Saturday, February 18, 2017

There Be Dragons

Dear Readers, you may know that I do not write for a living.  At least not all my living.  My style writing and other contributions, paid writing, etc. have never filled the coffers completely and so I must have a full-time job at all times.  That job is in the financial sector - a roly-poly mess of a world with changing regulations and ever-squeezing and strident edicts.  This isn't really a pretty post - I'm talking about work reviews - you know, when your boss rates you and determines your very worth as a human being and your right to exist on the planet.

If you have been visiting my blog for a long time then you might remember my sad post from two years ago when I left a job I held for 20 years.  It was like an arm wrench and just as painful.  What drove me from that position were, for lack of a better term, viperous women.  It is said that the art of the deal is the art of war and I would go so far as to say that work is a battleground.  And if all is fair in love and war then all is fair in the modern workplace too.  I had my annual review yesterday.

Despite my passion for my job, my boss snared me on some very petty things.  And in 12 months, this was the first I had heard about them.  Among some of the infractions, apparently I should have attended the company's Christmas party which I would have had to buy tickets for, accompanied my boss home from a meeting instead of driving home with lovely co-workers so we could have a rare dinner together, and provided a set of birthday cards each Monday for clients.  Initially I was told the required company cards were gauche and calls would be made instead.  Not so, I discovered in my review.  When did reading your boss' mind become a core value to be rated on?

So this weekend, this precious three day weekend, I am allowing myself to grieve a position I believed to be perfect as my final act.  My consolation is that I will wake to a kind friend waiting for me in "his" leather chair in the den I decorated after my daughter left home and married last year. I'm sure he will silently get up and trod downstairs to fetch my daily joy - a mug of creamy and delicious coffee.  Then he will then sit back with a Twinkie (a favorite weekend Breakfast of Champions) where he will stare at me kindly and blink until my tears flow and re-flow with yet another rendering of hurt and sting until I am spent and have no words left to say.

It will be then that we dress and drive to the beach where in only a few short months the sand will be warm and covered with legions of summer umbrellas that stretch as far as the eye beholds. They will be as bright and colorful as massive children's beach balls magically suspended in air.

And no dragons shall be near.


Somewhere in every heart there is a discerning voice. This voice distrusts the status quo. It sounds out the falsity in things and encourages dissent from the images things tend to assume. It underlines the secret crevices where the surface has become strained. It advises distance and opens up a new perspective through which the concealed meaning of a situation might emerge. The inner voice makes any complicity uneasy. Its intention is to keep the heart clean and clear. This voice is an inner whisper not obvious or known to others outside. It receives little attention and is not usually highlighted among a person's qualities. Yet so much depends on that small voice. The truth of its whisper marks the line between honor and egoism, kindness and chaos. In extreme situations, which have been emptied of all shelter and tenderness, that small voice whispers from somewhere beyond and encourages the heart to hold out for dignity, respect, beauty and love.
John O'Donohue

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

The Three Graces

Recently, I received a text from my first childhood friend which accompanied the picture above.  "I saw this at the Smithsonian today and thought of us", was all she wrote.  The mystical soft green painting of three women strolling at dusk is by Thomas Wilmer Dewing who was known for painting ethereal images of women.  Given the friendship between Paula, my sister, and I, it is no surprise that my friend was drawn to the painting.  I too, have a fondness for threes.

Our enduring friendship is probably why I also love the Three Graces - the classical goddesses that have inspired artists for centuries.  Talk about sisterhood - always linked, always entwined - they represent the female ideals of Grace, Charm, and Beauty.  And they represent something else too  - solidarity...something I didn't see too much of in my years in the corporate world.

For me, the Three Graces' message isn't just of femininity although my little cameo of their likeness reminds me so.  I believe the Graces, who are daughters of Zeus and therefore, sisters, also speak for friendship.  The deep abiding, "I've got your back" kind that comes around just a few times in life.  I still have it with my childhood friend, my sister, and a small handful of others.  These are the pals that keep you company on the phone late at night when you're in the hospital.  They remember not just your birthday but the secret anniversaries of your heart too.  They never forget the slights that hurt and the perpetrators who caused them - they remember all the slings and arrows, sometimes long after you've forgotten them yourself.  Like when you mistakenly got put in the corner at 3rd grade recess.  They pick you up when your car breaks down with curlers in their hair and just a half hour before their Big Date.  They would never leave you stranded.  No. Matter. What.

