Sunday, December 17, 2017

On the Seventh Day of a Feminine Christmas


The other day I offered to go to the village to pick up some needed wrapping paper for my mother so she wouldn't have to go out in the snow.  "No, you won't know what I want.  It needs to coordinate with my theme this year", she replied.  I smiled inwardly.  Mom still works Christmas her way and her wrapped presents reflect that.

The woman in my picture above has embraced the movement.  I love the baubles, the red and gold packages, and her merry white and red dress.  I imagine she has planned her wrappings in such a way to express her exuberance for the season.  But I wonder sometimes...why do we care?

Surely, you've received a much-desired Christmas gift from special male in your life, wrapped in newspaper or a plastic grocery bag with a bow.  Department stores have "Men's Nights" just to provide extra support and help for male shoppers who apparently don't have a clue.  I think that men just can't be bothered with fussy wrapping or maybe a man just doesn't feel he has the dexterity to pull off a package like those depicted above.  No matter...we'll provide the cheer of a well-wrapped gift.  It is truly, half the fun.

Last year I stretched my creativity a bit and used brighter colors that weren't red or green or traditionally printed with Santa's and snowmen.  It was a triumph - at least quietly to myself.  And I had a ball.  This year, I went on a magenta and teal campaign.  No one who has visited has said one thing about my shiny colorfully-wrapped gifts under the tree.  But I know when I hand Mom hers, she will exclaim out loud, "Oh how lovely you wrapped this!'  And I have no doubt, she will enchant me too.

Friday, December 15, 2017

On the Sixth Day of a Feminine Christmas


This adorable little babe reminds me of my daughter – her coloring, the rosebud lips, the tenderness…  This Christmas, my feelings of endearment know no bounds because in the New Year, I will be the grandmother of what I am certain will be a close facsimile to the precious child above.

Naturally my thoughts are threading their way to next Christmas, when I will hold in my arms a beloved little girl who has already stolen my heart.  I’ve heard it told that becoming a grandmother is like falling in love.  Dear Readers, I'm there…

My daughter has retained her unique honey-colored hair like the little one above, which enchanted me first on the dark snowy Epiphany night she was born; now three decades past.  And my mother and I were hard-pressed to find a simple doll whose hair would match our girl’s.  We knew we succeeded the Christmas morning my daughter patted her new dolly’s head and exclaimed, “Look Mommy, she has the same hair as me!”  Our delight knew no bounds then, either.

Am I ashamed for the passionate love for my daughter that emotes from me thus as I write?  Just wait until next Christmas.  You have no idea...

~

Away in a manger

No crib for His bed
The little Lord Jesus
Lay down His sweet head
The stars in the sky

Look down where He lay
The little Lord Jesus
Asleep on the hay
The cattle are lowing

The poor Baby wakes
But little Lord Jesus
No crying He makes
I love Thee, Lord Jesus

Look down from the sky
And stay by my side
'Til morning is nigh
(Her favorite lullaby)

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

On the Fifth Day of a Feminine Christmas


Isn't she lovely...Isn't she pretty?  Truly the angel's best. ~Stevie Wonder

She is indeed, lovely in her silk taffeta dress the color of a child's Valentine's Day lollipop.  The simple chignon, the sweeping skirt with pockets (there they are again) create a lovely inconsequence even though her dress is formal.  It reminds me that it really doesn't have to hurt to be dressed up, does it?

Admittedly a dinosaur, I prefer people to be festive in appearance on Christmas.  I believe in comfort - I really do and it's the reason why I always bring my slippers to my sister's house on Christmas Day.  It's no fun doing the dishes in heels - although many a homemaker of yore did just that.  Still, a bit of sparkle and glow is called for on a holiday that represents so many things to the world and is our very greatest of family celebrations. If it were not so, would there be so many blingy garments for sale or so many "ugly" Christmas sweaters which are really just attempts to make a caricature out of the too-precious themed sweaters that your mother may have tried to get you to wear once.  I don't care - I love it all.  Christmas gives us permission to be outre, out-there, flashy....or just lovely, if that's your aim.

So will you be lovely this Christmas Eve and Christmas Day?  And what will you wear?

