Wednesday, October 11, 2017
As my grandmother climbed into her 80’s, I think she recognized that time was winding down. And though it hurts to remember, I wasn’t too surprised the day she announced, “Your grandfather and I are going back to Canada next spring for one last time”. She and “Puppy” took a trip to Nova Scotia every couple of years to visit Pictou and Prince Edward Island. Although it was the place where my grandfather spent his childhood, it was a world much more fully embraced by “Nana Mac” who found inspiration in the craggy landscape and especially in my grandfather’s rich Scottish heritage.
I tried to visit my grandparents weekly, making trips from rural Western Massachusetts to their Boston apartment. One afternoon, soon after my grandmother’s proclamation, I found that she had laid a cloth over the leather card table she kept folded in the living room. But instead of our customary lunch of chicken salad sandwiches and iced tea, she had strewn twelve tea cups with matching saucers across the snowy cloth. Oh was I ever familiar with those beautiful cups – each one a different eye-catching pattern. They were all dainty and delicate as bone china is, but the varying motifs and colors had been deeply alluring to my young self. Of course, my sister and I were never allowed to play with the cups but they were regularly brought down from the hutch in the dining room and put into service for Nana Mac’s bewitching afternoon tea parties for us. We learned the value of fine things at her knee and loved the uniquely individual cups and saucers.
“Pick six!” Nana Mac directed me as she gleefully clapped her hands together. I didn’t have to think too long – I already knew which of the beautiful cups were my favorites. I shyly pointed to the two rose-sprigged cups first – one in coral pink and one in baby blue, then the very unusual harlequin cup, and at last, the three etched in gold. Nana Mac carefully wrapped my selections in newspaper and then placed them in a brown paper bag. When she finished, she leaned into me with a conspiratorial wink and whisper, “You selected all my favorites”. I was delighted when after that chicken salad and iced tea lunch, the plain paper bag with its fragile treasures was thrust into my arms with a kiss.
Nana Mac never did make that final journey to her beloved Nova Scotia with my grandfather. She died unexpectedly on a clear cold morning in early winter. And it wasn’t until spring that year when my sister finally opened her own bundle of cups and saucers. As we poured hot tea into two of the precious bestowals, I noticed my sister’s voice becoming thick and soft with emotion. “Nana said she saved her favorites for me”. Or so I thought I heard her whisper…
Tuesday, October 3, 2017
Tomorrow is my birthday. Again. They sure do come fast and furious now - like contractions. And yet, I still get a little secret thrill from them although I would not admit that out loud to anybody. Nevertheless, like a child, I will probably have a delighted feeling inside all day. I'm too adult (or too old) to expect presents and cake but what I've discovered through the years is that I need neither to feel loved on my day.
I recall nearly all my birthdays. Shout out an age and I could probably tell you how I celebrated. 9! Oh that was the birthday my older brother ripped up his leg on an old standing pipe in the backyard and my party had to disband for a bloody trip to the ER - we never even lit the candles on the cake. 17! How could I forget the first birthday I received a present from a boy - a way-too-sophisticated-for-me gold watch with black Roman numerals I could barely read. 23! That birthday occurred in the middle of my bridal year and the evening sparkled more than the diamond on my finger. 30! A sad little birthday alone with my baby in a big house - but her kisses and pats saw me through. 40!, 47!, 53!...and so it goes. And goes...
What I love most about my birthdays now are the cards I receive. For two days I let them stand like soldiers on my bookshelf. I'm tempted to take a picture of them and unabashedly show them off but it's what's written inside that slays me the most. Winsome phrases and words that make me feel cherished. A friend from far away who tells me that she misses me or even better - that she thinks of me. Imagine that. Thank you, Carol, I think of you, too.
I am always charmed as well, when a well-wisher's card depicts something meaningful to me. Such was the card I received yesterday from my sister - knowing how much I adore blue and white china and orchids, she somehow found a card with both! Cards like my sister's say more than Happy Birthday...they say "I know you". It's always nice to read, "I saw this and thought of you", as Judy's card did today when she sent one with a lovely woman on her bed with a laptop. Yep, that's me, even now as I write for you here. Judy knows. Karen knows too with all the marvelous fairy dust cards she finds just for me. "The more glitter, the better", we both agree. Dear Karen, I feel the sparkling love.
