Monday, December 31, 2012

Happy New Year!

I'll be on vacation for a bit...

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Countdown, Day 25: Christmas Day

'Twas Christmas broach'd the mightiest ale;
'Twas Christmas told the merriest tale;
A Christmas gambol oft could cheer
The poor man's heart through half the year.
~Sir Walter Scott 
Christmas pudding aflame with brandy.
image: wikipedia
Happy Christmas to all and to all a Good Night!
~~Santa Claus
Wishing you and your loved ones a Happy Christmas.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Countdown, Day 24: Silent Night

Nativity, Georges de La Tour, 1644, Louvre
Silent night, holy night!
 All is calm, all is bright
Round yon viargin mother and child,
Holy Infant, so tender and mild,
 Sleep in heavenly peace,
 Sleep in heavenly peace.
~STILLE NACHT by Joseph Mohr
To hear Ave Maria sung by Chanticleer without leaving the page,
 click on the first video of the video bar at the top of the sidebar.
Peace to you.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Countdown, Day 23: A Breath of Heaven (a memory)

After taking the long climb of stairs to the "whispering" dome
 at the top of St. Paul's Cathedral in London,
 we decide to stay for Evening Vespers in the sanctuary below.
Quietly, we sit in anticipation near the pulpit and
before long a priest comes to greet us in our front row chairs.
In a soft, low tone, he invites us to sit in the choir stalls
where orange lampshades glow in the evening dusk.

Surprised and thrilled at the invitation,
 we move to velvet-cushioned seats lit by lamps.
 With soft seating and hymnals laid out on ledges before us,
 the grand cathedral quickly becomes an intimate and homey space.
"We'd like you to sing the hymns with the choir, so please join in," he said.

As the processional begins and white-robed choristers flow into the stalls on both sides of the chancel,
we are soon surrounded by a heavenly host of male voices.
The universe suddenly expands for me and I slip along the spiral of time. Here in a vestibule to heaven, I fly away on wings of songs written ages ago. Across the space, young boys sing an a capella chant; behind us men sing a response. And so it goes, back and forth, one side to the other and back again, like the echoes of young and old, now and then~~ancient music, ancient rituals and
 centuries-old architecture still vital for contemporary worshippers like us.

As I join in the closing hymn, my body thrills with the excitement of ancient and modern together in one time and place for I know that, by contrast, when the service ends, we'll speed away from this lovely time warp via the "tube" (London's underground mass-transit)
 to return to our lodgings at Dolphin Square.

But, first, a stop at THE BLACK FRIAR PUB to sip an ale and savor all we've seen and heard this brilliant London day.


Friday, December 21, 2012

Countdown, Day 21: Winter Solstice

At 6:12 a.m. in Venice, Florida today, the nadir of midwinter darkness arrives~~
the sun at its weakest point.
Our virtual fire's lit, candles burn, and a Cambridge Singers album,
The Sacred Flame, 
casts a spell with European sacred music of the Renaissance and Baroque era.
There's time for reflection.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Countdown, Day 20: O, Christmas Tree

Christmas waves a magic wand over this world,
 and behold,
 everything is softer and more beautiful.
~Norman Vincent Peale

As Advent draws to a close, the tree next to the angel tablet gets nuanced.
Today, I added my collection of rosaries and beaded necklaces
 among the handmade ephemera and stars.

By evening, the branches hold a snowfall of fresh baby's breath.

Never worry about the size of your Christmas tree.
In the eyes of children, they are all 30 feet tall.
~Larry Wilde

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Countdown, Day 18: Parchment Wrap

Ancient parchment or vellum "paper" for writing has come a long way.
 Today we can choose from all sorts of parchments for various purposes.

What could be more simple or utilitarian
than a gift wrap of kitchen parchment and string?
Old English computer text dresses up a handmade gift tag printed on parchment cardstock.

A parchment wrap and kitchen string adds transparency and design to dollar-store religious candles.
Have I gone off the deep end in search of "abbey style"?

Monday, December 17, 2012

Countdown, Day 17: Paper Cone Ornament

A 6-inch square cut from old sheet music is rolled at an angle to shape a simple cone that's low in the front and high in the back. 
Secured with transparent tape, I filled it with fresh baby's breath. A narrow ribbon, threaded through a hole punched at the high back,
hangs the cone from a branch.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Countdown, Day 15: Abbey Bread

The hunger for love is much more difficult to remove
than the hunger for bread.
~Mother Teresa
 Norwegian flatbread, perfect with soup.
Takeout from Panera Bread, for those who don't bake.

