Wednesday, March 14, 2018

What We Have in the House

"We'll use what we have in the house", my grandmother told me when I asked about wrapping a small birthday present for my mother.  A few hours later with her help, I had a pretty gift, wrapped in bright yellow felt with cherry rickrack in place of ribbon and a little posy of geraniums pinned onto it.

I've come across "We'll use what we have in the house" many times since.  I found it in a spiritual self-help book a number of years ago when a woman who recently lost her job was trying to create a new life out of ashes.  It was a phrase she told herself whenever she needed to provide a little elegant economy under her new circumstances.  I tried to live by it in my own frugal times and I know I employed it often when I was raising my daughter and she had regular needs for crafts and school projects.  "We'll use what we have in the house" came to signify creativity and fun as we would both put on our thinking caps to try to devise the very thing that was required at the time.


Have I ever told you that I hate my kitchen?  There.  I said it.  It's tremendously outdated with a tile floor that shatters to bits anything that falls on it.  I have a basketful of what will one day be a mosaic walkway to prove it (that's a retirement dream and I will definitely be using what I have in the house when I bring it to fruition).  But besides the tile floor, I really despise the cabinets.  I simply cannot get away from them and I know you've seen them.  They are cream with a thin line of pale oak on the bottom with a groove to be used as a handle for opening and closing.  I can't seem to get away from them either because they've been in every apartment I have ever rented.  I did ask for them once, when my husband and I were building our house in 1986.  Oh yes, they were in style then and ever since the dear Universe has kept me in cream cabinet clover whether I like it not.  They reek of the 80's and you may be wondering why I haven't replaced them.  Well, the cabinetry I truly want would cost a very pretty penny and it's been filed in my "Someday" folder which by now should be called, "If I Win the Lottery" folder.  My longed-for cabinets were far cheaper a few years ago.  Sigh...

I think my unhappiness with my kitchen reached a crescendo when I began to pour over Instagram kitchens. They are gorgeous - matching stainless steel appliances, granite islands with plenty of flat surface for rolling out pie crusts, and rich-looking hardwood floors with colorful Oriental rugs in magenta and blue.  Sigh, again...

But I rather like the kitchen in the photo above.  It's ancient with character.  And it kind of reminds me of my grandmother's kitchen where she made lots of pies without a single granite island to be found.  Although there is some lovely woodwork, there are no designer kitchen towels or window treatments, just as there were none in my grandmother's kitchen.  Here, there are some simple touches like the fruit bowl, the plain kitchen towel, and something delicious just taken from that great oven which was probably expensive but I imagine it old and persnickety.  My grandmother would be shocked today at what William Sonoma deems absolutely necessary for kitchens, such as rubber spatulas in the shape of bunnies for Easter.  I'm exaggerating... but my grandmother cooked with plain old aluminum pots and pans and rolled out her pie crusts on top of the kitchen table because she had no counter space at all except for a porcelain dish drain which was attached to her impractially tall kitchen sink.

So not too long ago, I made peace with my cabinets and flooring.  For now.  Instead, I started to notice how lovely my kitchen looks on late winter afternoons when a certain slant of heavenly light throws golden rays across the wood dining table.  That's a table with matching chairs that my mother gave me and the one from which I fed my daughter countless lovingly-made meals while she was growing up.  And once I put a respectable fruit bowl on it, I noticed the light sought that  too and the crystal wedding bowl holding the apples and pears answered back with trembling prisms of faint rainbows on the detested tile floor.

Soon I found a pair of old brass candlesticks in the bottom of the hutch and then I went rifling through an old box of doilies that were part of my grandmother's legacy.  Sewn together they made a charming little valance for the kitchen window.  And I didn't stop there - I pulled out an old forlorn Teddy bear my daughter left behind and plopped him in a basket on a ladderback chair, also inherited, that lives in a neglected corner.  How could I have known I like Teddy bears until now?  His warm presence makes me smile when I shuffle in to make my coffee at 6 am every morning.  And if the mournful little thing could speak, he might just tell me that he applauds my efforts to love my kitchen back to life, cabinets be damned.  Surely, he has noticed too - I've been using what I have in the house.