I expect birthday greetings from my beautiful niece who always nails it with particularly thoughtful cards, my daughter who finds just the right words to tug at her mother's heart. And my mother, whose cards I deem especially sacred now - her prim handwriting is still the same as the notes she wrote to my school teachers long ago, but the pretty script belies the passage of time...
And so, on my birthday's eve, I ask you - why should I not feel a secret little thrill?
Sunday, October 1, 2017
I hadn't tried L'Air du Temps in a long time. Even though it is considered a classic fragrance, it's always been a loyal drugstore brand although I haven't seen it at my local CVS in a while.
For many years, there was a small independent pharmacy in the village where I live. At the back counter, past all the remedies, were several bottles of L'air du Temps in creamy white boxes. One dark night - a very rainy one, I happened to see a slender hooded figure walk to the back of the pharmacy and in a whisper, ask for a bottle of L'Air du Temps. As if he had done it a hundred times before, the kindly old pharmacist reached for a box from the shelf behind him, opened it carefully, and then displayed in his palm, the crystalline Lalique bottle to what turned out to be our town's beautiful young heiress. Rumor has it...
The romance of that moment - which could have taken place in the very heart of Paris - the lore, the stormy night is what I recalled when I saw this lovely ad from Seventeen '73. And here, L'Air du Temps is called "The Romantic Perfume" and I think they've illustrated it very nicely with the young woman with long blond tresses in a simple hat who surprisingly resembles our curious young villager.
My imagination surmises that our heiress could probably purchase the most costly perfumes in the world (the family business is a very well-known hosiery empire) and yet, she shops at the local pharmacy in a small fishing village for her bottle of The Most Romantic Perfume. But that doesn't surprise me really because although she is a rather ethereal personage, I do see her locally from time to time.
After researching the scent, I decided I wanted to sample it again. I went to a perfume outlet that sells overstock fragrances and found a small tester. Still being a rather inexpensive perfume, I was surprised to smell how full-bodied it is. There is a hint of Bergamot but the peppery carnation made me sneeze. The bottle is breathtakingly beautiful and indeed romantic, with two doves nuzzling each other in translucent glass - it must look impressive on a dresser or vanity. The history of L'Air du Temps was interesting to read, especially that the fragrance was created after WWII and that its iconic bottle was designed with world peace in mind.
However much I reject the perfume for myself, it will always be associated with our lithe and somewhat otherworldly village heiress. She certainly trails a storied and romantic wake...
Do you wear L'Air du Temps? I would love to hear about it...
PS: Thank you for all your thoughtful comments of late. I hope to write more frequently in October.
Sunday, September 3, 2017
I switch my light summer fragrances to those with warmer accords when the air turns cool in September. More often than not, the perfume I reach for on chilly mornings is Chanel No. 5. When I drive over the misty bridge that spans the cove in my town, I often shiver into my scarf or turtleneck and catch a whiff of the blanketed dusty rose that makes up part of the composition of the world's most famous perfume.
Searching for vintage Chanel No. 5 ads is so much fun that I may do a series of them here. The copy on the ads is very sweet too. But this one, speaks to my schoolgirl days when I too, walked to school on leaf-strewn streets. The scents of those days are so embedded into my psyche that as soon as the calendar turns to September, I go into overdrive with nostalgia and memories, helped along by No. 5.
Also underneath the crunching sidewalks that led to school, were acorns and tiny decomposing apples that mixed with the wafting smoke from rusty barrels of burning leaves and branches. These marvelous things blended together to create an olfactory soundtrack to fall.
Too, there were high school football games held in the old cement stadium known as Kelliher Field. The seats were gravestone-cold but the cocoa, in perilously thin paper cups, was so searing hot that we could barely sip it for fear we would scorch our tongues. But it smelled wonderful and deeply chocolate-y. And somehow it went better with the fragrant buttery popcorn that assaulted us from the moment we stepped though the field's gates which compelled us to buy small red and white cardboard boxes of it. Oh and didn't our mothers pull out the meatloaf recipes torn from Ladies Home Journal's and stuffed pork chops with sage again that filled our homes with such rich savory smells? And cinnamon apple pie, anyone? Back to perfume...