A kitchener-monk who baked bread for Holy Trinity Abbey devised a recipe for home use.
A bread mix made from an Old World recipe is available online
at St. John's Abbey in Minnesota. Click here to purchase Johnny Bread mix and other abbey gifts.
Remember man does not live on bread alone:
sometimes he needs a little buttering up.
~John C. Maxwell

Friday, December 14, 2012

Countdown, Day 14: Sealing Wax

The use of sealing wax on envelopes comes once a year when I can hand-deliver Christmas cookies and greetings to neighbors
 or place a gift of appreciation in the mailbox for the postman.
It's a tricky process, though, involving fire for melting the wax and getting a proper little puddle of it
 in the right place before pressing the family monogram into it.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Countdown, Day 13: Saint Lucy's Day

Lucy's day is dedicated to Santa Lucia, a young Sicilian girl martyred in 304 during the persecutions of Emperor Diocletian.
 The Neopolitan celebration grew popular in Nordic countries, perhaps because the feast of Lucia (whose name means "light")
 originally fell on the shortest (darkest) day of the year.
Lucia procession in Sweden, 2007
In traditional celebrations, Saint Lucy comes as a young woman with lights and sweets. In some forms, a procession is led by one girl wearing a crown of candles while others in the procession hold only a single candle each.
In at-home celebrations, the eldest daughter of the family rises in the very early morning dark to bake saffron buns.
Then, wearing a white dress with a red sash, she brings breakfast trays of coffee, freshly-baked buns and candle lights
to family members still asleep in their beds.
 Today, elected Lucias visit shopping malls, nursing homes and churches
while singing and handing out pepparkakor (clove-cinnamon-ginger cookies).
Happy St. Lucy's!

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Countdown, Day 11: Cold December

Computer printout on parchment cardstock, an ornament to add to the tree.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Countdown, Day 7: Es Ist Ein Ros

Lo, how a Rose e'er blooming
from tender stem hath sprung!
Of Jesse's lineage coming,
as those of old have sung.
It came, a floweret bright,
amid the cold of winter
when half spent was the night.
~~anonymous, first appearing in print in 16th century
Speyer Hymnal (printed in Cologne in 1599)
~~image, Wikipedia



Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Countdown, Day 5: Stars

That I am mortal I know and do confess
My span of day:
But when I gaze upon the thousandfold circling gyre of the stars
No longer do I walk the earth
But rise
The peer of God himself to take my fill
At the ambrosial banquet of the undying.
~~Claudius Ptolemaeus

~~image, wikipedia
The First Christmas Tree, a Legend.
It is said that Martin Luther, while walking under a starry sky one Christmas Eve, cut down a tiny
evergreen and took it home to his children. Inspired by the stars on such a sparkling night, he attached candles to the evergreen branches of the little tree and lit them to represent Christ, the Light of the World, born on Christmas Eve.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Countdown, Day 4: Abbey Wine

Wine is constant proof that God loves us and loves us to be happy.
~Benjamin Franklin

Monk-Cellarer tasting wine from a barrel whilst filling a jug.
~~13th Cent. French, image: wikipedia
For centuries, monks brewed wine as part of the cloistered diet.
 Later, they sold it to parishioners and, to this day, they make their wines available to the public.
Click on the links, below, to visit a couple abbey vineyards.

They're not glasses; they're chalices.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Countdown, Day 3: Rosemary

It is said that the Virgin Mary spread her blue cloak
over a white-blossomed bush when she was resting
and the flowers turned blue.
The shrub became known as the
'Rose of Mary.'
Rosmarinus officinalis, commonly called 'rosemary' 
 has evergreen needle-like leaves
 and white, pink, purple, or blue flowers. The fragrant leaves
 are often used to flavor stuffings and meat dishes for the holidays.
~~image, wikipedia


Sunday, December 2, 2012

Countdown, Day 2: Jewelry for the House

It's always fun to open the storage boxes marked "Christmas" to rediscover old family favorites.
 I confess to editing a few things and changing the style a bit each year..
 Over the month of December, this Charlie Brown of a tree
 will evolve and fill out. 
 Christmas tree ornaments and small gifts set on stacked cake plates
 create eye candy for a sofa table tableau...
...and computer printouts of music manuscripts wrap small presents
 for our annual Christmas Eve Family Trivia game.

