Sunday, May 13, 2018
Lily of the Valley or Muguet de Bois, is the quintessential flower of spring. Along with lilacs which burst into bloom the second week in May each year, spring bouquets are the most vivid and fragrant. They bring back so many memories of childhood walks to school when the thought of summer vacations not too far off, filled us with glee. There was much to look forward to in spring. I cannot smell lilies or lilacs without jettisoning back to warm May mornings heading to school with white nylon ankle socks inching down beneath the heel of my shoes with each step. Little did I notice with waving lilac fronds above the rows and rows of neat boxwoods that fenced the homes in my town. And at the base of the small hill on my street was a untouched field of wild Lily of the Valley outfitted with deep green leaves and tiny pristine bells. Even as children, we knew that parcel to be sacrosanct and didn't dare trample on it. The neighborhood mothers loved the lilies.
And I've been busy loving someone new this May. My new granddaughter arrived right on schedule. My heart overflows... When my daughter told me last fall that she was expecting a little girl, my response was immediate and visceral, "I get to do YOU all over again!" And my new little grandchild does indeed look very much like my daughter with fleeting glimpses of my fine son-in-law too. My heart overflows...
Flowers and mothers just seem to go together. And flowers and grandmothers. So many of the shops bring out flowering pots of pretty blooms, cut flowers and roses for Mother's Day. Even the supermarkets find extra room for flowery gifts for Mother. Perhaps it's because the holiday comes in spring when all the world's gardens are waking in unison, at least in the Northern Hemisphere. But every mother is touched when a little person brings them a hand-picked bouquet. Even my bouquet of poison ivy elicited a smile from Mom, albeit very weak. Flowers and mothers...mothers and flowers...
I found a dear Mother's Day card for a daughter who is now a mother with a bundle of her own, fresh-from-heaven. She may receive a bouquet - flowers and daughters go together too.
I wish you love and flowers this Mother's Day! And if your mother is no longer with you, I wish her spring lilies and lilacs...
Monday, April 23, 2018
Some dresses you never forget. One of mine, a white pique I wore in the third grade is with me still. I remember this dress partly because it was my spring dress the year our family cat had kittens. Even now, I feel those soft creatures scurrying up my dress as I tried to hold them, eventually poking through the fabric with their needle-like claws. Those pin-sized holes broke my mother's heart and I don't blame her. The dress was indeed heartbreakingly beautiful in summer-white with green vines of bright blue tulips running across the hem and trailing diagonally across the bodice. It was lovely.
"After women, flowers are the most beautiful things God has given the world", Christian Dior once wrote. And he should know for he is the man who gave us a fragrance known as having the truest scent ever crafted of the sweet and fragile Lily of the Valley. Diorissimo has a mysterious depth with a pure floral shock, much like the tender flower. And to celebrate his magnificent perfume, he created The Muguet Dress which reportedly had fronds of the lilies sewn right into the hem, scenting the room where it was first shown to the public.
I've always loved flowers but I'm not very good at either growing them or arranging them. When I need a fix, I visit our grocer who has a decent selection even if they are not very heady or exotic. For really amazing blooms and when I am in the area, I love to visit a florist in Boston that seems to have the most unique way of expressing his love of flowers. Large urns of cherry blossoms sidelight the entrance to his romantic shop which is but a taste of what goes on inside. Beside the intoxicatingly perfumed air, there are showcases of vases and vessels holding roses, freesia, ranunculus, gardenias, and hyacinths, all displayed in the most charming ways. He even once used a vintage typewriter to show-off ribbons of ivy with white camellias. I often feel drunk with inspiration when I am finally able to tear myself away.
This season I am looking for a simple blouse with a small floral print. I love our vintage model's above. And for spring, it seems just right with its soft celadon and lilac hues. A light spray of Muguet des Bois from the 1970's, another albeit tamer, Lily-of-the-Valley fragrance, would be perfect with it.
I plan on asking my mother what she remembers of her daughter's spring dress - the one she was so fond of. Another lover of flowers, I am pretty sure she will recall how the kittens ruined it. But I hope - I really hope, she remembers the climbing blue tulips.
Sunday, April 15, 2018
My daughter is nine months pregnant. I cannot even glance at her without tears welling and threatening to foolishly overflow. On Easter Sunday, I gifted her the baby book I kept during her first years - the one with my handwritten notes lovingly recorded on every page. First smile, first step, first word...first kiss on Mommy's cheek. Filled with early pictures and mementos, including the grainy and ridiculously vague ultrasound photo that possessed me - my first glimpse of the little babe I would love all the days of my life. Somehow, it felt right that she should have the book I so earnestly recorded in. And I hope that when she reads between those gushy, flowery words, she will know that I have stood right where she is. Yes, it will be hard...arduous, exhausting.
