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.



Thursday, December 22, 2016

On the Tenth Day of a Feminine Christmas


This woman hasn't quite finished her shopping yet.  I felt like her yesterday as I finally crossed the last person off my list.  I'm curious, do you buy as much as you used to?  I don't.  I no longer believe in going overboard at Christmas but I do spend a lot of time thinking about the right gifts for those I love.

I delight whenever I come across a list of Christmas gifts in a novel. Many diarists documented their presents too.  And generally, their accounts were of humble things such as a box of chocolates, a journal, hair combs, etc.  Their tallies remind me it's not the amount of money you spend or the size of the gift, but the care and consideration that went into its selection.  And not surprisingly, those are the kinds of things I want to find under my tree too.

~

So many of you have emailed me to ask for my grandmother's pudding recipe.  Consider it my Christmas gift to you.  And a big thank you for your lovely comments.  I always find the female perspective on Christmas to be a unifying thing.


Chocolate Bread Pudding with Hard Sauce

Preheat oven to 350 degrees

4 oz baking chocolate - preferably semi-sweet
2-1/2 cups whole milk
2 eggs
3/4 cups sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/4 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons butter
1 loaf stale white bread, cubed

Butter well an over-proof casserole
Add bread cubes

Melt chocolate in milk
Scald
Add butter - stir and take off burner

Beat eggs until foamy
Add sugar
Add vanilla

Pour chocolate milk over bread cubes
Add sugar, egg mixture
Mix well

Place casserole in shallow pan of water
Bake 50 minutes to 1 hour

Hard Sauce

Mix 1 stick of softened butter with 1-1/2 cups confectionery sugar and a drop of vanilla
Sprinkle nutmeg on top
Refrigerate until hard

Serve pudding individually with dollops of hard sauce


Wednesday, December 21, 2016

On the Ninth Day of a Feminine Christmas


The cover of this Seventeen has effervescent colors and a darling imaginary tree.  It is dated 1956, a time when Christmas meant formals and ballgowns.  I especially like the soft cream colored one on the left with the pretty green bow.  The dress reminds me of Anne Shirley's Christmas dress with her beloved puffed sleeves - the one that Matthew gave her.  However, wearing shorter sleeves and sweetheart necklines were part of the charm of a formal dress in the 50's.

I attended a small party last Saturday night and typically, the attire was informal.  I noticed that the women did add a little panache to their leggings and tunics with fanciful shoes and sparkly necklaces. The clothing was merely a backdrop for ornamental accessories.  But I think some of the fun in going to a large dance or formal is the chance to fret over and then select the perfect dress to wear.  A high school boyfriend called the girls' formal dresses "whoopee dresses".  I never realized how important a dress was to a man's imagination until then.  Somehow, it makes me long for those fussy important dresses and the events to wear them to.

Recently I was flipping through dress images on Pinterest when a friend stopped me at a sapphire blue silk number.  "Stop..stop", he said.  "The blue one?", I asked.  "Yes", he replied, "My mother had a dress that color".  And then softly, "I never forgot that dress.  She wore it to a Christmas party".  I asked him how old he was at the time and he replied, "Maybe five".

Nearly sixty years later, he was still able to recall his mother in a sapphire blue Christmas dress...


On the Eighth Day of a Feminine Christmas

This image was once made into a darling Christmas card which my sat on my grandmother's mantel throughout the holidays.  Even as a child, I knew what was going on.

I believed in Santa Claus until about age eight when my older brother finally pulled the wool off my eyes.  But it was time.  I was beginning to suspect that it was my mother who was the real Santa at our house especially when I found her shopping list peaking out of her handbag one day.

My mother's Christmas lists were legendary...she made sure that we four received the same amount of presents so each item on the list had a number beside it.  And somehow she knew whose wrapped present was whose.  That was a secret I later learned about too...at the lower right hand corner of each box was a letter that she assigned to each of us.  The code for the letters was on her funny shopping list.  Elaborate but it worked.

My mother still plays Santa at our Christmas but no longer uses her secret system - she uses gift tags.  But those are elaborate too and often have small glittered flowers and bows attached to them.  They're pretty enough to hang on the tree the following year if they don't get scooped up in the detritus left behind from all the unwrapping.  Her gifts are fewer in volume but they are endearing and very thoughtful.

When it's over, I see everyone kissing Santa Claus.



Some of my mother's wrapped gifts, circa 1964.

Monday, December 19, 2016

On the Seventh Day of a Feminine Christmas


It's hard to believe that at one time a bottle of Chanel #5 perfume could be purchased at the local drugstore for about $5.00.  Today I would love to at least see more of the romantic ads that accompanied those low prices.

In the 1950's, Chanel advertised its famous perfume with bewitching prints ads and simple prose to stir the heart of every Chanel-loving maven.  I am particularly drawn to the Christmas ones showing young couples such as the pair above.  She is clearly happy with the thoughtful gift of such an iconic scent.  "When he knows what you want without even hinting...When his gift shows he knows".  Apparently smart men bought Chanel #5.

Perfume is a very personal choice and yet there is something charming about a man who seeks to buy his beloved her most favorite fragrance.  I know something about that because I once worked at a perfume counter during the holidays.  It was a little awkward when a man came shuffling in to ask for something he knew almost nothing about in a place he was so uncomfortable with.  But it was sweet too.  So we sales gals went out of our way to make our male buyers comfortable and to assure them that their gift would be just-right.  We wrapped the perfume in shiny gold paper and tied it with a red ribbon and bow too.  I loved watching them walk away with the small Christmasy package in their big hands.

The time of year when the world falls in love is the perfect time for the gift of a cherished perfume.




Sunday, December 18, 2016

On the Sixth Day of a Feminine Christmas


This little lady is selling ornaments.  I like to imagine she is at one of those marvelous outdoor European Christmas markets.  I don't believe there are many outdoor markets in my neck of the woods but I love when I can find a local Christmas fair in a school or church in my town.

My elementary school used to hold a Christmas bazaar in early December each year.  It was the best thing next to the holiday itself.  Always at night in the creaky old auditorium in the basement of our 1920's brick school, mothers would push tables end-to-end around the perimeter of the room.  Here they would hawk their wares, most of which was made by us in art classes.  There were colorful felt headbands, elaborate Styrofoam ornaments with pailettes attached by common pins and trimmed with velvet ribbons, and small Santa's made from empty aspirin bottles replete with cotton-ball beards.  There was also a candy table with bouquets of candy canes plunged into orange juice cans decorated with red and green rick-rack and crinkly cellophane-wrapped peanut brittle and fudge.  The bake sale table was overflowing with breads, cookies and cakes, all mother-baked.  I always enjoyed visiting the White Elephant table for its odd-duck but charming bric-a-brac  It was a bright and festive night.

