Friday, July 13, 2018

Father Fix

My father worked hard and was a very good provider for us hoodlums.  He wasn't home a lot and sometimes had two jobs in addition to his full-time one.  When he was around he made repairs on the house, mowed the grass, and fixed things.  I believed he could fix anything.  I thought this because I used to leave all my precious trinkets on the top of his tall maple bureau during the day and then in the morning, before he left for his long work day and while I was still sleeping, they would magically appear on my own bureau with working clasps and reattached bits and bobs.

Only once could he not fix something and that was when I brought him a doll with a severed arm.  Most of  my "dolly's" had rubber appendages that could just be squeezed back into place.  But this doll was different - she had some sort of pulley attachment inside the torso that had to hook up with the inside of the arm somehow.  And Dad couldn't fix her...

He came to me very gently that night as I was riding my tricycle in the driveway.  Actually that tricycle is what caused the amputation in the first place.  I had carelessly backed over my special dolly and the arm broke and the small metal part fell out with a hollow clank.  And since I didn't know it was a crucial component, other sneakered-feet somehow kicked it onto our wide front lawn never to be seen again.  Dad wouldn't have been able to use that part anyway because, although he could fix most anything, he was not a welder and even I knew that.

Still, I hoped against hope and really believed my father could fix my dolly's broken arm with his special kind of wizardry.  And so, he did indeed come to me gently that soft summer night and knelt beside my bike and with the kindest voice he ever used, told me my doll could not be repaired.  I don't remember if I cried - I might have, but if I did it was not because my doll was forever broken.  It was because my father had never spoken to me with such tender deference before.

I'm sure you realize that the dad in the picture above is not my father.  He is actor Don Porter.  Recently I've been using Gidget reruns as a lullaby.  I love watching an episode before I go to sleep.  This is the Gidget series with Sally Fields that ran for one year in 1965-66.  Of course, I love the fashions, the homey reassuring set designs, and the innocent madcap adventures that seem so far removed from the Kardashian world we inhabit today.  Sally Fields is darling as Francie "Gidget" Lawrence but it's her dad, Russ Lawrence that's stealing my heart during my late-night viewing sojourns.

Don Porter must have been a lot like Mr. Lawrence because his role as Gidget's dad seems to come naturally to him.  He's gentlemanly and all reports on the internet claim he truly was the Real Deal.  He's wise and gives great advice with a remarkably cultivated delivery that is so, oh I don't know, Dad-like.  He does act out sometimes like when he went on a date for the first time and became embarrassed when Gidget held him accountable for missing his "curfew".  He goes off the rails from time to time but he comes right back as the genial and loving dad that he is.

He truly is a grown up too and one of the only ones on the show.  He's the oak tree from which all the other characters emanate.  There's Gidget of course, and Lerue her best friend and the "Ethel" to her "Lucy".  They cavort on screen like two young puppies, getting into all kinds of dilemmas and escapish hi-jinks.  And then there is Anne and John, Gidget's fretful older sister and her hapless husband who is studying to be a child psychologist.  The irony of that is not lost on loveable, strong and kindly Russ who at times seems to be the only adult in the room.

I've enjoyed many "Dads" in film and television, most notably the nearly perfect Atticus Finch of To Kill A Mockingbird.  But now there's just something about that dear Don Porter.  It's funny how I never noticed him when I watched the show as a 5th grader.  And I think it's that voice - he carries that sweet tender timbre that my own father used the day he told me he couldn't fix my dolly.  I only wish my father had been granted the time for more moments like that.

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

Soft Summer Nights

When summer finally comes, it's easy to forget the past.  You know...the ice and wind and the nights when one is cold right down to the bones and can't get warm no matter how hot and steamy the bath water is.  Once July and its heat index arrives, winter is far, far away and long-forgotten.

Summer nights have their own silken song - the breezes are gentle and sultry, barely sweeping over bared skin.  Here, we are serenaded by plaintive fog horns shepherding boats to their nests and for all the bright sun-soaked daylight there is, the earth still grows black and calm in the evenings.

It is the perfect time of year for flowing nightgowns and bare feet, cucumber-infused water and floral body lotions.  Such pleasures we have on dark wispy nights to slip into cooling gowns for lounging and sleeping, especially if they had been hung on the line and then folded neatly and crisply.

Years ago, when a girl was on her way to being a woman, Mother might treat her to the penultimate summer gown, a Barbizon.  Barbizon, a company now long-gone, made cotton batiste gowns with a remarkable 100% cotton that was practically unwrinkable.  The styles were more sophisticated than youthful babydolls even when they came in creamy sherbet colors.  Often high-collared with little ties, they were worldly but without being overtly coquettish.  They can still be found on eBay and Etsy these days with matching robes with tags too.  But many may find the styles too demur for today.

