Tuesday, April 22, 2014

The Bronze Monkey and The Fire Hose


The Bronze Monkey and The Fire Hose

With a tip of the hat to the cliche... it had been one of those days.  My accountant was waiting for my tax information. (What receipt? I was supposed to KEEP that??)  There were bills to be paid and a stack of letters to be written. (You haven’t written that thank-you note YET??!)  I needed to run to the vets for Apple’s joint medication. (Yes, Yes, active dogs who’ve had knee surgery need JOINT medication.  Who knew?)  A bag of tweed suits sat forlornly by the front door waiting to be taken to the cleaners. (What if I just put them in another closet till next fall?  Would that be SO bad?)   The phone was ringing nonstop. (Just let it go to voicemail this ONE time! And nobody ask me ANYMORE questions!)  I had a long overdue list of emails waiting my reply. (Maybe they’ll forget they’ve written me?)  I had absolutely no idea what to cook for dinner and after a short perusal inside my pantry, knew that whatever I concocted would require a lengthy trip to the grocers.     (Dinner out?  AGAIN?)   The ferns and alyssum needed water, as did the birdbath. (Oh Lord, isn’t it supposed to RAIN sometime this week?)  Edward wanted a walk.  (Soon, Buddy.  Soon!)   There were wilted flowers in vases all over the house and a row of late night knitting had gotten off pattern and was waiting to be taken out and done over. (WILTED flowers!  WHAT a metaphor!   And would anybody EVER notice that knitting mistake if I just IGNORED it?)  I had an appointment with a decorating client who’d chosen the wrong carpet and now wanted me to choose colours for the walls that would, somehow, alleviate the need for ripping it all out. (Why, oh WHY, didn’t you call me in FIRST?!)  As chairman for our neighbourhood home and garden tour, I was writing the tour program, looking for volunteers and sponsors, and delivering tickets. (HOW many years have I done this now?)  Delighted with the cool, sunny Spring weather, both Edward and Apple had obviously been exploring the newly blooming garden regions as there was now a tell-tale trail  of green grass and clover down the bedroom hallway, and.. WHAT... was that a paw print in mud?  (What do you MEAN the vacuum is out in the studio? There’s MUD in the hallway!)  At ten I received a text from my manicurist.  (Did you forget about me?  Your appointment was thirty minutes ago!) The neglected characters from the book I am writing kept knocking on the inside of my brain, desperate to escape and land, neatly arranged, on the page.  (WHO am I kidding?  I’ll NEVER be able to finish this!  Virginia Woolf and that BLASTED Room of her Own!  Right!) It was also one of those mornings when I seemed to have too much hair.  Too long, too wild, to ever  arrange in any way resembling attractiveness. (Visions of Judi Dench, Sinead O’Connor, and Curly from the Three Stooges  floated temptingly into my head.  (Can I just CUT IT ALL OFF myself??) Fortunately, I did have a appointment with my hairdresser at noon which, miraculously, I had not forgotten.

There is a phrase going around these days describing various types of modern irritations as “first world problems” and while I fully recognized mine to be sitting squarely in this category, I could feel myself fraying nonetheless.  One tiny innocuous question, one wayward quizzical look.... that was all it was going to take to send me up on the roof in a full Brunhilde breakdown.  Then... just as I was preparing to leave for my hair appointment I saw the line of dust behind the bronze monkey that sits, holding bananas, on my kitchen counter, a line of dust that seemed at that moment to signify all that I still had to do and would never manage to get done in the measly twenty-four hours allotted to me in one day.

In total over-reaction, I placed my palms flat down on the edge of the sink and took a deep, somewhat shuddering, breath.  Then I began to laugh.  Not the laugh of the amused, mind you.  No, this laugh seemed to emanate from a part of my brain usually reserved for that moment in time when one narrowly misses being hit by a train.  Jerky, too loud, and with a soupcon of sardonic blackness that worried me just a bit.  Taking a deep breath, I reached for my car keys and sunglasses.  Ignoring the gazes, both canine and human, of my family, I calmly walked out the front door and climbed into my little green Fiat.  I rolled down the windows.  I turned up the radio.  Petula Clark.  Ah, yes.  A hair cut would make me feel better.