When I was a girl, my maternal grandfather was the general manager of Filene's Basement -   THE Filene's Basement - the original in Boston.  This meant occasional boxes sent to our house filled with clothes. They were usually garments that were left-over after the automatic mark-downs had ended but it was still pretty nice stuff.  I can't say I was pleased with the black jodhpurs that came once but I loved the sheepskin coat and stir-up pants I found along with them.  For the most part, my grandfather was spot-on with what went into the boxes, especially the day my mother opened one with a beautiful grey, magenta, and mushroom tweed Chanel suit for her.  It even had the weighted chain sewn into the hem of the jacket although it was torn off on one side.  Along with the suit came fuchsia alligator pumps which were a perfect match.

In those days, even a simple school fair had mothers turning out in their finery and so the Christmas bazaar was the perfect occasion for my mother to debut her new suit and shoes.  I'll never forget how pretty she looked behind my class' craft table with her hair bobby-pinned up into a French twist.  She was trim and feminine with the jacket buttoned close and the shiny pumps in their unusual color, on her dainty feet.  As we merrily raced from table to table with fudge on our fingers, my mother - chic and composed - worked the Christmas bazaar for our school.  Even as a second-grader, I felt proud.


Saturday, December 17, 2016

On the Fifth Day of a Feminine Christmas


As a lullaby, I often sang "Away in a Manger" to my daughter and not just at Christmas.  It was the only song I could sing on key and the melody is slow enough that I could do it with nary a croak and even whisper it softly when necessary.   Of course, she has no memory of this but in the car last week, she turned the volume up during a beautiful Julie Andrews' rendition.  "I just love this carol", she said looking at the dark road ahead as she drove me home from our Christmas shopping trip.  I told her I used to sing the carol to her as a babe but said nothing more about it.  I have to temper my "Mom" memories because they can be so ridiculously sentimental and sappy and I don't want to overwhelm her - she's young and practical and cannot yet know the strong feelings a new mother has for her baby.  They'll be plenty of time for that when she has a child of her own.  I have no doubt...

My daughter was born three weeks early on a crystalline Epiphany.  Our holiday out-of-state company had stayed until that very eve and when they departed, I thought how nice it was that I still had three weeks to pack a bag for the hospital, launder the new baby clothes we received for Christmas, and cook and freeze some meals.  Best laid plans cannot trump a baby that wants to be born.

It was an icy and blustery ride to the hospital and every nurse that entered my room commented on the wintry weather outside the narrow slit of a window I had.  Of course, the weather was of little concern to me but a frosty January night still has the power to tickle an internal thrill from that wondrous Epiphany.

And just as my daughter called recently for my grandmother's chocolate bread pudding recipe that I make every Christmas Eve, I know one day she will want to know the name of the lullaby I sang to her.  And it will be an epiphany that nudges her - a sudden pleasant insight into something long past.  I have no doubt...

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

On the Fourth Day of a Feminine Christmas


This young wife is buying the traditional male gift of a handsome tie.  There is just something about a man in a suit and tie especially if he knows how to stand and comport himself.  But it's becoming a rare thing to see a man dressed up these days and so a beautiful silk tie is not the easy choice for Christmas that it used to be.

I once read some interesting advice about buying for the men in one's life - go simple but go volume.  In other words, if you buy socks, buy lots of them.  Ditto beef jerky.

It was easy to buy for my brother until recently.  As a mail carrier he was always in need of high-tech neck warmers, ear muffs, and band-aids for his work-worn fingers.  Lots and lots of band-aids.  Now he has been promoted to a desk job but alas, ties are still not part of his wardrobe.  My brother-in-law (the beef jerky connoisseur) is eating healthy these days and is loving tea.  That's a gift I know something about.

As women we might ask the age-old question in reverse, "What do men really want?"  I'm pretty sure they want the same thing we do:  small thoughtful gifts that show we care.

Sunday, December 11, 2016

On the Third Day of a Feminine Christmas



The fur on my hooded jacket softly tickled my neck on a long and dark drive home from work last week.  I found it oddly comforting as I hadn't worn a hat that day and the temperatures had dropped to bone-chilling levels while I toiled all day at my computer.  I thought of Dr. Zhivago's wife Tonya in her white hooded fur coat as she rode with her beloved Yuri to their ice house in the Russian forest.

Last year I bought myself a simple wool jacket in a deep plum hue.  But it's the tone-on-tone fur trim I love so much.  It makes me feel both glamorous and romantic.  It's a little bit of chic after work or after a long session of shopping and wearing the hood as I dash into a store, makes me regret not having a hat a lot less.

Fur-trimmed coats are such dreamily quixotic garments - they evoke the allure and grandeur of Gilded Age ladies as they stepped from carriages onto glacial city streets and Victorian ladies who rode in horse-drawn sleighs and traversed over the river and through the woods to visit neighbors and friends on Christmas Day.

So many of today's down coats now feature fur-trim not only because it's chic but it also gives extra protection from wind and cold.  It's especially festive to wear fur-embellished coats, jackets, and capes during the holiday season.  Is there a more perfect time of year for a bit of romance and fantasy?




Thursday, December 8, 2016

On the Second Day of a Feminine Christmas


Every Christmas morning after the mad unwrapping was over, my mother presented my grandmother with her annual Christmas corsage.  It always came in a snow-white florist box with a clear plastic cover.  We were lucky in that we had a flower shop right on the street where we lived.  I don't remember running that errand for my mother but I do know my grandmother's corsage, a gift from her only child, was sacrosanct.  

The image of this young miss melted my heart.  Her age, her purity and the simple pleasure of selecting the most perfect corsage to pin on her wool coat no doubt had her imagining the young lady who would soon be looking back at her from the glass.  It also reminded me of the corsages we made in school as well as the brightly crafted dime-store variety that could be bought all over town.  They never rivaled the beauty my grandmother pinned on each Christmas morning but they were every bit as expressive in their intent.

Christmas and flowers just seem to go together - the poinsettia, the rose and the astonishing Star of Bethlehem - all connote the deeper significance of the nativity.  I say we bring the Christmas corsage back...for all the right reasons.


Saturday, December 3, 2016

On the First Day of a Feminine Christmas


No matter how far away you roam...there's no place like home for the holidays ~ Perry Como

~

I love the moody darkness of this illustration.  And this was me tonight as I tried to find a spot to anchor my wreath in the cold dusky twilight.  I debated whether or not to put a small nail hole in my new front door.  I waited a long time for this door and painstakingly chose its color - Velvet Rope - a deep Delphinium-blue that even the painters got excited about.  In the end, I nailed it under the lantern and left the door pristine and perfect.

