Tuesday, January 29, 2013

I'd Rather Have Birds, A List of January Goodness

1. Birds
“If I had to choose, I’d rather have birds than airplanes.”
Charles Lindbergh

On these dun-coloured mornings and grey afternoons
 when Winter holds sway over all,
 it is such a delight to catch sight of a familiar flash of red, 
high in the naked trees.  
A Cardinal. 
 Undaunted by the cold, he swoops and dives like laughter,
 a tiny flame outside in the cold.
My Mother always love to watch the birds in the garden and so, years ago,
 my Father bought her the biggest, most elaborate bird feeder he could find. 
 Hating the thought of it standing empty since she died, 
The Songwriter retrieved it and set it up in the middle of our own back garden,
 just in time for some of the coldest weather yet. 
  He filled it with seed and before he could make his way
 back up the pathway into the house, the word was out!  
It is now filled with those gems of the winter,
 lapis blue jays, ruby cardinals, opal wrens, onyx crows.  
I adore the relationship with nature that bird feeding provides us, 
and encourage you to experience it if you don’t already.
Here’s a gorgeous bird feeder if you don’t have one.
Find it HERE


2.  Tea
Brew me a cup for a winter’s night.
For the wind howls loud and the furies fight;
Spice it with love and stir it with care, 
And I’ll toast our bright eyes, 
my sweetheart fair.”
Minna Thomas Antrim

A pot of hot tea sitting at the ready on a cold winter’s night
 is an incredibly comforting sight.
Nothing warms the body and the soul quite as well. 
  The ritual of making tea is part of its charm and, if I let myself,
 I’d have dozens of teapots.  
The one below recently caught my eye.  
Isn’t it great?  
You can find it HERE.

As for the tea itself, THIS is always my first choice, 
but lately I’ve been rather obsessed with THIS one.
And of course, one has to have THESE to make the experience complete!


 3.  Friends
“Each friend represents a world in us, a world possibly not born until they arrive,”
Anais Nin

It’s no secret to The Songwriter that I’m not particularly fond of being photographed.  That’s why so many of our holiday snaps show a full length shot of my back as I toddle off in the opposite direction of his lens.  Therefore, when it came time to take an author’s photo for From The House of Edward, I was seriously dreading the process. 
 Of course, I’m luckier than most, as two of my good friends were uniquely placed 
to make me look infinitely more relaxed and comfortable than I actually feel, 
a true feat I assure you.
 ( You can see the result in the back of the book. ) 
One is a reknown photographer, you can meet her HERE
 The other is a celebrated artist and stylist who just happens to reside
 in a magical home that Edward absolutely loves to visit. 
 Both Edward and I are therefore so tickled to report that this wonderful friend,
 Thea Beasley, is featured along with her enchanting dwelling
 in the February issue of Country Living.  
It’s a must see!  
As delightful as she is gifted, (that’s her beautiful face in the photo above) 
Thea allowed Country Living to give us all a glimpse of her magical world. 
 Pick up this issue, or visit the website HERE
You can also visit Thea at her blog, HERE.
And below you’ll find a photo of Edward enjoying an afternoon at his Auntie Thea’s.  
 We are so lucky in our friends!


4. Candles
It snowed and snowed, the whole world over,
Snow swept the world from end to end.
A candle burned on the table; 
A candle burned.”
Boris Pasternak, from Dr. Zhivago

Candles are always burning here at The House of Edward.
  It’s quite true that everyone looks wonderful by candlelight, 
they make a house cozier and more romantic.
A dear friend tucked this one into my Christmas basket this year and I’ve loved it so during this winter season.  
It fills the house with soft scents of orange and cinnamon and smells perfectly delicious.
You can find it HERE
I also love the Jasmine one, for spring.


5.  Andirons
I don’t believe anything can do as much for a room as a glowing fire in an attractive fireplace.  Men and dogs love an open fire; they show good sense.  It is the heart of any room and should be kindled on the slightest provocation.”
Dorothy Draper

There are many things I cannot do.  
Gymnastics are totally outside my realm of capability and, Lord knows,
 math was never my strong suit.
  I cannot whistle, nor have I been able to twist my long hair into a satisfactory fishtail braid. 
 But stand back and watch me build a fire. 
 This, I can do. 
 Whenever Edward sees my don my heavy gloves and pull back the iron mesh skirt on the stone fireplace, he is thrilled.  He knows this means an evening by the fire, which is his most preferred method of whiling away a winter evening. 
 Fireplace accoutrements are some of my favourite antiques. 
 We have a pair of old iron owls as our andirons.  
Their glass eyes glow red in the firelight.
These antique ones above caught my eye recently.
Wouldn’t they be divine?
Find them HERE.