And when, at last it is over, my wish is that she knows what I have known - ten thousand joys.
Saturday, April 7, 2018
Our funny hippie bus driver in high school played his radio on our long rides to school. In the spring, he cranked up "morning" songs for us, such as Cat Steven's "Morning Has Broken", "Good Morning Starshine", from the musical Oliver, and my favorite, "Morning Girl" by the Neon Philharmonic. There are more "morning" songs than you can imagine - Google them sometime. For us, it was perfect music for those youthful spring mornings when the air had a fresh earth scent and the sun was just beginning to warm us in our Mom-approved new spring jackets.
How I am longing for sunlit mornings now! The snow is still flitting about and the temperatures are downright chilly, yet everyone is talking about spring, especially wondering when it will get here. I am craving the feeling of the sun washing over me, straight down to my bones, unfurling me from all winter's strictures and constraints.
And on the day I notice that winter has finally scurried away, I will feel a sudden jolt of freedom and that almost unbearable lightness of being, when at last, I walk outside for the first time with nothing more on than my lightweight spring coat. And on the morning I can finally leave the house bare-armed...well then the warm sun will rest upon my shoulders like a soft pashmina dropped from the sky. Are you sighing yet?
My meals will be sun-driven too, with citrus fruits and fragrant pineapple. Ices, teas, and fresh water with lemon, will quench my thirst as I visit the local farmer's stalls for vegetables and tropical-colored flowers to dress my table. I will eat al fresco with a wide-brimmed sunhat so I can bask safely in the majestic rays I am dreaming about.
I may play some of those old "morning" tunes that seemed so right as our bus rumbled over just- waking-up hills and valleys, celery-green with hovering mists above them. Back in those optimistic teen days, the sun made everything shimmer with possibilities. It no longer played hide-and-seek, and like I am doing right now, it made bold outright promises of golden summer days to come.
Morning has broken, like the first morning
Blackbird has spoken, like the first bird
Praise for the singing, praise for the morning
Praise for them springing fresh from the word
Mine is the sunlight, mine is the morning...
~ Cat Stevens
Wednesday, March 14, 2018
"We'll use what we have in the house", my grandmother told me when I asked about wrapping a small birthday present for my mother. A few hours later with her help, I had a pretty gift, wrapped in bright yellow felt with cherry rickrack in place of ribbon and a little posy of geraniums pinned onto it.
I've come across "We'll use what we have in the house" many times since. I found it in a spiritual self-help book a number of years ago when a woman who recently lost her job was trying to create a new life out of ashes. It was a phrase she told herself whenever she needed to provide a little elegant economy under her new circumstances. I tried to live by it in my own frugal times and I know I employed it often when I was raising my daughter and she had regular needs for crafts and school projects. "We'll use what we have in the house" came to signify creativity and fun as we would both put on our thinking caps to try to devise the very thing that was required at the time.
Have I ever told you that I hate my kitchen? There. I said it. It's tremendously outdated with a tile floor that shatters to bits anything that falls on it. I have a basketful of what will one day be a mosaic walkway to prove it (that's a retirement dream and I will definitely be using what I have in the house when I bring it to fruition). But besides the tile floor, I really despise the cabinets. I simply cannot get away from them and I know you've seen them. They are cream with a thin line of pale oak on the bottom with a groove to be used as a handle for opening and closing. I can't seem to get away from them either because they've been in every apartment I have ever rented. I did ask for them once, when my husband and I were building our house in 1986. Oh yes, they were in style then and ever since the dear Universe has kept me in cream cabinet clover whether I like it not. They reek of the 80's and you may be wondering why I haven't replaced them. Well, the cabinetry I truly want would cost a very pretty penny and it's been filed in my "Someday" folder which by now should be called, "If I Win the Lottery" folder. My longed-for cabinets were far cheaper a few years ago. Sigh...
I think my unhappiness with my kitchen reached a crescendo when I began to pour over Instagram kitchens. They are gorgeous - matching stainless steel appliances, granite islands with plenty of flat surface for rolling out pie crusts, and rich-looking hardwood floors with colorful Oriental rugs in magenta and blue. Sigh, again...
