Wednesday, November 26, 2014

My Favorite Holiday

Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday.  Except for cooking and entertaining, it asks nothing of us except to love one another.  I could list here all the things I am grateful for but it would be a cliché.  So instead, I offer you some of my favorite things...both big and small.  And this Thanksgiving, while we spend it with people we love, can we touch hands and not phones? 

Some of my favorite things:

My Kindle which is the repository for all the books that would have stolen space on my already overcrowded bookshelves.

The set of Italian cookware I bought piecemeal over a period of ten years.  They've served me well and were worth every penny.

Orchids.  They are graceful, lovely, last months and are inexpensive. 

The small basket hanging beside my front door.  Many a pair of glasses have been dropped in them.  The ones I lost in the couch at someone's house, and the ones that someone is coming to fetch because they lost them in my couch.

Tea.  With milk and one sugar.  Anyday.  Anytime.

Leopard print.  It's fun and it makes me smile.  Especially with a swipe of red lipstick. 

The Ballet.  I plan on seeing more of it. 

My car starter.  It came with the car and I couldn't say no.

My patchwork cut-off shorts.  I'll never wear them again.  But they tell me about the girl I used to be.  She looked great in them but she wasn't as smart as I am.

My pearl earrings.  Even though they're from my ex, I'll never forget that he pierced them through the ears of a little teddy bear as part of the gift.  It's ok.  The bear forgives him.

A sparkly Christmas card my grandparents gave me.  It had $50 in it and read, "Now you can start your dishes".

My mother's pink and yellow enamel bracelet.  It slid off her wrist and right onto mine one warm afternoon.  Summer doesn't begin until I dig it out.

My day job.  It pays the bills.  Grateful for but not a true favorite.  Enough said.

Bobbi Brown lip gloss in Kir Shimmer.  Without it, I'm nothing.
Ah friends, dear friends, as years go by and heads grow gray, how fast the guests do go.
Touch hands, touch hands with those that stay.
Strong hands to weak, old hands to young, around the Christmas board...touch hands.
The false forget, the foe forgive.  For every guest will go...
Forget!  Forgive!  For who may say that Christmas Day may ever come to host or guest again?
Touch hands!  Touch hands!
~ James Patrick Erdman

Sunday, November 16, 2014

A Day in November

Like Christmas, one of my favorite days of the year comes but once in twelve months.  Yesterday was the day I made my annual trek to my favorite Boston book fair.  This exhibit is small and highly curated with only the most intriguing books and paper, including old letters and journals.  I especially love the children's books.  I saw a full collection of Lucy Maud Montgomery's Anne series - the same books my grandparents brought me from Prince Edward Island when I was a girl.  I would have saved them had I known my set would become so valuable one day.  I pawed my way through first editions of Nancy Drew with their colorful 1930's dust jackets.  Nancy was so chic as she, George, and Bess strolled into the Lilac Inn to solve that mystery.  My fingers brushed across the spines of Cherry Ames, Sue Barton, and Trixie Beldon...all pre-teen favorites.  I read a few ancient letters and poked through some marvelous old photographs.

A lot of commerce transpires at this book fair and I've been lucky enough to go home with some lovely things over the years - but not this time.  Prices have risen and I am being cautious.  After our  early dinner, my friend and I strolled through one of the most upscale and elite malls in the country - The Copley Place Mall.  I know this mall intimately as I once had a job with offices ensconced on the third floor above the shops.  The only thing that has changed since I left that job is that the mall has become even more expansive and decadent.  Only the most exclusive shops have real estate at The Copley Place Mall - dark and delicious chocolate emporiums, Italian leather handbag stores, and be still my heart, a gorgeous French lingerie shop.  It was almost too "too" and after peeking into a few stores and watching enormous amounts of credit and cash exchanges, I noticed I was beginning to feel a little sorry for myself.  I WANTED that cozy oatmeal cashmere lounging outfit for $750.  I NEEDED that butter-soft red Italian handbag with the petite brass acorn-shaped clasp that cost what my parent's paid for their first house.