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Last Will and Testament

My mother was a booklover and never without a volume on her aproned lap when she waited for the Sunday roast to finish cooking.  Books, magazines, newspapers, even pamphlets overflowed every flat surface in our living room.  Even my rambunctious brothers paused now and then to read Dickens and other literature.  And Mom made sure we visited the fine old library in our town often, where she made friends with all the librarians, including one who was a lovely young mother with an understanding smile.

I had a shyness around Mrs. Grice not only because she was friendly with my mother but also because her son was in my class.  But she often made approving comments about the books I selected to take home and once she winked at me when she noticed that Little Women was again on top of my take-home stack.

In Little Women the youngest sister Amy is banished to Aunt March's until sister Beth recovers from Scarlet Fever.  Of course, sadly, we all know Beth never fully recovers and just a few short years later, dies in the most poignant piece of sisterly love in literature ever written.  But Amy, unlike her other siblings Jo and Meg, never had the Fever and has to be quarantined at her unpleasant great aunt's for "the duration".  Naturally no young vivacious girl wants to have an extended visit with a crochetty dispirited relative but Amy bore her trial very well, partly because she made certain preparations ahead of time.

Upon reading Little Women as a child, I was immensely interested in the Last Will and Testament that Amy wrote.  Like me, Amy's holdings were very small and yet, she made thoughtful provisions for all her things including her turquoise ring.  Since both my sister and I were gifted turquoise rings that year from an uncle out west, we got the bright idea to draw up our own will and testament.

The dearth of our belongings and the fact that my sister and I shared so many things, we decided just one will and testament would be sufficient for our assets, including our turquoise rings.  The list was not lengthy but it included, besides the rings, two small hand-painted floral jewelry boxes with twirling ballerinas beneath mirrored lids, a gold-toned brush and comb set with etched flowers, some multi-colored dimestore headbands with perilously sharp teeth, a pastel wind-up teddy bear that played Lara's Theme, and a purple book of poetry that I still own.

We set to the task of writing our will using Amy's as a frame of reference.  It was all so earnest and serious.  I don't remember leaving anything to my brothers but both my grandmothers were willed the headbands and we generously bequeathed the rings to Mom.  Our closest friend made out the best with the book of poems, the gold dresser set, two jewelry boxes (she had a lot of costume jewelry that we coveted), and the teddy bear, a favorite of mine.  I had nary a thought for my poor mother and what she would have felt to inherit TWO turquoise rings belonging to beloved daughters who just happened to meet an untimely and unexpected double demise.

My sister and I told no one about our Last Will and Testament and like most children, we quickly became engrossed in other activities and forgot about the least until we were suddenly dispatched to the library.  Unknown to us, our will had been returned tucked inside one of our many borrowed books for all the world to see.  Having our names spelled out front and center on the will, middle names included, meant Mrs. Grice had no problem realizing who the authors were.

As much as I dreaded fetching our will from a public place, from our classmate's mother, Mrs. Grice handled it with a sense of urgency and seriousness much like Laurie did the night his carriage drove Amy to Aunt March's for her internment.  When Amy asks him to execute her wishes if need be, Laurie's tender reassurance and sense of gravity comes through in his response - he will gladly be her executor and disperse her bestowals should she die of Scarlet Fever.  Thus was the serene and lovely Mrs. Grice when I approached the library's check-out desk.  Kindly, she pulled a long sealed envelope from a discreet place under the counter.  With penmanship as neat and pretty as my mother's, she had written, "The Misses Macdonald".  Inside, neatly folded, was our Last Will and Testament.  I'm not exactly sure what, if anything, was said when she handed the envelope over to us.  But I gratefully recall a gentle smile that had not the least bit of mocking amusement in it.

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Just Before Bed

Long ago, I tripped upon a book while browsing in a bookshop on a dark wet December night.  I was lucky my best babysitter was available to give me two blissful hours alone during the Christmas rush.  I headed straight to the local bookstore for a good browse.