6.  Tartan Pendant Lamp
We look to Scotland for all our ideas of civilisation.

Ok, well maybe the artist wasn’t thinking of Scotland, let along tartan, 
when he designed this pendant lamp above.  
But of course, that’s precisely what I thought of when I spied it.
With a modern twist on a classic motif, can’t you just see a row of these in a kitchen.
With a red aga?
Find it HERE.

7.  Dreaming of Spring Gardens
No winter lasts forever, no Spring skips its turn.”
Hal Borland

Though we huddle inside by the fire, with our mugs of hot tea in our hands, 
still, we think and we dream, of Spring.
I sit at my window and stare at the naked garden, woefully neglected this autumn, 
and before the eyes of my imagination, I see gardenias blooming, 
great blowsy hydrangeas the colour of sky,
 rose-petaled pathways and green green grass.
And perhaps, this garden seat?
Find it HERE


8.  Poetry
To read a poem in January  is as lovely as to go for a walk in June.”
Jean-Paul Sartre

To close this list of things that make January such a special month, 
it is only right to include a poem.
I read poetry a lot, and seem to read it more in the winter months.
This one is a new favorite from the wondrous poet, Mary Oliver, 
from her latest collection, A Thousand Mornings.
Find it HERE.
I hope you are having a cozy, peaceful January.

Green, Green is My Sister’s House

Don’t you dare climb that tree
or even try, they said, or you will be
sent away to the hospital of the
very foolish, if not the other one.
And I suppose, considering my age, 
it was fair advice.

But the tree is a sister to me, she
lives alone in a green cottage
high in the air and I know what
would happen, she’d clap her green hands, 
she’d shake her green hair, she’d
welcome me.  Truly

I try to be good but sometimes
a person just has to break out and
act like the wild and springy thing
one used to be.  It’s impossible not
the remember the wild and want it back.  So

if some day you can’t find me you might
look into that tree or - of course
it’s possible - under it.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

My Bookstore, and A Giveaway

My Bookstore

Closing the door to the slope-ceilinged room that is my favourite in this favourite hotel,  I make my way down the three staircases to the lobby.  A Monet morning sun falls over the floral upholstery on the overstuffed chairs and the view to the garden beckons.  But I am not deterred, for I have someplace else to be.  I pull open the tall black front door, pausing briefly on the threshold to breathe in the cool fragrance of Springtime before taking the stone stairs two at a time. 

 This is a familiar start to many of the days I have spent in London.  Where am I heading with such anticipation as I leave my hotel in Chelsea?  To VV Rouleaux, that enchanting emporium of feathers and ribbons?  No.  As tempting as that dear shop is to me, it is never my very first stop.  Nor am I bound for Brora, with its heavenly Scottish cashmere. 
 Jo Malone, Cath Kidston, Peter Jones.  All are a mere skip away, but none claim first stop place in my heart.  

No, that spot belongs wholly to a bewitching shop on a quirky little side street, humble in appearance but containing riches galore just behind its large-paned windows.  John Sandoe Books, Ltd.   Once a grooming parlor catering primarily to poodles, this eighteenth century shop holds the distinction as being my absolute favourite book store and I always devote my first morning in London to its perusal.  There are books everywhere here - stacked on every conceivable surface.  They line the tiny, eccentrically curved staircase leading up to a floor full to bursting with even more books than found below.  The floors creak in appropriately atmospheric fashion.  (To be here on a rainy afternoon is the closest thing to Eden one can find.)  In short, it is utter paradise and easily claims several hours of my time whenever I’m fortunate enough to be in that glorious city.

