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


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.