Friday, March 29, 2013

No Regrets

By Agnes Sligh Turnbull:

"There is only one thing about which I shall have no regrets when my life ends.

I have savored to the full all the small, daily joys.

The bright sunshine on the breakfast table,

the smell of the air at dusk;

the sound of the clock ticking,

the light rains that start gently after midnight;

the hour when the family come home;

Sunday-evening tea before the fire!

Oh, a million little, lovely things.

I have never missed one moment of beauty, nor ever taken it for granted."

We all have a busy weekend ahead of us. A special one. Easter to observe. The death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ to remember. My little gift to you today is to ask you not to leave a comment for this post.

Instead, take your fingers off the keyboard for a few seconds and look around you, at the room you're sitting in, out the window, or at the face of a dear loved one who might be in the room with you now, or down at that patient pet, always at your beck and call. Look at your own hands and notice how capable they are of creating something useful or something beautiful.

For a few moments, savor the beauty right in front of your eyes. And have a blessed Easter.

Friday, March 22, 2013

Spring Flowers

Spring did officially arrive this week, even if snow is forecast from now through Sunday at my friend Mary Ann's Calamity Acres Hobby Farm in Kansas.

We're having frost here at night in Tennessee and only a few of our daffodils are in bloom yet. But it is spring and I've put away my winter bedspread and all the plaid wool throws. There is one other thing I did this week. I took down a certain frame and changed the picture in it.

On the first day of summer there will be sunflower petals against a blue sky in the frame, and on the first day of autumn a tree with flame-colored leaves will take its place. Winter's picture of red dogwood buds encased in frozen ice bubbles actually goes up earlier in December than the first day of winter because--well, it just does.

This week the dogwood came down and pink apple blossoms went up.

Our son Defee took these pictures a few years ago and he and our daughter-in-law had them framed for our Christmas present. The quadrennial task of changing these pictures has become a simple pleasure I enjoy so much, both for the beauty of a picture I haven't seen for a year and for the thoughts it brings of the young man who held the camera for these shots.

I don't have any pictures to illustrate the lines below by Anne Morrow Lindbergh but we can close our eyes and imagine how lovely the real flowers must have been that Anne arranged for the house called Long Barn that she and her husband rented in England after the kidnapping and death in America of their first child.

Mary Ann in Kansas, with snow possibly falling right now, I'm dedicating these lines by Anne Morrow  to you. It will be truly spring there soon. I promise!

"We have put the blue iris in the long room, where they catch the color of the
Venetian blue glass and the greens and blues of the tapestries;
one bowl of hyacinths on the stool by the fireplace in the big room...
and one in the "Italian room" or little in-between hall,
with the amethyst-colored bottles.
Another pink hyacinth in the sitting room in the sunny window.
The pots of tulips, one red, one yellow,
on either side of the mirror in the front hall."

Anne Morrow Lindbergh The Flower and the Nettle

Friday, March 15, 2013

A Woman's Love of Dishes

Do men love pretty dishes as much as women do? With a passion that they seem to reserve for football or NASCAR?

Do they fall in love with as many patterns as we do or would they not notice if their dinner was served on the same plate since 1973?

I can't picture them squealing with delight at Goodwill upon finding a dozen hand-painted French plates taped together on a low shelf, not unless they're professional pickers. Do men have the patience to hand wash old delicate dishes instead of sticking them in a dishwasher?

I have never met a man who loves pretty dishes as much as I do but then I've yet to meet every man.

R.H. and I are in the midst of some repairs and repainting in my bathroom and dressing room due to damage from the old shower leaking, and the only main room not stuffed now with building supplies, tools, and items from those two rooms is our kitchen. I decided to bring a spot of spring prettiness somewhere in this cluttered house and set the supper table as if we were company.

It was one of those days I forgot to take meat out of the freezer for supper so this is a pantry meal, mostly soup and salad with homemade buttermilk biscuits, but it all tasted so much better served on some nice dishes found at Goodwill rather than our everyday Fiesta dishes. The table lifted my spirits and I think even R.H. enjoyed it.

Here is a poem by Grace Noll Crowell, a Poet Laureate of Texas who understood my dish love.

And yours?