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

On the Fourth Day of a Feminine Christmas


This mid-century half-apron really brings back memories.  My mother and grandmother always wore aprons like this.  And every Christmas, their aprons reflected the joy and specialness of the season with embellishments such as felt cut-outs of Christmas trees and the ever-present holly leaf replete with crimson berries.

Nearly every Home Economics class taught girls how to make a simple apron and both my mother and grandmother made their own.  Theirs had other beautiful dressmaker touches such as rickrack trim and deep pockets.  After all, what use is an apron without pockets?

What really touches me about home-sewn Christmas aprons is the extent to which homemakers went to make these items especially for the holiday.  And knowing that their festive aprons came out but once a year made them all the more special when they were at last seen again.  Somehow, it just elevated the entire season.


Sunday, December 10, 2017

On the Third Day of a Feminine Christmas


This was me writing my list yesterday.  Fortunately, we have a lovely little  shop in my town which offers simple and charming gifts at no-guilt prices.  Susan always has just the thing in her tiny store for girlfriends, sisters, daughters and mothers.

Even though they are believers, there are many who are decidedly anti-Christmas.  I'm not one of them.  But the flood of a certain jewelry store's TV ads can set my teeth on edge and have me rethinking the whole thing.

Years ago, I recall the cry of the grown-ups in my life who said that Christmas had become too commercialized.  And I wonder, what would they think now?  Every industry has capitalized on Christmas and the holiday is Big Business.  What bothers me most is the frenzy it can cause in the heart of this average woman who just loves the season, the giving, the lore, and still holds close the main reason for the season. So how do we turn the Christmas machine off and enjoy simple pleasures and joys and claim them for our own?

One way is shopping in places which have values aligned with our own.  Stores that carry well-crafted, meaningful gifts, that don't cost an arm and a leg.  Bubble bath that helps a dear friend to slow down, a knit scarf to warm the neck of a niece that works in a cold city, a crystal beaded bracelet for a mother who still loves her bling, hot cocoa mix for a fiendish co-worker who can't get enough chocolate.  I could go on...The thread is that the gifts are thoughtful, whimsical...think things in small boxes that say something special to your giftee, such as, "I see who you are inside".

So while you are writing out your gift list, shut off the TV and listen to some beautiful ancient Christmas carols instead.  Have a warm cup of tea and a cookie.  Really think about the ones you are buying for.  And if you come to see me, I'll take you to Susan's and I guarantee that together, we will check off that Christmas list.


Wednesday, December 6, 2017

On the Second Day of a Feminine Christmas

Aren't they darling?  I imagine they are walking home from a candlelit service at church.  Perhaps he, as the Mister, is picking her up and found her waiting under the glowing lamp light, her candle still flickering.

Their nearly touching heads tell me they have secrets and perhaps some promises to keep.  But I imagine them married in the first blush of their joined lives.  And somehow he knows what that candle flame means to her.  And he's not bothered by it at all.

I do believe there is nothing so beautifying as dining with someone you love at a table lit by candlelight.  It does more good for a face than the best highlighter-du-jour from Sephora's latest collection.  Glowing candles soften hard edges and reflect light from the very place our souls emanate - the eyes.

Long pretty tapers on the table and white votives scattered about will lend an incandescence to your home too.  Who says houses don't have souls too?  And candlelight will bathe your house in a radiant light that hides a multitude of sins.  Shine on...

Using candles during the holiday season, to light the walkway on Christmas Eve, to enhance your table's scrumptious dinner buffet, or to just glow on the mantle above the hearth, remind us that even in the world's darkest days, the light will come again.  And I believe our Mr. and Mrs. may already know that...




On Christmas Eve, love is clothed with visible vestments, with gifts and written words, with holly-wreaths and flowers and candles...As I watch the Christmas candles burn, I see in them a symbol of the Great Love which dipped a lustrous spirit into human form that the world in its darkness might be illuminated and made beautiful.

    ~Ceremonials of Common Days by Abbie Graham (1923)

Friday, December 1, 2017

On the First Day of a Feminine Christmas


I love the drama of this woman's Christmas coat.  I imagine she is stopping by a friend's house Christmas Eve afternoon to drop off her wrapped package and have a glass of sherry or some tea. Although I can't imagine wearing so much fur these days, she does look warm and feminine.

