Wednesday, August 28, 2013



Years ago, whenever I imagined myself at the age I am now, I could see myself clearly, with great happy fistfuls of time on my hands.  Time to doze on the back porch in the the early autumn breeze, listening to bird song.  Time to write reams and reams of real letters.  There would not be the teetering stack of books by my bed because, blessed by the avalanche of hours now in my possession, I would, of course, have read them all. My house would be spotless; my garden divine.  My well-stocked kitchen would produce gloriously exotic new dishes every evening without requiring that last minute dash to the market to replace a sad vegetable that had withered from neglect in the bottom of the fridge. 
 I would be calm.  I would be wise.  I would be serene.

Those days still sit there, like a desert oasis, just beyond my reach.  Each year I move the yardstick a tiny bit more but they always seem to respond in kind.  Will I ever reach that Eden of the unfettered day?  The day when my to do list is blank; my alarm clock unset? 

Over breakfast this morning, The Songwriter asked, “Well, what are you doing today?”, and his eyes glazed over as I ran down my list of “musts” for the first day of the week.   But I’ll let you in on a secret about myself, one that The Songwriter knows all too well, but is too polite to mention:  my pressing agenda often gets shuffled around quite a bit because there is always one overriding, omnipresent item on that list. 
 It causes me to go off script so often but oh, how different life would be without it.

Heading to the cleaners on a rainy day with my back seat full of tweeds and silk, I’ll pass a used book store.  No, it’s not on the list.  But it’s raining!  And it’s a bookstore!  So it’s a few days till I make it to the cleaners.  Does that really matter? Who knows what treasures I might find in that shop?  Treasures that might open entire new avenues of thought. to the market on a cloudless fall afternoon.  I take the short cut through the park.  It’s empty and the russet gowns of the maple trees are reflected in the waters of the lake.  Well, we can always eat out tonight, right? Who knows what brilliant idea might drift down from those trees to land on my shoulders?
  We all have maps and lists we follow religiously. 
 We are wary of deviating from our carefully written scripts.
  But who knows what magic is waiting for us if we do?

  Here in the states we are commemorating the fiftieth anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s  March on Washington, the seminal moment in our country’s struggle for civil rights.  Clarence B. Jones, now 82 years old, was Dr. King’s speech writer for that event and tells of how King followed that written speech to the letter, in a professorial delivery, for the first seven paragraphs.
Then something unusual happened. 
 Gospel singer Mahalia Jackson called out to King in the middle of his speech,
  “Tell them about the dream, Martin.  Tell them about the dream.”

Martin Luther King paused a moment, looked down, and pushed his notes aside.  He gripped the sides of the podium with both hands and began to speak, not as a professor, but as the Baptist preacher he was.  Speaking from the heart, his words, extemporaneous and passionate, still ring through history today.

Life is just sweeter with it.
Include it on your list today.

You can listen to Dr. King's magnificent foray into spontaneity HERE.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Back to School

Back to School

Every year without fail, there comes an evening in late summer when The Songwriter is especially happy, almost gleeful.  His joy has nothing necessarily to do with his surroundings, although the evening in question did happen to fall this year while we were enjoying near perfect weather at our favourite beach.  But I’ve seen the same reaction at the end of sweltering days spent mostly in traffic; days spent mowing the lawn or washing the dogs; or even when he’s had the misfortune to be caught in the throes of a summer cold.  It doesn’t really matter what his day has been like, there will come a moment when he suddenly realizes that school starts the very next morning.  And he doesn’t have to go. 

 I was one of those children who loved school; The Songwriter positively loathed it.  Trapped and bored, he would look forward to summer holidays with the intensity of a convict awaiting parole.  They stretched before him, a breezy golden road with no end in sight, as far away to a child as September from May.  His high spirits dwindled with the summer days, however, and, whereas the night before the start of school always found me happily laying out a brand-new pleated tartan skirt alongside a crisp Blue Horse notebook, it found him in the lowest depths of misery. 