One golden fall, a friend's mother began to sell Avon. That was the year I wore Sweet Honesty, Avon's answer to the 70's back-to-nature mania. I fell for the all-natural look of the packaging which appealed to my personal style at the time: bell-bottomed jeans and long straight hair shampooed with Herbal Essence. Sweet Honesty came with me to school in a little roller bottle which I'm sure replaced my summer Strawberry Fields scent that year. I liked Sweet Honesty for its peppery note that was perfect with fall's burnished colors of smokey gold and magenta. Like autumn, it was both strong and gentle.
The following year I was away at college. Still in New England, but housed with young women from all over the country. And since I wanted to fit in, I wore their uniform fragrance - Revlon's Charlie. Who can forget Shelley Hack's leggy strut across our Seventeen's centerfold in a chic plaid pantsuit? Charlie was known as the sexy-young fragrance and "sexy" was not an adjective that graced Seventeen much before then. It was so new and wearing it, we all felt new - and free and young. And sexy.
I began wearing Chanel No. 5 when I was gifted a bottle from a woman who knew my father. She thought as a young working woman, I might like a sophisticated perfume. But I wasn't quite ready - it smelled cloyingly sweet to me. I preferred to find my own fragrances and so for many years, I experimented with Cinnabar, Fracas, and that harlot of a perfume - Opium. But I never did find one to settle on until I tried No. 5 again. By then, I had read about Chanel and the origins of her iconic perfume. At last, I was ready for it. And it has stayed that way for over 20 years. I always want a small bottle of Chanel No. 5 on my dresser top come fall. It's comforting and oddly reassuring and smells of autumn. As when I kicked my way through fallen leaves on the way to school...
What are your favorite fall scents? Please share in comments...
And in keeping with back-to-school style, please read my essay on Rebecca Tuite's marvelous book, Seven Sisters Style:
Wednesday, August 23, 2017
My town has the most charming ice cream shop. It's painted in sherbet colors and has a rick-rack of gingerbread trim. I don't indulge every day but enough to know the owners who winter in Florida each year. But our conversations are all too brief during the height of summer when a line snakes out past their picnic tables into a grove of trees. Still, the ice cream is rich and wonderful and worth the wait.
Have you noticed how some things are most beautiful just before they disappear? Falling stars, brides who depart for exciting new lives, flowers, and of course, tender seasons that cannot last. Right now I am enjoying summer's swan song - the air is warm and balmy and the sun is throwing stirring shadows and light; total eclipses notwithstanding.
Knowing that summer must soon end, I find myself holding on to it for dear life. I love the plump native tomatoes in overflowing bins at the market. As my mother taught me, I eat them like apples as I sit on the front stoop watching juices flow down my arm. It's ok because the garden hose is still unraveled in the side yard just as it always is until September - I'm a lazy hose-mistress to be sure. Every Friday, I buy a farm-style bouquet filled with sunflowers and violet asters along with spikes of golden rod and dried beach fronds. My rustic bouquets don't last as long as the prim blush roses I bought in early summer, but the colors are as warm and bright as October sunshine.
As well, I am getting the most from my liberating wardrobe. Making sure each morning I select knee-skimming skirts with sleeveless tops or pretty dresses with billowing potential should I still find myself still wearing it when I fetch the recycling bin at the bottom of the driveway every Wednesday night.
As for perfume, I can't stop spritzing my eau fraiche blend that I keep cool in the refrigerator. It's light and airy and not yet too weak for summer's final bow. My coral lipsticks, a watercolor silk scarf, and other accouterments still call out to me. I won't rush the goodbye because the hello takes so long.
I'm sure I will surrender when summer turns back just long enough to take a final bow. By then, I'll be longing to light some candles against a dark sky and chilly wind. And it will seem odd to see the dried leaves flitting and falling on my garden hose. I'll put that to bed along with the rattan furniture and the clay pots that are holding my spectacular geraniums and begonias which have never looked more gorgeous as they do right now in their vivid hues of reds and pink. They seem to bloom over and over and over, like the last dazzling firework on July 4th.