Men may love their horses and their dogs,
Their guns and games, but since the world began,
And homes were built of clay or sod or logs,
Women have loved a dish, a bowl, a pan.

Have set them on high shelves to catch the gleam
Of sunlight through a window or a door,
Bright symbols of an ancient lovely dream,
Dreamed by women centuries before.

A dream of home, and of a table spread
In some dear spot made sweet by wind and sun
Where a family could be gathered to break bread,
After their simple daily tasks were done.

A woman's love of dishes is as old
As roofs or sills, or firelight on a hearth.
They are her emblems, her receptacles to hold
The fibres and the essences of earth.

Grace Noll Crowell
The Farmer's Wife Magazine
January 1936

Everyone has a favorite biscuit recipe and the soup is simply Mr. Campbell's Beef Consomme mixed with his Tomato, some sherry vinegar and onion powder. The salad I almost hesitate to name lest you make that guttural sound in your throat that my husband utters when he phones home to ask what's for supper and I say, "Pasta-Sardine Salad." See there, I knew you'd make a face, but maybe you would do like my husband does every single time after he takes a few bites. He says, "This is good!" 

Surprise is written all over his face.

Lots of Omega 3s there, friends, and crisp organic celery for crunch along with the pretty green celery leaves chopped, olives, champagne vinegar, bell peppers, jalapeƱo, Old Bay Seasoning and any others you like, cooked pasta--Rotini is my choice-- frozen green peas, and after it all chills add some mayonnaise. There you are, somewhat of a recipe for those of us who like sardines and even for some who think they don't. And since there are biscuits to go with it, reserve some hot buttered ones to make individual strawberry shortcakes for dessert. Our whipping cream can was on its last gasp and as much went on the vintage tablecloth as on our desserts.

Do you see this padded envelope that came in our mail? I have never had mail delivered by Royal Mail and I was thrilled!

This came from my friend Maureen at Random Distractions here and is a result of my name being chosen on her blog for a year's subscription to a quarterly literary review magazine called Slightly Foxed. Thank you so much, Maureen! I read the one by your son Andrew about J.P. Donleavy's The Wild Ginger Man first thing. Maureen, your brilliant son's review of The Wild Ginger Man convinced me that I'm better off sticking with his review only and not risk my tender emotions with Mr. Donleavy's book. I bet you're not surprised at my reaction even though you're bound to be extremely proud of your talented son! 

However, I do want to read Ysenda Maxtone Graham's The Real Mrs Minerva after reading another review in Slightly Foxed. Jan Struther's Mrs Miniver is a well loved book of mine and Greer Garson and Walter Pidgeon as Kay and Clem Minerva were my dream Hollywood film couple. I'm sure there will be many surprises in Struther's granddaughter's biography of her.

Slightly Foxed is a beautiful magazine from cover to cover, including the pretty yellow ribbon that was wrapped around it and the gift card accompanying it.

Here is what Alexander McCall Smith was quoted as saying about Slightly Foxed:

'The arrival of Slightly Foxed makes me drop everything.
I read it from cover to cover and it immediately sends me off
to order a number of the books that it features.'

I am going to be in such good company reading this magazine! I wonder if this author of some of our favorite books loves nice dishes? Surely he would have to since he brings such beauty to his readers.

I'll think of Alexander McCall Smith as I read Slightly Foxed and especially of Maureen who lives in lovely coastal Devon and blogs at

Friday, March 8, 2013

"Stalking Sleep"

"It has been some time since I have gone to bed and slept long and well...
I have found myself repeatedly stalking sleep--
and catching it only in snatches."
Faith Baldwin

I have tried to accept what I have been unable to change. I bless the rare nights when I fall asleep before midnight and try not to let it upset me when I cannot. Usually I get up rather than lying there until I can't stand the touch of the mattress on my bones any longer. I iron or something quiet so I don't wake my husband and disturb the sleep that he stalks as well. Or I get up and write, not on my computer but with a pencil and yellow legal pad.

The middle of the night can be conducive to an easy stream-of-consciousness writing. Have you ever noticed that? I like these elegant lines by Robert Shallor Holmes. I jotted them down so many years ago that I have forgotten whether the "Author" he refers to means God, which can also make perfect sense here, or as I am taking it to mean an actual "author", a writer, perhaps even a blogger. Regardless, I like to think that his "velvet of the night" will entice forth my own middle of the night talent:

The Author's Rendezvous
    When the silences are sealed
 By the velvet of the night...