As always, I started with my favorite sections:  Children's, Culinary, New Non-Fiction.  I never  seek out Self-Help but somehow noticed a simple shrimp-colored book on an endcap in that very section.  The title distinguished itself as much as the color because the words sounded like a prayer.  I began to thumb through it and although I knew in a few minutes it would be coming home with me, I had no idea it would change the way I look at life.

The pretty volume was a hit and not just with me.  It was hit with the world too, spending months and months on the bestseller list.  And I do believe that its authoress is a soothsayer for our times no matter what's happened to her in the intervening years.  It is still at the top of my bedside heap. - the book I reach for in tears and sorrow, laughter and blessings.  It's my go-to peace and quiet, my permission slip to take care of phone-home when I don't know where I've been.

I loved the book so much that within a week I jetted off a note to the author.  That love letter netted me a seat on the most famous TV panel that ever existed.  But that's quite a story in itself...

Since then, copy-cats have come and gone but my shrimp-colored book is still just an arm's length away every evening.  I've read it so many times that I know exactly how to find what I need -  a warming quote, solace when I'm anxious or inspiration for living by my own lights in a world that tries to extinguish our glow with appalling regularity.

The author has written other books since her blockbuster but none satisfies like her major work. And I don't care if it's sacrilege to say it's a bible to me for it is a woman's guide for living in modern times. It's a place of comfort and camaraderie too and at very least, a friendly soothing pep talk before sleep.  It's always on my side and I don't mean just literally.  Hope in a book. Just before bed.

Note:   Thank you to Judy for the most sublime image to illustrate this post with.  

Thursday, February 8, 2018

Dear Void

Before work yesterday, I ran into Home Goods to buy a box of the most exquisite cream-colored candles that I've seen in years.  As usual, I created an extra errand because when I first saw them, I walked on by as I so often do.  It was only in afterthought that I realized how pretty they would look on my winter table.  And how soothing and calming they would be lit on these still-dark evenings.

In one of my most favorite movies, You've Got Mail, Kathleen Kelly writes an email to her unknown-at-the-time nemesis, Joe Fox and ends it with "Thank you Dear Void".  Her comments in the email are rhetorical and they do not really require responses - she is merely relaying trails of the thoughts and wanderings that come to all of us.  If you have a friend you can share with in this way, count yourself very fortunate.

Indeed, some of these random and often fleeting feelings, once emoted, make us feel less alone, especially if you have a thoughtful and silent recipient.  A nod of the head or a touch of the hand is far more comforting than a worded response sometimes and if emailed, the simple answer of "Ah..." carries all the empathy one requires.

And so, in the spirit of illustrating a point, I give you:

Dear Void,

Since I've lived long enough to know that lasting joy comes from memories and not objects, I will plan some spring excursions which include a beautiful botanical garden nearby.  And I will reach out to a friend who is also nearby but I have lost touch with through these long working years.  Perhaps our re-connection will be enhanced by the birth of my grandchild as I remember my friend's love of babies and children.  And I will craft a mental view of myself in my new role as I anticipate what will surely be the next greatest thing to happen to me.  As well, I want to read more meaningful books as I've discovered it is one of the best ways to fuel my mind for writing.  Without the perspective of the new ideas and experiences of others, I can't possibly hope to provide fresh imaginings for my readers, both here on the blog and for my paid writing.  I plan on calling the lovely lady who helped me with my first flower bed last year and check in on her and see if she can encourage me again during the next growing season.  And although possessions may not buy me happiness in the long term, I will light my creamy tapers as I expand my spring list in all the nicest ways...



Special Note:  The art is by Daniel F. Gerhartz who captures women in the most lovely inconsequential way.

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Her Ring

He came bearing three rings.  And then asked which one I liked.  All had diamonds but surprisingly, I was most drawn to the sculptured platinum one with two even rows of sparkle.  It was more modern than the others which were made of gold.  Those were both solitaires - like traditional engagement rings.  Been there.  Done that.

Then he slipped it on my finger and the inner ring guard helped to make it perfectly snug.  He told me it belonged to his mother along with the other two, but I had already guessed that.  My new ring was more contemporary in style and I believe, more special because it was bought later in his parent's marriage, long after their hungry years had passed.  By then, they were older and wiser and the ring reflects that maturity, much like our own late-bloomer love.  I was so proud to accept it and even prouder to wear it.