I saw the coat of my dreams once.  It was on a six year old.  But it was a lovely a-line, fitted through the shoulders and chest with a charming flair right where you need it – over the “trouble spots”.  In sumptuous chartreuse, that marvelous green color that teeters on acid, it was best of all, a nubby textured knit which added interest and depth.  I never tell my family when I am looking for a new coat.  “Oh you and coats!” they will cry.  The problem is I can never find a coat I really love.  So each fall, I go on a private hunt for that elusive combination of warmth and winsomeness.

A few years ago I took to wearing capes.  You would be surprised at how warm a cape can be except for the most bitterest of winter days.  Layering works beautifully under a cape's sweeping fabric and if you can find one with fresh details such as toggle buttons or small faux fur collars, they can be very special.  Sadly, one of my favorite capes was carelessly tossed in the dryer last year and when it emerged, it came with a shrunken shoulder and a permanent crease pointing like an arrow up the left side.  It now belongs in Star Wars Costuming.  And ok, it was carelessly tossed by me who was trying to skirt around another dry cleaning bill.  So perhaps you can imagine my delight at seeing a high school chum who came for lunch, in an unusual cape/coat that nearly took my breath away.

As soon as my friend stepped through the door, I noticed the dashing fur collar and when she removed her coat, I had a chance to finger the beautiful cashmere and feel the fine weight of it in my hands.  “Oh this is lovely!” I told her.  And I immediately asked her where she found it, something polite people never do according to my etiquette books.  Her cape/coat came from a private sale in a town known for its high-end shopping so I knew it would be expensive.  I didn’t ask my friend – I’m not that impolite.  But I did know it would be terribly expensive. 

What I really loved about her piece was the casual √©lan it evoked – almost as though it were a thing you grab from a hook by the door to walk the dog in.  But it had such shape and drape that once it is put on, it becomes a lovely inconsequence that oozes style.  I had to have one.

A quick internet search the following day, netted me the private sale information that was now over.  No matter.  I hunted down the company’s website.  But my breath was taken away for another reason:   it wasn’t just expensive – it was almost sinfully expensive.  Now, I may be exaggerating a wee bit because what I really mean to say is that it was almost sinfully expensive for me.  I had never once in my life, spent as much on one piece of outerwear before.  And for more danger, I would be purchasing sight unseen and without a return policy of any kind.  Final Sale.

But the heart wants what the heart wants and I knew I would be making that luscious, full-bodied, inky-black cape/coat mine with a click of a button.  I waited just a day or two just to be sure, and kept the shopping cart open on my laptop before I clicked on Wednesday.  And by Friday, I was screen vamp Theda Bara with a bearskin coat about her shoulders, Anna Karenina wearing a long red Cossack in frozen and crystalline Russia, and Queen Guinevere in a snowy ermine cape waiting for Sir Lancelot on the wooded edge of Camelot.  Or perhaps I was just me wearing a fine garment that was a rare pricey gift to myself;  a mini-splurge to remind only me that in our relatively short lives, it may just be ok now and then to buy a dream.  


Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Tales of November


Wild is the music of autumnal winds amongst the faded woods. ~ William Wordsworth

I love this sweet scene of a young mother reading to her children before a warming fire.  And I love that the calendar on the wall in this illustration says November 10.  But I want to talk about November 11th.  Of course, it was Veteran's Day, a special 24 hours when we honor servicemen for serving.  A few weeks ago, I made a small donation at my grocery store and received a bright poppy in return, a paean to In Flander's Field, the poignant poem by Lt. John McCrae.  I believe McCrae and our servicemen make scenes like the one above possible.  My November 11th tale below, though poignant too, is a childish one and a little sad.  But I don't think you'll mind.  I begin:

I used to accompany my best friend to our church's cemetery so that her mother could plant flowers on their relatives' graves.  I had never been to a cemetery before so I thought it was both eerie and fascinating.  While my friend's mother tended to flowers, we would wander off reading headstones.  Often we would find the names of classmates' grandparents but one day our hearts suddenly stopped cold.  Etched on a large white marble statue of a larger-than-life angel, was my name, Donna Marie.  Buried there was a young girl who died at an age just one year older than I.  My friend and I stared and blinked at one another and being childish and foolish and prone to imaginings, we wondered if this was an omen.  I sensed that whatever had befallen Donna Marie must have been very tragic indeed because her statuary eclipsed all other stones in the cemetery.  I was in deep thought and nearly trembling as we drove home that day and both my friend and I turned to watch the large stone become smaller and smaller in the rear window.  It was almost as though the angel were nodding goodbye to us with its diminishing height.