The Chemise has made a wild come-back.  Once worn only as a slip under a dress, chemises are shorter and usually with lace.  Skimpy and feminine, they are definitely cooling and flattering to tanned legs and arms.  A coordinating Kimono-styled robe would be very pretty for Sunday morning blueberry pancakes under the patio umbrella.

I prefer Eileen West gowns in lawn or knit prints.  Unfortunately, my local Nordstrom no longer carries them and I think I know why - they are far to chaste for today's younger women.  But is there anything so magically sweet and summery than a charming and billowy nightgown in refreshing cotton on a tropical night?  Fortunately, Eileen West is carried online and on the Vermont Country Store's website.  There must still be a healthy market for them since they seem to crank out variations year after year after year.  They are so elegant and classically feminine.

So many women wear t-shirts to bed these days and usually the clean-your-car-with kind.  My grandmother would be horrified to be sure.  And I ask you, where in the scope of your busy lives is there ever a chance to wear laces, spaghetti straps, and flounces than in your nightwear choice?  In my mind, a nightgown is a delightful pleasure on a summer night, whether you prefer a vintage negligee from the '60's - the very era of flounce-making, an alluring chemise of body-hugging stretch lace, or a more time-honored and effortless gown of sweeping cotton?  Wearing my nightgown makes me feel like a to-the-manor born character in Poldark or one of Jane Austen's Bennett sisters.


Soft summer nights..
Spent thinking of you.
When will I see you again?

~England Dan/John Ford Coley

Thursday, June 7, 2018

Kate Spade

When I took my first job after my divorce it was in the city.  I traveled by train every morning to what seemed a faraway and intimidating Emerald City.  When I disembarked I felt so out of place  - the clothes on my back were poached from my sister's closet and patched together with out-of-style shoes and a scratched 1980's disco bag.  After being a stay-at-home single mother for 6 years, I had no idea what was even fashionable at the time.

As I waited for my first paycheck to arrive, I earmarked it for some updated pieces.  My office was on the top floor of the swankiest mall in Massachusetts so I knew I wouldn't be finding any new things there.  But the easiest route to the street was traversing the first floor of Woman's Paradise, for the women-who-lunch crowd.  I crept by the handbag collection trying not to look, but was stopped in my tracks by a group of shelved Crayola-colored bags, as bright and cheery as a child's yellow rain slicker.  What were these sunny tote bags and purses?  I loved each and every one.  The were roomy with comfortable depths the would carry all train-riding paraphernalia such as a sandwich, umbrella, ballet flats and a hardcover book in addition to the regular wallet and lipstick.  I was smitten.

As pretty and practical as Kate Spade's bags were, I knew if I bought one, I would have to forgo any  new work clothes and wear my small misfit wardrobe another month. What to do?  Remembering my grandmother's wise advice to choose quality over quantity and buying the very best I could afford, I was soon the new owner of a tamale-red boxy wool handbag that was oh so chic.  Never mind that it wasn't waterproof which took it down a tick on the practicality scale but  I didn't care - it was irresistible and fun.

I wore my new bag with all the dark neutrals I dug out of the bottom of my closet and soon, better and more paychecks finally allowed me to upgrade my clothes.  But my Kate Spade (and all handbags by Kate Spade are called "My Kate Spade) carried on year after year until the fabric tore away at the bottom corners and all those hardcover books created a permanent dent.  Still, I found more in Kate's collections to love right up to and including the fine black satchel I purchased the week I was hired for my last job.

I can't say I am completely loyal to Kate Spade bags - as a lifelong handbag freak, I have many, running the gamut from no names to vintage.  But it was with utter shock and sadness when I heard  that Kate Spade had taken her own life.  It's hard not to feel as though I knew her since her name has been sitting front and center on my handbags and totes for almost 20 years.  I have been loyal and believed in her whimsical style and have adopted elements of it in my own world.  I've read and cherish her three delightful style books, Manners, Style, and Occasions which I have loaned to a bereft young co-worker this very morning.  Happily, they fit right inside her Kate Spade.  I just know she will enjoy Kate's breathless charm and kaleidoscope world.

I've been amazed at the outpouring of love on social media for Kate's work and influence.  She showed us how to play dress-up again which we hadn't done since we were six.  Because of Kate, we learned to love color in a black and white minimalist world, and to enjoy clothes and especially accessories.  Her whimsical brooches, key chains and notebooks infused joy into our work worlds.  One commenter on The New York Times marvelous article by Vanessa Friedman said that her Kate Spade handbag made her feel less alone at work.  I know.  Me too...