Arriving at the salon, greeting my hairdresser of over twenty years, I had just settled in for a relaxing hair wash when he suddenly lost control of the sprayer and hit me square in the face.  Not a trickle, oh no, but a full on blast of water not dissimilar to that bursting forth from a fire hose.  My hairdresser’s profusely delivered apologies excepted, silence landed on the floor of the salon like fistfuls of cotton; combs and clippers froze in mid-air. Everyone waited to see what the poor soaking wet, sputtering lady in the grey jeans was going to do.  Well of course, it was funny.  And this time my laughter was deep and therapeutic.  I howled.  In less than a second, the entire salon was rolling in laughter along with me.  For several whole minutes a roomful of strangers forgot the insignificant irritations that collect like dust around each of us every week as we all roared with laughter, at me.  Yes, I was an object of absurdity and happy to be so, for no one deserved to be laughed at more than I.  
                                                                       *****

Now I am not proud of this comparison, make no mistake.  But as a personal penance of sorts for my momentary lack of centeredness and calm that was restored only by a blast of cold water to the face,  I shall share this small clip from the old classic movie, Dinner at Eight.  Billie Burke’s speech here bears an uncanny resemblance
 to my own capitulation to trivial troubles.  
Feel free to laugh at me.



Sunday, April 20, 2014

Happy, Happy Easter!


The year's at the spring
And day's at the morn;
Morning's at seven;
The hillside's dew-pearled;
The lark's on the wing;
The snail's on the thorn;
God's in His heaven -
All's right with the world!
Robert Browning
Happy, Happy Easter!

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

The Canine Art of Communication... An Edward Story


The Canine Art of Communication

Though he wears his privilege with a degree of insouciance befitting his humble nature, The Big White Dog is well aware of his exalted station within his family.  How could he not be?  There is, for instance, no piece of furniture that is off limits should he chance to require a nap.  His dinner is never late, often cooked, and served in a fur-matching white bowl purchased just for him at Harrod’s Department Store in London.  His advice is frequently sought by both The Lady and The Man and indeed, one of his serene, sapient stares seems to work wonders on both of them in equal measure.  His dignified handshakes are not only affectionately proffered when asked for, but he is quite ambidextrous as well.  Modesty prevents him, as it does most of his kind, from flaunting his expansive vocabulary but from many years of listening to, and often being read to by, The Lady, he does recognize a rather wide range of English words and even a couple of nonsensical German-sounding ones that appear, at least to his observation, to be reserved solely for moments of extreme toe-stubbing pain or irritation.   Rarely does the need arise for The Big White Dog to parade his powers of comprehension and articulation, but one morning just last week, it did.

While it is no secret he would much prefer his pack of four stay together at all times, there are lapses, seemingly unavoidable, when one or the other of them chances to wander off on their own.  The Big White Dog doesn’t like this one bit and has convinced his roommate, The Big Black Dog, to stay close at all times, though it is a different matter with The Lady and The Man.  They seem to do what they want.  He has learned, somewhat begrudgingly, to live with this though he is placed into a state of high vigilance whenever one or the other of them walks out the door.  Such was the case last week when The Man ran out on an errand.

It was one of those early Spring mornings that always seem to cast a spell over The Lady.  She moves differently - slower, dreamier - as though an invisible carpet of flowers was unrolled by genies in the night.  She puts on music and hums along. She opens all the windows. She throws open the front door and latches the screen.  She asks his opinion on the strangest things:  the best sort of chocolate for bunnies, the best shade of pink for Easter eggs.   Frankly, he frequently has cause to worry about her in Springtime.  On this particular morning The Big Dog watched as she absentmindedly latched the front screen door after The Man went out.  He saw her wander off, humming quietly, through the kitchen, down the hallway, through the bedroom and out of sight.  With one pack member off in the car and the other out of sight in the farthermost reaches of the house, he decided to situate himself in the midway point of the kitchen.  The hardwood floors are cool to his belly here and from this position he can easily keep watch over both parts of the house.  So he waited.  

Sure enough, he soon heard The Man’s car pull into the drive.   A door slammed.  He heard The Man’s trademark whistling as he opened, then closed, the gate.  Then a tug on the front screen door which, as the Big Dog anticipated, yielded no result.  A pause.  He heard The Man call The Lady’s name.  He waited, ears cocked.  Nothing from the back of the house.  He rose, trotted into the entry, and stood beneath the door, looking up at The Man.  Perhaps he would hear one of those strange German sounding exclamations he sometimes chanced to hear in situations such as this.  But no, not this time.  Instead, The Man addressed him directly.

“Edward!”, he said with a smile.  “Go get Mamma!”

The Big White Dog looked up in amazement.  A direct order!  He waited a second to make certain he’d heard correctly.  