There really is no place like home for the holidays and more and more I am reading about "hygge", the Danish phrase that represents the notion of living with profound contentment.  Many of the concepts of hygge are things I am already quite familiar with and have written about on this blog.  

But I will take it a step further and say that being at home for Christmas is particularly rewarding and full of hygge opportunities for women.  As we set the Christmas stage for loved ones, it's important to remember the Dane's approach to wellness and deep comfort.  I am certain the lady of the house in our illustration has a warm bath, cozy slippers and an absorbing book waiting for her - just as soon as the last pretty ornament is hung on her tree.  

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Thanksgiving



I thought this was a lovely image for Thanksgiving.  The guest comes bearing gifts - straight from the tree.

Aside from the turkeys we constructed in elementary school with multi-colored paper feathers, the Pilgrims were never far from our lessons.  We were taught the reason for the first Thanksgiving meal was thanks for the harvest which would provide bounty for yet another harsh New England winter.  Many centuries separate our holiday from the Pilgrims' benediction and now the main theme of the American Thanksgiving is family, home and gratitude for both.

This year, my daughter is entertaining us for the first time and in her new house.  And she's very nervous.  My mother asked her what kind of stuffing she planned on making.  "There's more than one kind???" she nervously queried back.  I will be there early to help her and will be bringing pie, wine, and a carrot soufflé.

I think the hardest part of the Thanksgiving meal is making sure everything is hot at the same time.  It's not an easy feat.  My mother did it in her suburban home even while longing for a separate dining room.  One year, the week before the holiday, my father finished turning a bedroom into a real and permanent dining room.  It was so beautiful.  My mother's perfect wished-for Thanksgiving at last came to life born of my father's gift.

When I was married, my husband and I traveled to his parents' ski house in Vermont each year.  There was never a snow-less Thanksgiving there.  But it wasn't the snow that made it cold.  The first year I was a fresh new bride who came bearing gifts too.  I went to a crafts shop and purchased all the materials to make petite dried marigold corsages with chestnut-brown silk ribbons replete with pearl-topped fastening pins for the women who would be at the table. But when I saw how relaxed and casual ski-holiday entertaining was, my bestowal seemed out of place and silly.  I wanted so much for them to like me.  But my mother-in-law's weak smile told me everything I needed to know.  Instead I worked as a quiet servant, staying in the background helping bring chairs up from the basement and peeling potatoes at the sink.  When one of the non-relative guests looked me in the eye and seemed interested in getting acquainted, it was a revelation - someone noticed.  Sadly, these Thanksgivings continued for a few more years and they were never warmer - or easier, not even the year my "gift" was a first grandchild.

Last week, I delighted in hearing my hairdresser's story about how she searched online for the perfect brown "left-overs box" and how she decorated each one with a guest's name in gold and a raffia tie.  Her excitement was infectious and charming.  Unlike my corsages, I know her gift will be a welcome touch for her own wished-for Thanksgiving experience.

Maybe it was the married Thanksgivings that make me so very thankful for the ones I now enjoy with my family and friends.  And even though my new son-in-law is carving this year, I will still have a hand in crafting my holiday.  I will break bread with those I love and those that love me.  My own wished-for Thanksgiving.

I cannot end this post without thanking my sister and brother-in-law for their many years of Thanksgiving-hosting.  The light in their pretty home drew us all to their doorstep and I'm happy they can take it easier at my daughter's this year.  But like our young miss in the picture above, I know they will arrive bearing gifts and whatever they are, they will be accepted with gratitude and love.  That's how we roll...


~


Note:  Have you tried "Google Image Reverse" yet?  I fell in love with the above image and uploaded it into Google's new search engine which gave me similar pictures as well as the source of this one - a British clothing catalog.  And speaking of British clothing, you may want to check out Marks and Spencer's new Christmas video where Mrs. Claus offers a modern-day version of a cherished ideal.  



Sunday, November 13, 2016

Bright April (or Fringed Placemats)


"It's a book about Girl Scouts", said the book dealer as I lightly turned the pages of Bright April, a children's book by Marguerite de Angeli.  "Actually, it's a book about diversity", I quietly responded.

I am well-acquainted with Bright April as it is a story I read often to my daughter when she was small.  I spent a lot of time selecting books for my child's personal library.  If even one illustration seemed "off" to me, the book went back on the bookseller's shelf.  But Marguerite de Angeli's books filled up prime bookshelf real estate in my daughter's bedroom and she left them here for me.  For the time being.

Bright April had me at the fringed placemats in the illustration above, so enchanted was I with the details of the picture.  De Angeli's work is so vivid and cheerful and her stories are often about things dear to my heart - like home.  But in Bright April, she tackles a serious issue and she does it gently and with honesty.  Admittedly, the book is just a bit politically incorrect -  but there is only one line I would alter for today's audience.

I did purchase the bookdealer's edition - it is in much better shape than the one I have at home.  The spine and the boards of my copy have frayed and broken apart and are only held together now by strings.  But when I brought the new book home I found not one but two copies of Bright April on my shelves.  One was the 1945 edition that was falling apart and the other one, had a stamp on the inside cover from a church I regularly attended when my daughter was still a pre-schooler.  Suddenly,  I remembered I borrowed the book from the church's library and did not return it in the flurry of moving to a new state.

Right now, my old copy is at the bookbinder's being repaired - I discovered from the bookseller that it's a first edition and therefore, should be preserved.  When I collect it, I plan on sending it to the church as a gift along with their missing copy.  It will be dispatched with a note of apology.  Mine, I will keep on my nightstand to dip into for pure beauty and for the comfort of a bedtime story.

It will also remind me to resume my lifelong search for fringed placemats.

~

More beauty from Marguerite de Angeli:





Saturday, November 12, 2016

Tea and Sympathy

  • "Isn't it funny how day by day nothing changes, but when you look back everything is different".  ~C.S. Lewis


A shy classmate in my kindergarten class admitted at circle time that her mother let her drink tea.  Our teacher gasped and looked askance and said that little children should never be allowed to drink tea.  I stayed silent as tea was the beverage of choice at our house every Saturday at breakfast and always when one was sick in bed with a cold.  Both my grandmothers drank tea - one - the indulgent one, gave us "tea time" every Saturday at 3:00 when we gleefully spoiled our dinner with tea, potato chips and M & M's.  My brother was also allowed ten consecutive teaspoonfuls of sugar into his delicate bone china tea cup.  This I know because I counted each out loud. One...two...three...four...

