31 March 2012

Easter Eggs for an Emperor

Яйца Фаберже
  With Easter so near, I thought it would be nice to post these images of Faberge eggs.

 The intricate work in these tiny masterpieces just amazes me! 

 There were thousands made in his workshops between the years of 1855 and 1917.

 Most often these exquisite eggs were given as gifts at Easter.

 The most famous—and largest—were the 50 or so imperial eggs made
for the Tsar and his family.

Only 42 of those beautiful eggs have survived.
 The last of them, Constellation, was left unfinished. 

 That year, 1917, the Tsar and his entire family were taken prisoner
and in 1918 were massacred.

 I have seen several of these at the New Orleans Museum of Fine Arts.  

 It would be nice to have just one on the table on Easter morning, wouldn't it?

  This is what I would choose!

The Lilies of the Valley egg (1898) [at the top] is a translucent pink-enameled treasure covered with gold-stemmed flowers made of pearls, diamonds and rubies. One flower, when turned, releases a geared mechanism inside to raise the fan of tiny miniatures from the top – portraits of the Czar and his first two daughters, Olga and Tatiana. Every spring, Alexandra had the rooms of the palaces filled with beautiful floral bouquets. Fabergé knew that pink was the favorite color of the Empress, and lilies of the valley her favorite flower.

Basket of Flowers (1901) [at the bottom] is owned by Queen Elizabeth II.
You can read about it

Happy Easter!

30 March 2012

Keeping It Simple

Several year ago, a friend of mine posed a query to me. It is one I occasionally find myself reconsidering, especially during those moments when life is anything but simple. 

You are to be left alone on a deserted island for the span of six months. You may bring only the following with you:
  • One book
  • A portable CD player, batteries for 6 months, and one CD
  • One image (photograph or painting, etc.)
  • A favorite piece of clothing or favorite outfit
  • One personal luxury item (e.g., cologne, pen, comb, shampoo, etc.)
  • One practical item (flashlight, matches, blanket, etc.)
  • A case of one beverage
  • A case of one food item
Neither the luxury item nor the practical item can be electronic. Under no circumstances can you leave the island until the six months have passed. What are your choices? 

Over time, a few of my choices have varied, while others remain immutable.
I find that oddly comforting. 

28 March 2012

The Same Moon

 I was a weekened guest in a vast house that was perched on a hill overlooking the ocean. Because of its steep bluffs and proximity to the sea, the small coastal village is simply called "The Hill" by locals and visitors alike.  Unable to sleep, I crept upstairs to sit on the sleeping porch, listening contentedly as the sea washed sonorously against the nearby shore. 

The house was filled with books and as I passed through the library I chose several to look through with the hope that I might grow sleepy.  Settling down in one of the large chairs, I opened one of the books—a gilt-edged biography of Dante Gabriel Rosetti, one of my favorite painters—and a folded sheet slipped from its pages onto my lap.  

With some trepidation—and a few glances over my shoulder—I opened the paper and saw that it was a letter, written on stationery from University College-Oxford. It was dated "Monday—May 30th" and although there was no year given, it was yellowed with age and dog-eared with frequent readings, convincing me these words had been penned many, many years ago.  The sender had used only initials so there was no way of knowing to whom—or from whom—it had been sent.  It was a brief note, written on only one side of the vellum sheet.  I settled back to read it, the stillness interrupted occasionally by the wash of waves against the nearby shoreline. 

"A glorious sunny weekend here has inevitably turned my thoughts to you and the Hill.  I thought of you particularly last night seeing the marvelous moon here, which must be sparkling and gleaming on the sea there.  It is marvelous how much the mind retains of things it loves and how easily they can be evoked.  How much richer is life for this!"   

I folded the old paper and placed it back amongst the pages of the book. How strange to find this letter from Oxford, written by a distant friend, or perhaps a brother or lover. I tried to imagine where he might have been as he watched the moon rise. By the River Cherwell, perhaps, seeing her lift above the tree branches? Or standing by the Bridge of Sighs, watching her passage over a network of college spires?  Wherever he was, he knew that in a matter of hours the same moon would be making its way to the sea-washed shores of the New England beach town he loved. 

