Thursday, February 27, 2014

On Handbags...

My mother worries because she says my handbag is always open.  I guess she's right.  It's just so much easier to have an open bag on the seat in the car so I can reach in for change or my phone if it rings.  The problem is that it topples over a lot and I lose things under the seat.  I also dump the contents out on my bed and then find myself at work without my comb.  That happened the other day and when I got home I was just about to hit the one-click button on Amazon to order another one, when I felt something hard under my leg.  I had made the bed with the comb in it.

I always had a little purse for Easter and it was almost always patent leather.  To match my shiny new Maryjane's.  My first real purse was the pink suede one I wrote about earlier.  Not long after, my mother bought me a brown accordion handbag with a metal chain strap for my first day at Jr. High.  It felt so grown up with my nylons, which I got to wear for the first time too.  I have a nice photograph of myself later in high school, sitting on the couch waiting for my date, my open handbag beside me.  If only I could zero in on that picture and see what was inside that bag.  I do know I had a small hairbrush with a psychedelic Peter Max design on it.  I also recall a red plastic billfold that had school pictures of friends stacked with a rubber band around them.  There were just so many and each with a personal message written on the back.  Perhaps a Yardley Slicker lipgloss, most likely in frosted pink to match my mini-dress and tights, although I'm not sure. 

A friend told me once that her handbag was filled with daily comforts.  I really liked that.  My grandmother use to carry a small yellow tin of Anacin.  It had a black dot on the front and after pressing down with tremendous force, or so it seemed to my eight year old thumb, it would reveal two small rows of pills.  I carry some headache meds in a small plastic bottle.  That's a comfort.  As well as a tiny prayer book, a gift from someone I love.  There are the usual things - a Kleenex package, the aforementioned comb, a small wallet with pictures of my daughter;  one as an infant and one as a grown up.  I love knowing those are there though I don't really look at them much.  Most photos are on my cell phone these days.

One thing I really like to carry is a small bottle of scent.  You've heard it here before:  I use perfume as comfort sometimes.  A new friend has told me I may want to carry a cotton ball of an essential oil I like.  She tells me that pressing it to nose may ground and settle me when I am having stress.  I do admit to having stress these days, especially at work.  If I do use her suggestion, I think I will choose a citrus scent as my grandmother's hands always smelled of lemons, something else I've talked about here before.  Those hands were cool and calming.

I was a handbag maven long before designer bags became so popular.  At the mall last year, I pointed out a bag to my mother that I would consider to be my very ultimate handbag.  She looked over at me askance and told me that the bag I admired so much cost more than her and my father's first house back in 1960.  I knew she would be appalled and frankly, so was I.  But it's difficult these days to find a nice pretty useful handbag that doesn't cost an arm and a leg.  There's just nothing in between it seems.

I think everyone has their own handbag style.  I was amused recently when I noticed my dear friend Jane's bag was studded.  What was really funny is that each stud had an embedded rhinestone in it.  That's Jane:  bling with substance.  I just love her.  I don't like too much embellishment though.  Just a supple leather, a medium size, and a nice inside with a lining that's sewn in.  Something classic and practical but with a certain je ne sais quoi.  And filled with a few comforts.

Monday, February 24, 2014

All Things Ballet

I have long been drawn to all things ballet - afterall, I had my first lesson at age three.  I loved my black leather ballet slippers - the wrinkled toes tightened with thin grosgrain ties intrigued me.  I liked the stretchy short sleeved leotard too and the pink tights.  The ballet studio was in a little storefront and the mothers sat in a circle chatting in front of a floor-to-ceiling bay window.  I don't recall our pretty teacher's name but I do remember the day she interrupted our pliés to clap her hands at the window and shout, "Mothers!  Please be quiet.  My little dancers are trying to concentrate".  We giggled to hear our mothers being scolded. 

Half the fun of ballet class were the accoutrements:  the unique plastic "ballet box", a tote with a snap on compartment at the bottom, the perfect cubby-hole for slippers.  I loved the pretty ballerinas painted on the front too.  Recently, I saw a picture of "my" case on Pinterest and nearly squealed - I could almost smell the plastic.  My mother also gave me a tutu, frothy and hot pink.  But one night in a hurry, she perched it on top of my dresser lamp where it soon caught fire and smoked.  My bedroom had a strange burnt feathers smell for weeks.

I danced ballet for 18 years.  That translates into a lot of ballet slippers as well as tights, leotards, and costumes.   I eventually graduated to toe shoes and my first pair were found under the Christmas tree that year. What a thrill it was open that slender package, peel away the sparkle-dotted tissue paper to find silky shoes with tangled ribbon ties and the hard wooden toe boxes.  Mom tucked in some scraps of sheepskin too, knowing my tender feet would need it.  I adored the toes shoes and the magical pirouettes I could execute in them, however slow they were.