No one can doubt the internet has had a deleterious effect on the health and well-being of independent shops.  Books and music are sold in different ways these days, one must admit.  But over the past few months I have visited several delightful independent bookshops which, though sadly harder to come across than they once were, are so worth the effort of seeking out.  In October, I was in Seaside, Florida one afternoon just as a setting sun was painting the white exterior of Sundog Books the most beautiful shade of pink.  Inside I found a treasure trove of books in a most tempting setting.  As I am hardly an abstemious book buyer, it was an effort to extricate myself from its shelves empty handed.  I highly recommend a visit if you are ever in the vicinity.  Could there be anything better than picking up the perfect book, grabbing an ice cream as you leave and heading straight for a beach chair beside the sea?  Well, no.

And just this past weekend I was in Nashville, Tennessee for my quarterly classics book club meeting.  There is a one year old independent bookshop there that is a must visit for any book lover.  Parnassus Books is owned by writer, Ann Patchett, and is truly a book lover’s bookshop if ever there was one.  The titles seem curated by those who appreciate beautiful writing and the staff is eager to point you to the most wonderful selections.  I feel lucky to visit every three months or so.  As an utterly ingenious added treat, at the back of the store there is the facade of a grand house with a front door that only stands about four feet tall.  It is the entrance to the children’s department and what a fabulous idea this is.  Kids walk through their own door and enter a tall-ceilinged world of books.  Magic.  

I suppose I’ve had bookshops on my mind as I’ve been reading through one of the books I recommended here for Christmas:  My Bookstore.  Edited by Ronald Rice, My Bookstore is a collection of essays from writers celebrating their favourite places to "browse, read and shop".  Not only a literary treat, it serves as a tantalizing road map for bookworms.  How could we not want to visit Nantucket Bookworks when we read author Elin Hilderbrand describe it as being located on a “quaint leafy street” and looking as though “decades ago it might have been an ice cream shoppe or a private home for someone like Angela Lansbury”.  Or how could we possibly resist a trip to Isabel Allende’s choice, Book Passage in Corte Madera, California, when she speaks of “the sight of shelves packed with books of all kinds, the smell of printed paper and coffee, and the secret rustle of the characters that live in the pages...”   Oooh, don’t we love that secret rustle.

In my own travels I have loved Bunch of Grapes bookshop in Vineyard Haven, Massachusetts and E. Shaver Books in Savannah, Georgia.  Malaprop's in Asheville, North Carolina is always a must.  I thought I'd died and gone to heaven when I wandered the streets of Wigtown, Scotland, a village known as Scotland’s National Book Town where every single shop is a bookshop - over twenty of them!  But still, I remain firm in my devotion to John Sandoe Books.  It is My Bookstore.

Now of course, as I’ve shared John Sandoe Books with you,
 you all simply must tell me your favourite bookshop. 
 I know you have one!

As a special treat for my dear readers.....
I have a copy of My Bookstore to give away to one of you.
To enter, just leave a comment below, telling me your favourite bookshop.
I'll draw a winner at midnight on my wedding anniversary... Sunday the 27th!!

John Sandoe Books, Ltd.
Congratulations to Judy M!
She's the winner of My Bookstore.
Judy, please drop me a line with your address!
Thanks to all who entered,
your favourite bookstores are all soooo tempting!

Monday, January 21, 2013

Sail On

Sail On, Sail On, 
Oh, mighty Ship of State.
To the shores of need, 
Pass the reefs of greed, 
Through the squalls of hate.
Sail On.
Sail On.
Sail On.

by Leonard Cohen, from Democracy

Sunday, January 20, 2013

How Are You?

How Are You?

“How are you?”  For the past several weeks I have heard this question more than bird song.  Occasionally it’s been accompanied by a worried tilt of the questioner’s head, sometimes by an encouraging squeeze of my shoulder.  There is often a faintly detectable frisson of fear behind the eyes that reveals, despite the honest concern for my welfare, the questioner is sincerely in hopes that I won’t fall apart in their presence.  I am grateful for the wonderful people that populate my life and grateful for their kind attention to me as, each time, I have reassured them that I’m fine.  Really.  I’m fine.

The rituals of a Southern funeral are forged in iron and not to be escaped.  It doesn’t matter that one is exhausted.  Nor that one is an only child with more on one’s plate than is fathomable.  The duties for those left behind when a parent passes away in the South are strangely akin to those necessary in planning a party.  Flowers? Check.  Music?  Check.  Food?  Check.  One hopes one remembers all the names that go with all the faces so that all the introductions go smoothly.  One hopes to put everyone at ease in what is almost always a bit of an uncomfortable situation.  And one does it all in high heels, which is nearly always stressful in and of itself.  And one is fine.  Really.