So I couldn’t help but find it amusing when he was recently asked by our town to sing at the dedication of our grand, sparkling new, primary school.  It was the first time I had been inside a school in years and years, and I was tickled to go along.  Sitting in the back of the auditorium, memories came flooding back as I gazed around me.  I remembered the thrill of being the very first person to use a gleaming new text book; the tantalizing crack when it opened; the delicious fragrance of the fresh, crisp pages. I remembered the smell of yeast rolls wafting from the school cafeteria at lunchtime.  It was easy to see myself in math class, fighting to stay awake as an autumn breeze blew in through the open windows, bringing with it the faintest scent of woodsmoke and falling leaves. Good memories, all. 

 As the program went on that afternoon I saw replicas of both The Songwriter and myself in the little faces sitting round me: scowling little boys, stunned at the unfairness of shortened summer holidays; prim little girls, bright-eyed and eager to impress.  While The Songwriter practically skipped out the doors when the program was over, I was tempted to linger, just a tad wistful for those long ago days when all I was responsible for was learning new things. 

It is no doubt an excitement held over from my own school days that causes me to consider this time on the calendar as the beginning of a new year.  When children start lining up at bus stops in the wee hours of morning, my dreams take on the hues of olive green and orange.  Yes, we can technically wear our white linen for a few more weeks without risking sartorial ruin, but my thoughts, and my heart, have already turned towards knitted scarves and tweeds.  Fresh pumpkin potpourri is now in the old Irish cache pot on my entry table.  Ginger tea is my current drink of choice.  I find myself looking at new art calendars; going over Christmas lists; checking the firewood stack.  As southern summers go, this has been a mild one, unusually so, but still... just as school seems to start earlier and earlier every single year, Autumn seduces me a bit earlier too.  I cannot help myself.  Perhaps I should go back to school?

But then came the early morning last week when I heard the faint rumble of the school bus making its way up the street.  It was just after dawn, much colder than normal for this time of year, and the rain outside my bedroom window was nothing short of torrential.  Crossing firmly over to The Songwriter’s way of thinking, I was happier than ever to be an adult.  Happy to snuggle back down in my downy bed.  Happy not to have to go to school.  I’ll just bake a pumpkin pie instead.

Thanks to all of you for allowing me a bit of poetry indulgence while I was
away at the beach.  I had hoped you would enjoy some of my favourites... and judging by
the emails I've received... you did!  Makes me happy!

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Last of the Poetry Days... Ithaka

by Constantine P. Cavafy

When you set out for Ithaka
ask that your way be long,
full of adventure, full of instruction.
The Laistrygonians and the Cyclops,
angry Poseidon - do not fear them:
such as these you will never find
as long as your thought is lofty, as long as a rare
emotion touch your spirit and your body.
The Laistrygonians and the Cyclops,
angry Poseidon - you will not meet them
unless you carry them in your soul,
unless your soul raise them up before you.

Ask that your way be long.
At many a Summer dawn to enter
with what gratitude, what joy -
ports seen for the first time;
to stop at Phoenician trading centres,
and to buy good merchandise,
mother of pearl and coral, amber and ebony,
and sensuous perfumes of every kind,
sensuous perfumes as lavishly as you can;
to visit many Egyptian cities,
to gather stores of knowledge from the learned.

Have Ithaka always in your mind.
Your arrival there is what you are destined for.
But don't in the least hurry the journey.
Better it last for years,
so that when you reach the island you are old,
rich with all you have gained on the way,
not expecting Ithaka to give you wealth.
Ithaka gave you a splendid journey.
Without her you would not have set out.
She hasn't anything else to give you.

And if you find her poor, Ithaka hasn't deceived you.
So wise you have become, of such experience,
that already you'll have understood what these Ithakas mean. 

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Poetry Days... Six... Those Who Love

Those Who Love
by Sara Teasdale

Those who love the most,
Do not talk of their love,
Francesca, Guinevere,
Deirdre, Iseult, Heloise,
In the fragrant gardens of heaven
Are silent, or speak if at all 
Of fragile inconsequent things.