To say that we three, Paula, my sister, and I spent a lot of time together is a gross understatement - our days were braided like the plaits in our hair.  Today, I can still name their every doll and every boyfriend.  And although decades separate us from those childhood days, whenever I happen to run across a variation of the Three Graces, I think of us too.


Do "Graces" grace your life?

And other "Graces":

The three of us (I'm on left).

(My cameo)

Saturday, January 28, 2017

A Mute and Elegant Testimony

My pretty mother wore a grey vertical striped shirtwaist dress the day she brought my little brother home from the hospital.  As she knelt in front of us with her tender white bundle, the skirt of her dress ballooned over her knees like an upside down tulip.  I know this partly because I have a picture of that moment in time. It is no surprise that the dress became the most-requested for our birthdays when we each got to choose her outfit for one day.  It's also not hard to understand the special memory that plain and serviceable grey dress held.

But it also conveyed something about my mother and who she was at that time - a practical yet devoted young mother.  I would love to have that everyday dress and some other favorites that my mother wore and for that matter, some of my own dresses, long disappeared.

Augusta Roddis (that is her picture above) certainly understood that clothes have the power to speak to us about the past and that is perhaps why she saved, in her large Wisconsin home, more than a hundred years of family clothes.  The story of Augusta's extraordinary collection, American Style and Spirit - Fashions and Lives of the Roddis Family, 1850-1995, has captivated me and absorbed most of my winter reading time.

The text of the book engagingly gives evocative descriptions of dresses, hats, shoes and other accessories worn by the Roddis family for much of the 20th century.  The rich variety of items are complemented by photographs and letters indicating where the garments were worn and by receipts which indicate where the garments were bought.  It's a fascinating account of an interesting middle-class family that grew in wealth but somehow maintained humble middle class roots.

But this is not to say that the Roddis women were boring - the family often traveled and there was always a charity ball, wedding or party to attend.  The lovely part is that there are so many frocks and fripperies to commemorate each of these events.  The book is filled with photos of not only the clothes, but dress patterns (the Roddis women also sewed!), artifacts and supporting ephemera like ads from periodicals.  It is a spellbinding picture book with an engrossing true story to savor.

Sometime in her seventies, Augusta wrote a letter about what it was like to open trunks in the attic filled with a treasure trove of dresses amply adored with embroidery and laces that once belonged to her grandmother. "There were her clothes, bearing mute but eloquent her very discriminating, fastidious, elegant and feminine taste".  And isn't that exactly what our clothes do for us, whether we are in a ball gown or a plain shirtwaist - silently saying the things we cannot put into words?

If I were to find my mother's simple grey dress in a trunk today, I suspect it would transmit a wordless message from the past too - just as Augusta Roddis' collection does.

Saturday, January 21, 2017

In January - The Things I Didn't Write

There are so many things I wanted to write about in January.  I really wanted to tell you about the quintessential snowy New England weekend I spent many years ago at a old and lovely brick manor house in the middle of a Western Massachusetts forest and how each room was decorated with a dash of woodland magic.  I would have described the china bowls of wild berries and moss, the baskets of pinecones, and I would have written that every room had a hissing fire in the grate.  But then we had an extended January thaw and I lost passion for the story and so I almost wrote a story about a commonplace book I kept for a season long ago and forgot about until recently, and how in its pages I found a girl I wished I cherished more because I think she was pretty neat.  And then, I had a blog post nearly written in my head about my hero, Col. John Glenn and his honorable life and for-the-ages love story with his beloved wife Annie, and how, although I mourned in the weeks leading up to Christmas, the story evaporated in the holiday rush.