That was the last visit to the cemetery that summer but my chum and I devised a fanciful tale in our heads.  Perhaps I would die, as Donna Marie did, in my eleventh year, but for me, it would be on the eleventh day of the eleventh month at the eleventh hour.  We both knew this was just a fairy tale but we made preparations just the same.

As luck would have it, November 11th that year was on a Saturday and my grandmother would be babysitting me.  My friend tagged along "just to see" and we spent the night waiting for the appointed hour playing games in the family room.  We both tried to be very good, letting one another win at Hearts and Monopoly.  My grandmother never knew what was going on.  We put on our pajamas and tried ever-so-hard to stay awake until 11:00 pm.  But the hour passed with both of us out cold on the sleeper couch from too much popcorn and ice cream and we didn't stir again until 7:00 am.  Barely a word was spoken about our delusion but the following spring when we visited the cemetery again, we went straight to Donna Marie's grave.

But now we felt an unexpected tender thread connecting us to the little girl who had an angel standing solemn over her.  We began to lay wildflowers and found pinecones for her grave.  We marveled at how we didn't recognize the family name and without the internet, we didn't even think about finding out who she was.  But we loved her and took care of her and every time we drove by the cemetery, we both looked over our shoulders to catch a glimpse of her receding angel guardian.

I went back there a few years ago and noticed that Donna Marie's mother had joined her and I felt very comforted about that.  Recently, thanks to the internet, I posted a query to a group of neighbors and friends who still reside in my hometown.  Within a few minutes, Donna Marie's niece responded.  "That is my family", she wrote, "She was my father's younger sister and she was hit by a car after picking apples for her horse one day.  My grandmother missed her until they day she herself died".  I learned a little bit more too.  But it doesn't really matter here... Just know that Donna Marie's niece said her grandmother cursed with tears in her eyes the day she noticed vandals had stolen the angel's hands.  And she told me that her grandmother would have loved knowing that two little girls thought enough of her daughter to glorify her grave and memory will small childish tokens that were given with only the purest reverence.

And so now...on to other November tales. This year more than ever before, I noticed that my favorite holiday, Thanksgiving, is being shown the door.  With Christmas displays edging out autumnal beauty, it's a case of "Here's your hat - what's your hurry?"  Or, as soon as our chairs are pulled up to our bountiful tables, the cornucopia is whisked away and replaced by a Christmas tree before our very eyes.

A friend seemed sad at work the other day and when I asked her why, she blurt out that Christmas is coming at her full force.  With a mother-in-law living with her and small children, she already feels the thrust of the Christmas train racing down the track toward her. But it doesn't have to be this way. I've turned off the TV and therefore the endlessly looping jewelry store ads.  I also don't listen to commercial radio on the way to work.  Soothing CD's accompany my reveries.  I will let Christmas in when I am ready.  For now, I'm doing November.

As well, it helps to have more moments like the reading mother above.  I'm sure she's not thinking about the color of her Christmas wrapping paper and ribbons yet.  Let's all take a breather and cherish the precious holiday of gratitude first.  I plan on spending it with those who love me, those who know me, those who see me.  My lists will get written I'm sure.  But not in November.  That month is for telling tales of long-gone yet still thought-of little girls, for the soldiers who fought so we could continue to read to our children.  And it's for Thanksgiving...the holiday that reminds us how lucky we really are.

***

~And for your Thanksgiving Table, my favorite side dish for bringing:


Carrot Souffle 

1 pound carrots, sliced and cooked
1/2 cup milk
1/2 cup soft butter
3 eggs
1 cup sugar
3 tablespoons flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/8 teaspoon cinnamon

In blender, combine butter, milk.  Add eggs, sugar.  Blend until smooth.  
Add cooked carrots little by little
Add flour, baking powder, salt, vanilla, cinnamon.  Blend until smooth.

Grease 1-1/2 quart casserole.  Bake 350 degrees F 45 minutes to 1 hour or until no jiggle!


Happy Thanksgiving!