Then suddenly, everyone is gone.  The habits of everyday life begin to slowly draw their patterns around the hours once more.  Dinners are prepared.  Dogs are walked.  Laundry is done.  And one is fine.  Really.  Fine. 
 Or so one thinks.

Then comes the night when I’m knitting by the fire.   As Time Goes By is on the television - a big white dog is asleep at my feet.  My ball of yarn decides to fall from my lap and as I’m reeling it in I pause to give Edward a tummy rub and feel a bird’s egg-sized lump just behind his left leg and suddenly, incredibly, my “fine” self crumbles like a dry sycamore leaf.  (Before I worry anyone, let me hasten to say that this little malady of Edward’s was seen to promptly and found to be very common, utterly benign, and easily dealt with.  But do keep in mind that I wasn’t aware of this at the time, rendering the shock of its discovery as, The Final Straw.)  First, all the sound in the room changed to a loud roar as my vision went dark.  I made it to the bathroom where I lost... well, let’s just say I now have infinitely more sympathy for poor Kate Middleton and her “extreme” bout of morning sickness.  Then... my temperature started to climb.  It reached 101 degrees by the time I fell into bed, feeling for all the world that I’d been run over by a coach and six.  Next morning came a migraine.  Yes dear reader, I fell apart.
When the migraine left and Edward had been to his vet, The Songwriter, sounding eerily like Vernon Dursley from Book One of Harry Potter, declared in his most exasperated voice... “We’re going away!  Far away!”

And so we did.  All four of us piled into a large rental car and headed for the coast.  Pale and silent, I sat in the passenger seat like a placid little mental patient on a supervised outing and upon arriving at our destination, promptly fell asleep for the better part of two days.  We took long walks on the beach.  We ate oranges.  We laughed a lot. I  realized how much calmer and relaxed I was starting to feel when I began to observe Edward and Apple having such a good time.  They couldn’t pass each other without stopping to play.  Edward had a grin on his face the entire time we were away.  No doubt  both dogs had been absorbing all the stress I thought I had so cleverly concealed when I was “fine”.   They are never fooled. 

It’s admittedly strange when your body stages its own revolt, finally demanding to be heard when its been ignored for too long.  One little scare, one thin, tiny straw, and all hell can break loose.  If you ever find yourself in  a similar situation, and I hope you never do, I can empirically attest to the restorative powers of sun and sand, oranges, and the love of a big white dog.  
We really are fine now, and trust me, I know the difference.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

The Art of Trading Places

The Art of Trading Places

To the untrained eye it would appear that the big dog was sleeping.  True, he was lying still as stone under the lady’s chair - head resting on paws, eyes closed, breathing slow.  But if one were to look closely one would perhaps notice the occasional flutter of a furry white ear as it moved back and forth on his head, following each utterance of conversation taking place across the dinner table above him.  From what he could gather, The Man was feeling much better and if so, the big dog was conflicted.  Not that he wished The Man to feel anything but perfectly hale and hearty, you understand.  But for the past three days, The Man had been suffering that most frustrating, yet least worrisome, malady of a bad cold and in consideration of The Lady’s health, had been sleeping in another part of the house.  This had created a vacancy in his usual place in the soft four-poster bed, a vacancy that the big white dog had happily, and most comfortably, filled these past three cold and windy nights.  If indeed The Man was feeling well, then this most happy situation was due to change.  The big white dog had to make some plans.

All evening long he watched The Man closely.  No sneezes.  No coughs.  Yes, it appeared he was back to regular form.  The dog thought and thought.  It was not as though he had anything to complain about when it came to his sleeping arrangements.  He had a fat paisley bed of generous proportions that sat at the foot of the chaise lounge.  Everyone knew it was his and his alone and he found it more than sufficient most nights of the year.  He had never been banned from the big four-poster bed either.  Indeed, most winter nights found him fast asleep there with his head resting on The Lady’s feet, a satisfying condition for them both.  But then, he’d never tried sleeping in The Man’s place before - never knew what an immensely agreeable spot it was, resting one’s head on a pillow at the top of the bed, right up next to The Lady, on a January night when the wind howled past the eaves and the temperature dropped down low.  He just wasn’t ready to relinquish this newly discovered comfort.  Not ready at all.

