Monday, February 24, 2014

So Much Fun to Be Home... A List of Wonderful Things

So Much Fun To Be Home...
A List of Wonderful Things

Some years back, on a relatively ordinary afternoon, I received a phone call from a friend wondering if The Songwriter and I would like front row seats to a Rolling Stones concert that very night.  Calling down the hallway to him, The Songwriter yelled “Yes!” before I even completed the query.  Knowing they were famous for not taking the stage until around midnight, I asked The Songwriter if he’d mind if I brought a book to read during the opening acts.  I won’t tell you his reply; I’ll only say I went book-less to the show.  And even with the lateness of the hour, coupled with no satisfactory reading material, I had an absolute whale of a time.
I have sat on both the second and fourth rows of Bruce Springsteen concerts, events that always provide ample amounts of the sort of fun a person reasonably expects to be absent in adulthood.  Though my aversion to being flipped upside down forbade my participation in a ride on the Rock and Roll Roller Coaster at Disneyworld, I did manage to endure falling 150 feet once, and only once, on the elevator contraption in the aptly named Tower of Terror. 

 I say all this to make it clear that I know how to have fun like normal people.  However, as I drove home one afternoon last week in delighted anticipation of the night I had planned, it occurred to me, not for the first time, that there are many definitions of fun.  For as much as I enjoyed all the above mentioned experiences, had someone offered me enviable tickets this particular night I would have flatly turned them down, as I found my plans for the evening much too good to relinquish. 

My house was sparkling clean and full of flowers.  A big bouquet of orange roses filled the Woodland vase in the sitting room, while pink and salmon lace-edged tulips overflowed the cut glass bowl by the bedroom rocking chair.  There were Casablanca lilies in the blue Art Nouveau vase by the fireplace, their fragrance mingling deliciously with the faint traces of woodsmoke from last night’s fire.  I was in the middle of The Goldfinch, Donna Tartt’s latest Dickensian treat, as well as coming into the final stitches of a lace work shawl I'd been knitting and couldn’t wait to block and wear.  The weather outside, though only so recently glacial, was now in a full flirtation with Spring, enough so that I could open the windows and let cleansing breezes drift through the rooms, at least till the sun set.  No invitation could I possibly accept tonight.  Home was the only place I wanted to be, and I spent several long, blissful days enjoying its pleasures and having fun.

This happy hibernation gave me time
 to put together a list of my latest finds for you sweet readers as well.
  Hope you enjoy them all.
 1. More Antique Pillows
In conversation with a client last week, I implored her
 to add some antique touches to her sparkling new rooms. 
 An inherited side table, an old painting. 
 A weathered plant stand in the corner, its patina slightly faded. 
 A stack of old books.
  Antiques give new rooms weight and wisdom.  They are items with experience; they have lived a little.  And just as these are the type of people one wants round one’s dinner party table, these are also sort of items that make a room interesting and inviting.
One of my favourite ways to add some warmth to a room is with antique textiles. 
 An old velvet sash used as a curtain tieback. 
 A faded French quilt at the end of the bed. 
 Or one of these fabulous pillows. 
It’s been rather amazing how quickly these disappear from my etsy shoppe every time I happened to find some more.  The ones I have now are perfect examples of what every room needs.  A bit Bloomsbury, made from antique carpets with utterly scrumptious colours, they add a cozy touch to a room.  I don’t have many in the shop, but each one is a treasure.
And as you can see above..... I kept one for my own bed. 
Find them HERE.
Monday morning update:  Only four left!

2. Yarn Bowl
 When The Songwriter and I go out to dinner we have, on several occasions, returned home to a scene as irritating as it is hilarious.  We get a hint something is amiss when we open the front door and spy the tell-tale trail of yarn.  Edward is greeting us as usual, tail spinning and head bobbing.  But Apple is hanging back a little, not exactly meeting our gaze, as though thinking deeply on something infinitely more important that our arrival.  I follow the trail of yarn to find a scene worthy of a dark comedy: yarn wrapping round chair legs, over sofa arms, and in several incidences, down hallways. Once, obviously in a fit of uncontrolled, exuberant mischief, she wound herself round a rocking chair, as tightly as a criminal in a straight-jacket, and had to wait there until we returned, no doubt enduring the disapproving gaze of the slightly older, and infinitely wiser, Edward.  Though she has also chewed up knitting needles and decimated patterns, it seems to be balls of freshly wound wool that attract her attention most completely.  
Therefore, how thrilled was I to open this present at Christmas!  As dear William Morris famously said, “Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful”, and this yarn bowl meets that criteria handsomely.  Handmade, gorgeous in colour and form, it has little holes to put the yarn through so the ball doesn’t bounce out of the bowl as well as, hallelujah, a lid!
Though Apple seems a bit bored when we return in the evenings these days,
 I am absolutely in love with this yarn bowl!
Find it HERE

   3.  Sherlock
Three episodes?
Only three episodes??
Why, oh why, can’t this be on every single night?

4.  Bloomsbury at Burberry
With designs taken straight off the walls of Charleston Farmhouse, 
Burberry has entered the Bloomsbury world with an oh so tempting flourish.
Oh, my soul.
These bags.
I want every single one.
Find the entire collection HERE.