~

PS:  Every comment was read and cherished on my previous post.  I'm grateful for you all.

Sunday, November 5, 2017

Cold Comfort Charms




She made a promise to herself to keep her own well-being sacred.

~
A friend passed along that quote to me recently and I've been keeping it under my pillow ever since.  It really says so much about how we must protect our fragile souls from the things that want to steal our peace of mind these days.

So many times this month I wanted to write about my new autumn tablecloth, or tell you about a new fragrance I discovered or a place I visited.  But I held back because of the events that occurred recently, including last week's terror attack, which made me feel that writing about perfume or small domestic details seemed frivolous and silly.  The stuff of ordinary life pales in comparison to the innocent lives lost in horrendous hideous ways for no good reason at all.  And yet, I found the world only paused for a moment...and then marched on.  I even heard a newscaster sum up the week with "It was a good week", after having reported on the NYC attack in detail for two days straight.  "Breaking News" becomes "Old News" as quickly as a coin toss.  I don't get it.

Maybe we are numbed by it to a degree - so many random attacks and yet we are still required to go to work and the Christmas ads still have to roll out on television.  I worry about my upcoming visit to NYC to see the Downton Abbey exhibit but if I don't go then I hear that oft-said refrain over and over, "Then they win".  But carrying on is difficult and I'm more worried than ever about my nephew who lives in Brooklyn and I want to know where everybody is at every single moment.  So I decided that instead of writing about my lovely linen tablecloth, I would write about the things I do that soothe me and take the edge off when I feel unnerved.  But naturally, most of my cold comfort charms do include domesticity, beauty...and of course, perfume.

On the Homefront (it is a war out there)

Keeping my house warm at night is always a comfort.  Boosting the thermostat slightly above where I have it typically set, helps me feel safe by reminding me that I am warm inside despite the cold world we live in.  I will pay the extra expense...it's worth it.

Lighting - being a single mom all my adult life, I learned to be electrically frugal due to necessity.  But having my lights on, not just in the corner where I am perched, gives me a feeling of comfort.  It may be dark outside, but inside it is bright and warm.  I can look down the hall from my bedroom and see the small bathroom light glowing and another one in the hall too.  Ditto, the expense.

Music

I have always enjoyed background music while I am home but now I eschew anything that isn't lilting and soothing.  This often means more Mozart, Vivaldi, and Chopin.  I don't want pounding noise reaching out to grab me or bizarre and strange lyrics calling out my name.  Give me the strains of classical sounds or orchestral pieces by Montovani and Norman Luboff.  Call me a square...don't care.

My Bed

Having a beautiful supportive bed with lovely cozy blankets and pillows can never ever be underestimated.  Falling into your bed's arms every night will help you rest from any worry-overload or sadness that seizes you.  And it shouldn't cost a lot to outfit your bed with fluffy pillows and warm covers.  Home Goods, TJ Maxx, and their ilk offer affordable bed linens with an ever-changing stock.  Keep looking for the right stuff.

Beauty Routines

I step up my beauty action when I am stressed.  It reminds me that no matter what the world is dishing out, I can still take care of me.  This is not the time to stop using that foot smoother in the tub or to skip flossing.  Au contraire....it is actually the perfect time to escalate your routine.  Pick up a few envelopes of mask when you pick up your toothpaste.  Keep your nails polished and pretty with a new upbeat color.  Use your moisturizers and take care of your skin even if you don't feel like it.  Looking after ourselves with exquisite attention is one thing we can control in an upside-down world.

Books

Nothing helps with anxiety like escaping into a good book.  I just re-read Jane of Lantern Hill, an old childhood favorite by Lucy Maud Montgomery.  The story is full of marvelous advice that has stood the test of time and by allowing myself to surrender to the story, my fears and concerns were eased. Libraries are filled with shelves of fiction that nobody reads anymore.  Some of my library's stacks contain real gems and it is where I first became acquainted with Barbara Pym and Elizabeth Gaskell.  Some terrific innocent fiction was written by now-forgotten authors in the 40's and 50's.  Find a novel you can drown in.  At least for a few hours.

Scent

Good smells are mood changers.  Favorite perfumes are comforting, especially if they remind you of someone beloved.  Make sure that your home has a scent imprint.  I like lavender in my upstairs rooms and lemon or oranges in the kitchen.  Bake brownies or make stew.  Fill your house with happy scents.  We need it more than ever.