I'll miss the crickets and frogs which lull me to sleep and the dove that coos from a distance late in the morning. I'll miss the cold gazpacho I finally mastered and the watermelon and corn. But summer will really be over when the little pastel ice cream shop finally shutters its windows and closes its doors. They'll put out the scratchy homemade sign that reminds us they will be back next summer. And each year...I try to believe them.
(Top image by Trent Gudmundsen)
Tuesday, August 1, 2017
"I can't stop thinking about Hawaii", I told my son-in-law a month ago. "Oh you'll be thinking about it a lot more when you come back", he warned...
I've been missing a special place that I recently visited. For more than two weeks I have been in Hawaii. I never thought I would have the chance to visit this part of the world and yet, I never thought I would love it so much either. Hawaii is very beautiful with a lovely aesthetic that is partially ancient lore and partially post-war beauty. And unlike New England's crisp nautical sun, Hawaii's light is far-reaching and golden.
The picture above is one that I took on the Ke'anae Peninsula on the Road to Hana. I almost wept at the breathtaking beauty and felt a deep connection to the inlet which I later read was the site of a devastating tsunami in 1946. I sensed it was hallowed and snapped quite a number of pictures like this one with my cell phone. There was an old church left standing and like all churches in Hawaii, the doors were wide open to anybody that happened to pass by.
In addition to the famous Road to Hana, we visited the Black Sand Beach where black-as-night lava rocks cover the shore. We toured the volcanoes on The Big Island, careful not to take anything that wasn't ours so as not to anger Pele, the mythical Goddess of Volcanoes. We ate fish and passion fruit, wore flowers in our hair, and shopped in small boutiques in Maui's Up Country. And every afternoon, we raced to the shore to sit huddled in matching weathered chairs to let the Trade Winds wash over us and blow our cares out to sea.
My companions were my daughter and my son-in-law and the only mar on our adventure were the three days my daughter was ill. On the plane to The Big Island, my only child became sick with a high fever and chills. She also had an extreme headache that frightened me. Upon landing, we took her to the hospital were she was admitted. For three days, we sat by her side as fluids and antibiotics were drained into her. And although the environs surrounding the hospital were gorgeous, the landscape lost its sparkle. Thankfully, before too long, we were back to our vacation and all the gifts the islands had to offer.
Now I am home with a volcanic suitcase on the living room floor exploding with clothes to be washed, presents to distribute, and plenty of keepsakes, including the journal I kept on our trip. I am missing paradise and reliving all the wonderful things we experienced and as my son-in-law predicted, I am thinking about Hawaii alot. Of course, as I reminisce, my thoughts also race back to those three days I was frantic with worry for my daughter - those recollections are woven into the tapestry of my journey too. When the memories come, I lean in and let them wash over me just as the winds did on the edge of Hawaii's magnificent shores. And it is then that I realize...True Paradise is when loved ones are healthy...
PS: If you have ever visited the magical isles of Hawaii, I would love to hear about it.
Saturday, July 8, 2017
I have always loved Quincy Jones' song (sung by James Ingram), One Hundred Ways. The lyrics stole my heart years ago because, by God, they are true. If it's violins she loves...well, let them play. Send her roses...just because. And even better: in your arms, she will reflect...she owes you the sweetest of debts...yes, let her repay. Find one hundred ways!
But the lyrics go far beyond romance and reciprocity. What about living a One Hundred Ways kind of life?
Recently, on a night I had a party to attend, the weather suddenly turned. By late afternoon, a sparkling summer day had become dark and chilly. Rain was not in the forecast but I no longer felt like partying. So I downplayed it by wearing a boring but comfortable dress, minimal makeup and I regrettably ate too much lunch, even though I knew it would spoil my appetite at the party. "I'll just put in a appearance and head back home to my bed and watch Netflix", I said to myself. And then wouldn't you know it - the party was wonderful and festive and fun. Our hosts moved the enchanting dinner table from the lawn to the covered porch which was decorated with pots of trailing ivy and bright begonias. They pulled out all the stops - they found one hundred ways.
