Friday, January 25, 2013


I found this lovely Modern Priscilla magazine at a rare book fair recently.  It's dated February 1918 and it is a gem.  The condition is nearly perfect and it cost $5.00.  What drew me to it was the wonderful illustration on the cover including the flitting snow.  Our pretty lady is holding a letter for the post to a Lt. Patterson in the American Expeditionary Forces.  In 1918, WWI was raging in Europe and so I imagine she has written to her fiance overseas.  Perhaps this is her Valentine letter to him.

Modern Priscilla was devoted to needlework, homecaring, cooking, and fashion - just the type of periodical I like to read on long cold winter afternoons with cups of tea.  The magazine's editorial pages were devoted to domestic advice from caring for babies and keeping them well to purchasing guest towels.

I especially love our cover girl's red hat and coat.  It reminds me a bit of my Hat Lady here: . Our girl will sit on my coffee table along with a heart shape tin decorated with painted roses, a delicate pink crystal bowl of chocolates wrapped in foil, and a Valentine's Day card I cherish from my daughter created in first grade.  The lopsided hearts on the card's front stir my own heart anew each year but on the inside is a poem she composed and although it's not very Valentine-ish, I love it all the same:

Valentine's Day is very very nice,
But if you scratch your head, it could be lice.

Apparently the teacher had experienced lice in the classroom once and then never stopped cautioning her all her future young charges about being watchful and alert for unwelcome visitors.  No matter, the card is one of my most cherished possessions and the most charming Valentine I ever received.  What are your most cherished Valentine's?

And here's my lastest advice on looking as chic as our winter cover girl:

Monday, January 21, 2013

The Way She Looks Tonight

I picked up "The Way She Looks Tonight" while staying in my friend Karen's guest room in Rochester last month.  It looked like a light read that would lull me back to sleep but I became engrossed in the chapter on Jackie Kennedy's personal style.  When I returned home, I quickly found a used copy online and have since devoured the book.  I tried to find some information about the author Marian Fowler but there is little - I would love to write to her.  Her read was salacious in parts but Fowler seems to have the street creds to back up her claims.  I loved the book.

The introduction describes a certain type of woman, passionate about clothes with an innate sense of style.  Instinctively, I know my mother falls into this category but I'm not sure I do.  My style takes forethought and I find I am best turned out when I think about what I'm going to wear and plan it down to the last accessory. 

Much more than that however, I enjoyed all the details in this book.  I had no idea that Wallis Simpson spent over $100,000 every year on her wardrobe.  Or that she felt shackled by her husband's infantile love.  Reading his juvenile inscriptions on the jewels he gifted her with, made me shudder.  Jackie Kennedy had a maid IRON her pantyhose?  Just so that they would look nice in a drawer!  I loved the descriptions of the clothes - Marlene Dietrich's organza hat in orchid (all I knew of her style were her black as night tuxedos).  Eugenie Bonaparte wore crinolines so wide, she could barely fit through a doorway.

What I will take away from the book is that all the women featured had one fascinating thing in common - they all used their style as a personal talisman against sorrow and fear.  Their style kept them focused, prepared to take on their futures, especially after it began to appear that those futures were becoming not what they imagined.  This doesn't mean that focusing on themselves was completely sybaritic or self-indulging, but rather they used style as an ideal that led them and guided them when everything else fell apart.  It morphed into self-care as well as hope. Their love of clothes was a sheer, unadulterated and faithful love that never steered them wrong and gave them strength to carry on.  Despite the extraordinary clothes bills, and pantyhose with creases, I admire them.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Nana's Home

I learned elegant homecaring from my grandmother.  Nana never had a house of her own and always lived on the streetcar line in Boston.  She and my grandfather rented a great old apartment in a pre-war apartment house.  I still smell the pine walls of the steep back staircase that led up to their two story home.  The kitchen had a darling pantry that was filled with china teacups hanging on hooks and a clear glass jar filled with peanut butter cookies, the kind with fork tine impressions on top.  Nana baked every Monday morning while she washed clothes.  Her refrigerator was called the ice box and inside were bottles of Moxie, a stick of bologna for sandwiches, cheeses, jars of pimentos, capers, olives, homemade picallilly and watermelon rind pickles.  The freezer had a quart of Brigham's French Vanilla ice cream, the only kind Nana bought.  We had it with cake and pies and scooped it with an ice cold aluminum paddle.  I remember everything on her kitchen table, including the sugar bowl, the small transistor radio, her bird watching guide, the minature wooden barrel filled with yellow pencils as sharp as needles for crossword puzzles and shopping lists.

Nana's bathroom had a claw foot tub and two taps, one for hot water and one for cold, marked on the enamel tops with a black "H" and "C". The rubber stopper dangled from a silver ball chain.  The towels were Turkish, textured and lush.  A small built in glassholder held a crystal tumbler.  There were always new toothbrushes in cellophane packages for her little guests and a box of sweet talcum powder, with it's own soft mitt inside.  Her bedroom was luxe and feminine with a floral toile wastepaper basket, a white doily at the bottom.  Her bureau was a trove of curiosities and she let us rifle through her drawers looking for treasures.  We often found books there with our names on them but I loved finding her jewelry, a choker of beads the color of peas, a silver pendant with a diamond chip which is mine now, and a pair of small screw-on pearl earrings.  Scent bottles lined up on the top and under them, a snowy cloth with ironed creases, crisp as crusted snow.

Every white panelled door had a transom over it, the place heated through scrolled rod iron registers built into the hardwood floors.  I remember going to the basement with her on winter mornings and watched as she fed the old furnace with coal and then I would run upstairs to stand over the register and feel the heat race up over my legs. Plants thrived in Nana's home on a squat marble table where 20 year old African violets blossomed all year.  One of the 80 inch sunlit windows had a hanging prism which made shimmering rainbows across the dining room. The windows rattled at times and were icy to the touch but her green thumb overcame all that and trails of ivy crept up over them and joined the curtain rods. 

Nana loved trays and a large black floral one held my own wee teapot and mug on mornings at breakfast. A buttermilk biscuit with a sugar cube drenched in orange juice and pressed into the top, hot from the oven, accompanied our tea.  We had slept under the eaves on the second floor in twin beds that were firm and mysteriously exuded a rose scent. Crisp white sheets and lace pillow cases lulled us to sleep along with wool blankets that had hems whipstitched with red yarn. The upstairs bedroom hinted at an Edwardian time as Nana's mother's large picture hat sat on top of an old floor lamp in the corner.  The walls were covered with striped sprigged wallpaper that looked like embroidered ribbons. It was Laura Ashley before Laura Ashley.  Nana's black enamel Singer stood ready in the corner and from it came voluminous party dresses, shifts for her, aprons, and linen drapes and curtains.  There was the slight scent of mothballs and a cavernous closet filled with photographs, old books, spare blankets. 

A famous decorator once remarked that although she could not sing or dance, she could turn a house into a living breathing thing.  Nana's home inhaled us deeply, every comfort was ours; every visit, magic.  When the heat was slow to ignite, a throw was suddenly dropped on our shoulders from seemingly nowhere.  If our feet were cold, handknit slippers were whisked from a drawer as if they had been waiting for us. I realize now - when I look back, that my grandmother was a painter of the everyday - her canvas was home, and just as writer Isak Dineson charmed and comforted Denys Finch Hatton with her Limoge and cyrstal in her faraway African home, the life we lived with Nana was unabashedly artful with fine and wonderous things. In our grandmother's enchanting home, love had a thread count.