It's difficult to imagine that Kate Spade was struggling and it now appears as though her demons won.  If she was mentally ill, my heart goes out to her and her family and friends.  I only saw the outside - in her sorcery with handbags, clothes, and shoes, her way of entertaining, her fresh and pretty home goods.  For me, she was a mood elevator whether it was her video ads, her products, or the many articles and images of her on the internet.  And sadly, I was really hoping to watch her personal style as she morphed into a grey-haired woman of a certain age.

The image above is not of Kate Spade but culled from a recent ad for one of her shops.  And as all things "Kate Spade" there's a laughter-that-wrinkles-your-nose charm about it.  It's fresh and optimistic and strangely reassuring.


The Way You Look Tonight
Some day, when I'm awfully low,

When the world is cold,

I will feel a glow just thinking of you

And the way you look tonight.
You're lovely, with your smile so warm

And your cheeks so soft,

There is nothing for me but to love you,

And the way you look tonight.
With each word your tenderness grows,

Tearing my fears apart

And that laugh that wrinkles your nose,

Touches my foolish heart.
Yes you're lovely, never, ever change

Keep that breathless charm.

Won't you please arrange it?

'Cause I love you

Just the way you look tonight.
With each word your tenderness grows,

Tearing my fears apart

And that laugh that wrinkles your nose,

Touches my foolish heart.
Yes you're lovely, never, ever change

Keep that breathless charm.

Won't you please arrange it?

'Cause I love you

Just the way you look tonight.
Just the way you look tonight.
Just the way you look tonight. 

~ Fields and Kern


Friday, June 1, 2018

Seasons of Home

I've always liked musing about the Welsh word "Hiraeth", which means to yearn for a home one can never return to or to long for a home that never was.  It can also mean having a hollow sense of homesickness or a feeling of grief and loss for something unnamed.  The word seems to fit the bill for many things - wishing to see a sweet departed grandfather, reminiscing about a first love, dreaming of a little girl now grown.

There are seasons in life when we have an itch to explore and travel and see new things.  And other seasons when the pull to be home or to build a home or to make a better home overcomes us and we find ourselves staying close to where we live.  Sometimes it's for comfort especially when the world is too much with us or we have experienced a loss and we find that burrowing in soothes our souls.

There are a many reasons why I am a homebody right now, including a beautiful new granddaughter nearby but it also began when I started re-reading Louisa May Alcott this spring.  You know her as the authoress of Little Women but she also wrote many other fine novels.  I'll get my nose back into Little Women this summer but right now I am enjoying Eight Cousins, her tale of lonely orphan Rose and the new place she finds with her eight rough and tumble male cousins.

Home runs like a bright gold thread throughout all of Alcott's novels which she describes with such expressive language and love for the places we belong.  She uses evocative words to illuminate cozy elderly aunts, nooks and crannies in old houses, and the devotion and loyalty household members have for one another.  She makes me want to make tea, arrange flowers, hang out sheets, and call on neighbors. When Rose's parents both die and before her Uncle Alex takes over her care and brings her to his marvelous old house to live, her dark moods were due to a bad case of hiraeth, of not knowing where to go or what to do.

Sometimes self-care takes the form of home care.  Looking after your home, no matter how temporary or humble it is or how much money you have to spare, makes one feel in control of one's world.  And sharing meals with friends and "putting on the Ritz" with nice quilted placemats and grandmother's silver and crystal keeps fretting at bay.  Even something as simple as buying a garden hose that wraps up by itself, as I recently did, can make you feel pampered in some small way.

I highly recommend Louisa May Alcott this summer.  Get lost in her world of quirky but lovable house guests, bed caps as big as cabbages, polished floors, and the art of a good cry - following by warmed tea pots and porridge with real cream.  Louisa may actually spur you onto a little homekeeping and some projects that have lain fallow about your house.  I'm going to be repainting an old bench and relining my linen closet with fresh scented papers.


PS:  Above of course, is Louisa May Alcott's home, Orchard House in Concord Massachusetts.  One of the lovely things about this house is the scent - like freshly opened star lilies or crisp stalks of gladiolas.  I once tried to find a perfume that was reminiscent of Orchard House and came close with "Galore", an old Merle Norman fragrance that has been long discontinued.  But I wore it happily for years as a young woman.

PPS:  I have watched the new Little Women film from the BBC.  Still not as nice as the 1994 edition with Winona Ryder and Susan Sarandon.  And call me a prude but I was shocked to see older sister Meg use a bourdaloue in one of the first scenes.