Robert Shallor Holmes

(Not that much of what I've written in the "velvet of the night" is ever any good when read by light of day, more's the pity!)

I'm not talking about missing a little sleep now and then or a night here and there tossing and turning. Or of the odd early morning when a bathroom trip means the end of that night's sleep. I'm talking about chronic insomnia and I've tried all the magazine tips to no avail. 

My room is dark, quiet, and cool. There is no television or computer in my bedroom and no desk work piled up in a corner. There are no longer any pets in my bed to wake me up needing to go outside and potty now that my sweet Penelope is no longer with us. I've tried setting my alarm for seven every morning, getting up and staying up for five days in a row. Going outside in the sunlight in the morning to reset my melatonin. Buying a new mattress and new pillows. Not having caffeine after breakfast. Not eating chocolate. Eating a snack at bedtime. Not eating anything near bedtime. Going to bed tired physically. Going to bed rested. Afternoon nap. No nap. Nothing works. 

I find that the best sleep I get is from about 4 a.m. to 8 a.m. Sleeping to 9 a.m. makes me feel that I've been reborn--but then it is more difficult to get to sleep that night. I've always loved the mornings, always been a cheerful morning person. I miss that so much and I miss not accomplishing all that I used to be able to in the morning. Sometimes I think I should accept going to sleep around 1 or 1:30 a.m. as the new norm and sleep until 9. Is there an age a person has to reach before they can do this without feeling slothful?

Oh, this all seems so embarrassing, so unseemly. It goes against what I believe in, that admonition of Schopenhauer: "Do not shorten the morning by getting up late; look upon it as the quintessence of life." I believe that. That principle was drilled into my sisters and me by our father, by example if nothing else. Our mother's principle was more on the lines of this cute paraphrase by Dee Hardie: "Early to bed, early to rise, makes your house neater than otherwise!"

My whole upbringing makes the following three words sound to me as irritating as chalk squeaking on an old-fashioned blackboard:

I have insomnia.

Should I just accept stalking sleep? Is there any help? Any non-pharmaceutical help?

"Insomnia does not consist in waking up for a few minutes in the middle of the night,
reading a chapter of a book and then dozing off again.
It means getting out of bed in desperation, at one or two in the morning,
dressing and coming downstairs, and wandering about an empty house
till dawn finds you with aching eyes and a splitting head.
After a week or so of this you neither feel nor look very pretty."

Beverley Nichols in All I Could Never Be

Friday, March 1, 2013

Blogging for Ballast

Claudia...glanced at her watch with satisfaction. It was only ten o'clock, the beds were made and lunch was ready, except for frying the bacon. It seemed that the more one used of a day, the more of a day there was to use.
(Young Claudia by Rose Franken)

Think of that! To have the housework done by ten o'clock--in the morning, that is.

Not going to happen if you sit down at your computer in the morning, not for me, it's not. If I sit down to check my blog, i.e., comments left for me and then email to answer those comments and then visiting those blogs first to leave comments on their blogs and then just a peek at other blogs with new posts so I can leave comments on theirs...would you look at the clock! Two hours have passed. How did that happen? And the energy I had for housework when I got out of bed, where did that go? Well, the title wasn't Young Claudia for nothing. Rose Franken didn't name her book Old Claudia, did she? 

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times,
it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness....

(Charles Dickens A Tale of Two Cities)

Pardon me, I thought we were discussing blogging here...Oh, that's right we were discussing blogging.

When I began to blog it was to be for three reasons. First was to express the love I have for houses. Houses and stories of the people who live in them. Not a house blog like so many charming ones that feature pictures of beautiful houses, although I dearly love to look at them. Not even a house blog showing the blogger's own house, although I have probably tried to do that much too much. R.H. and I are older householders and while I don't think we're stuck in a time warp, which can be a trap for older people, there really doesn't seem to be a classification for our "style." It has derived mainly from having to use what we already owned into the colorful, cozy, cluttered look that we like, along with some gee-whiz-let's-try-this-look-for-a-change decor choices.