“Edward.  Good Boy.  Now, go get Mamma!”

The Big Dog turned immediately and with a purposeful trot, headed out of the entry, through the kitchen, down the hallway, through the bedroom, where he soon found The Lady in front of her mirror in the process of changing her lips from one colour to another, a daily activity The Big Dog has always found utterly odd.  He stopped in the doorway and stared at her, hard.  She turned.

“Hello, handsome!”, she said, smiling.  She turned back to the mirror.

He stared.  Harder.  

She turned again.  She stared back.  “What’s up, Edward?”, she asked.  He heard the flicker of concern in her voice and re-emphasized his stare.  

All of a sudden he saw the penny drop.  “Is Daddy home?”  

The Lady looked at him quizzically for a moment, then turned to follow.  He jumped and wagged his tail, moving out into the hallway and turning back to make certain she knew to come with him.  She did!  Through the bedroom, down the hallway, through the kitchen, into the entry and to the latched front door where she found a grinning Man.

There followed quite a lot of “Good Boys!!” and “Well Done, Edwards” but really, The Big White Dog found it all much ado about nothing.  Just another of his often unseen feats of wonder done for the safety and benefit of his family.  Whatever would they do without him?





Thursday, April 10, 2014

Birthday Beach


Birthday Beach

The Artist has chosen a limited palette today; only tiny gradations betwixt sky,  sea and sand.  The waves come in like sighs. Three large pelicans, their strange anatomy more noble than humorous in the paleness of this light, glide along atop the water, wings stretched kite-straight, sleek silver feathers casually grazing the water. Like grey rocking horses, a tracing of porpoises, parallel to the shore. The horizon vanishes, married finally to the sea, and all that remains is soft wind, soft sound.  My book remains as unopened as my thoughts.  I wrap my spring green shawl round my shoulders and close my eyes.  There is no better way to spend my birthday.  Be back soon.



Friday, March 28, 2014

The Demise of Mystery


The Demise of Mystery

I recently finished reading The Goldfinch, the multi-layered novel by author Donna Tartt, pictured above.  It is not a book to be read casually, as it was not written casually.  As is her wont, Ms. Tartt took ten years to write The Goldfinch, just as she did with her previous two novels.  The research is obvious here; one learns many things, from the intricate artistry of antique restoration to the dark and wasteful idiosyncrasies of the drug culture.  Everything, from the harsh light that crashes down on Las Vegas to the horizontal sleet that lashes Amsterdam windows at Christmastime, is vivid.  The book is Dickensian in scope, the characters diverse and clearly drawn, and it provided me with several rather theatrical dreams on the nights I read far too late.  I enjoyed it immensely.

Closing The Goldfinch after reading the final sentence I thought some about Donna Tartt and realized I knew very little about her.  Her author photograph remains virtually unchanged throughout her three books - same stark haircut, same direct stare.  I had no idea where she lived, whether or not she was married.  Did she have children?  Was she gay?  Did she have pets?  Looking around online unearthed scant information beyond the photographic evidence that she does indeed appear to share her life with a pug.  The only interviews I could find were those in which she spoke solely about her work.  How refreshing this was.  How unusual.  As I thought about how vital, at least for me, this mystery is to the work of an artist, I stopped looking for any more information on the inscrutable Donna Tartt.

There are days when I mourn the demise of mystery.  That illusive bit of uncertainty about someone; those little questions with the answers just out of reach, just past one’s fingertips, seem to add something irresistible and unique to a person.  I admit that it’s often difficult to lose myself in a book or film when I know too much about the personal life of an author or actor.  To preserve mysteries and surprises, I rarely read the flyleaf of a book till I’m done with it, am wary of movie previews, and rather wish great actors would stay off talk shows.  But in a world where, shall we politely say, over-sharing, can land you on the cover of American Vogue, I suppose, once again, I find myself in the minority.

Just yesterday I was a little befuddled to see a “personal message” from actress, Gwyneth Paltrow, in my inbox.  Upon opening it I squirmed as I read an email telling me about the breakup of her marriage, or in what I can only assume was an unintentionally humorous euphemism, their “conscious uncoupling”. It must be something beyond hubris that compels this sort of communication to the general public, but I couldn’t label it if I tried.  I do fear I’ll now find it difficult to watch Ms. Paltrow in any film without this inappropriate email swimming to the front of my head like a dreaded omen on an eight-ball. 