I never met his parents but I know them by heart.  I regularly pick his brain for errant memories but I think he has told me everything now.  Only occasionally will I oust a new story from him, like last week when he told me that after a certain number of anniversaries, his mother wryly stated that "marriage should be a contract, renewable at ten year intervals and only if mutually agreed upon by both parties".  I already liked the original owner of my new ring, but now I loved her too.

The marriage lasted 63 years so they must have done something right.  They raised two whole and lovely men - practical like their mother and benevolent like their father.  At times, I looked for cracks in his stories, searching for dysfunction or unkindness.  But they were as stable and nice as roast on Sunday and chicken pot pie on Monday.  They were truly, a beautiful family...

And now, lucky me, I wear her ring - a woman I know only from memories and fuzzy snapshots.  But I do know her one other way too.  I know her every time he holds me in his strong yet gentle arms.  That's when, over his shoulder, I steal a glance at my left hand. It's where her ring resides now and sparkles best.

Saturday, January 13, 2018

Beauty Ceremonials for Winter

I never thought I looked good in winter.  Without a summer tan, I felt my beauty was blurred and devoid of color and life.  Now I no longer tan so I am rather pale year round and use skin-brightening products.  But I think true beauty in winter comes from within;  from happy pursuits, reading good books, planning for spring, drinking tea, etc.

The powder tins above are old-fashioned and charming.  Talcum powder has been out of favor for health reasons, but I still like to sprinkle my sheets with a talc-free one in winter, just before I put the coverlet on.  Slipping between fragrantly crisp sheets is a winter pleasure.  And pillow spray.  I use a lavender-scented one which is supposed to induce sleep.

What keeps me asleep on winter mornings with my dead-south facing windows, is a dark sleep mask. Sleep is the best beauty aid in winter.  And I feel so much better after a long winter's nap.

They say if your feet hurt, it shows on your face.  I think it's the same with being cold.  Staying warm in winter is a beauty aid too.  These days I am reaching for capes, shawls, and ponchos.  I love the drapey warmth they provide which not only keeps me cozy but keeps my face looking good too.  Ditto with socks...cold feet does not a beauty make.

For ease, I am reaching for simple diamond stud earrings everyday too. They are so easy (imitation diamonds work just as well) and add just the right amount of bling to the face.  Dangles get caught in the shoulders of my wraps and sweaters and it's so freeing not to think of jewelry too much in winter - just some classic pieces to fill in the gaps.

Scarves are another wonderful style tool in winter.  A warm muffler that is soft and colorful, wrapped just so about the neck sends a nice style statement.  My daughter gave me a little scarf tying book for Christmas and it's been fun creating neck origami to stay cozy.

Pedicure weather is long gone and I like using the savings for other things.  Instead, I keep my hands and feet smooth and soft with creams and lotions.  And I keep my nails short.  I slick on a pale nail polish and call it a day.  And because I bake and cook more in winter, a pale polish doesn't show the chips as readily.  For Valentine's Day though, I will opt for cherry red on healthy nails that I've been pampering all January.

I am spending quite a lot of time at home this winter catching up on some writing, reading some books that have been neglected on the shelves.  Also listening to music on my little bluetooth speaker and drinking tea...always tea.  Here are some favorite beautifying things for you to try:

Best body cream I have found:  Basq Advanced Treatment Butter

Most beautiful music I have listened to:  Prayer Changes Everything by Mark McKenzie

My favorite book on tea:  French Tea, the Pleasures of the Table by Carole Manchester

Best-loved winter film I can watch over and over:  Love in a Cold Climate for the clothes.  And the love.