With my other grandmother, tea was more refined.  We sat at her table with silver spoons, cloth napkins and small sandwiches.  But at both houses, tea was always sympathy...and love.

I drank gallons of tea this week.  The stress of the election coupled with too many, too-early signs of the holidays bearing down, had me reaching for the tea box regularly, even at work.  One simply cannot help but slow down when there is a warm brewing cup in the hand.

I have friends who visit often for a chat and a cup of tea.  As soon as I see my "tea-friends" car, I put the kettle on.  And when I visit them, they have my favorite mug heated and waiting.  Tea time is our text, our email...our network.  It is the way we touch hands and receive understanding for life's inevitable speed bumps.  In the time it takes to drink just one cup, we sort through the tough week at work, an elderly father's unexpected fall, or a grown child's move to a distant town.  We nod in communion over tea, offering each other something as warming as the fragrant elixir in our cups.

My kindergarten teacher may have believed that tea stunted children's growth or something similarly old-fashioned.  But I believe tea along with sympathy makes us grow -  in strength, if not in stature.

Sunday, November 6, 2016

In The Night Kitchen


I've been having some work done on my house these last few weeks.  And it's been stressful.  I haven't been home for the noise and mayhem but there are plenty of new chores when I do come home.  And extra emails, texts and phone calls during the day from the contractor.  He's a nice man but I'll be glad when it's all over.

I had no intention of emptying the dishwasher one night last week.  The early darkness has been unnerving me a bit as I still get used to living alone.  I wanted to put my glass in the sink and escape back to my safe room with the warm and cozy light stream and pretend I didn't see the leftover screws on the floor.  But I did see some crumbs near the toaster and brushed them down the sink with my hand and then a towel left on the microwave needed to be smoothed and hung.  Before long, I was sweeping up the screws and dust from the day's booted feet...and emptying the dishwasher.  Slowly a calming peace came over me. The atmosphere was quiet and still and I was alone with my thoughts.  Before long, all felt right with the world again.

One of my favorite wartime films, Since You Went Away, is about wife and mother Anne Hilton whose husband Tim departs for war, leaving Anne to tend the home fires alone.  One night, while her girls are bickering upstairs, Anne remains in the kitchen doing what grown-ups do:  clean up.  As I worked my way through the kitchen, I thought of Anne making lunches, filling the percolator and setting it on the stove, and generally tidying up in her apron in the darkened kitchen.  And even though a war raged across the ocean and at home there were frightening black-out nights, mounting chores and responsibilities never slowed down.  As the grown-up, Anne was on first.  

There is something very adult about taking care of business in the night kitchen.  It's a way of taking care of yourself too.  Work left undone in the kitchen makes for chaos everywhere.  And when the heart of the home is tidy, the rest of the house seems tidy too.

~

Note:  The picture above was forwarded to me by reader and pen pal, Judy, who clipped it from her parent's Readers Digest as a girl and saved it for the time she would have her own kitchen.  Look closely and you will see our pretty homemaker is not performing her nighttime kitchen tasks alone ;)




Thursday, November 3, 2016

Bubbly Melon's Italian Pie


One of my first jobs after college was working for a cutting-edge tech company.  It was 1978 and we were making computers for the airline industry.  It was a blast with a Mad Men atmosphere without the bad stuff.

Single but longing for Mr. Right, I admired a sophisticated Kate Spade-esque "older" woman (age 30) who was the wife of one of the rising-star engineers.  She was the top secretary to the firm's owner and wore elegant wool tweed sheaths with matching jackets and black patent leather pumps.  The rest of us, although appropriate, were embracing the new folkloric style of the decade and somehow our long floral skirts and knit vests paled a little next to our lovely office-mate's allure.

My new friend kindly took me under her wing and before long I saw the off-beat side of her that she kept hidden from office eyes.  Her close friends called her Bubbly Melon (Beverly Mullin) because the parties she and her husband gave in their city apartment often began cultured and refined but morphed into rollicking affairs that ended with a lot of water cooler banter the next day.   So I was thrilled with a touch of trepidation the morning I found an invitation to her legendary Christmas gathering on my desk.

Two things stand out about that party.  One, my friend and her husband were called to a downstairs neighbor's apartment for quick holiday toast.  Once they were gone, another guest suggested that we all pile into their massive water bed, exposing our upper arms and chests to give the illusion of being naked.  I was shocked but did my best to roll up the sleeves of my sparkly sweater and pull the neck down low.  One guest took pictures while we grinned and saluted with champagne glasses held high, about 9 in the bed. Later, when the pictures were developed, they were sent to our hosts anonymously for a good laugh.  It was my introduction to café society.

The second thing that stands out from that party was the dish that Bubbly served, a savory delicacy she called Italian Pie.  As I was leaving that night, she squished a small index card into my palm tied with a festive ribbon and a candy cane.  She told me I would make the pie for the rest of my life and she had typed it up especially for me.  At the bottom in red, she wrote the word "Voilá!" and even though it wasn't a French pie, I thought she was infinitely cool.

I still have the recipe card and have made the pie hundreds of times.  I've added some of my own flourishes and I think it is perfection, whether for company or comfort.  The magic is that it appears to be a dish that takes hours but is quite simple.  I gave the recipe to a co-worker a few years ago who was looking for a kid-friendly meal idea after a harried day.  That night, her husband called to thank me!  It was hit.

I have lost track of Bubbly Melon forever.  I do, however silently thank her whenever I have to bring something scrumptious to a potluck supper or need an easy dish to make on a cold Sunday night at home.

~

Bubbly Melon's Italian Pie


Pie crust bottom only (you can use your favorite pie crust recipe, a store-bought one, or in a pinch, Crescent Rolls pieced together in the pie plate)

1.5 pounds ground beef

1.5 small cans tomato paste

2 cloves garlic minced

1 green or red pepper diced

1 large onion diced

Italian seasoning to taste

Pinch of dried hot pepper flakes

Pinch of salt

Parmesan cheese

Shredded mozzarella cheese

Olive oil

Freshly washed and dried spinach

***

Saute garlic in fry pan with olive oil.  Add onions and peppers and cook until softened.

Add ground beef and break up with a spatula.

Add tomato paste (the unused 2nd can will freeze well in the can with a plastic wrap covering)

Add Italian seasoning and hot pepper flakes

When beef is cooked thoroughly, drain off oil.

Pour beef into pie shell.

Cover with cheese.

Poke several holes.

Lightly grate Parmesan cheese on top

Sprinkle just a pinch of salt on top and a little more Italian season for color.

Bake 30 minutes in 350 degree oven or until cheese melts and crust browns.

Let sit for five minutes and slice.

Plate on top of spinach drizzled with olive oil

Voilá!