And here was I, only just returned from Oxford myself... sitting in the dark on the verandah of that same house, watching the moon as it glistened on that same briny sea. And the happy-go-lucky author of that letter, written and posted so long ago, would never know how touching and evocative his words would seem to a complete stranger many years later. 

22 March 2012

Moments here and there

Last Saturday I awoke to the sound of birds singing in the hemlock tree.  As breakfast was cooking I took my cup of tea and wandered around the garden in my nightdress, seeing what had grown or poked through the soil since the day before, marveling at all the beautiful shades of green as everything slowly comes to life, and planning in my head all the Spring tasks I'm longing to get to:  

  • flowers to dig up and move to another part of the garden
  • seeds to start for pots along the stairway 
  • window boxes to fill by the trellises near the side door
  • pea gravel to replenish all the garden paths
  • setting up the rain barrel and cleaning out the birdbath
Later in the afternoon I took a walk and then knitted for awhile.  Before the day ended I wrote a few cards and notes to far away friends. And as I busied myself with these random activities throughout the day, it occurred to me how important it is to be touched by these transitory moments, as simple as they might be, and to be aware of them as they're happening. 

Carry on.

21 March 2012


Last week I spent a quiet, cozy day inside, listening to the wind bluster down the chimney and watching the sun push in and out of the clouds that scudded overhead.  The scent of early morning ironing still filled the air as I sat and worked on the taxes.  And then it was upstairs to tidy the bedroom, fluff pillows and put the ironed pillowcases and clothes away. Then back downstairs to dust.

There are piles of books everywhere in this house it seems! But then that is the usual state of affairs in any home I live in.  But I may have actually found a narrow strip of wall space in the den to put another book case.  I'll have to measure to make sure and then see what I can find.  There's a lovely old mahogany book case in the attic although how the previous tenants got it there is a complete mystery since I’ve tried twice to bring it downstairs and it simply will not fit down the stairwell.  It's a shame, really, as it would look really beautiful in the house and would give me much needed space for all the lovely books that as yet have no home.

I balled up some yarn later in the day, a beautiful grey and cream striped wool that I bought last autumn. I'm not certain yet what I'll make with it, but it was nice to handle it and wonder.  Whenever I have new yarn it's always a slow process deciding what to do with it, sitting and holding it my hand and trying to imagine how it will look as a hat or mittens or a scarf or shawl.  It's almost as if I'm conjuring its destiny or hoping it will tell me how it wants to be used:  "What would you like to be, hmmm..?"

Despite the unseasonably mild weather, the batch of brilliantly sunny days here and there, and the odd brave daffodil, February was still such a dreary time of year for the garden, with everything bare and no particular natural 'theme' to bring into the house.  In spring and autumn it's always easy to put things around reminiscent of the season: the first batch of violets and lily of the valley, or the russet tones of andromeda mixed with rudbeckia seedheads. Summer means bringing armloads of roses, evening primrose, loosestrife and hosta leaves into the cottage. And of course the Christmas holidays are the perfect time to "deck the halls" with holly, ivy, and pine boughs.  But late-winter can be so bleak:  Christmas is past, Spring is still weeks away, and everything in nature seems to come to an anticipatory standstill.

Ah, but March is different and I'm able to enjoy miniature daffodils blooming in the large "flow blue" basin in my dining room, a sprig of Andromeda in a small vase on the kitchen counter, and a lovely Wedgwood vase of Forsythia that I forced. (My annual "let's fool Mother Nature" trick!) 
There are crocus and myrtle pushing up in the garden beds, and now that last week's wind has finally abated I've put my ivy wreath back on the door.  (I had to chase it through the garden in my nightdress one night last week!)