The best part of the day is in the early-morning dark~~
when there's time for sipping fresh-brewed coffee by the light of the Christmas tree.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Countdown to Christmas, Abbey Style

First, with a full heart, I thank you for sending well wishes, thoughts, and prayers toward my husband's recovery from knee replacement surgery. After two weeks, I can say we've made great strides and he is now walking down the street with a cane. For an estimated 2-month recovery by his surgeon, this is remarkable progress. We're looking forward to Christmas guests in December and a full Marathon run by our son at Walt Disney World in January.
 We're up and at 'em, cruising toward the events of the season.
 Thank you for all your support, dear friends!
Every now and then,
 I venture into Sirene, an enchanting seaside store on Venice Avenue.
The sign on the front window says, "No photographs, please"
so I complied until I came home with this angelic abbey-style creature.

There, behind Sirene's glittering jewelry counter and sparkling chandeliers,
 a triptych of antiqued photographs on wooden tablets graced the wall~~
Madonna and Child at the center flanked by London angels.
 Produced by An Englishman in L. A.
The creature on the left spoke softly to me...
I'm eye candy for Christmas, she said,
inspiration for Advent.
I brought her home to kick off my Christmas Countdown,
calling her the Angel of The Annunciation.
For the month of December this year,
I'm counting down the days
with abbey-style decorating and entertaining ideas~~
a sort of Advent calendar or Book of Days for December.
I hope you'll find the ideas fun (OK, quaint and quirky) or useful.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Seaside Congregation

We're back at the sea again, keeping company with Royal Terns
 who haven't moved (except to preen) for two hours.
They're still and calm in contrast to the pounding waves and, like them,
we're still and calm~~quiet and breathing deeply in our canvas chairs.

The sea, once it casts its spell,
holds one in its net of wonder forever.
Jacques Yves Cousteau

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Signs of Fall~~Florida Style

A Gulf Coast autumn arrives quietly as if on silken cats' paws~~without exhuberant colors of leaf-turning and dramatic cold spells. One barely knows it's come. The only color changes (it's been said by humorists) are those on out-of-state license plates. But one sure sign of a Florida autumn is road construction~~winter tourists are on their way!
Nature's autumn doesn't turn up in Florida until November, the loveliest month of the year and the month of my birth. By November, we've turned off the air-conditioner and opened every window in the house. Seaspray scents the night air drifting through the jalousies above our sleeping heads. Hurricanes are forgotten, beautyberry bushes ripen, mowing slows, and the humidity drops to an easy-breezy level.
Bird migrations arrive to feast on shade-loving beautyberry bushes.
We can garden again!
 Cooler temps are perfect for planting cucumbers, kale, broccoli and lima beans.
 Swamp sunflowers open, Mexican sage blooms, pole beans and eggplants blossom.
 Bees are bizzzzzzy while flurries of butterflies flutter above milkweed nectar pots.
Our lemon tree is heavy with fruit again~~we're making lemon waters and seasoning fish filets.
Soon we can clip basil and cilantro for salads.
We're off to farmers' markets~~it's time to taste the fruit and squeeze the vegetables.
 We fill our sacks with honey/pear sweet corn,
 fresh-baked breads,
 stone crabs,
 and fresh Florida citrus.
When the summer rains stop, our green lawns turn a dusty color and palm trees begin to drop their fronds.
Trick-or-treaters look like those up north but they often sweat under heavy costumes.
Slowly, but surely, the "ember" months burn down to the end of the year and Christmas comes around again. I'm always stung by the gaud-awful glitter of a tinsel-y, snowless Florida Christmas. The only decor that ever makes sense to me is the Live Nativity re-enacted each year on a bit of landscape surrounded by palm trees. No camels carry the wise men to this crib, though~~they ride slowly about the scene on horses while Mother Mary hovers over her child and a choir of angels sings carols.
The new year signals a SNOWBIRD ALERT.
We're all eyes as they filter in, filling the streets with cars from other states,
 reconnecting with families and friends for warm-weather fun.
Restaurants are filled, beaches sport colorful set-ups,
and shopkeepers think they're in heaven.
All winter, I'm  out with my camera.
Looking to see what I can see.
As Mark Twain says, anything can happen today.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Living Room Makeover

BEFORE our living room makeover last winter,
 guests walked in and exclaimed about the colors,
 saying it reminded them of Miami Beach style.
OK, that works...we live in Florida most of the year.
...and BEFORE our 15-year-old lime-green leather recliner's
mechanicals broke down, we were content with the room.