Some people naturally live this way. One sees it in the nurse at the doctor's office who has complete pride in her job. Her efficiency and manner offer a sense of order and reassurance. It's the friend who makes your visits special by serving you a delectable warm treat from the oven to go with your mug of tea. Even when she's dead tired from being sandwiched between needy children and elderly parents. It's the co-worker with a serious illness, who shows up at the office every day with another new fetching scarf wrapped around her head. It's the comforting lunch you pack for a loved one that's filled with nourishing food, all attractively wrapped. It's the elderly woman who still wears lipstick and dresses with care as she sets out on her daily round.
So if flowers are what you love, buy that bouquet for heaven's sake. If you crave tomatoes, fill the kitchen. Simmer sauce, make tomato tarts, sandwiches, salads. Ditto watermelon, lemons - whatever it is you're passionate about. Immerse yourself. Roll around in it. Let's stop saving our perfumes, the "good" dishes, and anything tucked away for "best". "Best" is now. Use your things. Show them off. Share them. Multiply them.
Quincy Jones reminds us that if it's one more star we want, go all the way. Life is short - shorter than we sometimes realize while in the midst of it. So, show up. Be present. Dress the part. Go big. Begin today. Begin again tomorrow. Do it as long as you possibly can. Find one hundred ways.
Find One Hundred Ways
Compliment what she does
Sunday, June 25, 2017
I've dreamt in my life dreams that have stayed with me ever after...they've gone through and through me, like wine through water and altered the color of my mind." ~ Emily Brontë, Wuthering Heights
A variation of Pennsylvania Dutch style, the yellow house is one of three "brides" that were built together in the early years of the 20th century. They all have small rooms and beautiful wood-paneled walls and lots of charming details, such as inset cabinets and hardwood floors. While growing up, the little yellow house was occupied by an unmarried and kindly woman named Flora Innes, who walked up our hill every night and past our house, after having been dropped off at the bottom of the street from her wearying factory job. Flora knew all our names by heart and greeted each of us. She was a sweet, lovely woman who had suffered childhood polio and walked with a marked limp.
After I took an online spin around the inside of Flora's old house, my daydreams began to ignite. You see, I am in love with a boy I went to high school who lived not too far away from Flora and from me. Since I "re-met" this boy many years after first laying eyes on him in 7th grade and long after Flora had been gone, I began to imagine all the what-if's that surprisingly bubbled to the surface since spying Flora's yellow house in my in-box.
What if my love and I had found our relationship back in high school? What if we had actually married all those years ago? What if we had bought the yellow house from Flora's relatives when it first hit the market 40 years ago and what if we had a family of our own in the yellow house and what if we had had a long life together? I even went so far as to imagine myself taking family china out of one of those delightful built-ins and setting the dining room table for Tuesday night dinner with his now deceased parents! In our house...our little yellow house???
I always believed that the dream of what might have been is the most painful dream to let go. We watch our fervent wishes slip from outstretched hands like rocks dropped from a bridge that disappear into dark water. But that is only a tragedy when one has to do an abrupt about face of no choice of their own. I don't feel the dreams of what-if have a similar power over us. After all, who's to say that the girl I was 40 years ago was ready for that boy I now love? Who's to say I would have felt the spell of the little yellow house in the town I was so sure I wanted put in my rear view mirror as quickly as humanly possible? Time changes us...it grinds us and then polishes us if we are open to its lessons. Only then can we become whole or at least more of who we were meant to be in the first place. And then there is love - what of love? Well...love carries its own timepiece, doesn' it?
My fantasies about the little yellow house resulted in some magically entertaining reveries for driving to work last month but I have since discovered "my" house has been sold to a pair of young newlyweds. I was told that they have already erected a matching shed in the postage stamp of a backyard, replete with matching shutters and window boxes. I would have done that first too. And their parents often come to help. I just know they are enjoying that marvelous wood dining room with the built-ins, which no doubt are storing some family treasures. I'm so happy for them and I believe that somewhere, dear Flora Innes is happy too.
As for me, I am now wearing the diamond ring that once belonged to the beloved mother and guest at my imaginary Tuesday night dinners. And I've learned that any color home can be my yellow one - our view and our reflections are ever-changing. Like wine poured through water...