I could hear the old rusted camel bells ringing in the garden this morning, as if calling out to me to bring all my wind chimes back outside. They seems to know it's spring .. as if they can see the squirrels and birds bustling, and the return of greenery, and they're as eager as I am for those lazy, verdent days when late spring and early summer breezes create a sweet symphony of tinkling bells and chimes throughout the garden.

20 March 2012

Just waiting...

 This is my favorite place to be from April to mid-October.
Soon I'll be taking down the storm windows, putting up the bamboo shades,
and sitting back with a glass of sun tea and a good book.

Soon.... but not nearly soon enough.

19 March 2012

13 March 2012

British Colonial Style

So I was thinking more about style, and it occurs to me that I tend to reference favorite films and television series when trying to put a name or genre to what appeals to me: Out of Africa; A Passage to India; Jewel in the Crown; Flame Trees of Thika.

What all these beautiful and evocative set designs seem to have in common is British Colonial style.  This sent me on a mission to see what others have to say about this style, and I found this on the HGTV site: 

British Colonial Style
Any time civilized people live in a very tropical climate, an interesting juxtaposition of styles arises — out of tradition and necessity. The British Colonial style during the Golden Age of Piracy of the 1600 and 1700s was no exception. China and silver among other refined items were imported from Britain, but that elegance was tempered with the realities of island life: the need to stay cool and the available local resources. British colonists were in the Caribbean to harvest the rare woods of the area, primarily mahogany — and that rich dark wood in furniture and flooring became a signature of the style. Instead of the heavy trappings of a British home, draperies and bed linens were lighter and more flowing, and walls were kept in paler hues to reflect the light.

 British Colonial Basics
  • Use dark woods in your furnishings, either real mahogany or your own version created with stain or paint, and opt for dark floors to create the base for the look.
  • Walls don't have to be white, but should be light — sea tones of pale green or blue look great against dark wood. A highly reflective color is best (in paint, reflective quality is measured in LRV, light reflectance value; go for 40 percent LRV or more).
  • Add textural interest with woven elements, such as baskets or sisal rugs.
  • Intersperse pieces of china, silver or crystal for a look of elegance.
  • Get fresh with flowers (pop them in an antique china bowl) or add a tropical palm or fern. Greenery looks great against the dark woods and light linens.
  • Stain light wood darker to capture the richness of mahogany, a wood that was harvested in the Caribbean islands.
  • A three-panel screen can disguise an unsightly door. It was behind such screens that ladies of the day changed their tightly corseted clothes.
  • Create "island" touches with reeding (in the headboard and room divider) and wicker (in a night table).
  • Add faux leather to provide a touch of richness and Old World grace.

Many years ago, I'd purchased a copy of British Colonial Style by Tricia Foley (1993).  The images you see throughout this post are from her lovely book. 

Looking around my parlor at the steamer trunk, the dark furniture, the piles of old books, the crowded mantle, the stacked wicker hampers, the paisely shawls, the dark bamboo shades and interior shutters, the old Cricket balls and pots of greenery I see that there is more method to my style than I first thought!

I'm not sure if the book is still available,
but for anyone who enjoys this style, I recommend it!

12 March 2012

Lessons in nature

nest| nest
a place of refuge
a place to live or raise offspring
a snug or secluded retreat or shelter

Rise up, my love, my fair one, and come away. 
For, lo, the winter is past, the rain is over and gone; 
The flowers appear on the earth; the time of the singing of birds is come,
and the voice of the turtle is heard in our land; 
The fig tree putteth forth her green figs,
and the vines with the tender grape give a good smell.
Arise, my love, my fair one, and come away.

There are many kinds of nests.

A human ‘nest’ can range from a favorite chair or corner of the couch to one’s entire home. What is more comforting than the feeling that washes over us as we step over the threshold into our cottages? There is above all the inexplicable sense of contentment, of leaving the world behind and entering a place where we are safe, surrounded by the detritus of life that we cherish: books, shawls, porcelain, chairs, paintings, teapots, chess sets, souvenirs of our travels, not only to exotic places but our travels through life. There is also the sense of belonging that comes from knowing we are in a place we made, a place that—barring disaster—can be ours for as long as we wish. Certainly there are human interlopers, insect invaders, financial setbacks and natural plagues of water and wind to fear. But for the most part we feel our nests are inviolable, a fortress in which we can relax, be safe, be home.