Believe me, I see the irony of extolling the beauties of mystery on the public forum of a blog.  But in the writing I do here, I only crack open the window of my life, just a bit, to allow the escape of those feelings and experiences that best show the promise for bursting through the personal to join the universal.  I try not to slather my writing with too much that is mine alone, as I’m sure the reader should greatly appreciate.  

I confess, I’d love to know your thoughts on this.
  Are you beguiled by a little mystery, as am I?  
Or do you prefer to know as much as you can about someone?  

If you want to read The Goldfinch for yourself,
you can find it HERE


Friday, March 21, 2014

Spring!


The First Day of Spring!

“It's spring fever. That is what the name of it is.
 And when you've got it, you want—oh, you don't quite know what it is you do want,
 but it just fairly makes your heart ache, you want it so!” 
Mark Twain

“Yeah, boy!”
Edward

Painting of Edward by Amber Alexander 
and found tucked inside HERE

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Such a Hypocrite


Such a Hypocrite

For those who have spent any time at all perusing my book, it is readily apparent that I am an inveterate hypocrite.  If you open the book to the Summer section for instance, you’ll find me waxing rhapsodic over gardenias and white linen, chinese lanterns and beachside storms.  But flip over to Autumn and I’m positively giddy at the prospect of jack-o-lanterns and falling leaves.  If Winter was all you chanced to read, you would swear on a stack of Bibles that this was the season I loved best as you found me curled up with Edward by the fire, lost in dreams of Christmas while the cold pressed its nose against my window.

In the face of such printed evidence, it is difficult if not impossible for me to defend my penchant for inconsistency.  You have me.  It’s true. I adore every season.  Every single season. When the old one begins to whither and fray round the edges, I look for a change in the wind, a slight alteration in the afternoon light, with barely contained joy.  

There was a day last week when the ice grey and brown of winter began to dissolve, melting almost imperceptibly to reveal a hint, just a hint, of lime green, weak perhaps, pastel and watered down, but there nonetheless.  The clouds rolled back just enough for sunbeams to catch a traveling breeze and drift down to our little patch of earth.  I threw open the windows and doors and filled my lungs with the sweet expectation of Spring. 

And it came back to me with such intensity - the delicious feel of bare feet on soft grass, giant fluffy ferns swaying on the front porch, sun hats and garden tours, Easter bunnies and pink.  It was as though I’d been given a present, this amazing combination of memory and anticipation which is a divine mixture that makes life worth living. 
I had no choice but to fill the house with the strains of Mozart.

And even though the next day was cold enough to warrant a roaring fire in the fireplace once again, I still now knew it was out there, warm and green and waiting its turn.
Spring.
Are you looking forward to it?
Seems this girl is:







Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Bluebirds


Bluebirds

My Mother always looked for bluebirds.   On winter walks when I was a child she taught me to spot the red of the cardinal, the purple of the finch.  From her I learned to recognize  the blue jay, brown thrasher and dove.  Before I was three I could mimic the song of the towhee and I knew that the robin brought spring. I was schooled in the lyrical lilt of the mockingbird, taught to crack the secret code the woodpecker rapped on the oak.   She would call me down from the back of the house whenever a flock of redwing blackbirds gathered in a rolling dark sea beneath our pines.  Though unimpressed by what seemed to be just another boring murder of crows, I would do as I was told and wait until an inaudible signal was heard by the flock and, as one, they would lift into the summer air, black wings flashing blood red before my eyes.  The stuff of fairy tales. 

But the one bird that eluded her always was the one that she most longed to see.  The Bluebird.  This tricksy fellow took on the quality of myth in my house.  I knew the bluebirds from Disney movies, of course.  They sang duets with Snow White and helped dress Cinderella for the ball.  But around my Mother’s window, they remained as rare as a rose in December.  We thought we saw one once.  On a frosty morning, a flash of cerulean in the ice-covered trees; a bit of the ocean at home in the sky.  We stopped still, unblinking, finally deciding it was just a forest mirage.  My Father was commissioned to hang bluebird houses on our trees in the hopes of enticing them to our garden, but none ever moved in, something my Mother seemed to take as a personal affront to her hospitality.

When Mother died I brought home her capacious, extravagant bird feeder.  For years it sat like an avian castle outside her screened porch, easily seen from her kitchen window.  The Songwriter now keeps it filled with the tastiest seed, just as my Father used to do.  And goodness, do we have birds!  A feathered congregation forever in concert high up in our trees like a chorus of childhood friends.  But I’d long given up on the bluebird. 