I also wanted to write about a dear yellow house that is for sale in the neighborhood I grew up in and how my reveries turned rapturously fantastical one morning as I drove to work and imagined myself buying the place, decorating it and actually living there even though it would mean I would have to move out of state and leave my family and job.  I would have also told you that as long as I could remember, the house was yellow and that if I were to ever be its mistress, it always would be...

And I wanted to tell you about all the new books I am reading these days especially the one about a woman who saved a century of family clothing including everyday dresses from the 1940's and enchanting ballgowns with the dance cards to match.  And speaking of books, I almost wrote about the oldie-but-goody cookbook my grandmother gave me long ago and how I have been revisiting it for comfort food cooked from scratch and how I have come to realize that sometimes the old ways of cooking are the best ways.

And I thought you might like to read that my very favorite junk shop was closing and I had special permission to shop the "attic" and all the treasures I found there for practically nothing including a beautiful etched crystal pitcher and how I brought it home and filled it with white lilies that cheered me with the scent of hothouse days to come.  And I would have written that I also found a brand new Ralph Lauren white ruffled flat sheet for pennies which now graces my bed (seen in the picture above).

I also meant to write about music and how I re-discovered the lilting and ardent voice of Susan Boyle and how I now believe she is the archetypal woman's songstress whose personal compositions will positively possess you on dark January nights.  I wanted to say something too, about my new bottle of the indie Chanel fragrance, Chanel 1932, and how it compares to my other winter favorite, Chanel No. 5 (it has a lovely jasmine "bite").

Yes...these are the things I wanted to write for you in January.  I am so sorry.

Saturday, January 7, 2017

Bird On A Wire

Ever since I visited the Warner House in Portsmouth, New Hampshire a few years back and saw the evocative portrait of Polly Warner, I've been intrigued with 18th and 19th century paintings of women with birds.  And there are plenty of them.

In art, women are popular subjects especially attractive women in elaborate dress.  But I was unprepared for the number of paintings of women holding birds - even exotic and dangerous birds.  I wish I could say I discovered a reason for this but there seems to be very little said about the phenomena except to mention the deep connection between women and nature.  I never pretend to be an art expert but I believe I could imagine a few reasons why - one being that birds represent the freedom that often eludes women in life.  I would also say that it is in women's nature to protect small things, especially things that are vulnerable and frail.

The portrait of Polly directly below, appears both wistful and melancholy to me.  There is but a half-smile on her lips and the landscape behind her seems changeable and moody.  Yet a delicate thing rests upon her graceful upraised hand - unencumbered except for a long loose thread - where it seems quite content to be in her presence.

The Color Inside My World

Yesterday the color was snow.  White and pristine, missing at Christmas but present for my daughter's birthday on Epiphany, another holy day.  We took the train to Boston along with my sister in icy cold air and soft flurries to celebrate my daughter.

And oh the things we did ...a companionable lunch high above the city streets, a little bit of shopping, people-watching and then home to join husbands and family for cake and iced cream.  A full day of bumping shoulders with my daughter and sister and taking inspiration and energy from the city.

This is an annual trek which signals my personal end of the holidays - once January 6th passes, I finally store the ribbons and paper that clutter my wrapping corner.  We do indulge in some of the sales - I found an irresistible ballet-pink wool muffler, two small lacy gold picture frames, and a box of snowy candles that will look lovely in the crystal candlesticks on my mantel which have been vacant since the red ones burned to stubs on Christmas Eve.

My joy was watching my daughter's blond head hovered above the crowd in her attractive chalk-white down coat -  she was the picture of winter.  And as all of her birthdays do, they make me feel a little nostalgic with a stark reminder that time is passing really fast now.  Last year marked the "crossover" birthday which means she has been a presence in my life longer than the years I lived before her.  That says something, doesn't it?

Daughters are a fine thing - sons too, I am assured by my sister.  But may I just say that my daughter's chroma is from vivid kaleidoscope hues that transform in ever-changing sequences?  Her chic look yesterday may have mirrored the day's fairy-scape, but she is the color in my world.