Favorite tea, bar none:  Trader Joe's Irish Breakfast Tea

Most lovely pillow spray:  This Works Deep Sleep Pillow Spray

Exceptionally fragrant powder:  Crabtree and Evelyn Spring Rain Powder

Cherriest and cheeriest red nail polish:  Smith and Cult Nail Lacquer in Kundalini Hustle

A very beloved winter hand cream:  Herbacin Wellness Hand Cream in Wild Rose

Friday, January 5, 2018

After the Storm

We are having an awful lot of weather these days.  ~ Jane Austen

I clearly recall a school weather assignment I had in the fourth grade.  It was my first special project to complete at home with whatever crafty things were available back in the rustic 60's:  construction paper, left-over cardboard, clippings from magazines, crayons, and the new Magic Markers which smelled delicious to my young nose.  In the end, I found a lot of photographs from my parents' Life and Look magazines that featured crisp blue skies and snow, as above.  My finished project was just a few pages stapled together but I learned alot from the leather encyclopedias my grandparents kept us supplied with through the years.  And I fixated on snow more than any of the other types of precipitation, as my older brother gleefully pointed out to me the night before I turned my paper in.  My teacher must have liked it though because she gave me an A.  Or maybe she was drawn to the blue-sky images as much as I.

We had a ferocious storm yesterday.  I was home alone and found myself occasionally padding to the backyard windows to check on a dead tree in my yard.  There were several pops and cracks throughout the day and I did notice a large branch from my neighbor's tree dangling precipitously all afternoon.  A sudden swoosh came from the sink in my bathroom which startled me and had me running downstairs to turn up the thermostat and then turn on my little fireplace.  The last thing I wanted was frozen pipes.  But in the end the electricity never went out and even the internet ran all day despite the 50 mph gusts of wind that threatened to topple my old decayed tree.

Today, it's nuthin' but blue skies, albeit frozen ones.  In fact, everything is frozen including the recycle bin which can now only be pried opened with a crowbar.  And I haven't got one.  Therefore, some things will lie fallow throughout the house this weekend, including the growing mound of torn-up magazines and cereal boxes.

I prepared for this storm by making soup the other night.  Also, I made a pretty pile out of my shawls on a chair in the hallway so I could grab one to fling over my shoulders if I needed to head downstairs for candles should the power go out.  Or if I needed to be rescued in some way.  In New England, we are used to big snow storms and I, with the help of Anna Karenina, lived through the Blizzard of '78 almost forty years ago.  We did lose our electricity that week.  I was home from college and alone with my father as everyone else was away.  By the end of the week, we were eating only Saltines and grape jelly but we had a constant roaring fire and lanterns left over from family camping trips. Tolstoy kept me going with his magestic tale of snowy Russia and his descriptions of Anna's breathtaking coats and fur wraps.  Even though our cars were completely submerged in snow, it's Anna's red wool gloves I recall best.  And the neighbors who popped over from time to time with wine and food.  People shared then and communed during storms.  I missed that a lot yesterday as I took my perambulations from window to window and back again.

So what does it take to survive a bombogenesis?  And that reminds me, storms were always called Storms.  Plain and simple... Still, I found that a certain amount of preparation makes for a more comfortable and safe hunker-down.  Here are my suggestions.  What are yours?


A good book (I'm reading The Gold Shoe by Grace Livingston Hill)
Comforting and reassuring soup
Food that can be eaten cold if the power cuts out such as wheat crackers and peanut butter
Tea and whole milk to put in it
Cocoa and whipped cream
A cake baked just in time
Warm socks (I like merino wool the best)
Throws and shawls
Magazines bought 'specially
Practicalities, such as batteries, flashlights, charged-up cell phones
Shovels and brooms left on the porch instead of in the shed (learned the hard way)
Soft music for when you get tired of the Weather Channel (Love Susan Boyle's music right now)

And in the end, it's always important to remember that no matter how mighty, storms pass.  Yesterday's left us with sub-zero temperatures but a perfect pristine blue sky to admire.  Just like the images I was drawn to so many years ago which I glued onto my school project.

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

On the Twelfth Day of a Feminine Christmas

I just couldn't pass up this sweet little miss to represent my twelfth Christmas post to you.  Her image depicts a lovely Christmas purity.  Clearly the illustration is idealized but one simply cannot help but be swept away by the charming dearness of her.