And a woman I used to know
Who loved one man from her youth,
Against the strength of the fates
Fighting in somber pride
Never spoke of this thing, 
But hearing his name by chance,
A light would pass over her face.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Poetry Days... Five... On a Night of Snow

On a Night of Snow
by Elizabeth Coatsworth

Cat, if you go outdoors, you must walk in the snow.
You will come back with little white shoes on your feet,
little white shoes of snow that have heels of sleet.
Stay by the fire, my Cat.  Lie still, and do not go.
See how the flames are leaping and hissing low,
I will bring you a saucer of milk like a marguerite,
so white and so smooth, so spherical and so sweet - 
stay with me, Cat.  Outdoors the wild winds blow.

Outdoors the wild winds blow, Mistress, and dark is the night,
strange voices cry in the trees, intoning strange lore,
and more than cats move, lit by our eyes green light, 
on silent feet where the meadow grasses hang hoar - 
Mistress, there are portents abroad of magic and might, 
and things that are yet to be done.  Open the door!

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Poetry Days... Four... The Happiest Day

The Happiest Day
by Linda Pastan

It was early May, I think
a moment of lilac or dogwood
when so many promises are made
it hardly matters if a few are broken.
My mother and father still hovered
in the background, part of the scenery
like the houses I had grown up in,
and if they would be torn down later
that was something I knew
but didn't believe. Our children were asleep
or playing, the youngest as new
as the new smell of the lilacs,
and how could I have guessed
their roots were shallow
and would be easily transplanted.
I didn't even guess that I was happy.
The small irritations that are like salt
on melon were what I dwelt on,
though in truth they simply
made the fruit taste sweeter.
So we sat on the porch
in the cool morning, sipping
hot coffee. Behind the news of the day—
strikes and small wars, a fire somewhere—
I could see the top of your dark head
and thought not of public conflagrations
but of how it would feel on my bare shoulder.
If someone could stop the camera then…
if someone could only stop the camera
and ask me: are you happy?
perhaps I would have noticed
how the morning shone in the reflected
color of lilac. Yes, I might have said
and offered a steaming cup of coffee.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Poetry Days...Three...The Journey

The Journey 
by Mary Oliver

One day you finally knew 
what you had to do, and began,
though the voices around you
kept shouting
their bad advice—
though the whole house
began to tremble
and you felt the old tug
at your ankles.
"Mend my life!"
each voice cried.
But you didn't stop.
You knew what you had to do,
though the wind pried
with its stiff fingers
at the very foundations,
though their melancholy
was terrible.
It was already late
enough, and a wild night,
and the road full of fallen
branches and stones.
But little by little,
as you left their voices behind,
the stars began to burn
through the sheets of clouds,
and there was a new voice
which you slowly
recognized as your own,
that kept you company
as you strode deeper and deeper
into the world
determined to do
the only thing you could do—
determined to save
the only life you could save.

Friday, August 9, 2013

Poetry Days, Two.... Begin

by Brendan Kennelly

Begin again to the summoning birds,
to the sight of the light at the window,
begin to the roar of morning traffic
all along Pembroke Road.
Every beginning is a promise
born in light and dying in dark
determination and exaltation of springtime
flowering the way to work.
Being to the pageant of queuing girls
the arrogant loneliness of swans in the canal
bridges linking the past and future
old friends passing though with us still.
Begin to the loneliness that cannot end
since it perhaps is what makes us begin, 
begin to wonder at unknown faces
at crying birds in the sudden rain
at branches stark in the willing sunlight
at seagulls foraging for bread
at couples sharing a sunny secret
alone together while making good.
Though we live in a world that dreams of ending
that always seem about to give in
something that will not acknowledge conclusion
insists that we forever begin.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Poetry Days, One... A Blessing

Poetry Days

Lower than half mast, almost reptilian, my nearly closed eye lids admit only a sliver of a view; two shades of blue, a ruler-straight line where the sea meets the sky.  The sound of the winds off the ocean mingles with the bright crash of the waves; a constant music for my somnolent soul.  As my eyes finally close, thoughts drift through my head; casual visitors only, they are not invited to stay. These are the poetry days, when my mind lingers over only the most beautiful words; contemplates only the picturesque thoughts.  These are the days designed to provide what I need for the rest of the year. 
 They are the hours of needed bliss.