5.  Porter
Net-A-Porter has just launched a lovely new magazine.
Have you seen it?
The photos of Uma Thurman are so charming.
Find the magazine HERE.

6.  A Chaise Lounge for Edward!
With this hint of Spring in the air, I naturally think about being outside a bit more.
Like me, Edward likes the shade much more than the sun,
so I think he’d adore this!
Find it HERE.

7.  Fanciful Chairs
And while we’re thinking of the outdoors...
How much fun are these?
Imagine a huge manicured garden, 
all formal green hedges and grass, no flowers.
Then imagine these chairs, in every colour, dotted hither and yon, 
as though put in place by a wizard on the ides of March.
Love them.
Find them HERE.

8.  Shop Dogs
Lucky me to belong to a book club in Nashville.  I try to attend each quarterly meeting,
 not just because I enjoy our all-classics reading list and delightful conversations, 
but because a trip to Nashville means I can spend an hour or so in Parnassus Books.
They have a sublime selections of books, it’s true.  
And the staff are always helpful and ready to tempt you
 with books you’ve never even heard of before. 
 But it’s the shop dogs that really make any visit irresistible.
Parnassus Books has a wonderful website now, 
with blogs from owner/author, Ann Patchett, staff recommendations
 and best of all, Shop Dog Diaries.  
You must visit and meet Sparky, shown above, as well as Gracie and Bear. 
And you’ll be hard pressed to find a more sincere and responsible shop dog than Opie, 
who has the distinction of penning the latest diary entry.
You will adore them.
Find the Parnassus Shop Dog Diaries HERE.

9.  Chicken in Milk
I found this recipe of Jamie Oliver’s last week and tried it for Sunday lunch.
With lemons, garlic, fresh sage and cinnamon, 
it is guaranteed to make your house smell so, so amazing.
And it is so, so delicious.
Find the recipe HERE.

 10.  The Grand Budapest Hotel
Simply cannot wait to see this movie.
See the trailer HERE.

See you soon with a new Winter Reading post!

Painting above by Ellen Dora Nicholson

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Saturday, February 15, 2014

Ice, Snow, Cake, and a Love Poem

Ice, Snow, Cake, and a Love Poem

Midnight.  Though Edward is inside now, worn out from playing out in the eerie light of a frosted white world, Apple remains mesmerized by the sizzling sound of ice as it needles down through the naked trees.  She stands, silent and still, at the far edge of the garden, her black form against the white like a small hole punched into a blank canvas.  She holds her  face up, listening, catching the ice in her fur then, without a second look, she bolts for the warmth of the house.  

We watched nervously as ice fell most of the following morning, as worried weathermen polished up rarely used words such as “catastrophic” and “historic”; as cardinals and finches, their feathers puffed three times their size, gathered on bare branches to wait their turn at the over-crowded feeders.  Falling trees knocked out power all around us, but by some fortunate quirk of fate, our little forest remained tall and sturdy; our lights never wavered.  And just as the weak, watery sun admitted defeat and slipped below the grey horizon, snow began to fall.  Fat wet cotton balls of snow, sleepy, silent snow, blanketing the sharp personality of the ice and sending us four off to bed. 

Two full days of hibernation when even we rebels obeyed the official warnings to “stay off the roads”.  Two full days when the fire roared in the fireplace as The Songwriter flipped pancakes and Edward snuggled next to me in the fat red chair, my book resting atop his furry back, his big dozing head in my lap.  I can think of many worse ways to spend a couple of days.

Because of this change in our schedule I was unable to make it to the little chocolatier I normally visit this week in February to purchase The Songwriter’s favourite chocolate cremes for Valentine’s Day.  What to do?  What to do?

An utterly delicious chocolate cake with a Valentine’s surprise in the center.
So much fun to make, and utterly delicious as well.
You must try it!
Find the recipe HERE.

And because it wouldn’t be Valentine’s Day without a love poem....

By Tony Hoagland

She goes out to hang the windchime
in her nightie and her work boots.
It’s six-thirty in the morning
and she’s standing on the plastic ice chest
tiptoe to reach the crossbeam of the porch,

windchime in her left hand,
hammer in her right, the nail
gripped tight between her teeth
but nothing happens next because
she’s trying to figure out
how to switch #1 with #3.

