Saturday, July 8, 2017

Find One Hundred Ways


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
Send her roses just because

If it's violins she loves let them play

Dedicate her fav'right song and hold

Her closer all night long

Love her today

Find one hundred ways

Don't forget there could be

An old lover in her memory

If you need her so much more

Why don't you say

Maybe she has it in her mind

That she's just wasting her time

Ask her to stay

Find one hundred ways

Bein' cool won't help you keep a love warm

You'll just blow your chance

Take the time to open up your heart

That's the secret of romance

Sacrifice if you care

Buy her some moonlight to wear

If there's one more star she wants

Go all the way

In your arms tonight

She'll reflect that she owes you

The sweetest of debts if she wants to pay

Find one hundred ways

In your arms tonight

She'll reflect that she owes you

The sweetest of debts if she wants to pay

Find one hundred ways

Ya gotta believe it whoa

Love her today

Find one hundred ways




Note:  I will be on a special vacation - a journey - for a few weeks.  I'll be finding one hundred ways and I'll share when I return.



Sunday, June 25, 2017

My Yellow House


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

Given my blog-documented love of my hometown, would it surprise you to know that I created alerts on my computer when a house in my old neighborhood goes on the market?  I love to take "tours" into these homes, but alas, they are few and far between because my old hood is not a very transient place.  So I was delighted to find for sale, the petite yellow house that sat kitty-corner to my childhood home.

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 diseased 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

On Towels...



The world is too much with us; late and soon,
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

Soda Fountain Stories


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.

~

Some favorites:

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?

Friday, May 26, 2017

True North



“But afterwards, is there nothing more for me in life - no true home - nothing to be dearer to me than myself?” 



Thanks to a good friend, I found out this week that the North Star, Polaris, has not always been our North Star.  In fact, for a very, very long time, that distinction was held by another star that positioned itself high above the North Pole, called Thuban.  And because of the earth’s gyrations as it twirls around the sun, Thuban will once again be our North Star someday far in the future.  This new-to-me-information had my head twirling with thoughts of my own personal North Stars and how they too, have changed seats throughout my life.

As children, I suppose our North Stars are our mothers – after all, they are our first loves and upon whom our very existence depends.   Thus, I recall how my infant daughter’s eyes followed me whenever I moved about in her room, even before she could sit up by herself or speak.  I was not only the person responsible for her very life; I was her North Star, the beacon she sought for guidance and safety in her brave new world.

I thought about other North Stars I’ve aligned myself with –those that helped me try out different roles when I was younger and those that gave me parameters for living as I experimented with new ways of being me.  Sometimes our North Star is our beliefs and concepts and sometimes our North Star represents just one person.  I think it is rare to have only one North Star for all of life because we change so often and adopt so many roles, especially as women.

For a while, my friends at school were the star I wished to follow. There were years, my guiding principles came from organizations I embraced such as the Girl Scouts or my church.  Other times, I found a mentor or a friend who had already traversed the road I was on and I looked to them to ground me and keep me on course. But lately, my North Star is harder to spot.  I wondered if it's because I have finally grown into the woman I was meant to be.  Mostly, I prefer to take my own counsel, set my own path…listen to my own heart...

That kind of trust comes only from years of living and experiencing.  It comes from an innate knowledge that “Yes, I have seen this before”.   And my reactions stay true to those core beliefs I didn’t know I was honing  -  through childhood when my mother and grandmothers guided me, through motherhood  when I looked to seasoned mothers to show me how, and now to beyond, when my skills for soothing and advising myself seem sharper than ever.  And happily, I find in myself the ability to be North Star to others.  Or at least that’s what I hope.

So the bottom line is that the pinnacle of growing older is that we may get to be, not only the cosmic light for others, but also the beam of sparkle that we once sought outside ourselves.  Looking back, I realize that my constellation has changed many times over.  Perhaps now...and at last...I am my own North Star.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Beauty Parlor Night


In my twenties, when I was young and carefree, I rented a house with four other women.  We all worked, dated, and fret about the number of pizza slices we ate in front of the blinking black and white TV on Friday nights.  We were obsessed with clothes, the number on the scale, and finding Mr. Right.  Maybe not so carefree...

Our lone bathroom quickly became overflowing with lotions and potions, hair "painting" kits, pink shaving foams, and bottles of nail polish.  Although we each had our own personal needs, we gradually came to see how much fun it could be to unite and conquer our challenges collectively. Thus, Beauty Parlor Night was born.

