Heep, or Wackford Squeers. Abel Magwitch and Tiny Tim, Mr. Micawber and Pip. Miss Flite and her attic full of tiny birds. The tragic Little Nell. And of course, the penultimate miser of fiction, Ebenezer Scrooge. Such fun to fall into this aureate writing, to feel the language wash over you. The everyday world evaporates as you are transported back to the age of Victoria. This is the gift of Dickens and one of the many reasons to read him. Penquin has just released a gorgeous new set of Dickens and it would make a wonderful gift, don’t you think?
Particularly for someone who’s been burning the candle at both ends.


5. Flush
by Virginia Woolf
There have been lot of dog books on bookstore shelves these past few years. From Good Dog Carl to Marley, they are all charming, I’m sure. But my favourite without doubt will always be Flush. Written by the peerless Virginia Woolf, Flush is the “biography” of the beloved cocker spaniel of Elizabeth Barrett Browning. The book follows Flush and his mistress from their confining London rooms to the liberating freedom of Italy. He is even dognapped - a true adventure. This being Woolf, there are deeper waters flowing between the lines as through the brown eyes of this wise cocker spaniel we are invited to consider topics as wide-ranging as feminism and the crushing restrictions of social class structure in Victorian England.
Trust me, you and anyone on your list will love this book.


6. Sister Parish - American Style
by Martin Wood
If John Fowler and Nancy Lancaster were responsible for celebrating what became known as English Country Style, then surely Sister Parish did the same for American Country Style. One of the first professional “decorators” here in the states, Sister Parish was known for her beautiful, and especially comfortable, rooms - rooms that were often cluttered and homey, yet all the while utterly elegant. She was fond of fat, comfy chairs and four-poster beds, painted furniture and floral chintz. And she always made certain there was a table beside every chair where one could rest a cup of tea or a glass of champagne.
Sister Parish once said, I try to instill the lucky part of my life in each house that I do. Some think a decorator should change a house. I try to give permanence to a house, to bring out the experiences, the memories, the feelings that make it a home."
I so adore that philosophy.
Martin Wood has written marvelous books on both John Fowler and Nancy Lancaster. I own them both and highly recommend them. He now turns his attention to Sister Parish in the lovely new release and it is sure to be a treasure.


7. Children's Books
I always give books to the children in my life, for I remember how much they meant to me as a child. It’s always such a treat to spend an afternoon in the children’s section of the bookstore, turning the pages of all the new wonderful ones from which to choose.
Here are two of my favourites for this year.

Happy Christmas Shopping,
and Reading!