PPPS:  As well, my recent essay about my favorite March sister who happens to be Meg, was accepted for a new Little Women anthology which will be published in book form soon.  I will keep you posted on that.

PPPPS:  Finally, I am thinking of a refresh for my blog.  The Blogger format suddenly looks tired.  If you have any thoughts, I will gladly listen.

Sunday, May 13, 2018

Flowers and Mothers

Lily of the Valley or Muguet de Bois, is the quintessential flower of spring.  Along with lilacs which burst into bloom the second week in May each year, spring bouquets are the most vivid and fragrant.  They bring back so many memories of childhood walks to school when the thought of summer vacations not too far off, filled us with glee.  There was much to look forward to in spring.  I cannot smell lilies or lilacs without jettisoning back to warm May mornings heading to school with white nylon ankle socks inching down beneath the heel of my shoes with each step.  Little did I notice with waving lilac fronds above the rows and rows of neat boxwoods that fenced the homes in my town.  And at the base of the small hill on my street was a untouched field of wild Lily of the Valley outfitted with deep green leaves and tiny pristine bells.  Even as children, we knew that parcel to be sacrosanct and didn't dare trample on it.  The neighborhood mothers loved the lilies.

And I've been busy loving someone new this May.  My new granddaughter arrived right on schedule.  My heart overflows...  When my daughter told me last fall that she was expecting a little girl, my response was immediate and visceral, "I get to do YOU all over again!"  And my new little grandchild does indeed look very much like my daughter with fleeting glimpses of my fine son-in-law too.  My heart overflows...

Flowers and mothers just seem to go together.  And flowers and grandmothers.  So many of the shops bring out flowering pots of pretty blooms, cut flowers and roses for Mother's Day.  Even the supermarkets find extra room for flowery gifts for Mother.  Perhaps it's because the holiday comes in spring when all the world's gardens are waking in unison, at least in the Northern Hemisphere.  But every mother is touched when a little person brings them a hand-picked bouquet.  Even my bouquet of poison ivy elicited a smile from Mom, albeit very weak.  Flowers and mothers...mothers and flowers...

I found a dear Mother's Day card for a daughter who is now a mother with a bundle of her own, fresh-from-heaven.  She may receive a bouquet - flowers and daughters go together too.

I wish you love and flowers this Mother's Day!  And if your mother is no longer with you, I wish her spring lilies and lilacs...

Monday, April 23, 2018

Lessons in Botany

Some dresses you never forget.  One of mine, a white pique I wore in the third grade is with me still.  I remember this dress partly because it was my spring dress the year our family cat had kittens.  Even now, I feel those soft creatures scurrying up my dress as I tried to hold them, eventually poking through the fabric with their needle-like claws.  Those pin-sized holes broke my mother's heart and I don't blame her.  The dress was indeed heartbreakingly beautiful in summer-white with green vines of bright blue tulips running across the hem and trailing diagonally across the bodice.  It was lovely.

"After women, flowers are the most beautiful things God has given the world", Christian Dior once wrote.  And he should know for he is the man who gave us a fragrance known as having the truest scent ever crafted of the sweet and fragile Lily of the Valley.  Diorissimo has a mysterious depth with a pure floral shock, much like the tender flower.  And to celebrate his magnificent perfume, he created The Muguet Dress which reportedly had fronds of the lilies sewn right into the hem, scenting the room where it was first shown to the public.

I've always loved flowers but I'm not very good at either growing them or arranging them.  When I need a fix, I visit our grocer who has a decent selection even if they are not very heady or exotic.  For really amazing blooms and when I am in the area, I love to visit a florist in Boston that seems to have the most unique way of expressing his love of flowers.  Large urns of cherry blossoms sidelight the entrance to his romantic shop which is but a taste of what goes on inside.  Beside the intoxicatingly perfumed air, there are showcases of vases and vessels holding roses, freesia, ranunculus, gardenias, and hyacinths, all displayed in the most charming ways.  He even once used a vintage typewriter to show-off ribbons of ivy with white camellias.  I often feel drunk with inspiration when I am finally able to tear myself away.

This season I am looking for a simple blouse with a small floral print.  I love our vintage model's above.  And for spring, it seems just right with its soft celadon and lilac hues.  A light spray of Muguet des Bois from the 1970's, another albeit tamer, Lily-of-the-Valley fragrance, would be perfect with it.

I plan on asking my mother what she remembers of her daughter's spring dress - the one she was so fond of.  Another lover of flowers, I am pretty sure she will recall how the kittens ruined it.  But I hope - I really hope, she remembers the climbing blue tulips.