But I rather like the kitchen in the photo above. It's ancient with character. And it kind of reminds me of my grandmother's kitchen where she made lots of pies without a single granite island to be found. Although there is some lovely woodwork, there are no designer kitchen towels or window treatments, just as there were none in my grandmother's kitchen. Here, there are some simple touches like the fruit bowl, the plain kitchen towel, and something delicious just taken from that great oven which was probably expensive but I imagine it old and persnickety. My grandmother would be shocked today at what William Sonoma deems absolutely necessary for kitchens, such as rubber spatulas in the shape of bunnies for Easter. I'm exaggerating... but my grandmother cooked with plain old aluminum pots and pans and rolled out her pie crusts on top of the kitchen table because she had no counter space at all except for a porcelain dish drain which was attached to her impractially tall kitchen sink.
So not too long ago, I made peace with my cabinets and flooring. For now. Instead, I started to notice how lovely my kitchen looks on late winter afternoons when a certain slant of heavenly light throws golden rays across the wood dining table. That's a table with matching chairs that my mother gave me and the one from which I fed my daughter countless lovingly-made meals while she was growing up. And once I put a respectable fruit bowl on it, I noticed the light sought that too and the crystal wedding bowl holding the apples and pears answered back with trembling prisms of faint rainbows on the detested tile floor.
Soon I found a pair of old brass candlesticks in the bottom of the hutch and then I went rifling through an old box of doilies that were part of my grandmother's legacy. Sewn together they made a charming little valance for the kitchen window. And I didn't stop there - I pulled out an old forlorn Teddy bear my daughter left behind and plopped him in a basket on a ladderback chair, also inherited, that lives in a neglected corner. How could I have known I like Teddy bears until now? His warm presence makes me smile when I shuffle in to make my coffee at 6 am every morning. And if the mournful little thing could speak, he might just tell me that he applauds my efforts to love my kitchen back to life, cabinets be damned. Surely, he has noticed too - I've been using what I have in the house.
Wednesday, February 28, 2018
My mother was a booklover and never without a volume on her aproned lap when she waited for the Sunday roast to finish cooking. Books, magazines, newspapers, even pamphlets overflowed every flat surface in our living room. Even my rambunctious brothers paused now and then to read Dickens and other literature. And Mom made sure we visited the fine old library in our town often, where she made friends with all the librarians, including one who was a lovely young mother with an understanding smile.
I had a shyness around Mrs. Grice not only because she was friendly with my mother but also because her son was in my class. But she often made approving comments about the books I selected to take home and once she winked at me when she noticed that Little Women was again on top of my take-home stack.
In Little Women the youngest sister Amy is banished to Aunt March's until sister Beth recovers from Scarlet Fever. Of course, sadly, we all know Beth never fully recovers and just a few short years later, dies in the most poignant piece of sisterly love in literature ever written. But Amy, unlike her other siblings Jo and Meg, never had the Fever and has to be quarantined at her unpleasant great aunt's for "the duration". Naturally no young vivacious girl wants to have an extended visit with a crochetty dispirited relative but Amy bore her trial very well, partly because she made certain preparations ahead of time.
Upon reading Little Women as a child, I was immensely interested in the Last Will and Testament that Amy wrote. Like me, Amy's holdings were very small and yet, she made thoughtful provisions for all her things including her turquoise ring. Since both my sister and I were gifted turquoise rings that year from an uncle out west, we got the bright idea to draw up our own will and testament.
The dearth of our belongings and the fact that my sister and I shared so many things, we decided just one will and testament would be sufficient for our assets, including our turquoise rings. The list was not lengthy but it included, besides the rings, two small hand-painted floral jewelry boxes with twirling ballerinas beneath mirrored lids, a gold-toned brush and comb set with etched flowers, some multi-colored dimestore headbands with perilously sharp teeth, a pastel wind-up teddy bear that played Lara's Theme, and a purple book of poetry that I still own.
We set to the task of writing our will using Amy's as a frame of reference. It was all so earnest and serious. I don't remember leaving anything to my brothers but both my grandmothers were willed the headbands and we generously bequeathed the rings to Mom. Our closest friend made out the best with the book of poems, the gold dresser set, two jewelry boxes (she had a lot of costume jewelry that we coveted), and the teddy bear, a favorite of mine. I had nary a thought for my poor mother and what she would have felt to inherit TWO turquoise rings belonging to beloved daughters who just happened to meet an untimely and unexpected double demise.
My sister and I told no one about our Last Will and Testament and like most children, we quickly became engrossed in other activities and forgot about the document...at least until we were suddenly dispatched to the library. Unknown to us, our will had been returned tucked inside one of our many borrowed books for all the world to see. Having our names spelled out front and center on the will, middle names included, meant Mrs. Grice had no problem realizing who the authors were.