She must have been standing in the kitchen,
coffee in her hand, asleep,
when she heard it—the wind blowing
through the sound the windchime
wasn’t making
because it wasn’t there.

No one, including me, especially anymore believes
till death do us part,
but I can see what I would miss in leaving—
the way her ankles go into the work boots
as she stands upon the ice chest;
the problem scrunched into her forehead;
the little kissable mouth
with the nail in it.

Happy Roses Chocolate Kisses Valentine's Day to You All!

Monday, February 10, 2014

A Grey Day in February

A Grey Day in February

 This morning I peered out my kitchen window through the steam of my second cup of hot coffee at a grey garden overhung with a sky the colour of steel.  It is February now, the pinnacle of winter’s reign, with the festivities of December forgotten and a lemon-lime spring still a long way away.    It is that time of year when the landscape becomes a grisaille painting, all tree bark, dead leaf and frost, punctuated by the bony fingered hands of the hydrangeas forever reaching up towards the low-hanging clouds.   A long wintry walk with Edward notwithstanding, I know the pleasures of February are best found indoors, so I set about busying myself with some of my favourite wintertime tasks.  I kneaded bread, I baked a cake.  I knit the final stitches on a sweater the colour of lilacs.  I listened to an English mystery.   

And on this grey day as I worked contentedly away at these most quotidian of activities, the wonderful actor, and one of my personal favourites, Philip Seymour Hoffman, was eulogized at a funeral service in New York.  I’m not quite sure why his death has felt so unspeakably sad to me this week.  He was a rare talent, to be sure; anyone who has seen one of his performances could easily say that.  He had the ability to disappear into wildly divergent characters in performances that aided us all in better understanding of what it means to be human.  He was only forty-six, much too young, with three small children who need their father and who will miss him terribly.  And death found him through drugs, which is always tragic beyond measure.    I have never understood nor experienced addiction and can only imagine the horrific struggles he was evidently enduring in this, the grey time of year.  Reportedly sober for over twenty years, it seems even sadder that he slipped into the abyss after so long in the light.   

As my quiet rooms filled with the sweet aroma of baking bread and chocolate, I stood looking out at that grey sky, now tinged with the pale pink of a setting sun, and said a prayer for the family of a man I did not know.  I thought of those whose views are always grey, no matter the weather outside; those who cannot manage to climb out of a dark place despite their longing to do so. I said a prayer for them, too. 
I shall miss Philip Seymour Hoffman and the performances that could have been,
 even as I’m grateful for what he left us.

One of my favourite scenes from Doubt....

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Just The Best Thing Ever... And An Edward Movie

Just The Best Thing Ever...
and An Edward Movie

Not very far from his doorstep, many cars are in trouble.  Some face the wrong way, some are headfirst into ditches.  On the major highways they are lined up like painted toys, one after the other, as far as the eye can see, their occupants trapped for hours and hours on end.  There are schoolchildren bedding down for the night in cafeterias and classrooms while frantic parents, quite understandably, rant and rave over the city’s apparent lack of preparation for an event such as this.  Neither paperboy nor postman will visit his house today.  But the big white dog knows nothing of all this.  All he knows as he lays snuggled down in his fat paisley bed is that this has been one of the best days he can remember.

He had noticed a subtle change in the light around eleven o’clock that morning.  He didn’t think the sun could be responsible for this, for it had been so feeble at dawn it couldn’t muster a ray to pierce the pale grey wool of the strangely low-slung clouds; couldn’t paint a single shadow beneath the silent trees.  But this unknown light became brighter and brighter as the hours went on; a clear clean light that drew The Lady and The Man to the windows and caused them to smile.   The big white dog could hardly contain his curiosity.

Then he spied them pulling on extra sweaters and scarves; The Lady putting on her wellies; The Man, his gloves.  They opened the mudroom door and stepped aside for the big dog to exit.  Cautiously, he eased his head around the doorframe.  The entire world was white.  And very cold.  Blinking, he placed one big paw atop the marshmallow porch.  Ooh, it felt wonderful.  Joy overtook the big dog.  He shot out into this pristine new world in an effusive burst of jumps and rolls.  Like a pioneer explorer on an undiscovered island, his paw prints were the first to stamp this new land.   He looked around for Apple, his furry black friend, and they began a wintertime dance that continued throughout the arctic afternoon, till they had chunks of snow on the pads of their feet, till their fur was chilled and their ebony noses were cubes of ice.  

For some this January snow caused problems that shall be talked about for years.  
But for one big white dog and his furry black friend, it was just the best thing ever.