Occasionally, we come across someone in our lives who also seems to have an honest pureness of spirit as represented in this image.  And I'm not talking about children, who are naturally innocent and faultless.  I'm talking about adults.  Maybe it's a special friend or perhaps someone just on the periphery of your life that you admire from afar.  They embody a beautiful year-round Christmas spirit of the heart.  Usually, these are the people who have no agenda of their own, other than the desire to help.  And they also seem to come up with solutions quite often too.  Generosity of spirit and problem-solving seem to go hand in hand.

For my new year, I have been thinking about how to keep Christmas all year long and all I can come up with is to just be open and more generous.  As luck would have it, I was able to begin immediately when my mother needed me today.

Mom doesn't ask for much but sometimes she needs somebody to hold her hand while she traverses through 21st century loopholes.  I'm so glad I was free today to help interpret for her, a world she doesn't quite understand anymore.  And it was just one day after Christmas...

Thank you for your readership this year and for your comments.  Thank you to my friend Judy for providing the image above.

Sunday, December 24, 2017

On the Eleventh Day of a Feminine Christmas

These two women are clearly from the Homefront.  That is a place that endlessly intrigues me, especially during Christmastime.

There were just four Christmases during WWII and the specialness of the holiday was surely enhanced by the abundance of patriotism that flooded the country.  I quiz my mother often about what life was like during those years and she tells me that Christmases were very special and poignant, with  nearly every family having fathers, sons, uncles, and nephews overseas in battle.

Some of my favorite Christmas movies were created during the war.  Since You Went Away, an epic film of Anne Hilton's life on the homefront raising her two daughters alone, is one I especially love.  This film corroborates my mother's stories of how women on the Homefront did not shirk in their creation of lovely Christmases for those left at home, even with the complications of rationing.  Without her beloved "Tim", Anne invites an endearing motley crue into her pretty home on Christmas Eve and hears from "Tim" yet, as the gong strikes.

Christmas during the war was gentler despite the war.  Courtesy and respect was in abundance even if money wasn't.  Kindness and generosity too.  Anne's grocer Mr. Mahoney, delivers everything on tab.  Where can we do that today?

A coworker once told me that although she thought my blog was beautiful, she didn't understand it.  I didn't mind.  A Lovely Inconsequence is not for everyone.  But for some, I seem to strike a chord.  Maybe it's because like the women left behind on the Homefront, we still care about keeping some things sacred.  Not that my former coworker wasn't a wonderful, kind person who didn't love Christmas, but admittedly, I have an overactive beauty gene.  Some of you might as well.

One more post this month...

Friday, December 22, 2017

On the Tenth Day of a Feminine Christmas

Before the internet and cell phones, videos games, and DVD's and having only one television in the house with just three channels and 6 people, if you wanted to be alone with your boyfriend, you went for a walk.  And it didn't matter if it was sweltering or stormy, you stepped out with your beau.

The song Winter Wonderland will always remind me of a certain high school boyfriend.  Together, we stomped for miles in the snow, all through our town, laughing, talking and holding hands.  Except for an occasional movie or a birthday dinner at the one fancy restaurant for miles, our "dates" involved a promenade or two each week.  No one had money back then either.  At least not how it seems today.

What I remember about our promenades were the romance.  We bundled up in wool coats - mine, a pastel pink one, belted at the waist with matching popcorn-knit scarf, hat and glove set;  he, in a military-style pea coat, skull cap and jaunty plaid scarf.  There were no sub-zero down-filled coats - we wore bulky wool and cloth like everyone else.

We were our own Christmas Chanel 5 perfume ad but still young enough to "play".  I would let him catch me after he pretended to chase me in a barren parking lot under foggy streetlamps.  Snow bit at our noses when he went in for a kiss or two, both of us out of breath, laughing and frozen.

Our walks always led us back to Mom's kitchen table for cocoa and a cookie or two with all the others milling about.  There was just enough time for his coat to drip-dry into an icy puddle out on the back porch, much to the family dog's delight.  His curfew was 9:00 PM sharp and no matter how much fun we had, he didn't want to disappoint his folks.  But before he headed back out into the snow and if no eyes were prying, he left me with another kiss.


Sleigh bells ring
Are you listening?
In the lane, snow is glistening
A beautiful sight...we're happy tonight
Walking in a winter wonderland.