As much as I dreaded fetching our will from a public place, from our classmate's mother, Mrs. Grice handled it with a sense of urgency and seriousness much like Laurie did the night his carriage drove Amy to Aunt March's for her internment. When Amy asks him to execute her wishes if need be, Laurie's tender reassurance and sense of gravity comes through in his response - he will gladly be her executor and disperse her bestowals should she die of Scarlet Fever. Thus was the serene and lovely Mrs. Grice when I approached the library's check-out desk. Kindly, she pulled a long sealed envelope from a discreet place under the counter. With penmanship as neat and pretty as my mother's, she had written, "The Misses Macdonald". Inside, neatly folded, was our Last Will and Testament. I'm not exactly sure what, if anything, was said when she handed the envelope over to us. But I gratefully recall a gentle smile that had not the least bit of mocking amusement in it.
Tuesday, February 27, 2018
Long ago, I tripped upon a book while browsing in a bookshop on a dark wet December night. I was lucky my best babysitter was available to give me two blissful hours alone during the Christmas rush. I headed straight to the local bookstore for a good browse.
As always, I started with my favorite sections: Children's, Culinary, New Non-Fiction. I never seek out Self-Help but somehow noticed a simple shrimp-colored book on an endcap in that very section. The title distinguished itself as much as the color because the words sounded like a prayer. I began to thumb through it and although I knew in a few minutes it would be coming home with me, I had no idea it would change the way I look at life.
The pretty volume was a hit and not just with me. It was hit with the world too, spending months and months on the bestseller list. And I do believe that its authoress is a soothsayer for our times no matter what's happened to her in the intervening years. It is still at the top of my bedside heap. - the book I reach for in tears and sorrow, laughter and blessings. It's my go-to peace and quiet, my permission slip to take care of myself...my phone-home when I don't know where I've been.
I loved the book so much that within a week I jetted off a note to the author. That love letter netted me a seat on the most famous TV panel that ever existed. But that's quite a story in itself...
Since then, copy-cats have come and gone but my shrimp-colored book is still just an arm's length away every evening. I've read it so many times that I know exactly how to find what I need - a warming quote, solace when I'm anxious or inspiration for living by my own lights in a world that tries to extinguish our glow with appalling regularity.
The author has written other books since her blockbuster but none satisfies like her major work. And I don't care if it's sacrilege to say it's a bible to me for it is a woman's guide for living in modern times. It's a place of comfort and camaraderie too and at very least, a friendly soothing pep talk before sleep. It's always on my side and I don't mean just literally. Hope in a book. Just before bed.
Note: Thank you to Judy for the most sublime image to illustrate this post with.
Thursday, February 8, 2018
Before work yesterday, I ran into Home Goods to buy a box of the most exquisite cream-colored candles that I've seen in years. As usual, I created an extra errand because when I first saw them, I walked on by as I so often do. It was only in afterthought that I realized how pretty they would look on my winter table. And how soothing and calming they would be lit on these still-dark evenings.
In one of my most favorite movies, You've Got Mail, Kathleen Kelly writes an email to her unknown-at-the-time nemesis, Joe Fox and ends it with "Thank you Dear Void". Her comments in the email are rhetorical and they do not really require responses - she is merely relaying trails of the thoughts and wanderings that come to all of us. If you have a friend you can share with in this way, count yourself very fortunate.
Indeed, some of these random and often fleeting feelings, once emoted, make us feel less alone, especially if you have a thoughtful and silent recipient. A nod of the head or a touch of the hand is far more comforting than a worded response sometimes and if emailed, the simple answer of "Ah..." carries all the empathy one requires.
And so, in the spirit of illustrating a point, I give you:
Since I've lived long enough to know that lasting joy comes from memories and not objects, I will plan some spring excursions which include a beautiful botanical garden nearby. And I will reach out to a friend who is also nearby but I have lost touch with through these long working years. Perhaps our re-connection will be enhanced by the birth of my grandchild as I remember my friend's love of babies and children. And I will craft a mental view of myself in my new role as I anticipate what will surely be the next greatest thing to happen to me. As well, I want to read more meaningful books as I've discovered it is one of the best ways to fuel my mind for writing. Without the perspective of the new ideas and experiences of others, I can't possibly hope to provide fresh imaginings for my readers, both here on the blog and for my paid writing. I plan on calling the lovely lady who helped me with my first flower bed last year and check in on her and see if she can encourage me again during the next growing season. And although possessions may not buy me happiness in the long term, I will light my creamy tapers as I expand my spring list in all the nicest ways...
Special Note: The art is by Daniel F. Gerhartz who captures women in the most lovely inconsequential way.