Sunday, October 30, 2016

Better Than Their Betters


The title of my post comes from one of my favorite films, Mrs. Miniver.  I never paid much attention to the line until it came to mind this weekend.  Mrs. Miniver, played by Greer Garson, nearly misses her train home from London because she runs back to the milliner's to buy a costly and frivolous hat she fell in love with earlier in the day.  In the train car with her is Lady Beldon (Dame May Whitty), the town's wealthiest resident with the longest most ancestral history to her name.

Now, Mrs. Miniver is quite lovely but to Lady Beldon she is merely middle class and so, Lady Beldon has a mini-rant on women "running to and fro", buying up expensive and impractical "bits and bobs", and acting "better than their betters".  By "betters", Lady Beldon's meaning is crystal clear:  she means herself.

It's laughable really, because most of us have never lived under a true caste system which was apparently still evident in rural England before the war.  But wars are equal opportunity tragedies, as Lady Beldon soon discovers.

One of my favorite days of the year occurs on this weekend - I travel by train to Boston for an antiquarian book and paper show.  My friend and I have dinner afterwards at our favorite hotel restaurant and then take a long walk in the fall sunshine down tree-lined boulevards dotted with sparkling shops.  I usually try to pick up a few Christmas gifts, especially if I find something unusual.  But I also like to visit a particular lingerie shop to see what's new and finger a few pretty things.

I don't have to buy to be inspired.  I so enjoy looking at the way things are put together - the new colors and styles.  I always walk away from this day wondering if I should take more risks with my wardrobe and pondering more creative possibilities is always fun.  What was not fun was when I entered the lingerie shop that I was so excited to visit, I was first ignored and then insulted.  Perhaps if I were wearing a shiny black down jacket cinched at the waist with $500 sleek black riding boots along with designer hair and handbag, I would have been treated better.  It doesn't matter what was said or done but I did feel diminished in my new forest green sweater coat and attractive black suede loafers.  And that's just silly...

A friend told me today that she simply doesn't frequent stores where she is made to feel less than.  I may adopt her approach.  But for now, I took the time to write an email to the shop's manager who was not there when I was.  And I've already received a kind and apologetic response with a warm welcome to return and meet with her personally.

Now that's better...

Monday, October 17, 2016

The Richness of Apples


"I miss the apples", a grade-school friend said to me recently.  He lives in Florida now and was referring to the apples that practically paved the roads and sidewalks, the fields and hills in my hometown each fall. Having been a pastoral place of farms and orchards, only the trees remained but they filled the autumn air with the honeyed scent of apples.  One needed only to bend over and grope beneath the dusty leaves to pluck a fallen specimen to munch on during the walk home from school.  Tart though the fruit was, the atmosphere was sweet with the apples, burning leaves, and wood smoke.

This ad is for Yardley's Pot-o-Gloss lipgloss.  The model, Evelyn Kuhn's cheeks are fever-bright and I bet she's wearing the McIntosh Red gloss or perhaps Winesap.  Her features are strong enough to carry off the orange sweater along with the Buffalo plaid jacket in red and although the stylist may have created a mild cliche with the look, I love it and as a teenager I embraced it entirely.

Our little drugstore carried Pot-o-Gloss and buying a new color was the first rite of passage in fall.  Even if it was still too warm to wear woolens, a new apple-inspired lip color would promise things to come - late afternoon soccer games and Friday night lights, crisp Saturdays at the movies with friends, and sunshiny times outside and when we would not even think about diving into that chemistry homework or covering our text books with brown paper bags.

So now that we are all grown-up, how can we bring apple-richness to lives drawn by responsibilities?  What do we do when our heartstrings draw us back to blue skies, home fires, and long-ago friends?  We can start with an apple-red lip gloss...







My apple-polisher suggestion:

Mac's Fresh Moroccan, a deep apple red softened with gold glints- perfect for crisp days as well as warm Indian Summer ones.  Your fall orchard, re-imagined.

Monday, October 3, 2016

A Birthday Letter


Tomorrow is a big birthday for me.  I  know.  I can't believe it either.  I am not 17 as I am in the picture below (follow the blue eyeshadow trail).  That girl had no idea what she was doing.  If I thought she would have stopped long enough, I would have written her a letter:

~

Dear Donna,

Don't be in such a rush.  Enjoy just being you for a while.  The big things like love and marriage will take care of themselves.  If you can't go out for a night because of studying, don't worry.  You will have plenty of nights to go out.  And after the studying, just be...or read a book.  There won't be much time later for reading books and many other things for that matter.  Life, work, and family will encroach.  It may be years before you can read a book in one sitting again.  Do it now.

Call Nana more.  Someday you will lull yourself to sleep with remembrances of her.  You will reach beyond your memory to search for the very things you can see right now by spending more time with her.  Really look at the way she lives, decorates, dresses, cares for Gramps.  Study the things that will be gone one day.  Ask her about what life was like during the 1920's.  And ask her to show you how to make her pie crust.  Her stuffed peppers too.  You'll never be able to do it if you don't ask her soon.

Have more confidence in yourself.  See the things that others see in you and nurture them.  Your smile, your tenderheartedness.  Embrace those things.  Embrace who you are.  Don't be like the others.  Don't be afraid to stand out.  And while you're at it, defend yourself - speak up when someone steps on your toes.

Don't marry the first person who asks you.  Step back and think about it first.  Would he make a good husband?  Would he be committed?  Will you mind eating on a TV table next to him one day?  What kind of father would he make?  I know he thrills you now but when the baby has croup and dinner isn't made, will he step up to the plate?  If not, wait for the next bus.  And remember, buses come along every few minutes.  Choose the one that's going in the direction of YOUR dreams.

And when you do marry, don't do or be everything.  Keep a part of yourself for yourself.  You'll be a better wife in the long run.  And a better mother.

When you have your babies, sleep when they sleep.  That's a hard one.  But try.  Let the housework go because babies don't keep.  They grow up faster than you know.  You will miss the way the nape of their necks smell and the way they fold into your arms.  Don't worry about the dirty clothes hamper so much.

Have more fun.  Let loose.  Don't take things so seriously.  Dance more.  Laugh.  Be silly.  Be ridiculous.

Ask your mother for advice.  She wants to tell you what she knows and someday, you will be glad of it.  All your life, you will think back and hear the things she said.  Know that she really is wiser than you. You will need her strength on playback until the end.  Get it while you can.

Buy the boots you love.  Yes, they're expensive but you'll be glad you did.  The cheaper ones will never leave your closet floor.

Trust your gut.  It won't fail you.  But be still enough to hear what it is trying to say.