There comes a time in August when the seaside calls.  I hear it at the breakfast table or in a line of crawling traffic.  It sings down telephone wires; drowns out even the most scintillating of conversations.  It is insistent, persistent, tempting, and there is nothing for it but to answer.  And so I throw drawstring trousers into a straw bag.  Find my widest-brimmed hat.  I place a stack of new books in the backseat of my car.  And soon, crossing the bridge to the island, I notice, with barely contained glee, the lights on my cell phone become fainter and fainter till eventually I know I am deliciously unreachable.  I have left the prose of life far behind me.  I concentrate on the poetry only.

While I’m away for the next few days, I’ve scheduled some of my favourite poems to share with you all.
An evocative picture.
A wonderful poem.
Each day.
I hope you enjoy these poetry days.
Do let me know which ones you like best.

A Blessing
by James Wright

Just off the highway to Rochester, Minnesota
Twilight bounds softly forth on the grass.
And the eyes of those two Indian ponies
Darken with kindness.
They have come gladly out of the willows
To welcome my friend and me.
We step over the barbed wire into the pasture
Where they have been grazing all day, alone.
They ripple tensely, they can hardly contain their happiness
That we have come.
They bow shyly as wet swans.  They love each other.
There is no loneliness like theirs.
At home once more,
They begin munching the young tufts of spring in the darkness.
I would like to hold the slenderer one in my arms, 
For she has walked over to me
And nuzzled my left hand.
She is black and white, 
Her mane falls wild on her forehead, 
And the light breeze moves me to caress her long ear
That is delicate as the skin over a girl’s wrist.
Suddenly I realize
That if I stepped out of my body I would break
Into blossom.

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Just a Bit More Britain.....

Just a Bit More Britain....
Okay, I heard you!  From the comments and emails I’ve received over the past week, it’s apparent that I’m not the only Anglophile out there.  It also seems that many of you are in the process of planning your own trips to London this year which makes me so happy.  You will have a wonderful time, I assure you.  So here’s just a bit more Britain.. focusing on London.  Enjoy!

1.  Tea
The best cup of tea I’ve ever had in my life was not at the Ritz.  Nor the Savoy.  Nor even at my beloved Draycott Hotel.  No, it was enjoyed not long after the photograph at the top of this post was snapped, in a tiny little cafe on the edge of Lake Buttermere in Cumbria.  The cold weather that September afternoon was punctuated by a wind strong enough to blow my hat right off, which it did.  I chased it a good way, catching hold of the brim just before it flew across the lake.  We were chilled to the bone after our hike and the cozy little cafe handed us the most deliciously hot, deliciously bracing, cup of strong, sweet tea ever concocted.  We sat there in utter bliss, watching gold autumn leaves rain down outside the steamy windows.
Tea in Britain is just different than tea here in the States.  I don’t know why, but it is.  I bring back handfuls of the stuff whenever I can, but it’s never quite the same.  I mean, let’s face it, America is just more of a coffee country.  Generally speaking, we tend to have coffee shops, not tea shops. Personally, I think we cannot duplicate the settings accurately.  And for me, getting the setting right, is half the job.  
For my money, one of the best places for tea has got to be at the Victoria and Albert Museum.  That’s a photograph of it above.  See what I mean?  Whenever I open the heavy glass doors at the back of the museum to walk across the windy courtyard and enter these grand rooms, I feel as though I’ve left one world and been welcomed into quite another.  Each of the three rooms is unique, atmospheric, and as jaw-droppingly gorgeous as one would expect in a museum devoted to the best and most beautiful of design.  I love the old wood-paneled tea room at the National Gallery and the little outdoor cafe in St. James Park is an idyllic setting for a hot cup of tea on a chilly afternoon,
 but this one at the V and A is hands down my favourite.
See more HERE