In high school, I attended Miss Sue's Dance Studio which was on the top floor of a decrepit old tenement with squeaky wooden floors.  Because we were older dance students, our class was held after dark and as we posed and stretched at the barre, the lights of the city showed through the grease streaked windows and reflected in the studio mirrors creating a bewitching backdrop.  Miss Sue was a young teacher, warm and vivacious, a former Radio City Music Hall Rockette.  To give us a well-rounded dance education, she made us repeat the ballet moves after she recited them in her perfect French accent. Miss Sue had endless sylphlike legs and offered us beauty and health advice in between our grand jetés and battement frappés.   She warned us against too many soft drinks and snacks and urged us to concentrate on gracefulness of form and work hard even though it wasn't easy.  One night she asked if we would rather be the girl in a bikini on the beach next summer or the girl in her mother's swimsuit.  Her heady question inspired me.  I knew which girl I wanted to be.

Today, I love going to the ballet.  It thrills me with its intense beauty, swan-maidens, symphonic music, and artistry.  I am enchanted too, with poetic ballet-inspired clothing - surplice tops and ballet flats in traditional dance colors:  pink, black, iced blue.  And since I hurt my knee in yoga class a year ago, I work out to a ballet dvd now.  I'm amazed at how the French words make my feet respond before my head even knows what to do.  True, I won't be wearing a bikini again in this life, and ballet is still hard.  It is a truly fragile art form and yet at the same time, it is very resilient - having been kept alive for years and years through many triumphs and tragedies.  And that's what makes it so perfect for a sometimes fragile but always resilient woman like me.


Wednesday, February 12, 2014

The February House

"China tea, the scent of hyacinths, wood fires and bowls of violets - that is my mental picture of an agreeable February afternoon."
~ Constance Spry
I would add a ticking clock to Miss Spry’s requirements for the February Home although one day in 2003, my handpainted floral clock ceased its ticking at 2:20 sharp and nary a tick has been heard. Unrepairable, the clock is lovely to look at and is steadfastly precise twice a day, so it retains a spot on the mantel.  Prettier still is a clock that declares the hours with soft chimes, as if someone has rung a small bell from a distant room.  It may seem that I have many opinions as to what makes an agreeable February Home because in the depths of winter, I need a sense of an invincible summer in order to carry on.
Light now lingers late in the afternoon but traversing the moody dusk that comes just before nightfall makes me feel blue.  So I light candles and take to drinking tea at that bewitching time.  A proper tea tray with some fruit and a cookie cheers me fine.  As well, the introduction of citrus flavors in cooking is akin to adding summer sunshine and fends off the blahs.  Hot couscous salad tossed with olive oil, nuts, and mandarin orange slices is a February staple at my house.  I also whip up a creamy ambrosia with pineapple (email me for recipes).
February is a lovely time to introduce flowers to rooms.  With a few ice cubes placed on top of the dirt for sustenance each Sunday, an orchid plant will highlight my dining table for months.  I love the white-blossomed ones tinged  with pink the best, but tulips...tulips must be cheerfully yellow or hot pink.  When I look at their bobbing heads, I am reminded of brave Lottie Wilkins from Enchanted April, a favorite springtime film.  Upon being scolded by her husband for squandering money on flowers that only die, she cries out, "But I love the color!" -  so bleak and cold was London.  Lottie got her yellow and hot pink and a veritable rainbow of colorful blooms later, in Italy.
Hyacinths will perfume the entire house.  They shoot up quickly and merely opening the front door just a crack makes me feel as though I have entered an earthy fragrant greenhouse.  It's a nostalgic scent that promises happy things to come -  like spring's abundant lilacs and lily-of-the-valley.
I've never been able to get an African violet to live longer than a minute but many women have the Midas touch with them.  I love the way violets look when they are grouped together in large Chinese bowls set near a window.  If anyone knows the secret to growing violets, do fill me in.  In February, they appear so hopeful as they turn their faces toward the sun.  And isn't that what we are all trying to do just now?
I like airier music in my February Home.  My dark Baroque cd's are hibernating next to the Christmas ones as I listen to my favorite soundtracks instead.  I adore Joshua Bell’s plaintive violin in Ladies in Lavender, and also Miss Potter and Sense and Sensibility.  The melodies add a soft and peaceful backdrop to my home.  And lest I forget, mohair throws in pastels or sherbets lend delicious color to a room and warm my toes during long tranquil reading sessions as the snow flits just outside my window. 
If there are things you cannot live without in your February Home, do tell here...