So I doubted my eyes the first time I saw one.  I blinked and I stared in full disbelief.  But this year in our garden, as unimaginable as it is true, a veritable sea of blue has risen up, a July sky has drifted down, and we have scores and scores of bluebirds in residence round our house.  They splash in the birdbaths and foliate the bare branches of the poplar trees with brightest blue.  They sit on my dining room window sill and watch me drink my tea making me feel not that far removed from Snow White herself.  They are a wonder.

At first this unexpected abundance of the very riches my Mother longed for, but was denied, made me sad.  Why couldn’t she have had this in her own garden before she died?  I have turned this over and over in my head for weeks.  Then it slowly dawned on me that perhaps this could be a heavenly message sent down just for me.  A message from my Mother to me and me alone; knowing I would remember, hoping I could know.  Perhaps she wants to tell me she’s happier than she’s ever been; that her days are now full of everything she’s ever wanted.  For what could be a more joyful message?  And who could be a better messenger for me than this seldom seen fellow clad all in blue?  
I have chosen to believe this is true.
  For such are the mysteries of life.



Saturday, March 1, 2014

Winter Rooms, Winter Books


Winter Rooms, Winter Books
  Last week’s dalliance with spring  has ended abruptly and it’s in the twenties again this week.  The fire’s crackling, the teapot singing.  Edward is snuggled in his favourite chair.  There’s no better time to open a captivating new book.  So, for these last weeks of winter here’s some tempting choices for your bedside table, along with some scenarios to hopefully create the perfect mood. Just click on the book’s photo to find out more.
Enjoy!
*****


A Weekend at Aunt Veronica’s
Growing up, Aunt Veronica scared every cousin you had.   One was afraid of her long red nails, another of the streak of white in her ebony hair.  Another was afraid of her laugh, and it’s true it was a sound one didn’t hear every day; a hybrid of whoot and whish that spilled out of her unexpectedly, never quietly, and never at the things generally regarded as funny.  The sight of a school bus, for instance, was always guaranteed to set her off.   Was it that particular shade of yellow, or the little faces so perfectly silhouetted in the windows?  You never knew.  She would howl with laughter if she saw her reflection in a rain puddle, giggle uncontrollably whenever she misplaced her keys.  While the rest of the kids in the family made themselves scarce whenever she came to visit, you found Aunt Ronnie enchanting and followed her round like a shadow.   You were the only one who begged to visit her in the summer holidays and you looked forward to those two weeks in her rambling house by the sea with all the anticipation of Christmas.  There, once a year, you ate strawberries and chocolate for breakfast, went barefoot on forest trails, guided only by her Irish Wolfhound, Finn, and listened as Aunt Veronica read to you by candlelight.  Always candlelight. Her voice, though low and resonant, was far from frightening to you, rather it was the perfect voice for reading aloud, something you implored her to do each night before bed.    No Little Women or Anne of Green Gables for Aunt Veronica,  though.  No, she was the one who read you Wuthering Heights and The Moonstone.  She introduced you to Miss Havisham and Mr. Hyde, Grace Poole and Ethan Frome.  Her choice of books always had a touch of mystery about them.  They sparked your imagination, even as they sometimes sent a shiver down your spine.
 As you pack on this blustery night for a weekend visit to your favourite Aunt, you find it hard to contain your happiness at what’s to come.  There will be strawberries and chocolate for breakfast, of course. And though Finn has long gone, you are looking forward to taking a long walk with Joyce, another grey Wolfhound.  There will be a stack of new, mysterious books by the candlesticks on your bedside table.  Let’s see... which one of these will you read to your Aunt?

The Winter People
by Jennifer McMahon
I’ve heard good things about this one.
A wee bit spooky, which is what you want on a cold, stormy night.

Boy, Snow, Bird
by Helen Oyeyemi
I’ve never read anything by this author, so I don’t know what to expect.
But from the cover to the reviews... I can’t resist reading this.