Bloom where you're planted.  Sometimes life takes you in a new direction.  Don't fight it.  Instead, lay the tablecloth and light the candles.  While you are there, you might as well be happy.  And remember that living well is always the very best revenge.

Make a friend of Change and you will make a friend for life.  Nothing is stagnant.  Life is ever-flowing in ways that will soon amaze you.  Be open to the possibilities that come with change.

Be less afraid.  You are resourceful and will land on your feet.  Pink-slips come to all of us.  The landlord that wants your apartment for his son and new wife.  The young boss who cleans house at the office.  It's what you turn the pink-slips into that matters.

Wait three days.  If you're heartbroken or just broken down, three days will make all the difference.  Don't panic. Draw on what you know.  I swear it's magic.  Just 72 hours and suddenly, it won't matter about the new haircut that was too short or too weird.  Or the haircut the kids gave each other.  Or the dishwasher that leaked on the new hardwoods.  Perspective takes only three days.

Appreciate your youth, your endless energy and stamina.  But don't be afraid to get older.  Every decade has its joys.  I know that's hard to believe but its true.  Each age brings new jewels.  You will get smarter. Keener.  More savvy.  You'll choose better friends.  You'll discover companionship can be just as wonderful as love.  Sometimes better.

And know that someday, you will be very glad you are not 17 any longer.

(You'll just have to trust me on that one.)


Love,

Me





Wednesday, September 28, 2016

A Golden Fall


I got a lucky break one early fall morning when a working mother from a nearby town called to see if I was available to watch her two little girls everyday.  It was a referral from a referral that somehow panned out and yes, I was available to be a "nanny" to her girls as long as I could bring my own daughter along with me.

It was perfect because her eldest, a four year old moppet with red hair would be big sister to my child and her youngest, a sweet toddler, could be baby sissy.  Mom was a nurse who fled out the door each morning for the early shift.  Dad was around renovating their beautiful old home and I was to be cook, chief bottle washer, and babysitter.

It's amazing how quickly I fell in love with my new charges even though the oldest could be a handful.  But it's not hard to become fond of small children whose fingernails you clip and baths you oversee.  I ushered the three girls outdoors as much as possible and fortunately the big old house was located on the expansive and ancient town green.  We spent hours upon hours that fall in the public gazebo playing games, having picnics and putting on plays.  I taught the girls my favorite rhymes and songs and read them hundreds of nap-time stories.  The hardest thing about the job was getting up early and putting my sleepy child in the car to drive the long country road to their place.  It's probably the reason why one of my daughter's first words was "silo" given all the farms we passed on those quiet misty dawns.

When colder weather settled in, Mom filled a trunk with old clothes, hats, and endless strings of beads for dress-up. The girls played so many imaginary characters that once I thought other children had entered the house. One day, the oldest was sporting a very pretty black onyx ring set in rose gold filigree on her finger. "Where did you get that?", I asked.  Apparently, it had been left on top of the toothbrush holder in the bathroom.  She balked loudly when I asked her to place it in my hand and when she finally did, I couldn't help but notice how lovely and unusual it was.  I gave it to the mother later that day and was told that it had belonged to the deceased Edwardian lady whose son the house was purchased from.   He didn't care to have the ring and so somehow, little hands pilfered it and then set it to rest on the holder in the upstairs bath.  During the year I cared for the girls, the ring would periodically show up on various small fingers only to be handed back to Mother again.

As a new fall approached, our days together became numbered - the eldest was to begin school and the work on the house was finished which meant Dad was free to take over the girls' care.  The timing was perfect because my house had finally sold and I was ready to move with my daughter to a distant place so I could work in the city.

On my last day, the girls and their mother had a party for me.  They made Wacky Cake in a flower pot from one of their favorite stories and gave me a small present wrapped fussily with bright yarn and covered with stickers of shiny blue stars. Inside was the onyx and rose gold ring.  But you knew that.

What you may not know is that I don't have to wear the ring to think of them.  In my heart's eye, where time forever stops, I see them playing in the blinding sunshine that comes only with fall's most splendid days.

They are with me still...



Friday, September 9, 2016

Summer Serendipity

After Sunday School many years ago, my daughter excitedly ran towards me clutching a bouquet of paper roses she made.  They were simple beauties created from colorful tissues folded in accordion pleats, rimmed with pink lipstick and attached to green pipe cleaners.  I made some with my grandmother once too and had long-forgotten about them.  But my daughter was spellbound for days and even took her roses to bed with her at night, so charmed was she (and so tender her attachment to them seemed to her mother).

I love discovering sweet things that wind up capturing my imagination if only for a few weeks. And it was thus, when I happened across the image above in a cookbook I found at my favorite rare book shop on a Sunday afternoon a few weeks ago.  I bought the $3 book which isn't really that old or rare and then discovered to my delight that it is actually quite marvelous and inspiring.  But I initially bought it for the image which I later thought would be perfect for this end-of-summer post.

I didn't net much information about the portrait online - only that it was painted by Armenian artist Charles Atamian who is also responsible for some of my favorite seaside art.  I believe this picture is just an unframed canvas that was probably owned by the author of the cookbook and may have been gifted to him (a picture of the book is below).  It perfectly captures a beautiful moment by the sea just before summer slips away.  I love the colorful summery dress on the model and the bright turquoise ring on her left hand.  And I can almost smell the ocean tide and feel the sand under those waves stinging at my legs.

As for the book, I only ask myself, "Where has Roger Verge been all my life?"  Apparently in France, where he operated a few beloved restaurants which serve to this day, lovely Provencal cuisine.  There is much for me to learn about Verge, although I was sad to read that he died last year at age 85.  Still, he left behind heirs to manage his restaurants with the same passion he had and he left behind some terrific French cookbooks I have yet to explore at my library.  I have been cooking from the book all week and the menus are full of farm-fresh foods - perfect for end-of-summer.

For now, I'm content with my book which has gorgeous photographs, easy recipes, and a charming text which I am finding enormously engrossing as I laze about on the patio with the last batch of frozen lemonade.  I may not be taking my new cookbook to sleep with me like my little girl and her paper roses, but when not in my lap, it sits opened on the cookbook stand in the kitchen.  There, the beautiful image reminds me that some of the best simple pleasures are found when one is not looking.  And it reminds me to enjoy the warm but quickly waning days of summer.





Friday, September 2, 2016

Boss Lady

I thought it appropriate on this Labor Day weekend to tell you about a boss I once had.  I only worked for Jo Boyd Fay for a few short years but in the almost 40 that I have been employed, those years have a halo about them.