Wednesday, January 31, 2018
He came bearing three rings. And then asked which one I liked. All had diamonds but surprisingly, I was most drawn to the sculptured platinum one with two even rows of sparkle. It was more modern than the others which were made of gold. Those were both solitaires - like traditional engagement rings. Been there. Done that.
Then he slipped it on my finger and the inner ring guard helped to make it perfectly snug. He told me it belonged to his mother along with the other two, but I had already guessed that. My new ring was more contemporary in style and I believe, more special because it was bought later in his parent's marriage, long after their hungry years had passed. By then, they were older and wiser and the ring reflects that maturity, much like our own late-bloomer love. I was so proud to accept it and even prouder to wear it.
I never met his parents but I know them by heart. I regularly pick his brain for errant memories but I think he has told me everything now. Only occasionally will I oust a new story from him, like last week when he told me that after a certain number of anniversaries, his mother wryly stated that "marriage should be a contract, renewable at ten year intervals and only if mutually agreed upon by both parties". I already liked the original owner of my new ring, but now I loved her too.
The marriage lasted 63 years so they must have done something right. They raised two whole and lovely men - practical like their mother and benevolent like their father. At times, I looked for cracks in his stories, searching for dysfunction or unkindness. But they were as stable and nice as roast on Sunday and chicken pot pie on Monday. They were truly, a beautiful family...
And now, lucky me, I wear her ring - a woman I know only from memories and fuzzy snapshots. But I do know her one other way too. I know her every time he holds me in his strong yet gentle arms. That's when, over his shoulder, I steal a glance at my left hand. It's where her ring resides now and sparkles best.
Saturday, January 13, 2018
I never thought I looked good in winter. Without a summer tan, I felt my beauty was blurred and devoid of color and life. Now I no longer tan so I am rather pale year round and use skin-brightening products. But I think true beauty in winter comes from within; from happy pursuits, reading good books, planning for spring, drinking tea, etc.
The powder tins above are old-fashioned and charming. Talcum powder has been out of favor for health reasons, but I still like to sprinkle my sheets with a talc-free one in winter, just before I put the coverlet on. Slipping between fragrantly crisp sheets is a winter pleasure. And pillow spray. I use a lavender-scented one which is supposed to induce sleep.
What keeps me asleep on winter mornings with my dead-south facing windows, is a dark sleep mask. Sleep is the best beauty aid in winter. And I feel so much better after a long winter's nap.
They say if your feet hurt, it shows on your face. I think it's the same with being cold. Staying warm in winter is a beauty aid too. These days I am reaching for capes, shawls, and ponchos. I love the drapey warmth they provide which not only keeps me cozy but keeps my face looking good too. Ditto with socks...cold feet does not a beauty make.
For ease, I am reaching for simple diamond stud earrings everyday too. They are so easy (imitation diamonds work just as well) and add just the right amount of bling to the face. Dangles get caught in the shoulders of my wraps and sweaters and it's so freeing not to think of jewelry too much in winter - just some classic pieces to fill in the gaps.
Scarves are another wonderful style tool in winter. A warm muffler that is soft and colorful, wrapped just so about the neck sends a nice style statement. My daughter gave me a little scarf tying book for Christmas and it's been fun creating neck origami to stay cozy.
Pedicure weather is long gone and I like using the savings for other things. Instead, I keep my hands and feet smooth and soft with creams and lotions. And I keep my nails short. I slick on a pale nail polish and call it a day. And because I bake and cook more in winter, a pale polish doesn't show the chips as readily. For Valentine's Day though, I will opt for cherry red on healthy nails that I've been pampering all January.
I am spending quite a lot of time at home this winter catching up on some writing, reading some books that have been neglected on the shelves. Also listening to music on my little bluetooth speaker and drinking tea...always tea. Here are some favorite beautifying things for you to try:
Best body cream I have found: Basq Advanced Treatment Butter
Most beautiful music I have listened to: Prayer Changes Everything by Mark McKenzie
My favorite book on tea: French Tea, the Pleasures of the Table by Carole Manchester
Best-loved winter film I can watch over and over: Love in a Cold Climate for the clothes. And the love.
Favorite tea, bar none: Trader Joe's Irish Breakfast Tea
Most lovely pillow spray: This Works Deep Sleep Pillow Spray
Exceptionally fragrant powder: Crabtree and Evelyn Spring Rain Powder
Cherriest and cheeriest red nail polish: Smith and Cult Nail Lacquer in Kundalini Hustle
A very beloved winter hand cream: Herbacin Wellness Hand Cream in Wild Rose