The Museum of Extraordinary Things
by Alice Hoffman

Ethan Frome
by Edith Wharton
The ultimate wintertime book.
The plot cuts like a rapier through the blowing snow.
****


A Winter Week at Michael’s
No one expected Michael to accept the invitation.  A college reunion, all the way across the country?  No one would have ever dreamed it to be his cup of tea.  Rather, this sort of conventional gathering would usually provide the perfect opportunity for his most exquisitely barbed witticisms and generate enough fodder for at least a month’s worth of wildly entertaining dinner parties.  So you were all brought up short by his surprise announcement over Sunday lunch at Margaret’s that he intended to attend.  In fact, not only was he going - his plane ticket already purchased -  but, though at obvious pains to conceal it - he was clearly excited at the prospect.  (An old girlfriend named Melanie was shyly mentioned.)   There was a pause round the table - forks suspended in mid-air - but happily only a slight one, before everyone jumped in with good-natured efforts to make his journey trouble free.  Freddy and Vivian said they’d watch over the garden, promising to handle all the winter pruning that had been scheduled for the upcoming week.  Lily said she’d take care of the mail.  And you volunteered to move in to care for Wesley, Michael’s imperious and much adored terrier. This was no sacrifice, you had to admit, for Michael’s cottage, sitting as it did in the middle of one of the loveliest gardens in the county with an interior as utterly comfortable as it was sublimely beautiful, is simply one of the most inviting places you know.  So here you are, with a bag full of wide-ranging books, a tartan bathrobe, and the full intention of spending the week ensconced in Michael’s cozy, colourful sitting room, a fire popping in the grate and Wesley curled in his favourite chair. The pantry is stocked with custard tarts, Darjeeling and Port and there are red roses in a vase by your bed.  You wish Michael a wonderful time, but seriously doubt it will be as delightful as yours, Melanie or no Melanie. 
 Now, which book to read first....

A Star Called Henry
by Roddy Doyle
No one does dialog better, or dives deeper inside a character,
 than the brilliantly observant, and completely Irish, Roddy Doyle. 
If you’ve never read The Woman Who Walked Into Doors, well...
 stop what you’re doing and read it now. 
A Star Called Henry holds hands with the history of Ireland.  
You’ll love it. 

Dancing Fish and Amonites
by Penelope Lively
I have loved Penelope Lively for years and years.  Her books seem so normal,
 mere tales of ordinary life.  But don’t be deceived.  
There are undercurrents and secrets here, flowing beneath a calm and glassy surface, 
ready to reach up and pull the reader under without warning. 
Heat Wave comes to mind.
  Moon Tiger was the first Penelope Lively I read, and it led me happily on to her others.  Now in her eighties, Ms. Lively is tackling the subject of aging 
in her latest work, Dancing Fish and Amonites. 
I cannot wait to read what she’s thinking about.

From the House of Edward
by Pamela Terry
Well, why not? 
 There are even stories here for Wesley the terrier.

Under the Wide and Starry Sky
by Nancy Horan
I’ve loved Robert Louis Stevenson since The Land of Counterpane
 and I think this historical novel of his life with his Indiana born wife, Fanny,
 will be intriguing.  Have you read it?
*****


The End of a Month at Anna and Will’s
The cast comes off next week.  You can hardly wait.  And though it was incredibly hospitable for Anna and Will to offer their house for your recuperation, you have to admit you are getting weary of the view out the window.  Winter, unrelenting winter, has greeted you for weeks; grey sea crashing on the steely rocks under a monochrome sky.   The wind has howled, snow has fallen, and even though this season has its pleasures, trapped inside as you’ve been these past three weeks, you are itching for the sunshine of spring.  Hobbling through the library all morning, you’ve found a stack of books to take you away to warm summer days and open-windowed nights.  Chinese lanterns and ice cream.  Pink dresses and flowers.  Armloads of flowers.  These are the books you've found to banish the cold and bring forth the spring.  If only in your mind.
The Love Letter 
by Catherine Schine
One of my favourite summertime books.  
Such delicious seaside atmosphere.
There’s even a old bookstore with sandy wooden floors.
Well, of course there is.

The New English Garden
by Tim Richardson
Planning, planning, planning.

William and Dorothy Wordsworth, All In Each Other
by Lucy Newlyn
Because I can think of no better place to spend the springtime months than
deep inside the beauty of the Lake District, and because no two people are more entwined with this part of the world than they, I’m looking forward to reading this one.