And finally...my new tablecloth.  Always looking for the Holy Grail, I happened upon a linen embossed cloth for a round table.  Round cloths are very hard to find and to stumble upon such a fine one in a beautiful fall-like color had me handing over my credit card -  I knew I couldn't walk away from it.  Now on  my table, with autumnal candles and a bowl of fruit, the vignette I created has become the sentinel of my fall.  I didn't want to spend the money but it was money well-spent - it is an heirloom.  But more importantly, it is one of those small things that remind me that despite all the vagaries of our world, we just have to continue making our little corners worth coming home to.  We can make ourselves worth coming home to as well.  And in the process, we keep our well-being sacred, despite what's going on out there.

What are your Cold Comfort Charms?


Note:  My tablecloth above (but round).

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

She Shred

It all started with a seemingly innocuous idea...
Tired of the lack of closet space in my small home, I asked a friend if I could borrow his paper shredder. I had known for a while that I wanted to dispose of some old employment papers associated with my long and varied career. Why would I need to keep the performance review that was done just before I left for maternity leave - the one where my boss recorded that I went to the doctor too much? Twenty-five years ago, even I knew that comment didn’t belong there. So why had I been holding onto it for so long?
The shredder was bigger than I had anticipated (not to mention louder), and shredding at first was a task I couldn’t wait to finish just so I could get the electric behemoth out of my house as quickly as possible. But after shredding the trail of papers that represented my stop-and-start career, I found myself taking a gimlet eye to something else — my files of divorce papers.

I knew that the evidence of my long-ago marriage, which ended abruptly and with deep pain, had been serving as a silent monument of look-what-he-did-to-me.  Somehow, I had always thought that my daughter would surely want to read these papers.  Of course, this was based on the cherished fantasy that she would understand what I had been through for her.  But after lugging around the files from move to move, I slowly came to the realization that the documents didn't really represent the best of my life, and I wondered if, in the end, I really wanted to leave a mass of harshly-corded paperwork behind.
Opening the massive divorce file gingerly, I began at the beginning: The Separation Agreement. Here is where every detail of single-parenting is laid out. Who would take our daughter on holidays, who would pay for her braces and college, who would drive her to school. I held it over the shredder for a few seconds. Then, it was gone.
Shredding the agreement gave me a sudden surge of confidence, and I found that the more I shredded, the lighter I felt inside. It was as though I was at last unhooking the past and letting it trail off behind me. Out went my budget book from the early divorce years that outlined what I spent on diapers and daycare. Out went the letters from HIS attorney fighting to pay less child support than his salary dictated. Out went my attorney’s final bill. Before long, I was shredding the marital household bills and tax returns. Even the receipt for our bed — the last document with both our names written together.
It was almost as though I were obliterating an entire decade of my life. But instead of feeling sad, I felt liberated from the past and hopeful for the future. And I realized something else, too — that a silly form of magical thinking had been engulfing me all these years and forcing me to keep all these old documents. I had been wondering if something happened in the past and there were no papers to document it, did it really happen?
The shredder answered that question with its constant whirring. Yes, the events occurred - even the dotty boss I worked for all those years ago existed (although he's long gone now). But I also realized that one does not always need to have tangible evidence to prove a life existed. I also just couldn’t imagine my daughter sitting on the floor outside my closet going through each file, page by page. And is that really how I want her to remember me — through a collection of cold, legal documents? Certainly, my life has been more multi-dimensional than a mass of paper, no matter how painstakingly chronological they are.
The entire shredding process took no more than three days, and getting rid of my old papers left a wonderful space in my closet which I have already filled with a small trunk. But new papers and documents won’t be going into that trunk. Instead, I will be filling it with a soft baby blanket of my daughter’s that is now freshly laundered and folded. Also, a stash of favorite books left behind from what turned out to be a very happy childhood.
I’m sure I’ll be picking up a few other newer baby trinkets along the way, as well. I’m going to be a grandmother, and that’s a role I won’t need any papers for.
~
This piece originally published on a website I contribute to occasionally.  

https://fairygodboss.com/articles/my-past-in-shreds-how-shredding-gave-me-a-fresh-start