Sunday, June 18, 2017
The world is too much with us; late and soon,
Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers...~William Wordsworth
Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers...~William Wordsworth
A friend came to visit last weekend and loved my blue beach towels. They are now downstairs, washed and boxed and ready to mail to her doorstep. I wish it had occurred to me to send them off with her on the day we said goodbye. Still, I am pleased she will have them soon to cheer her as she wraps herself in one after her morning shower - she loved them so much.
My grandmother thought towels were a big deal. She talked of Turkish towels and the January White Sales often and I think it was a source of pride for her to have a modest stack of quality towels on hand for loved ones. My mother also waxed poetic about them but sadly, in our house, towels were often used and abused and left as wet tattered rags on the bathroom floor. I'm pretty sure she gave up her dream of a neat and tidy linen closet with four active children. Stacks of colorful fluffy towels would only have served to regularly break her heart.
Nice towels in a good price range are hard to find these days. There are plenty in rich and famous linen boutiques for those who can manage the price tags that are as lofty as the towels themselves. For me, I scour Home Goods for occasional bounty. I also suggest department stores when they have their seasonal bedding sales. A plush affordable towel is a very fine thing.
When I philosophize about them, towels are often overlooked but are one of life's little luxuries. Thick thirsty towels that are soft and at the ready makes one feel that life is abundant, normal - they are oddly reassuring. An entire blog post about them does seems a bit silly but the latest world events have hit me hard and I, like many others are groping for the little things that seem unimportant but really do matter. Like towels, favorite books, iced tea in a clinking tumbler with fresh lemon. And boxing up a bit of comfort for a good friend.
Friday, June 2, 2017
He is clearly smitten with her as she sips from his soda glass. I love her tartan dress which I imagine to be blue and I'll bet the bow wrapped around her ponytail is black velvet. The moody glow from the lanterns, the tile floor, the leather seat covers make this a charming photo of a 1950's couple on what looks like an innocent first date. Mom and Pop are most certainly at home in front of the picture window, waiting for their young miss to return by 11 o'clock. I'm sure she will...
In spring, I like to revisit some of my favorite teenage novels - nearly all set in the 1950's. I call them Soda Fountain Stories because soda fountains figure so prominently in them. I can't say it's a trip down Memory Lane because I only know the 50's from pictures, my mother's anecdotes, and novels. But the heroines' travails seem universal and somehow familiar to the struggles of every decade: there's the fast crowd who refuses to welcome newcomers, the benevolent and understanding teacher, and of course, a shy bookish late bloomer who doesn't know someone in the wings thinks she's fine.
My books are a comforting trip back in time when good manners were valued and expectations for behavior were cut like glass. Most important to me though, were the stories' emphasis on home and family. Nearly every novel has a loving mother who volunteers at church and school, sees that her children and husband eat a good breakfast, and still bakes brownies from scratch...or gingerbread, as one of my favorites tells. Dad works at the office in the city and comes home tired and put-out but shakes it all down with the help of Mother and her pineapple upside-down cake. The family dog and kid brother help too. Oh, if only...
Still, as far removed as 2017 is from the Atomic Age (and all those bomb shelters that were never used), we have it pretty good now too. Medical care is at nearly science fiction-level, we have the internet and cell phones, movies and books on-demand, and many other magnificent things. I'm not completely idealizing the purity of the 1950's - I'm just saying that it's some kind of wonderful to escape to a simpler time every now and then when the biggest problem in life is whether the prom dress you made will be as pretty as the illustration on the pattern cover.
Come with me to the suburban 1950's. Your reboot is ensured.
Wait for Marcy by Rosamund du Jardin - (Marcy is known as "Squirt", a nickname she detests.)
Sister of the Bride by Beverly Clearly - (Oh how you'll cry!)
Almost April by Zoa Sherburne - (A sudden tragedy which surprisingly aligns with the 21st century too.)
And, there is one elusive novel that I have never been able to locate after reading it once in the 8th grade. It must have been dear to me as the story line has never left me. A girl's mother is institutionalized and while she is gone from home a beneficent housekeeper takes her place. But when Mother is well enough to return, our heroine is torn between the warm replacement and the mother she all but forgot. Does this outline ring a bell with anyone?
Finally, do you have a tender 1950's teenage novel that has remained steadfast in your heart?