My Family and Other Animals
by Gerald Durrell
I know, I know, I’ve recommended this before.  
But really, there is no better way to escape to warmer climes 
than tagging along with this family to Corfu. 
The strawberry pink villa.
The rose beetle man.
The phosphorescence on the sea in the moonlight.  
When you're longing for spring, this is just the best, warmest book ever. 
*****

Three Days at Home, All By Yourself
You are so happy you decided to stay.  A ski weekend sounds like a brilliant idea, but the more you thought about it, the more a weekend all to yourself sounded so much better.  You found all their sweaters, dug out the warmest gloves.  You helped them pack.
  “Don’t forget the sunscreen!” 
 “Don’t lose your ticket!” 
 “Yes, you must wear a helmet!”
You trust your husband with their welfare completely and refuse to worry
 as you wave goodbye from the front porch.
“Yes, I’ll be fine here by myself!” 
 “Yes, I’ll miss you all!”  
“Yes, I’ll find plenty to do!”
Now, as you close and lock the door, the silence sounds like music.  As you pad into the kitchen to pour yourself another cup of hot coffee, you look down at your big sheepdog, Molly.  She’s smiling, you swear, she is smiling.  Both of you head back upstairs to your bedroom.  You pull the heavy curtains back just a bit, put a match to the freshly stacked logs in the grate, and crawl back into bed.  Molly watches you closely, then turns three or four times before curling up in front of the now crackling fire.  In a tower by your bed are the books you’ve been wanting to read for awhile.  So with three full days all to yourself, as the snow falls steadily outside the window, you decide which one to open first. 

A Star for Mrs. Blake
by April Smith

Middlemarch
by George Eliot
Because I so want to read the next book, 
I’m re-reading this one first.

My Life in Middlemarch
by Rebecca Mead

The History of Love
by Nicole Krauss
Someone told me recently that this was their favourite book of all time.
I missed it when it was released, and her enthusiasm was infectious.  
So it’s in my current stack.
Have you read it?
*****
Now, I’m curious. 
Do any of these scenes sound tempting to you?
If so, which one?
And why?
Do share!

Monday, February 24, 2014

So Much Fun to Be Home... A List of Wonderful Things


So Much Fun To Be Home...
A List of Wonderful Things

Some years back, on a relatively ordinary afternoon, I received a phone call from a friend wondering if The Songwriter and I would like front row seats to a Rolling Stones concert that very night.  Calling down the hallway to him, The Songwriter yelled “Yes!” before I even completed the query.  Knowing they were famous for not taking the stage until around midnight, I asked The Songwriter if he’d mind if I brought a book to read during the opening acts.  I won’t tell you his reply; I’ll only say I went book-less to the show.  And even with the lateness of the hour, coupled with no satisfactory reading material, I had an absolute whale of a time.
I have sat on both the second and fourth rows of Bruce Springsteen concerts, events that always provide ample amounts of the sort of fun a person reasonably expects to be absent in adulthood.  Though my aversion to being flipped upside down forbade my participation in a ride on the Rock and Roll Roller Coaster at Disneyworld, I did manage to endure falling 150 feet once, and only once, on the elevator contraption in the aptly named Tower of Terror. 

 I say all this to make it clear that I know how to have fun like normal people.  However, as I drove home one afternoon last week in delighted anticipation of the night I had planned, it occurred to me, not for the first time, that there are many definitions of fun.  For as much as I enjoyed all the above mentioned experiences, had someone offered me enviable tickets this particular night I would have flatly turned them down, as I found my plans for the evening much too good to relinquish. 

My house was sparkling clean and full of flowers.  A big bouquet of orange roses filled the Woodland vase in the sitting room, while pink and salmon lace-edged tulips overflowed the cut glass bowl by the bedroom rocking chair.  There were Casablanca lilies in the blue Art Nouveau vase by the fireplace, their fragrance mingling deliciously with the faint traces of woodsmoke from last night’s fire.  I was in the middle of The Goldfinch, Donna Tartt’s latest Dickensian treat, as well as coming into the final stitches of a lace work shawl I'd been knitting and couldn’t wait to block and wear.  The weather outside, though only so recently glacial, was now in a full flirtation with Spring, enough so that I could open the windows and let cleansing breezes drift through the rooms, at least till the sun set.  No invitation could I possibly accept tonight.  Home was the only place I wanted to be, and I spent several long, blissful days enjoying its pleasures and having fun.