Nests built in trees, thickets and warrens by small creatures are a more fragile thing, a temporary place for a mere season’s activity. And yet the care and courage that goes into making them seems no less remarkable or human-like. Bibs and bobs of twine, feathers, cardboard, plastic, mud and twigs are fashioned painstakingly over several weeks, the inner chamber pressed and formed into something safe and welcoming—home and cradle from birth-to-flight or birth-to-scurrying.  There is always the danger of swooping hawks, carnivorous ravens, or climbing felines. And of course there is the tragedy of too-weak wings not seeing a young one safely through its first flight, or new little legs that are not swift enough to outrun a predator. And still the nests are built with instincts that seem unfazed by possible failure.
I never saw a wild thing sorry for itself.
A small bird will drop frozen dead from a bough
without ever having felt sorry for itself.

D.H. Lawrence

08 March 2012

Le Spectre de la Rose

A rose, plucked from its stem, worn by a young girl to a ball.  Pinned to her dress—just there, over her heart—its cool petals resting against the warmth of her skin as she dances throughout the evening.

After the ball she returns home and undresses languorously: removing her tiny dancing pumps and glittering gown, letting the pins fall from her hair so the curls droop around her face, loosening her corset and petticoats and slipping daintily from her chemise, pulling the soft dressing gown over her shoulders and slipping into bed.

The music of the ball dances through her head as she falls asleep.  The wilted rose rests on her dressing table, lifeless and pale.

But while she sleeps, a dream!  A young man with a narrow, delicate frame and pale lips hovers near, leaning over her bed. He whispers to her, his words caressing her face delicately.

Souleve ta paupiere close..
  he whispers, open your eyes, closed in sleep, dreaming as a virgin dreams.  ‘Tis I.. le Spectre de la rose...

(It is the rose, you see, come to haunt her.)

... the rose you wore last night at the ball, taking me from the garden, still covered in pearls of dew.  Pinning me just here...

He touches her breast gently, making her smile even as she sleeps. She does not waken, thinking it a wonderful dream.

.. just here, ma chere, carrying me against the alabaster flesh as you danced.

His whispers fill her dreams with the sense and scent of him, sweetly tormenting her with his presence.

And so it is, cherie, without your being able to escape it, each night I will come to haunt you. To dance by your bedside.  To rest against that alabaster once more.

He leans nearer, brushing her hair with his rosy scent.

Ah, but don't be fearful. I do not come to ask for a Funeral Mass.. or to chide you. 
No, I come only to dance, ma belle.. only to dance.  So that each morning you will waken, barely knowing if it was a dream.. to have danced all the night with a rose against your breast.. just here...

Again, he carresses that place where he wilted and died.

.. waking with my scent on your fingers and hair. And this scent? This perfume? Ah! it is the essence of my soul.  I come from heaven, you see.   J'arrive du Paradis....  he assures her.   And my destiny could be envied, could it not?  To have had such a fate! More than one would have given his life, ma cherie. For on your breast I have my tomb each night.  And against the alabaster where I repose..  just here..  I write these words with a kiss:

'Here lies a rose that all kings might envy.'

Soulève ta paupière close qu’effleure un songe virginal.
Je suis le spectre d’une rose que tu portais hier au bal.
Tu me pris encor_ emperlée des pleurs d’argent de l’arrosoir,
Et parmi la fête étoilée tu me promenas tout le soir.
Ô toi, qui de ma mort fut cause, sans que tu puisses le chasser,
Toutes les nuits mon spectre rose a ton chevet viendra danser.
Mais ne_ crains rien, je ne réclame ni messe ni De Profundis,
Ce léger parfum est mon âme et j’arrive du Paradis.
Mon destin fut digne d’envie, et pour avoir un sort si beau
Plus d’un aurait donné sa vie. Car sur ton sein j’ai mon tombeau,
Et sur l’albâtre où je repose un poète avec un_ baiser
Écrivit : "Ci-gît une rose que tous les rois vont jalouser".