We had lots of giggles and laughs running in and out of each others' rooms trying on lipsticks and giving each other manicures.  We shared dating horror stories as well as gave advice to the poor roommate who happened to be lovelorn that week.  We spent a lot of time cross-legged on each others' beds with Mint Julep Mask on our faces and towels wrapped around our heads.

For me, Beauty Parlor Night is still sacrosanct even though my routine has become much simpler. - I'm less concerned with trying new makeup colors and much more passionate about good skincare and smooth and lovely feet.  And it's imperative that my beauty regime eases me into a good nights sleep which is by far the best beauty aid of all for someone my age.

Like penguins tossing themselves to the sea, my roommates and I disbanded and plunged one-by-one into marriages.  I miss the young women I lived and "played" with long ago and was thrilled to chat with one recently.  "What are you doing at home tonight?", she asked.  "I just stepped out of a lavender honey bath. You"?  "I stole my daughter's blue nail polish and it's drying on my toes", she replied.


Note:  Next post up, "What I Did For Love Infatuation".  Soon, I hope.



Sunday, April 23, 2017

Spring Charms


I used to think my modest house took on its beauty only by candlelight.  But that was before I had a new front door installed with a half-moon transom built into the top.  Every morning this past week, as I descended the stairs, I noticed a brief pastoral scene framed in that window, as pretty as if it had been stolen from a colorful illustrated bible.  The window is also responsible for shedding a tender shaft of light on my living room floor that greets me each day as I pad across it to reach my coffee cup.

I've lived in my home almost twenty years now, so it is too steeped in memories to be seen in a detached way.  But I do take it for granted sometimes.  And since I've only just begun to appreciate spring as the lovely season it is, I always thought my house made its grand entrance on Christmas Eve when my tree shines bright along with the white votives I scatter across the bookshelves.  Not anymore...

As well as the new light in the morning, I realize I am truly indebted to the frieze of trees that shelter the front of my house and help keep things quiet around here.  Those elms are not yet in leaf but a coppery aura tell me that they will be green soon.  I learned about that from an old farmer once.  The birches are still blurred with a hazy pistachio-green foliage along with a lot of unnamed plants and bushes.  I don't have a green thumb but I have admire what gardeners choose to plant for maximum spring color.

Something as simple as a newly installed window has caught me off guard and made me want to head outdoors for walks.  But not for exercise - I want to scavenge for presents for the house. I clipped a communal bush for forsythia branches but now they have passed.  Next will be my mother's lilac which I will pilfer for both us.

There's always one moment in the house, when I sense that summer has arrived.  Sometimes it's the heat I feel from the second floor when I open the front door from work -or the unmistakable earth smell from the open bedroom windows.  But I've always ignored spring's visit - it's just been too painful.  Lucky for me, a friend has been showering me with love and holding my hand for the last few springs.  This year, with my new "view" from a simple built-in window that was really just an afterthought, I may be able to manage on my own.  Every season has its gifts.


Saturday, April 15, 2017

Easter Finery


When I was too young to understand anything spoken in church, I asked my big brother why we had Easter.  His wise, all-knowing answer was, "Easter holds us over 'til Christmas".  And it made perfect sense.

My mother created Easter baskets for us but what I remember most fondly was the finery she outfitted my sister and I in.  There were winsome cotton dresses with smocking and sashes or colorful prints of flowers or birds, cotton ankle socks with lace trim, straw hats with excruciatingly tight chin straps, snow-white cotton gloves, and brand new shoes.  How I loved the shoes!  So much so, that one Easter Eve, a pair slept in their cardboard shrine right next to me in bed.  I remember peeking into the box just before sleep, peeling apart the crinkly tissue paper and inhaling the leathery goodness. Our shoes were often shiny black patent with petal cut-outs or dainty t-straps replete with pearl buttons. But sometimes we found the same version in milky white or pale pink.

The most heralded Easter garment however,  was the spring coat.  Each year on a special Saturday in March, when winter was still biting our toes, my mother would take my sister and I to the big city department store to search for new coats - coats that would have their debut only on Easter Sunday.  Formal and lightweight outerwear was not hard to find in those days because everyone had a spring coat back then.  They were as ubiquitous as ski jackets in December.  The quintessential go-to color was navy and if all else failed, it was the one hue that could be counted on to coordinate with any dress.  But more often than not, my mother found pretty pastels for us in nubby weightless wools or sturdy pique cotton with large tone-on-tone buttons.

Along with the coats, we would buy rustling slips and tiny structured grown-up-looking purses to match our shoes.

We gave Easter special honors by dressing as beautifully as could be afforded.  Our ensembles were thoughtfully planned, purchased and executed with an excited anticipation that belied a holiday my brother said just came around to hold us over.