Jo hired me based on a reference from a former male boss.  I wasn't a bit surprised that she and Bob hit it off but that's for another blog post.  It only took me a few days to see that Jo could be tough.  Exacting in her standards, she required exemplary performance and held each member of her staff accountable.  At first, I was petrified.  But over time, I came to see that Jo was soft inside the tough cookie exterior.

Willowy and blond, she was a throw-back to 60's prim cool, although her hair was loose and natural and often threatened to fall across one blue eye.  But with an alluring head toss, the fetching errant wave would land back into place.  Her clothes could be a touch old-fashioned but were trim and tailored and fit her small waist and athletic form perfectly.  Her favorite pieces included nubby wool pencil skirts with coordinating silk blouses, and wool jumpers that were fully-fashioned and with real pockets. She wore beautiful hosiery with kitten heels and in winter, black tights with ballet flats or boots.  A few times, a personal shopper would show up at the office with nylon zippered wardrobe bags from Brooks Brothers filled with lovely clothes such as crisp white shirts with ruffled jabots or neat French cuffs, a peacock-blue boucle wool pantsuit, colorful cashmere cardigans, and full bespoke skirts cut on the bias.  She had trust-fund style and a mysterious but tragic romantic past.

We knew Jo once had a husband who was killed in a car crash early in the marriage.  He worked for a certain presidential candidate who was killed too.  That was all we knew but of course, we also knew that she never married again.  She lived in the heart of the city and after I stopped quaking in her presence and perhaps after she trusted me, she invited me to her apartment for lunch one day where we discussed whether or not she should have her bedroom walls painted yellow.  I remember that we also discussed how late in the month of September she could comfortably host a cocktail party outside on her cobblestone patio.  I was so busy trying not to show that I was hanging onto her every word that I could barely eat the wonderful little lunch she prepared for us.

I felt important to be allowed into my boss' inner sanctum but I never took it for granted.  Jo was the superior who authorized my paycheck so the line of demarcation was never blurred and I never tested it.  If the others tried, she cannily showed them their places.  But this didn't make her an unkind boss - on the contrary, she was very kind.  One extremely hot summer she suddenly interrupted my work to ask if I had an air conditioner at home for my small child and when I said no, an unmarked pick-up truck showed up at my place the next Saturday morning bearing a brand new window air conditioner for my 2nd floor walk-up.  The driver revealed nothing stating only that my boss had asked him to deliver and install it.  She called in favors a lot because she did so much for others. If an extra mile needed to be taken for a child whose care we oversaw at our non-profit, she took two.  She simply cared.

Since Jo was senior to me by nearly 20 years, I was able to learn about life from her.  Like an exotic aunt, she advised me to read a newspaper every day and I often saw the Boston Globe spread out on her office floor in the morning.  She told me to always have a bottle of Champagne in the refrigerator as well as a bottle of perfume in the summer.  When I complimented her on the scent she wore - an inexpensive Elizabeth Arden spray that had to be asked for specifically at the counter because only a few hold-outs still wore it - a wrapped bottle appeared on my desk the next day.  Jo also taught me to buy good underwear, stating "Never make friends with cotton panties" - an axiom I still live by.  Jo also believed that the first day back to work after a long Labor Day weekend was the perfect time to wear something autumnal.  Our line of business ran parallel to the school calendar and to keep the back-to-serious-work blues at bay, she believed in wearing a chic fall-forward outfit no matter how balmy the early September breeze was.  I practice this by replacing my summer bag for my cognac one and my sandals for pumps.  Jo once wore a navy printed two-piece silk dress on a first Tuesday back to work and I often choose navy for that day too.  It has just the right amount of change-of-season essence for one of the busiest work days of the year.

Another trait that Jo was known for was her natural ability to make us feel truly special and not just a cog in a never-ending bureaucratic wheel.  When her sharp blue eyes were fixed upon me, I felt she cared very much about my ability to do my job well enough to advance on to better things.  She gave me confidence and modeled good office behavior that I still draw on today.  Looking back, I realize it was actually she who was special.

Over the years I have had many bosses:   the good, the bad, the ugly...and the indifferent.  But never have I had a boss as fair, kind and intriguing as Jo.  She was a bit strict and precise but tempered it with an acerbic self-deprecating wit along with a big heart of gold.  She was by far the best boss I ever had.





Tuesday, August 30, 2016

On A Picnic Morning

Some of us remember a time when lowly wooden picnic tables dotted our country roads and highways. Today my town has one table in a small grove of trees off our central road.  I've never seen anyone use it but I think about it every time I drive by.

Back before the proliferation of fast food restaurants, families carried their lunches in picnic hampers and baskets and merely stopped on the side of the road for a mid-day feast without long lines, spilled milkshakes, and assembly line food.  And picnic fare was much healthier and cheaper because it was Mom-made.

Several years ago on a lunch hour from work, I happened across a gorgeous coffee-table book about picnics. Page after glossy page showed the many ways one could craft an enchanting picnic.  The woven baskets were overflowing with delectable foodstuffs as well as bottles of wine and lush flowers.  Some of the pages showed Sharper Image-level technical picnic props such as pop-up tables and chairs, and some more fanciful spreads had real crystal, china tea cups and silver cutlery.  I was enchanted by a blanket-strewn picnic that included a candelabra replete with dangling prisms!

As I poured over the recipes, I had a revelation:   instead of spending $35 on a book about picnics, I should just have picnics!  So I returned the book to the store rack, speculating that I already had the recipes for a nice picnic right at home in my grandmother's recipe box.  One needn't have fancy pretentious food - just thoughtfully prepared provisions that are fresh and in season.  Soon I found out how much fun it is to creative outdoor repasts for friends and family.  Adding a requisite plaid blanket for sitting upon and a book makes for a delightful day that can begin in the morning and with enough refreshments, end only when shadows cast.

The picnic book did teach me one good lesson - sometimes instead of reading about how to do something, we should just do it.  And while picnics may be old-fashioned, they hearken back to simpler times when life was slow...and humble tables beckoned from every roadside.

~

Favorite picnic fare:

Chicken salad sandwiches with spinach leaves

Cherry tomatoes mixed with olive oil and chopped basil with ricotta cheese as a dip

Celery stuffed with cream cheese and sprinkled with paprika

Homemade chocolate chip cookies

Brownies

Grapes, apples, and pears (fall)

Watermelon, peaches (summer)

Iced tea

~

On a picnic morning without a warning

I looked at you and somehow I knew

On a day for singing,

My heart went winging

A picnic grove was our rendezvous

You and I in the sunshine

We strolled the fields and farms

At the last light of evening,

I held you in my arms

So when days grow stormy

And lonely for me

I just recall picnic time and you.

Picnic Songwriters
G. Dunning, S. Allen 




Do you have picnics?