I know a girl
She puts the color inside of my world
But, she's just like a maze
Where all of the walls all continually change
And I've done all I can
To stand on her steps with my heart in my hand
Now I'm starting to see
Maybe It's got nothing to do with me
Fathers, be good to your daughters
Daughters will love like you do
Girls become lovers who turn into mothers
So mothers be good to your daughters too ~ Daughters, John Mayer

Photo Credit: Volk Clarke Galleries

Monday, January 2, 2017

A Crystalline January

"Your holiday guests have departed and the house at last, is still.  A piano sonata is gently tinkling from the stereo and the fragrance of flowers fills the air.  A fire simmers in the grate... You wander upstairs to draw a soothing scented bath.  A thick towel hangs from the hook next to your soft new robe.  A glass of wine awaits...  At last, the time is nigh for the lady of the house to have her due rest".


I wrote those words for an ad I embellished a few years ago.  I like to re-read them on January 1st to remind myself that there is life after the holidays.  And many embellished things to look forward to.

Instead of taking my little Christmas tree down completely, I followed advice from my friend Kay and kept the tree up but only with the white fairy lights on it.  It looks charming and so I spread the word throughout the house that I'm creating a beacon for when the light has a mind to return on its own.  I kept the white tapers on the mantle and strung mini-lights across the hutch's top shelf.  Three stems of white lilies, when opened, will fill the house with the promise of spring.  The frost outside colludes with what is taking place indoors - I want everything to be crystalline.

Even in bleak winter, nature can be breathtakingly beautiful with elements of wonderment not to be missed.  And although January is a wonderful month for hibernating there are still those of us who must brave the elements to get to work each day.  Returning to an incandescent home with whispers of silvery frost can be energizing and may even help with seasonal moods.   With that in mind, I tossed a cream wool throw on my couch for coziness as well as for Netflix-binging and laid out an old tole tray on the kitchen table, chock-full of teas, tea cups and saucers, all nestled on a snowy cloth.  I fluffed my bed after adding an extra layer and splayed white votives about my bedroom like candy. My private rebellion against the dark unforgiving sky above.  Even the bathroom shower curtain got a reboot with the addition of plush coordinating towels I forgot I had, found in the recess of the linen closet when I went on a search and destroy for the humidifier.  Christmas is over but my home is ready for winter, come what may.

Sunday, January 1, 2017

A Sister's New Year

For last year's words belong to last year's language;
And next year's words await another voice;
And to make an end is to make a beginning...

T.S. Eliot


The new year beckoned all week and finally arrived right on schedule.  My friend Patty, a closet astrologist kept telling me all through December that things would be changing in 2017.  So many people seemed anxious to see the backside of 2016.

Last night I went to a lovely little party given by my sister.  She had a nice smallish crowd and I met some new people.  My sis has had an extremely trying 2016 which began with a frightening health scare and surgeries.  It malingered and then morphed into other issues that left her unbalanced with scars I wasn't sure she would ever recover from.  She's doing great now and it was so nice to see her relaxed and enjoying herself.

New Year's has many myths and superstitions.  I try not to buy into the perceived momentousness of the calendar turn and the resolutions that inevitably follow.  I think if one is motivated to make changes in life, they can do it just as easily on June 1st as January 1st.

But I do believe it is helpful to begin as we intend to proceed and so it was with some surprise as I drove home last night that I began to weep.  I thought of my sister and the expectations she had for her 2016 and how abruptly her dreams crashed.  I thought about her enduring suffering and her constant worries that continued unabated all last year.  But I also remembered the bright moment on Christmas Day when my niece said grace at dinner and how then the entire table raised their glasses to my sister in thanks that she is well.  "To Debbie", we all chanted in unison as eyes brimmed over.  It was an inexpressibly tender moment...

So as I clutched the steering wheel on the dark road just after midnight, I called up my sister.  Through my tears I croaked out, "Happy New Year to you most of all"!  However, the tears were not a portent of things to come - they were merely the first blessing of the new year.  And that is how I intend to proceed.