About the same time, Cedric, our double chaise, covered in comfortable purple chenille,
had faded. We decided to make over the room and shift things around the house.
The lime-green sleeper sofa and polka-dot area rug went to the lanai,
 the lime-green recliner, rigged in a stationary position,
 went to a guest bedroom, and ReStore (Habitat for Humanity)
picked up our Techline office unit, two 1970s end tables, and Cedric for resale.
AFTER the room was cleared, I shopped for American-made seating pieces.
 Once again, I was disappointed in the large scale of it.
BIG American furniture has always been a problem for those of  us with
 small, cottage-size spaces built shortly after WWII.
Going for a lime-green, white and gray color scheme
inspired by the gray/white area rugs found at IKEA,
I painted out the violet section on the striped walls with a color called Pistachio
and brought in smaller-scale seating for six.
 An unexpected bit of serendipity turned up when we laid two area rugs together
 and their designs matched at the center of the room!
It created symmetry and a larger carpeted area to anchor the seating.
Too bad about the black box in an otherwise serene scheme~~I try
 to think of television as a hearth, the fire around which we gather together.
Like accepting a Kindle as a book with pages to turn with our hands.
 With the hot pink and purple gone, it's a quieter room~~like still water with a squeeze of lime.

We loved the BEFORE as much as we love the AFTER,
 the room, no doubt, reflecting the changes in us, body and soul.
Less energetic and colorful than we were 15 years ago,
 we're quieter and more reflective these days.


Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Soup for the Soul

At the end of every noodle, there's a smile.
~~Campbells Soup Co.
As I came across this little soup tureen printed with CHICKEN NOODLE,
a warm feeling came over me. I smiled and gave $3 to the flea market dealer.

  I don't understand the magical healing powers of this simple soup but am grateful for the warmth it offers body and soul. Now the printed words on my little tureen wait inside a kitchen cupboard door, reminding me of the benefits of this universal potion.

Soup season is on its way...

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Angel Wings and Elephant Ears

Angel wings and elephant ears in the same sentence?
 Well, yes, the quirky pairing of words appears in the list of common names
 used for Caladium plants.
Yesterday, while moving through the noisy, bustling, food-on-a-stick crowd of the Iowa State Fair,
this quiet and unassuming plant in the Agriculture Building spoke to me with more clarity
 than all the voices on the street.

Caladium, indigenous to Brazil, are grown for their large heart-shaped leaves
 marked in varying patterns of white, pink, and red.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Becoming Whole

While I work through therapeutic excercises to redeem my broken wrist,
Whole Foods Market opened in our town to resurrect my lackluster shopping and eating habits.
You guessed it~~I hopped right on their back-to-basics train.

Originally, all human food was whole food~~unprocessed, unrefined.
 Now, after the refinements the industrial age stirred into our food,
it seems desirable to go back to the beginning.
As in Genesis.

I push my cart about the new store, encountering kelp noodles, local wines, artisan cheeses, and a Chocolate Story bar designed especially for the new Iowa store. When I approach the bakery and roll the loaves of bread in my hands, the words, Ancient Grains and Bible Bread Mix capture my abbey-style fancy.
 Like a sponge, I soak up the ingredients on the label:
 Flour, Bible Bread Mix (spelt flour, whole-grain barley, flaxseed, bean flour, millet),
 sea salt, water, yeast, honey, seeds, and caraway seeds.

As in Ezekiel 4:9
"And you, take wheat and barley, beans and lentils, millet and spelt,
 and put them into a single vessel, and make bread of them."

Styling fool that I am,
I put an ancient grains loaf in my shopping cart with a few other antique/modern treasures
to arrange in a vignette for my camera and you.

Shown here: Ancient Grains Bread (right front); Seeduction Bread, (left rear)
made from organic whole wheat flour, water, millet, honey, canola oil, pumpkin,
 sunflower, and poppy seeds, molasses, sea salt, fresh yeast. Delicious!!!!!

A little more organic fun....
arugula, farm stand lettuces, tomatoes-on-the-vine, and
Cotswold Rye Pumpernickel Crackers...

...and a few flowers to reward the progress I've made on recovering my wrist.

I can now tie my shoes, floss my teeth, wash and style my hair, type with two hands,
 empty the dishwasher, drive, sew abbey-style aprons, and play ping-pong with Blake.