No, my first desire to blog was to share (surely there's got to be a better word than the overdone share, but I can't think of it right now) the rooms and houses I've fallen in love with in books, the alternate world I live in. 

The second reason I began to blog was to record the beauty of this secluded valley where we are blessed to live and the simple things of our life here at Valley View. This was to be a joint project with R.H. who, new camera in hand, would make these pictures possible. The blog also wandered away of its own volition to include family history that kept popping up in our minds or that I came across in my old journals.

Then there is that third reason for blogging. I wanted my children, someday, to know who it was they were going to be burying. You didn't read that wrong. Part of the reason I wanted to start blogging was so that my children would someday know who they were burying, because I often felt that they did not have a clue. 

Have you every felt that way?

Here is one of Elizabeth Berg's characters speaking in The Pull of the Moon:

He said, I remember when my mother went through her change. For a while, I think for a whole year, she acted crazy as hell. She was all depressed and weepy--used to lock herself in the bathroom and wouldn't come out. I don't know what she was doing in there, but it was bad, we had only one bathroom and six kids. But then, all of a sudden, she was done with that. She launched herself into a new life where she felt she could say the hell with anything she didn't like, and by God, she did say the hell with anything she didn't like. She quit making dinner unless she wanted to, and she wanted to only about once a week. She wore these turquoise pedal pushers almost every day, big hoop earrings. She was really different, and at first this scared me, but then I realized I liked her better. She became a real person to me. She was interesting. After my father died, she moved into a small house that was entirely her. And she was happy, I swear until the day she died. We knew exactly who we were burying.

Think of that! Wouldn't you sometimes, once in a blue moon, want to be like her? I would, but there's just one problem. Believe it or not, I'm a tad too nice to be saying "the hell with that" too often. Turquoise pedal pushers and big hoop earrings? Probably not but maybe a variation of Jenny Joseph's "When I am old I will wear purple" lines. That sounds doable. And one of my when-I-am-old moments these last two weeks of NOT blogging has been to reassess what I want blogging to be like for me in the future. I cannot make blogging a business, never intended to. I discovered blogs about a year and a half before I began to blog and during that time I visited them for enjoyment, inspiration, often for motivation, and also purely for the good company. I lost some of that lately. Instead I found myself trying to visit as many blogs as possible and leave comments. It took hours of my day, a necessity I was told, if you want to build your blog. Time required for that, ladies and gentlemen. Lots of valuable time.

So, no more attempting to build my blog. I will go back to what it was meant to be, I hope, and limit my time doing it to allow me the time I need to keep my house in reasonable shape, spend the time needed in the office of our family business, and still give me time to enjoy family and my passion for reading and the scribbling I've done for years about families from the 1840s to the 1950s, these secret families whose characters have become as real to me over the years as family.

I hope to post once or sometimes twice a week--much shorter posts than this one, I promise--and spend two or three nights a week visiting my blog friends purely because I love visiting them and seeing what they're up to in their house, their garden, their family, their beloved pets. I will try to leave thoughtful comments to encourage them and exchange emails with those who have become friends.

I realize that blogging may be something entirely different for others, and I do offer this word of encouragement for women from the pen of Catherine Drinker Bowen from an article she wrote in 1937 in Woman's Home Companion--and this lady knew whereof she was speaking:

I urge women, young women, to find out now what they can do and enjoy best, and do it all during those busy years of motherhood, if only for ten minutes a day. Or if they cannot do it for ten minutes, then let them think about doing it...We need it as ballast for our emotions, as wings for that individuality which we abandoned during our busy happy sacrificial years. Begin at twenty or earlier, if you are lucky enough to have found your bent and your talent then. Nor need it be talent. Taste, inclination, curiosity, interest--any of these is enough.

Catherine sounds like a smart cookie to me. If blogging gives you this ballast or is a means of sharing (Help! another word, please!) the loves and talents you have, then what an amazing thing blogs are and no doubt a huge reason for their popularity today. How much of your life that blogging consumes is something that has to be examined personally and periodically. I have read several posts lately where some smart cookies are doing just that. Good for them!

Blogging can be "the best of times and the worst of times" and it can also be valuable ballast.