28 February 2014

Making a difference

"People will forget what you said,
people will forget what you did,
but they will never forget how you made them feel."
—Maya Angelou
Pollyanna hangs prisms to catch the sun.

27 February 2014

The Ship

I am standing on a seashore. 

A ship at my side spreads her white sails to the evening breeze and starts for the blue ocean. She is an object of beauty and strength. 

I stand and watch her until at length she hangs like a speck of white cloud just where the sea and the night sky come to mingle with each other.

Then someone at my side says, "There, she is gone." 

But gone where? Gone only from my sight. 

She is just as large in mast and hull and spar as she was when she left my side, and she is just as able to bear her load of living freight to her destined port. 

Her diminished size is in me, not in her.

And just at that moment, when someone at my side says, "There, she is gone!" there are other voices, on another shore, ready to take up the glad shout: "Here she comes!"

And that is life, and that is dying.

—Henry Jackson Van Dyke

"A Barque" by Konstantinos Volanakis 19th c.

26 February 2014

Story Telling

THE art of story-telling has been cultivated in all ages and among all nations of which we have any record. It is the outcome of an instinct implanted universally in the human mind. By means of a story, the savage philosopher accounts for his own existence and that of all the phenomena which surround him. With a story, the mothers of the wildest tribes awe their little ones into silence, or rouse them into delight. And the weary hunters beguile the long silence of a desert night with the mirth and wonders of a tale.

from The Science of Fairy Tales (1891)
—Edward Sidney Hartland

I believe I am, at heart, a story teller.  It is by far my favorite means of expression. My grandmothers were story-tellers. My maternal grandfather was a story-teller. And both of my parents were story tellers. So it is both an inherited and learned approach to communicating who I am, what I feel, what I've experienced, and what matters to me. And I find myself attracted to story-tellers, being blessed with several story-telling friends. The thing about story-tellers, you see, is that they are also pretty good listeners. Because they like a good story.

Carry on.

24 February 2014

The Rapture of Life

When you follow your bliss... doors will open where you would not have thought there would be doors, and where there wouldn't be a door for anyone else.

We must be willing to get rid of the life we've planned, so as to have the life that is waiting for us.

The big question is whether you are going to be able to say a hearty “Yes!” to your adventure.

Myths are public dreams, dreams are private myths. 

I don't have to have faith, I have experience.

We are having experiences all the time which render some sense of our own depth, and it is miraculous if you put yourself on a kind of track that has been there all the while, waiting for you, and the life that you ought to be living is the one you are living.

I don't think there is any such thing as an ordinary mortal. Everybody has his own possibility of rapture in the experience of life. All he has to do is recognize it and then cultivate it and get going with it. I always feel uncomfortable when people speak about ordinary mortals because I've never met an ordinary man, woman, or child. 
If you meditate on your past sins long enough, you can get lost in your sins and not know what your virtues are. Why not meditate on the virtues? Foster the virtues and let the sins fall off. Find the virtues. Affirm life! Instead of criticizing it, affirm life! 

The conquest of fear yields the courage of life. That is the cardinal initiation of every heroic adventure—fearlessness and achievement.

The mystery that you're looking for and you think is somewhere external to yourself is not out there at all. It's what you are. You don't have to go anywhere to find god, and you don't have to go anywhere to find the Promised Land. It's here, inside every human being. It's where you are. It's what you are. We don't realize that the gods are not out there somewhere. They live in us all.

The privilege of a lifetime is being who you are. 

—Joseph Campbell

21 February 2014

Erudition by the Foot

I found a web page where European leather-bound books were being sold. On closer inspection, I realized it was a trade sight for interior designers, where they can buy books by the linear foot to put into homes they're decorating for people.

Minimum sale is five feet. Special discounts on more than 100 feet!

I can go to any one of my bookcases and pull out a book and remember who gave it to meor where I bought it—and when I read it and what it means to me.

Two green leather tooled volumes of Vanity Fair by Thackery ... a gift from a childhood friend. Tiny blue volumes of Mrs. Browning's poetry.... from a beloved companion. A burgundy leather bound collection of Sir Walter Scott's poems... brought over from Scotland. A small green book of poems by Shelley.... purchased in Oxford. Countless volumes of Dickens, nearly falling apart with use.... bought long ago in an old corner bookshop that is sadly no longer there. 

And so many, many more.... some old, some new, some paperbound, some bound in leather. Some on shelves, others piled on chairs or stools, many holding pride of place on the mantle or on tables. Do I love the way my books look in my house. Yes! of course. Do I arrange some of them so as to highlight the beauty of their old bindings or gold-embossed titles? Yes, I do. But they are all read, all loved, and never bought for show.  

Books as status symbol. Books to reflect one's wealth. Books displayed to imply fabricated learning.  Frankly, the concept confounds me.

19 February 2014

Feeding a Habit

On Sunday I went with a dear friend to two yarn stores in New York City. 

Knitty City, NYC

Entering the doors of Knitty City was like a over-eater going into a bakery.  I was a soft wooly substance abuser surrounded by her fibre demons.