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Saint Valentine's Day

I have spent a good many of my adult years without a love of my own.  But that never stopped me from embracing Saint Valentine's Day.  I fervently believe it can be enjoyed almost as much as a singleton.  It's really just about love; of someone special, of a child, a nephew or niece, or of self.  When I was unpartnered, I used Valentine's Day to pamper myself.  It was fun to have a facial or manicure even as the world was scooping up roses.  On the way home from my spa indulgence, I would stop at the village bakery famous for its confections and buy a slice of perfect chocolate layer cake, tucked safely inside a white cardboard box tied with string, a paper doily slipped beneath.  Later, I savored every decadent bite of it from my grandmother's floral china plate as I enjoyed a charming old film. 

Over the years, I began to decorate a little for Valentine's Day too.  I display a card my daughter gave me when she was five - her skeletal letters on my precious valentine, all different sizes and shapes; though the meaning is clear.  I am loved.  I place my red book of love poems on the coffee table; the one which still holds the handwritten note from a long vanished love that in the end, wasn't meant to last.   I have loved.  Also on the table rests my favorite Grace Livingston Hill book, Crimson Roses, and a vintage Modern Priscilla magazine, the valentine number from 1918.  The cover girl is clutching a letter to post to her WW I soldier.  My emblems all nestle next to a pink crystal bowl filled with rosy foil-wrapped chocolates.

Last year I taught myself to knit hearts, red of course, and those hang from fishing cord on the lampshades.  A heart shaped wreath of roses graces the front door too.  These small things would never have taken away all the sting of being alone, but I know they would have made me smile.  And perchance to dream...those, the words of Shakespeare, a man who understood something of the yearning heart.

Now I have a valentine of my own and he's no secret - just a sweet boy I knew many Saint Valentine's Days ago when we shared an English Lit class in high school.  I love again.  Neither of us is much into exchanging the sentiments found in today's modern greeting cards. But we do adore old movies...and chocolate layer cake.

I am loved
I have loved
I will love again...
Dodie Smith, I Capture the Castle


Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Charmed, I'm Sure

The day my mother revealed that she had enrolled me in charm school, I pitched an uncharming fit.  In fifth grade the last place I wanted to be on Saturday mornings was a classroom at the back of the local Sears appliance store learning what fork to use.  I went kicking and screaming.  But The Sears Discovery Charm School graduated over 100,000 little charmers from 1963 to 1972 and surprisingly, I am proud to say I was one of them.  I still ask my mother what possessed her to send her bespectacled bookish lass to charm school.  And then I thank her.  Profusely.

From the minute I walked into Sears' lowly makeshift classroom, I knew I had entered a special workshop.  The grey standard issue folding chairs, the pitted wood and metal tables, and the hanging appliance wiring schematics soon became invisible.  Instead I saw only our pretty instructor Mrs. Ames, dressed in fondant colors of sugary pinks.  I was bewitched by her dainty white gloved hands and her intoxicating powdery scent.  Her soft modulated voice and Tinkerbell laugh charmed any remnants of resentment for being there, right out of me - she was so darn fascinating.  During the course, with Mrs. Ames help, our drab classroom was transformed by our imaginations into  an Austenesque dance hall, a Georgian tea parlor, and at times, a sophisticated and elegant Manhattan theater district restaurant.

Mrs. Ames' assistant was a fetchingly designed ringed binder called The Sears Make the Most of You Discovery Book.  This book still exists out there and I am crushed that it eludes me - I have not  been able to snag a copy.  Mine was lost along with my Tressy Doll and her growing hair, my satin ballet toe shoes and other artifacts of a 60's girlhood. 

Studying our notebooks taught us manners and how to be a considerate girlfriend, should we be lucky enough to one day have a boyfriend.  We learned how to sit with our legs crossed at the ankles, how to sip tea quietly, and my favorite charming illustration in the book warned us not to spend all of our date's money;  his worried study of his empty pockets being the tip-off.  Mrs. Ames created mock dinner parties and balls where we practiced introductions and learned how to graciously accept a dance request.  She called in a male makeup artist and a buyer from the Sears Junior Bazaar Department, and brought in her personal collection of chiffon scarves, still faintly redolent with her lovely scent.  We learned how to find our best colors by draping the filmy scarves around our necks and shoulders and peering into small round drugstore mirrors with magnifying flip sides that later accompanied us home along with our notebooks.

At the end of the school's glorious eight weeks, we graduated by hosting a fashion show and tea for our mothers.  Sears generously loaned us a rainbow of pastel frocks to model and after parading across a small runway, we showed off our new skills by pouring tea and passing trays of store-bought cookies.  Mrs. Ames created an indelible impression on me and any remnant of tomboy-ness was left on Sears' dusty green checkered tile floor.  My love of clothes and journey to becoming a lady was jumpstarted by The Sears Discovery Charm School.  And of course, I am grateful to my mother, who knew best.