Saturday, April 8, 2017

In Memoriam


I've introduced you to this handsome chap before.  He was the grandfather of a good friend of mine and I was delighted to see this newly-found photograph of him.  Known mostly as the favored dentist in our hometown, he is still remembered well by some of the parents of my high school friends - nearly 75 years after his death.  Imagine that...

Even with a torture chamber for an office, you may wonder why he is still talked about with such warmth and respect among local elders.  His striking good looks and untimely death are certainly mentioned but mostly he is remembered for kindness and generosity of spirit.  When he died suddenly at 49, nearly the entire town owed him money for the mercury-filled holes in their teeth. There are other stories too - but that's for another time.

More than a few years ago, a co-worker brought a newspaper into work that contained the obituary of the woman who used to run our department.  The first reaction was from another co-worker, who under her breath, simply muttered, "Ding Dong".  Everyone knew that was a reference to The Wizard of Oz when the bad witch had a house fall on her head.  There were a few snickers and a few shrugs too.  But I was left quietly stunned.  This woman - our former supervisor - was a mother and a grandmother of five.  Yes, she was punitive, even mean at times, taking the letter of the company's law to ridiculous and borderline inhumane degrees.  But she was a grandmother, presumably with small children who loved her.  Somehow, the in-congruence of that unnerved me. Even with an assumed loving family, there were still a not insignificant number of people who saw her as the Wicked Witch of the West and would remember her so.  It gave me pause -  I thought about legacies and the impressions that follow bosses and others in authority long after they are gone.

I've seen a lot of behaviors from bosses in my lengthy career.  I've worked for those willing to do anything to get ahead including walking over friends, colleagues, and underlings and then kicking the remains to the curb.  But there have been others who were principled enough to go the extra mile to do the right thing.  I suppose success can be had on either path...

Recently I left a job I liked a lot.  What I didn't like were the behaviors of the person in charge.  His actions were abusive to the degree that gave me no choice.  I guess in our careers, it comes down to what we choose to do at the fork in the road.  And at the end of our lives, how do we want to be remembered by those we served or by those who served us?  I'd prefer to be remembered like the beloved young dentist above and not by a reference to an evil player in a child's fairy tale.


Special note:  there will be happy springtime topics to cover here soon.  And this, in case you need help:  https://www.facebook.com/thatsharassment/




Thursday, March 30, 2017

Vanity Fair

In Chapter Nine of Little Women, the March sisters prepare Meg for a journey to Boston for the long-awaited Sally Moffat coming-out party.  Meg Goes to Vanity Fair is one of my favorite chapters in the Louisa May Alcott book.  As Meg packs her trunk with her finest clothes and accessories, her sisters gather 'round and contribute their own best things as well.  I love the helpful and fluttery way the girls anticipate Meg's opportunity to finally rub elbows with a proper society and their excited chatter about all the wonderful things they imagine will happen to Meg at the wealthy Moffat's.

I am about to venture to my own Vanity Fair and although I have no sisters nearby to help pack my trunk, I do feel the love and support of those who care.  My destination is not Boston Society but an exciting new job with more money, exceptionally wonderful benefits and hopefully, more respect than in my last position.  To prepare for Vanity Fair, I have scripted a checklist for my "trunk" based on all the loving advice I have received about this sudden and perfectly Providential chance.  The new position practically fell from the sky and into my outstretched arms (although I was ready the day my heart whispered to my soul, "Where's your pride?").

~As I enter the door of my new firm, I will tell myself "I am about to meet some life-long friends".  (From my sister)

~I will pack a book as well as a healthy salad for lunch in case my initial lunchtime appears to be a lone one (i.e., lonely).  (From my daughter)

~I will remind myself that this job was a gift from Heaven above and I will be mindful of the Divine's hand.  (From my good friend, Karen, who prayed)

~My look will straddle the more casual dress code of my new company with my natural tendency toward trust-fund-librarian style.  I will strike an appropriate balance until I know more about how the natives dress.  (Also from Karen)

~I will remember that new ventures even at my age, mean a "younger" brain and learning new things will be ever-so-good for me.  (Also from my sister)

~I will carry a small tote bag with a few "comforts" for just-in-case, including an extra set of contact lenses, some tea bags, tissues, and a new notebook for jotting down notes in a pretty way. (My friend Patty, an inveterate self-starter who is a wee bit older than I)

~I will become acquainted with my new commute route well before my start date so I arrive with time enough to compose myself and check my lipstick.  (The Complete Secretary's Handbook - 1962 edition)

Unlike Meg March, no one can pack my trunk for me...but my loved ones have certainly helped me fill it.