The bins are overflowing with gorgeous yarns from all over the world. The colors are staggeringly beautiful with equally tempting names like Belgian Chocolate or Vetiver. And the staff is charming and quick to answer questions or give advice.

Big shout out to Pearl (what a perfect name!) for help with lace fibers
It's a small space, which only enables one's desire to stroke everything. There was linen, cotton, merino, silk, blends, alpaca, angora. A veritable feast for the eyes and fingertips.

And then there were the sale bins of patterns. I came away with yarn for socks and for lace making, and with patterns for a variety of small projects including a lace scarf and fingerless gloves. I have never knitted lace before but am eager to try.

Lion Brand Yarn Studio, NYC

Then it was on to the Lion Brand Yarn Studio. Admittedly you can buy this yarn just about anywhere, but to see a wall of bins with all their skeins together in one place in all those delicious hues is remarkable. Not to mention the shelves, baskets, and drawers of needles, hooks, books, winders, needle guides, stitch holders, and every imaginable knitting and crocheting acoutrement.

I went there hoping to find the yarns that were mentioned in the pattern I fell in love with last week. They did not have the exact purple, but the one I chose was so close it was indistinguishable from the original.  And the staff at LBYS was equally helpful whether it was my brief struggle with a computer, or a question about a crochet hook.

Both stores had areas where you could sit and look over patterns, work on a project, or get the help you needed with a recalcitrant stitch you didn't understand.  At the Lion Brand store there was also a bank of computers where you could go to their website and download and print free patterns on the spot, or —in my case— consult a pattern for the kind, color and amount of yarn you needed for a particular project.

It was a field trip I will not soon forget, and one which will afford me many, many hours of happy labor over the coming months.

14 February 2014

Love's Coming

She had looked for his coming as warriors come,
With the clash of arms and the bugle's call;
But he came instead with a stealthy tread, 
Which she did not hear at all.

She had thought how his armor would blaze in the sun,
As he rode like a prince to claim his bride:
In the sweet dim light of the falling night
She found him at her side.

She had dreamed how the gaze of his strange, bold eye
Would wake her heart to a sudden glow:
She found in his face the familiar grace
Of a friend she used to know.

She had dreamed how his coming would stir her soul,
As the ocean is stirred by the wild storm's strife:
He brought her the balm of a heavenly calm,
And a peace which crowned her life.

—Ella Wheeler Wilcox

13 February 2014

The Look

Strephon kissed me in the spring,
Robin in the fall,
But Colin only looked at me
And never kissed at all.

Strephon's kiss was lost in jest,
Robin's lost in play,
But the kiss in Colin's eyes
Haunts me night and day.

—Sara Teasdale

12 February 2014

Opposite of happy

I will be taking my rolling cart to get my weekly market share tomorrow.  It's available for pickup from 12 noon until 6 p.m.  From there I will ride the trolley into the center of town — with my rolling cart — to pay my mortgage. Then I will board the bus to go home.

Normally this wouldn't bother me in the least. Just another Thursday with my usual errands. But it's going to start snowing this evening, around midnight, and continue snowing (heavily at times) until 12 noon tomorrow. And then it's going to turn to sleet and freezing rain for the rest of the day, with high gusting winds. They say we could get as much as 6 inches of snow before the change-over.

They're reporting pea-sized wind-driven sleet in South Carolina.

A sheet of freezing sleet on top of six inches of snow. High winds. And a rolling cart full of fresh produce, cheese, bread and eggs.

I am not looking forward to tomorrow.

End of story.


I haven't crocheted in years. But seeing this pattern today
has tempted me to pick up a crochet hook again.
I would dearly love to have this gorgeous piece of handiwork
draped over my shoulders at night.

Lion Brand Yarns
Painted Desert and Amethyst

11 February 2014

Winter Cheer

'How far that little candle throws his beams!
So shines a good deed in a weary world.'
Merchant of Venice, Wm. Shakespeare 

Well... okay, so it's not a good deed.

 But it is a good thing to behold...

 ...in such a weary, snow- and ice-laden world.

07 February 2014

Winter Portrait

Winter's hand has transformed the gardens over the past weeks,
blanketing the woodpile, leaving a lacy edge on the wreaths,
and tracing each branch on the viburnum with white.

Clay pots stand frozen...
their tendrils reaching out like brittle arthritic fingers.

The rose hedge is a mass of white, each branch, thorn and hip
coated in a thick layer of snow.

The empty seed pods on the rose of sharon
rise up like cotton bolls against the sky.

An old headboard groans under a tangle of snow-laden bittersweet.

Iron trellises catch snow in each curve.

Garden follies seem topped with dollops of whipped cream.

The arbor bends under the weight of snow packed roses.

Bittersweet vines create whirling patterns, like looping joy rides.

Chairs wait, silent and perfectly still.

All remnants of nature's latest snow fest.

05 February 2014

A little sunshine in an otherwise dreary season

Winter is not a season, it's an occupation.
—Sinclair Lewis

I was surprised—and yes, a little disappointed—to learn it had snowed in the night when I woke up on Tuesday.  It wasn't a lot of snow, but it was enough to make one sigh a bit and mutter "Not again" before donning layers of clothing for something as simple as a walk up the road.