Usually I find browsing delightfully inspiring.  I love looking at the way stylists put together ensembles for store's windows.  I will often take pictures discreetly with my cell phone to remember the unique way colors and patterns are mixed.  I get ideas for writing my style column with these images:  it keeps me relevant and helps with trend-spotting even if I cannot afford to buy.  But this time, a cloud fell over me with the excess and exorbitance. It was all too much and I was overcome with a stifling and urgent need to escape.  As my friend and I headed for the escalators and back to the train station, I suddenly noticed an Asian family huddled close on a small marble bench in the center of the mall near a three-story waterfall.  I saw the father figure bent down on one knee before the bench where I presumed his two small children, wife and mother-in-law were sitting.  All heads were bowed. All hands were touching.  Their eyes were squeezed shut.  They were praying.  I certainly don't know why - it may have been a benediction before having a meal or perhaps they were taking a break from someone's bedside in one of the numerous city hospitals nearby.  I wondered about them even as the crowd pushed us ever forward towards the overstuffed escalators filled with people carrying enormous crinkling shopping bags.  But so moved was I to see that tender private family moment in the middle of all the handbags, trinkets and clothes of my dreams.  As we glided slowly down the escalator, elbow to elbow, I lifted my head above the throng to see if I could get a last glimpse the small family but they had disappeared.

Now I'm not going to tell you I had a big epiphany or that I am banning beautiful exclusive shopping meccas in the future.  But being touched to the core by the poignant image of the praying family, I started to examine areas of my life where I need to slow down and connect in more meaningful ways.  On the long train ride home, I began to make a mental list for some casual suppers I will host for loved ones soon, and other ways I can be kind, generous.  Available.  I made a promise to myself to read more inspiring things and not just the free fashion tomes I receive from publishers.  And I will remember that it is not always the dress I am wearing but the woman inside the dress that I should be most concerned with.

When I arrived home, I quickly scribbled down some of the things I had seen in Boston:  the books, the love letters, the trees at dusk that flank Copley Square's beautiful old Trinity Church.  And yes, the supple leather handbags and silk scarves.  And I wrote about that dear family with heads bowed in a hushed evocation all their own.  After I put out the downstairs lights, I reached for my grandmother's afghan to wrap about me as I stepped onto the porch for a last moment at the end of a long day.  Outside, the night was still and if in prayer itself.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

The Warner House

I dragged three unwitting participants with me to the Warner House in Portsmouth, New Hampshire yesterday.  My goal was to see a bedspread.  Long on my unofficial bucket list was to view the Betsy Panhallow bedspread reproduced for this historic sea-faring house.  The beautiful coverlet first came to my attention via Piecework magazine in 1997.  It was recreated by a group of Portsmouth women based on Warner House letters and diaries written by some of the women that once lived there.  I had read that the Warner House had closed for the season a week or so ago but I called and asked if someone would give an afternoon tour to my companions and I and an enthusiastic and knowledgeable docent was dispatched to greet us and show off the house.

I was also particularly interested in the ethereal portrait of Polly Warner, above, age 11.  Many family members have occupied the Warner House from the 1700's to the 1930's, and it was difficult to keep track of the many ladies of the house so I am not quite sure who Polly was in the Warner lineage.  But she certainly captured my heart with her pet bird on a ribbon and her serene face. The painting was wall-sized and Polly peered deeply into my eyes as I stared back into hers.  She was painted by Joseph Blackburn, a famous English portraitist who excelled in painting women's lace sleeves and elaborate dress textiles.  He is especially well-known for capturing the beauty of shimmering silks, and was therefore, a favorite artist of fashionable women everywhere.  I was quite dismayed to learn that sweet Polly died at age 20 in childbirth.

The house is extremely livable in that it doesn't have the small low ceilings and narrow hallways one sees in early 18th century homes.  There was an airiness and expanse to the rooms and foyers and often I would glance down at the wooden floor boards and imagine the long sweep of a woman's skirt hem in flickering candlelight as she turned a corner from one of the many bedroom doorways that emptied into the large upstairs hall. 

Eventually I spotted the lovely cream bedspread and viewed up close and personal the level of craftsmanship that goes into making such a beautiful thing.  The knitting needles used must have been the very tiniest, the stitches so intricate and so abrupt in the turning and twisting pattern.  As a knitter, I cannot imagine the time it must have taken to create such perfection and loveliness. 

We moved onto the third floor where suddenly, my thoughts turned to Sara Crewe from The Little Princess and the cold attic existence she had to live when Miss Minchin banished her after Mr. Crewe was lost in the war.  The only interest in the blunt rooms were the string of brass and iron bells flanking the top of one wall, very much like the ones in Downton Abbey's opening credits.  It was clear, these frigid echoing rooms belonged to the servants.

I passed on climbing the curved and narrow stairs to the cupola, especially when I spied a bat's trap on the third step.  Two of our party climbed the claustrophobic passage and were rewarded with a stunning view of Portsmouth Harbor and environs.