Sunday, April 15, 2018

Ten Thousand Joys

So many times I've tried to write a blog post only to find I don't have any words for you, dear readers.  I want so much to tell you about the return of the sunshine which I would weave with memories of springtime from long ago (I did squeak this out in my last post).  I want to tell you about the fulfillment of my long-held dream of at last, having my grandmother's sterling silver flatware that was always, always meant to be mine. I would tell you about the pleasure of holding a lovely and hefty piece of silver cutlery in your hand and what a spoon smoothed to a patina does to a daily tea ritual.  I want to tell you about the personality test I took at work and how I learned that no one, not even a scientific math-driven exam, will tell me who I am and I would tell you that despite an expensive test, I am still the world's leading expert on me.  I want to tell you about my new passion for honey in coffee (yes, coffee) and about some new spring beauty products I really like.  I want to tell you about the benediction of the flowering cherry blossoms and why their motif will always herald spring for me and why.  And of course these stories led to other stories, other memories, other views...But alas, I am simply unable to put these thoughts into words right now.

My daughter is nine months pregnant.  I cannot even glance at her without tears welling and threatening to foolishly overflow.  On Easter Sunday, I gifted her the baby book I kept during her first years - the one with my handwritten notes lovingly recorded on every page.  First smile, first step, first word...first kiss on Mommy's cheek.  Filled with early pictures and mementos, including the grainy and ridiculously vague ultrasound photo that possessed me - my first glimpse of the little babe I would love all the days of my life.  Somehow, it felt right that she should have the book I so earnestly recorded in.  And I hope that when she reads between those gushy, flowery words, she will know that I have stood right where she is.  Yes, it will be hard...arduous, exhausting.

And when, at last it is over, my wish is that she knows what I have known - ten thousand joys.

Saturday, April 7, 2018

Mine is the Sunlight

Our funny hippie bus driver in high school played his radio on our long rides to school.  In the spring, he cranked up "morning" songs for us, such as Cat Steven's "Morning Has Broken", "Good Morning Starshine", from the musical Oliver, and my favorite, "Morning Girl" by the Neon Philharmonic.  There are more "morning" songs than you can imagine - Google them sometime.  For us, it was perfect music for those youthful spring mornings when the air had a fresh earth scent and the sun was just beginning to warm us in our Mom-approved new spring jackets.

How I am longing for sunlit mornings now!  The snow is still flitting about and the temperatures are downright chilly, yet everyone is talking about spring, especially wondering when it will get here.  I am craving the feeling of the sun washing over me, straight down to my bones, unfurling me from all winter's strictures and constraints.

And on the day I notice that winter has finally scurried away, I will feel a sudden jolt of freedom and that almost unbearable lightness of being, when at last, I walk outside for the first time with nothing more on than my lightweight spring coat.  And on the morning I can finally leave the house bare-armed...well then the warm sun will rest upon my shoulders like a soft pashmina dropped from the sky.  Are you sighing yet?

I have so many thoughts about how the sun will manifest itself in my life.  Having been to Hawaii, last year, I am planning on incorporating sunny ideals into everything I do, food, clothing, makeup, skincare - as soon as it gets here!   Naturally, I am thinking of lighter clothes in bright sun-worshiping colors such as coral, hot pink, and turquoise. And I want to change my lipstick to a gloss in a lush sunburst hue and find a cheek highlighter with subtle flecks of gold with the hope of reflecting the light back onto my winter-weary face.  I may try more lashes, paler nails, gold rings and bracelets.  And a goddess I shall be, when I find that perfect maxi flowing dress to wear in the backyard, when the sun is finally unleashed upon the patio.  There I shall sit with a book in my lap while sun-fueled breezes pick up the hem of my dress and tickle my ankles.

My meals will be sun-driven too, with citrus fruits and fragrant pineapple.  Ices, teas, and fresh water with lemon, will quench my thirst as I visit the local farmer's stalls for vegetables and tropical-colored flowers to dress my table.  I will eat al fresco with a wide-brimmed sunhat so I can bask safely in the majestic rays I am dreaming about.

I may play some of those old "morning" tunes that seemed so right as our bus rumbled over just- waking-up hills and valleys, celery-green with hovering mists above them.  Back in those optimistic teen days, the sun made everything shimmer with possibilities.  It no longer played hide-and-seek, and like I am doing right now, it made bold outright promises of golden summer days to come.


Morning has broken, like the first morning
Blackbird has spoken, like the first bird
Praise for the singing, praise for the morning
Praise for them springing fresh from the word
Mine is the sunlight, mine is the morning...
~ Cat Stevens

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.