2.  Pollock’s Toy Shoppe
Strolling up Regent Street you start to see the crowds and hear the chatter before you even approach Hamleys Toy Store.  A fixture in London, Hamleys has every kind of stuffed creature and current craze imaginable inside its multi-story shop.  It is a mecca for tourists of every shape and size, old and young alike.  Tours truly has braved the crowds there herself to purchase several Paddington Bears for children back home.  However, if you happen to be holding the hand of a child who possesses a more singular nature, or perhaps are one of those types yourself... then you must keep walking and wind your way through streets and alleys till you reach Covent Garden.  Keep looking till you find Pollock’s Toy Shop.  Benjamin Pollock started this shop over a century and a half ago, specializing in magical little toy theatres. These tiny creations are still prominently featured at Pollock’s - circuses and shadow boxes,  Punch and Judys and Cinderellas. Pollock’s is teeny tiny shop chocked full of imagination made manifest, of which Robert Louis Stevenson himself once wrote, “If you love art, folly or the bright eyes of children, speed to Pollock's”.
I certainly agree.  
See more HERE

3.  Bea’s of Bloomsbury
On my last trip to London a good friend whisked me away one afternoon for a visit to Bea’s of Bloomsbury.  Not knowing quite what to expect, but trusting her judgement completely, I followed along obediently and soon found myself standing in front of a little jewel box of a sweet shop.  Tantalizing cakes of all shapes and colours sat in the window, each one seeming to call out to me like the cakes Alice found when she tumbled into Wonderland.  “Me!  Eat Me!”, they cried.  I soon found that the inside of Bea’s was even more delightful that its windows promised, and even more fatal to one’s willpower.  More cakes!  Cupcakes, shortbread, scones.... chocolate, vanilla, strawberry...filling glass cases and tiered stands everywhere I looked.  Tiny little chairs and tiny little tables.  Smiling waiters scurrying to and fro.  It looked for all the world like some enchanted place the sort of which Mary Poppins would frequent on her Thursdays off.  
Highly recommended!
See more HERE.

4.  Persephone Books
Having heard of this bookshop for awhile now, I knew it would probably be wonderful.  But believe me, I wasn’t prepared for what I was to find as I made my way down a quiet Lamb’s Conduit Street on cool Saturday afternoon in May.  The hubbub of Oxford and High Holborn muffled into silence as I walked, gazing up at old storefronts and into vintage windows, looking for Persephone Books.  And soon, there it was on the left.  In a building dating from 1701, with handmade bunting swagged in its windows and all manner of vintage accouterments arranged on the deep, wide sills.  Persephone Books.  If the charm of the inside even came close to that of the outside, I was in for a treat to be sure.  Well dear reader, Persephone Books surpassed any expectations I had.  A small room to be sure, with grey covered books on lined in shelves and stacked on tables, some already gift wrapped in a bright paper the colour of California bougainvillea.  Vases of garden flowers.  Vintage floral fabrics and handsewn cushions.  A large wooden table sat in the center of the room, old and full of books and flowers, notecards and bookmarks.  
I am not in possession of a vocabulary rich enough to properly convey the delight a lover of books experiences in Persephone.  The basics are this:  they specialize in the publication of forgotten women authors.  They publish those works in the most enticing dove grey covers, the endpapers of which are aswirl with prints from the 30’s and 40’s, making the experience of reading these wonderful books delightful on every level.  You will want every book you see, trust me on this. An added treat?  They tuck a bookmark to match in each book purchased.  If you cannot book a ticket immediately, then go, posthaste, to their website and browse around.  And for goodness sakes, order a catalog.  Better than a blue one from Tiffany’s.  Truly.
See more HERE