This happy hibernation gave me time
 to put together a list of my latest finds for you sweet readers as well.
  Hope you enjoy them all.
*****
 1. More Antique Pillows
In conversation with a client last week, I implored her
 to add some antique touches to her sparkling new rooms. 
 An inherited side table, an old painting. 
 A weathered plant stand in the corner, its patina slightly faded. 
 A stack of old books.
  Antiques give new rooms weight and wisdom.  They are items with experience; they have lived a little.  And just as these are the type of people one wants round one’s dinner party table, these are also sort of items that make a room interesting and inviting.
One of my favourite ways to add some warmth to a room is with antique textiles. 
 An old velvet sash used as a curtain tieback. 
 A faded French quilt at the end of the bed. 
 Or one of these fabulous pillows. 
It’s been rather amazing how quickly these disappear from my etsy shoppe every time I happened to find some more.  The ones I have now are perfect examples of what every room needs.  A bit Bloomsbury, made from antique carpets with utterly scrumptious colours, they add a cozy touch to a room.  I don’t have many in the shop, but each one is a treasure.
And as you can see above..... I kept one for my own bed. 
Find them HERE.
Monday morning update:  Only four left!
****

2. Yarn Bowl
 When The Songwriter and I go out to dinner we have, on several occasions, returned home to a scene as irritating as it is hilarious.  We get a hint something is amiss when we open the front door and spy the tell-tale trail of yarn.  Edward is greeting us as usual, tail spinning and head bobbing.  But Apple is hanging back a little, not exactly meeting our gaze, as though thinking deeply on something infinitely more important that our arrival.  I follow the trail of yarn to find a scene worthy of a dark comedy: yarn wrapping round chair legs, over sofa arms, and in several incidences, down hallways. Once, obviously in a fit of uncontrolled, exuberant mischief, she wound herself round a rocking chair, as tightly as a criminal in a straight-jacket, and had to wait there until we returned, no doubt enduring the disapproving gaze of the slightly older, and infinitely wiser, Edward.  Though she has also chewed up knitting needles and decimated patterns, it seems to be balls of freshly wound wool that attract her attention most completely.  
Therefore, how thrilled was I to open this present at Christmas!  As dear William Morris famously said, “Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful”, and this yarn bowl meets that criteria handsomely.  Handmade, gorgeous in colour and form, it has little holes to put the yarn through so the ball doesn’t bounce out of the bowl as well as, hallelujah, a lid!
Though Apple seems a bit bored when we return in the evenings these days,
 I am absolutely in love with this yarn bowl!
Find it HERE
****

   3.  Sherlock
Three episodes?
Only three episodes??
Why, oh why, can’t this be on every single night?
****

4.  Bloomsbury at Burberry
With designs taken straight off the walls of Charleston Farmhouse, 
Burberry has entered the Bloomsbury world with an oh so tempting flourish.
Oh, my soul.
These bags.
I want every single one.
Find the entire collection HERE.
****

5.  Porter
Net-A-Porter has just launched a lovely new magazine.
Have you seen it?
The photos of Uma Thurman are so charming.
Find the magazine HERE.
****

6.  A Chaise Lounge for Edward!
With this hint of Spring in the air, I naturally think about being outside a bit more.
Like me, Edward likes the shade much more than the sun,
so I think he’d adore this!
Find it HERE.
****

7.  Fanciful Chairs
And while we’re thinking of the outdoors...
How much fun are these?
Imagine a huge manicured garden, 
all formal green hedges and grass, no flowers.
Then imagine these chairs, in every colour, dotted hither and yon, 
as though put in place by a wizard on the ides of March.
Love them.
Find them HERE.
****

8.  Shop Dogs
Lucky me to belong to a book club in Nashville.  I try to attend each quarterly meeting,
 not just because I enjoy our all-classics reading list and delightful conversations, 
but because a trip to Nashville means I can spend an hour or so in Parnassus Books.
They have a sublime selections of books, it’s true.  
And the staff are always helpful and ready to tempt you
 with books you’ve never even heard of before. 
 But it’s the shop dogs that really make any visit irresistible.
Parnassus Books has a wonderful website now, 
with blogs from owner/author, Ann Patchett, staff recommendations
 and best of all, Shop Dog Diaries.  
You must visit and meet Sparky, shown above, as well as Gracie and Bear. 
And you’ll be hard pressed to find a more sincere and responsible shop dog than Opie, 
who has the distinction of penning the latest diary entry.
You will adore them.
Find the Parnassus Shop Dog Diaries HERE.
****

9.  Chicken in Milk
I found this recipe of Jamie Oliver’s last week and tried it for Sunday lunch.
With lemons, garlic, fresh sage and cinnamon, 
it is guaranteed to make your house smell so, so amazing.
And it is so, so delicious.
Find the recipe HERE.
****

 10.  The Grand Budapest Hotel
Simply cannot wait to see this movie.
See the trailer HERE.

See you soon with a new Winter Reading post!
xo

Painting above by Ellen Dora Nicholson

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