Finally, bedtime approached.  He watched as The Lady picked up the book she was reading, plumped up her pillows, and climbed inside the tall bed.  The big dog hopped up and lay down with a plop at her feet to wait.  The Lady smiled his way.  Fighting sleep, he rubbed his face with his paws.  He waited.  He could hear The Man checking locks, setting out the coffee pot for morning.  Finally, The Lady closed her book and placed it on the table beside her.  She snuggled down and switched off her light.  Just what the big dog had been waiting for.  Slowly, he traveled up the downy hills and valleys of the bed till he reached the top.  Quietly he lay down beside the lady and rolled over on his side.  He closed his eyes tight.  And waited.

Next morning, over breakfast, 
The Big Dog listened to the conversation taking place above him.

“I thought you were feeling better!  Where were you when I woke up?”, said the lady.

The Man sighed.  “Well.......  I was.  I mean, I do.  It was just, well, when I came to bed you looked so comfortable.  Edward was up in my place and you both were sound asleep.  You even had your arm draped over him.  I stood there looking at you both for several minutes and realized I just couldn’t wake you up.  So I slept in the other room.”

“Honestly!”, said The Lady, laughing.

 And The Big Dog smiled.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Reflected Light

Reflected Light

For years and years now, I have been collecting beautiful copies of Charles Dickens’ holiday classic, A Christmas Carol.  On the day after Thanksgiving, when the wreath is hung on the front door and trees go up throughout the house, I gather these books from their respective shelves and scatter them here and there, always within easy reach of a comfortable reading chair or bedside.  Dickens’ story is, to me, as much a part of Christmas as red ribbons and fudge, and many of its well-remembered quotations drift through my thoughts each December.  This particular December just past, however, it seemed as though I was caught in the web of another of the great author’s famous lines from another book entirely... 
“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times”.  

Having worked on my book, From the House of Edward, most of the year, I had no way of knowing its release would coincide with my Mother’s ultimate decline in health.  Also, while I could, and did, indulge in imagining the delight I would feel upon finally holding that very first copy in my hands, my imagination stopped right there.  There was no way I could have dreamed up all the wonderful letters I would begin to get once people started to receive their very own copies.  In the midst of such bad news, day after day, concerning my Mother, there would be letter after letter in my inbox from people expressing the most delightful responses to my book.  How can I ever say enough thanks to you all?  

There are so many blogs out there in the ether, a multitude of well-written, beautifully photographed, places to visit each day.  That you continue to stop by The House of Edward, continue to leave such interesting and encouraging comments, continue to write such beautiful letters... well, it amazes me no end.  The book is getting ready to go into a second printing (which also amazes me no end) and I am so grateful to all of you.  Those who received it for Christmas are now ordering more copies for friends and this just puts a grin on my face that threatens to be permanent.

The work of the French Baroque painter, George de La Tour, has been on my mind of late.  La Tour was famous for his realistic depictions of reflected light and I cannot help but think this is what you all have provided me these past couple of months.  On days when I felt as though no light emanated from me at all, your kindnesses and encouraging words have provided me with far more than enough, gifting me with warmth and illumination for my path ahead.  

We buried my Mother on the very last day of a difficult year.  A more striking metaphor I could never conceive.  As I step, each day a bit surer, into the clean, untouched days of this new year, I do so with much gratitude for the remarkable readers I am so fortunate to have, so happy to have you on this journey along with me.
Thank you all.

Painting above by George de La Tour

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

A New Year Begins

A New Year Begins......

This is the beginning.
Almost anything can happen.
This is where you find
the creation of light, a fish wriggling onto land,
the first word of Paradise Lost on an empty page.
Think of an egg, the letter A,
a woman ironing on a bare stage
as the heavy curtain rises.
This is the very beginning.
The first-person narrator introduces himself,
tells us about his lineage.
The mezzo-soprano stands in the wings.
Here the climbers are studying a map
or pulling on their long woolen socks.
This is early on, years before the Ark, dawn.
The profile of an animal is being smeared
on the wall of a cave,
and you have not yet learned to crawl.
This is the opening, the gambit,
a pawn moving forward an inch.
This is your first night with her,
your first night without her.
This is the first part
where the wheels begin to turn,
where the elevator begins its ascent,
before the doors lurch apart.

from the poem, Aristotle by Billy Collins