5.  Liberty
When I was little my Mother and I would occasionally journey downtown to the large department stores of old -  gilded palaces where escalators smoothly ascended and descended beneath crystal chandeliers the size of Volkswagen Beetles and lilting strains of Bach and Mozart drifted through the perfumed air.  To shop in these places was no mere errand run to the mall.  We dressed up to go there and always made time for chocolate sundaes in the very feminine cafes where little round tables were draped in starched white linen and I could entertain myself endlessly by eavesdropping on the floral-hatted ladies perched like fine-feathered birds here and there around me.  If we chanced to make a purchase, we were treated like royalty, our packages boxed and wrapped with care. Needless to say, my memories of Christmas shopping in these places are colourful, fanciful, and dear. Sadly, those magnificent stores no longer exist in my fair city, having been replaced decades ago by the ubiquitous, and rather raucous, shopping malls, places where the dress codes of old have evaporated and chocolate sundaes are no more. 
 However, when I am fortunate enough to be in London, I always make time for an afternoon in Liberty, both to relive the grand experience shopping once was and to take in all that is creative, unique and gorgeous in the modern day.

The building itself is glorious and would easily make my list were it empty as a broken egg.  But add to its historical beauty floors artfully arrayed with tempting wares and it becomes more than just a store.  It becomes an event, and one not to be missed.  Flowers are massed at every entrance, and yes, I’ve been known to bring some back for my hotel room.  Every floor in the old Tudor building holds treasures; I always find it a near impossibility to extricate myself from both the scarf department and the haberdashery.  I can never seem to leave without dozens of buttons.  The cafe is charming; the perfect place for tea.  Come to think of it... I would bet they could concoct a chocolate sundae if I ask nicely.  Maybe next time.
See more HERE.

6. Dennis Severs’ House
If, perhaps in daydream, or those last fleeting seconds before sleep, you have ever had a momentary flirtation with the idea of time travel, then you owe it to yourself to visit the Dennis Severs’ House in Spitalfields.   Those in the know queue up in the cobblestone street outside its mysterious front door every Sunday and Monday during the brief period of time the house allows visitors, waiting for it to slowly open, waiting to be invited inside.  Not an attraction, so much more than a museum, the hour you spend here will be the closest you will ever get to time travel this side of the veil.  It is a piece of incredible theatre in which every detail, however infinitesimal, is perfection.  Candlelight flickers, freshly baked scones cool on the sideboard, a half-finished cup of tea sits, still warm, beside a tapestry chair.  You hear the clip clop of horse’s hooves as invisible carriages roll past outside the shuttered windows.  A child’s giggle is heard from the next room. When the front door opens to release you back into the world, you hardly know what century you are returning to.  Have you stepped from a painting?  Have you gone back in time?  Who can say? 
There is a tiny handwritten sign tossed casually on a side table in the Dennis Severs’ House which reads, “You either see it, or you don’t.”
Well, I see it.  
And I think you might also.
Find out more HERE.

7. Ben Pentreath Ltd
A few months ago I was browsing around Pinterest on a Saturday morning.  I kept coming across the most gorgeous images, all attributed to a chap named Ben Pentreath.  After a bit of investigation, I found the fellow had a witty, stunningly beautiful blog which I immediately bookmarked.  Mr. Pentreath is a designer, architect and shop owner whose taste makes my heart sing.  His posts are frequently about his country home in Dorset and are accompanied by the most beautiful photographs.  I am dying to see inside his shop.  It’s in Bloomsbury, quite near Persephone Books.  
No, I’ve not been there yet.  But I’m going!  That’s the marvelous thing about London; there’s always something new to see or do.  One is never done with London.
In the meantime, I’m whetting my appetite for Ben Pentreath Ltd. by reading both his lovely blog and his new book on English design.  Swoon-worthy!
Find the blog HERE.
And the book, HERE.