Thursday, August 11, 2016

With this ring...


A pretty diamond ring was placed on my finger on a cold November day too many years ago to count.  We spent the afternoon rolling out grass sod in our backyard.  The house wasn't really mine - he bought it with his parent's help, but the ring held promises of a life to come...and I loved him.

I discovered I also loved diamonds and began studying other women's fingers.  But no matter how large, none compared to the spitfire on my finger.  Although smallish, its sparkle made up for its stature.  I was so proud to wear the ring of his great-grandmother's -  a European hand-cut stone in a simple platinum Tiffany setting, about 70 years old and nearly flawless.  It was all mine after his grandmother excitedly took it off her finger for him to give to me.  That tender story enriched my ring and like a gently waving ribbon, encircled itself around that brisk November afternoon as we stood inside the broken glass of a decrepit greenhouse freezing, with mud on our hands but tender smiles in our eyes. With this ring...

Unfortunately, one of the lasting memories of our union was the day his father casually remarked, "If you ever get divorced, you had better give that ring back".  In the end, there were other lasting memories too...missing beach towels from the linen closet of our home - the very space we built together to hold our new baby's diapers and bath toys.  And the horrible memory of the weekend he disappeared to be with her, leaving me frantic and alone - an infant in my arms.  With this ring...

Fast-forward and I decided to alter the ring to appear less marital and more single-mother.  I had it reset and added two identical birthstones on each side but the diamond seemed to lose more than its luster - it's spark was dulled too.  Perhaps it was altered as much as I was...from joy to the difficult task at hand -  raising a child to wholeness on my own, a serious business I took seriously.  And so the ring silently sat, all its fires out for nearly 29 years.  Until last week...

I brought my diamond to a surprisingly boyish and kind man who runs a small jewelry business near where I work.  He examined the stone and exclaimed that it is indeed special and advised it should be set in gold to enhance its glimmer and glint.  Together we played with designs until I selected a perfect platinum setting in a hefty gold band.  We added two smaller diamonds to nestle alongside the stone which made the end result look far different than the ring that was first placed on my finger so long ago.  It still retained the traditional look I wanted to keep yet, it could stand all on its own too - a splendid ring for a still-single woman.

While I waited for my jeweler's call that the work was finished, I began to investigate diamond rings online.  I was particularly enchanted with a series of ads that were commissioned by the large diamond mining company De Beers.  Unable to sell directly to the US market because of antitrust laws, De Beers asked an ad agency to produce advertisements that made nearly every engagement end in a diamond ring.  The woman behind the ads was Frances Gerety, a pioneering "mad (wo)men" who came up with the slogan, "Diamonds are Forever".  The print advertisements included captivating artwork by Picasso, Dali and others.  The copy that accompanied the art was filled with the bewitching sentiment that can make my money and I easily part ways and suddenly I wanted diamond earrings, diamond necklaces, and diamond bracelets.  I couldn't help but note that the ads were portraits of lone women who were the recipients of diamond rings - no men.  And they appeared positively biblical to me painted with landscape settings, beatific faces, swan-like necks, and swaths of robes.  I was entranced and the research made me joyously anticipate the day I could finally see and wear my "new" ring.

That day came at last and naturally I examined the ring in the shop but it wasn't until I was alone in the car that I had a really good look.  I would have known that diamond anywhere.  The fire I had forgotten for so long flashed and flickered as I turned my finger towards the sun streaming through the car window.  It winked back knowingly at the moment I finally realized that the ring was truly mine now and didn't have to be given back to anybody.  And I could not have rebirthed it at a better time.  Although the ring had lain in repose like a butterfly's chrysalis, it burst forth just in time to represent the life I grew into - the one I live right now.  Small perhaps in the great scheme of things, but a life with meaning, hope, strength, and some bright and happy sparkle now and then.  Yes, with this ring...

~






(De Beers Diamond ads, 1950's)


(The model as well as the photographer is my daughter).

Sunday, August 7, 2016

Summer Style Note - Wringing Summer Dry



As I drove home from work the other day, I noticed that one lone tree in the center of town has a smidgen of red on its top.   Instead of making me sad, I decided to redouble my efforts to wring dry every drop of summer.  Also in response, my August Seventeens went back to storage and I bought a stone-colored denim skirt to wear with my relaxed tee shirts on the weekend.  It's unusual for me to buy something new this late in the season but I am determined to live this summer to the very end.  In stone-cold January, I will thank myself. 

I am guessing this image was taken in the 60's.  I adore the crisp white pants, the bright print shirt, and especially, the whimsical bow hat.  Our model pulled out all the stops to go painting on the beach.  Making summer last means pulling out some stops too - making salads with native tomatoes and corn, eating ice cream, and drinking gallons of homemade iced tea.  As much as my new skirt sounds rather dull, don't expect me to settle into pre-fall drab right now - I'm all about my colorful dresses, white jeans, jeweled sandals and my beribboned beach hats.  

Last night at our summer theater, I spotted a fellow believer.  She wore a delightful sleeveless vintage gown in creamy mint sherbet with a chiffon overlay that trailed behind her.  Around her waist was a belt made of tiny seashells that matched the two bracelets on her left wrist.  And tucked behind her ear was a huge tropical lily.  Talk about embracing the season - she was not a day younger than 91. And although she needed help walking to her seat, a few glimpses her way told me she enjoyed the show very much - the smile never left her face. 

In the winter of life, she is still wringing summer dry. 


Saturday, July 30, 2016

Summer Style Note - Beach Cover-Ups

Living in a coastal town that becomes resort-like each summer, means that the beach cover-up is a standard wardrobe staple.  There are shops that carry nothing but clothing to wear over a swim suit and the local TJ Maxx dedicates prime retail real estate to such "toppers" from April to August.

My dream cover-up was at Nordstrom last year for only $189.  It was merely an inverted table cloth with a hole at the top for one's head.  I loved the feminine scrolled lace that connected to create the arms and the crisp batiste cotton.  But in the end, not only would I not spend my hard-earned retirement money on a scrap of material, I couldn't stop thinking about my grandmother's lace tablecloth whenever I looked at it on my online wishlist.

Instead, I found a very nice light-weight and simple white tunic that doesn't require ironing (who irons beach cover-ups?).  But if you want to find something really pretty and girly, there are plenty of cover-ups to choose from.  Seen this season:

Drop-dead black lace sheath with bell sleeves

Mini-dress in watery turquoise print

White tunic with embroidered gold medallions

Maxi-dress in gyrating red stripes

~

When I was a teenager on Cape Cod, we simply pulled our brothers' football shirts over our swim suits. Cover-ups today are a whole new food group.