That 'light dusting' was followed by more snow last night.  As predicted, the flakes began to fall at around five o'clock this morning, accumulating quickly and making my morning walk a bit treacherous. Finding the sidewalk was a challenge at times, although it's always fun to have yours be the first steps in a pristine blanket of snow.

By seven o'clock nearly four inches had fallen, but by midday temperatures had risen slightly and the white fluffy flakes turned to freezing rain and sleet, leaving behind sodden piles of snow that were nearly impossible to lift into a shovel without injuring a major organ or muscle.

The weather caster just announced that more snow is predicted for Sunday night. He said that New Englanders are suffering from winter fatigue. I think it's the frigid temperatures more than the snow that wears on me. It really does take a lot of energy—and an inordinate amount of outerwear—to stay warm whilst doing the simplest things:  feeding the birds, walking to the bus stop, trudging the hill to buy milk.

Last Sunday it was positively balmy, in the low 50s, although by this Friday night it will be in the single digits again. That means the old furnace will be chugging away, struggling to push hot water through the radiators and keep my drafty house warm.

But this is New England, after all, and this is what it does at this time of year. I could have stayed home today but it was invigorating to be out in the heavy snow, making my way, the only person wandering down the road. There is an independent nature in northeast coastal dwellers. It doesn't mean we wouldn't rather be sitting by the fire with a hot cup of chocolate or tea.  (Or better still, sitting in a verdant garden, sipping lemonade....) It just means we take what Nature throws at us, complain about it a little, and then wait for the next meteorological surprise.

And Nature gives us ways to cope with our petulant seasons, often by teasing us with glimpses of what the future holds. At the height of summer it might be a rain-laden wind storm, tossing green leaves from the trees overhead and bringing a chill to the air reminiscent of Autumn days to come. In winter it is a small green crocus leaf pushing through an ice patch, or the sight of sleeping buds on various shrubs, waiting to waken and spread their color and cheer.

I clipped an armful of forsythia branches at the height of last week's Nor'easter. It seemed like the right time to bring a little HOPE into the cottage.

I smile each time I walk through the dining room and see them... a chaotic web of branches in a pressed glass pitcher of warm water, buds growing a little plumper each day. Pretty soon the long fronds will sprout green leaves. And then one morning, without warning, I'll walk in and see butter yellow buds, bringing much-needed sunshine into the house.

And not a moment too soon.

04 February 2014

It helps to be endearing when you're grateful

There's a library not far from my office.
Someone left a book on my desk in the night with this note.

03 February 2014

A few steps closer

I'm not entirely sure why I was so happy to turn the calendar on Saturday morning, but I was.

Of all months, January is the one that's hard to pin down or get excited about.

Christmas has passed, Spring seems a distant hope, and the weather—despite the traditional mid-month 'thaw'—tends towards the truly frigid and unpleasant.

Certainly January affords welcome hibernation. After weeks of hectic planning, wrapping, decorating, baking, eating, visiting, and the attendant packing away it is nice to be able to sit back, exhale and do pretty much nothing by the fire. Or at least 'nothing' compared to what you'd been doing a mere 3 weeks earlier.

But for the most part, January is a period of suspended animation, like time spent in Nature's waiting room.  Anticipatory, fallow, grey. 

And then, with the arrival of February, it feels like the year is on the move again, and the wintry tramp towards the growing season has picked up the pace.

Being the shortest month doesn't hurt, of course.  Funny how 2 or 3 days shaved off February can make all the difference in making a person think Spring is closer than ever, but there you are. And of course there's Valentine's Day, which means you spend the first week or so of the month thinking about that, perhaps making and writing cards and even baking something festive and pink.  And by the time the Hearts & Flowers have come and gone, you look at the calendar and realize there are only two more weeks until March.

And we all know what the first of March means: Twenty days until Spring arrives. 

Twenty days to get out the seed packets and peat pots and all those chopsticks you saved from the Chinese restaurant at the top of the road so you could skewer the brightly colored seed packets on them and poke them into the pots of moist wakening seeds.

Twenty days to think about what you might want to buy for the garden this year.  More trellises? A few more large pots for lettuce and tomatoes?  The Hollyhocks and Rudbeckia you've wanted? Another chair to replace the one that broke last summer?

Twenty days to consider what projects you hope to accomplish once the weather warms and the days grow longer. Painting the verandah walls? Reorganizing the garden shed? Sawing the last of the downed tree limbs so they can season for next year's fire wood? 

Twenty days to sort through all the winter clothing and decide what you'll be relinquishing to Good Will in late April. (Less than should be, probably...)

Twenty days to clear away the last of the leaves from all the garden beds to let the spring bulbs and violets poke through unhampered.

Suffice it to say, my mind was awash with possibility, eagerness and hope on Saturday morning. And all because I turned the calendar.

01 February 2014

Finding yourself in winter

There is a privacy about winter which no other season gives you.
In spring, summer and fall people sort of have an open season on each other;
only in the winter can you have longer, quiet stretches
when you can savor belonging to yourself.
— Ruth Stout (1884-1980)