Sunday, December 25, 2016

On the Twelfth Day of a Feminine Christmas

This young woman reminds me of a Grace Livingston Hill heroine.  Maybe it's because of the lovely church in the background.  Grace's protagonists were all believers.  If the old Victoria magazine had lasted long enough, I'm sure it would have found Livingston-Hill a worthy subject for its marvelously feminine periodical.  I can only imagine the clothes they would have put the models in:  fur-trimmed wool suits, floral dresses with rustling skirts...I could go on.

Every year I take a peek at Victoria's book, "A Woman's Christmas".  I've used it as a mini-journal, recording various details about my Christmas'.  Yesterday I found a sentimental entry I wrote a few years ago and I'm going to share it here.


"I get misty and giddy when I think of all the happy holidays I had at Nana's, the wonderful little things my mother did for us, the neighbors we always visited on Christmas Eve, the majesty of our Catholic church, the carols I sang my heart out with the Girl Scouts.  All these things were part of my childhood and they live on inside of me...

Then there were the years with HIM.  I decorated our houses with abandon and had the money to do it.  Those trees and homes live on inside too.  As well as the small teddy bear he gave me one Christmas morning with the pearl earrings I still wear today pierced into its furry little ears.  And the challenging but glorious years I was a young single mother of the most darling little girl.  She sang in the choir at church, made cookies with me in her bunny slippers and I especially cherish the Christmas morning she pulled her first real doll out of the box and exclaimed with awe, 'She looks just like me, Mommy!'  I hold dear the day I took my good friend Karen to Orchard House the week before Christmas and watched her face from the sidelines as she first laid eyes on Louisa May Alcott's wreathed front door.  All these Christmas memories may live on Yesterday's shelf but they are a part of me for always.

And my reminiscences of yore, in no way means that I am closed off to the bright new gifts of the future.  I have more Christmas' in store for me.  And as I await them, I know the real spirit dwells within...alongside the memories."  ~ December, 2010


Merry Christmas!

Saturday, December 24, 2016

On the Eleventh Day of a Feminine Christmas

This illustration is feminine Christmas at its best.  Her chic red dress and winter-white coat make a beauty mark on the snowy landscape.  But it's her serene and peaceful face that brings the real grace to the image.

Yesterday I was feeling pretty full of myself - my packages are wrapped, my baking is all laid out, and I planned everything so I didn't have to leave the house today.  But on the way to dinner last night, the car slowed to a stop in front of a bus stop near the restaurant where I was to have supper.  Since I was a passenger in the car, my eyes scanned for a long while at the bleak grey shelter where riders sat to wait for buses.  Standing in the cold were a man and woman who were obviously together.  I wondered for a moment where they were going outside the city and surmised they had both left their jobs and were heading home.  They were nearly elderly and looked tired.  As we sat in traffic, I saw the woman take a single powdery donut from a paper bag and heartily bite into it with her back towards the street.  Then she turned and gave the rest to the man.  I was close enough to recognize the paper bag from a bakery about 3 blocks away - a long walk with dual crossing lanes in heavy traffic to the bus stop.

Now I know nothing about the couple at the bus stop and everything I have written is supposition.  Yet somehow, I felt a tenderness for the pair and wondered what their Christmas would be like.  All through dinner, I couldn't stop thinking about them sharing that donut in the dreary bus stop surrounded by trucks and car horns and exhaust fumes.  And it made me wonder if I had done enough this season for others.  I was involved in making baskets for an organization that helps families and I contributed to a Secret Santa drive at work but I could have done more.  And while I ate my meal, I thought about that too.

Last night I found a local church that is still accepting donations of canned goods.  Today I am doing a market run for them.  I've already talked to the woman who runs the program and since I've been to the church before I plan on finding out what kind of outreach they do the rest of the year too.  It's the least I can do and it's pitiful.

I have made some other suppositions regarding the picture I chose for this post.  I have concluded that the lovely lady's face in my Christmas image comes from knowing deep inside that she made a small difference this season.  As she runs off in the snow in her head band of holly and ivy to whatever festivities she has planned, she knows she did her best.  And that's why she's so beautiful.