07 March 2012

Nathaniel Hawthorne

Thanks to the continued largesse of the lady who daily fills the FREE BOOKS - HELP YOURSELF carton on her front steps, I am discovering works by Nathaniel Hawthorne I never knew existed.  Like most, I've read House of the Seven Gables and The Scarlett Letter; but there are countless other books and short stories by Hawthorne that were unknown to me. (Clearly a reflection on me and not on Mr. Hawthorne.) 

For example....

The Blithedale Romance
The Marble Faun
The Celestial Railroad

Seeing these titles made me curious enough to seek out what other novels and short stories he may have penned. To my amazement—and delight—I found a site dedicated to his many titles, with texts for each.


Happy reading.

06 March 2012

Pub Lunch in the Garden

For the past few summers I've been having lunch in the garden for a friend's birthday.  One year it was afternoon tea, but the last two years it's been a traditional Pub Lunch with salad (accompanied by my own recipe for English salad cream), an assortment of English cheeses, sliced meats, deviled eggs, chutney, fruit, crusty bread, and British cider.  (The hard stuff!)

Here is the table setting from last August. 

 Flowers from my garden were the only "adornments" for the table.

 I wanted it to be rustic and welcoming and not too fancy.

A pleasant memory on a late winter's day!

02 March 2012


 style [stahyl]
1. a particular kind, sort, or type, as with reference to form, appearance, or character
2. a mode of fashion, as in dress

As I thumb through design magazines, read blogs, or watch programs on HGTV, I find myself wondering: What's my style?  Not only in clothes but in my home? And are they one in the same?  Can someone look at me and tell how my house will look?  (Considering how I looked last Friday, I certainly hope not.... that was an unfortunate day, sartorially speaking.)

But I digress.... 

How to determine one’s style?

I tend to gravitate towards a variety of styles when it comes to my house: shabby chic; farmhouse; retro; traditional; Edwardian. Indeed, as I wander through my cottage I see that I have different styles in different rooms not only because I feel strongly that you should let the inherent bones and architectural ethos of a room tell you how it wants to be decorated but also because I tend to associate certain styles with a particular room's use. As a result I have a retro 1930s bathroom (true to the house’s pedigree); a kitchen that has a lot of “farmhouse” about it; a bedroom that is unashamedly feminine; an upstairs den that is part Casbah and part 19th c. library; a parlor that has a men’s club feel to it; a traditional dining room with lots of Asian porcelain (and a little garden statuary!); and a back porch that has shabby Beach House written all over it.   

And it's the same when it comes to what I like to wear:  a little Merchant-Ivory, a little Out of Africa, a little farm girl & country bumpkin, and lots of my father's old shirts!

Family members bandy around words like eclectic and bohemian but is it really that simple? Perhaps the one thing my clothes and cottage have in common—although an important thing, to be sure—is that they all seem to point back to a time other than the present. What that style is called I'm not sure. And I'm also not sure if it matters.

What is your style?  Is it fluid?  Rigid?   Does it inform your clothing as well as your home? And are they one and the same? If someone saw you on the street, could they imagine the interior of your home? And would they be right? 

Over and out.

01 March 2012

Hazardous at Any Altitude

While looking through one of the airline sites this week I stumbled across this.  [NOTE:  The photo and bold type are theirs.]

Transporting Knitting Needles & Needlepoint


Traveling with Special Items
  • Knitting needles are permitted in your carry-on baggage or checked baggage.
  • Items needed to pursue a Needlepoint project are permitted in your carry-on baggage or checked baggage.

Now while this is good news for those of us who love to knit and are grateful to be able to do so while travelling, it does give one pause.  I mean, I can see it now:  Terrorists being waved through checkpoints. No matches, no lighters, no plastique or suspicious detonators... just a skein of yarn and a lethal pair of number nines.