As in last year at this time. :)

Saturday, July 7, 2012

In Praise Of Hands

Behold the hands, how they promise, conjure, appeal, menace, pray, supplicate, refuse, beckon, interrogate, admire, confess, cringe, instruct, command, mock and what not besides, with a variation and multiplication of variation which makes the tongue envious."
~~Michel de Montaigne, 16th cent. French writer
+   +   +

"If you hear screaming from the next room," he said, "it's just me using this saw on the lady in there."
 A joke, of course, to tease the teenager getting a new cast in the room next to mine.

I'd worn my cast for a month and would soon be released from the insufferable thing; it came off with two zips of the saw and I was left startled and staring at a withered, atrophied limb~~
enough to make a grown woman cry.
 The good doc came in to check the x-rays and said, "looks good, all things considered.
 See the white where bone healing has begun?"

And so hand therapy began:
Six times a day, every two hours. With fingers curled in a fist, I must will my muscles to
bend my wrist down as far as possible, hold for ten seconds, then reverse to bend the wrist back as far as possible, and hold for another 10 seconds;
Repeat 10 times.

Then, there are a series of clockwise and counterclockwise rotations of the wrist for circumduction; another for supination and pronation of the forearm. Hmmm, a little vocabulary expansion, too.

My therapist cooked up a custom splint. Stirring about in a sort of crockpot filled with hot water, she conjured up a plastic wrap that fit and fastened on my arm with Velcro strips.
 "Wear it at all times," she said, "taking it off only for bathing and hand exercises."
+   +   +

I cannot alter the past,
 but the future is very much in my hands.
~~Mary Lyden Simonsen

And so the journey for renewal begins, one infinitesimal movement at a time.
I want to clap, clasp, appeal, conjure, cook, pick up a baby, instruct, play, and create again.

1-2-3-4-5-6-7-8-9-10. Breathe.
2-2-3-4-5-6-7-8-9-10. Breathe.
3-2-3-4-5-6-7-8-9-10. Breathe.

I hear a new mantra coming on~~the future's in my hands.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Little Houses

There is always one moment in childhood
 when the door opens and lets the future in.
~~Graham Greene, The Power and the Glory

Long ago and faraway, there was a little house...

Little House I c. 1947 with me, 5, and sister Linda, 3.

When my father left his job as a college professor to pursue a writing career, he moved us to the mining and logging region of northern Minnesota. There, in a woodsy wilderness filled with unruly creatures, he set up his studio in a sliver of space between garage and dairy barn.

We lived in a bungalow set on a hill overlooking a quiet, sylvan lake occupied by giant snapping turtles and near the back of a vegetable garden where wild rabbits snipped off our lettuces,
 D-I-Y Dad created a play yard. Inside the log fence, he hung tire and rope swings from trees
and built a tiny log playhouse.

I was enchanted by the little house.
 In its 5 x7-foot space, I arranged and rearranged furniture~~wooden crates
 that to my imagining eyes seemed like tables, beds and chairs
 when paired with dolls and their blankets, tablecloths, and teacups.

All was beautiful and orderly in my tiny domestic world until new siblings began
 to toddle into my well-tended interior and turn things upside down.
 My antidote for this was to move every stick of furniture out into the yard and use
my little dimestore broom to sweep away the dust and turmoil.

 Ah, a clean and empty space!
 Oh, the joy of moving everything back in and making my little house beautiful again!
+   +   +
By the time I was 9, we moved to a hobby farm on Lake Andrew where Dad's writing studio
was the attic of a Four-Square, milk cows and pigs lived in a big, red barn,
 and Little House II was an abandoned granary.
The granary was tall so D-I-Y Dad built a loft in it~~a loft with a ladder for going up.
I was thrilled.
I turned the upstairs loft into a bedroom where my sibling charges could snuggle down for a nap now and then. A time or two, we may have slept together overnight side-by-side, six-across,
fireflies flitting in the dark over our shingled rooftop and crickets chirping a childhood lullaby.

Downstairs, a kitchen and another bedroom fit under the sleeping loft but the living room had a full-height, cathedral-like ceiling at the front of the house where the door and window invited light inside.

But the same sibling playtime chaos undid my well-tended rooms of Little House II and,
as for Little House I, I emptied the furniture into the yard, swept away the dust and disorder, and knew again the joy of clean and empty spaces awaiting my beautifying hands.
+   +   +
Big houses occupied the next decades of my designing life but when I took early retirement, Mr. Wonderful, my current D-I-Y guy, built Little House III. A frivolous desire, to be sure, but I longed for a tiny getaway with a hammock under trees nearby, a handmade guest house at the back of our city lot...something clean and shiny, pure and undisturbed by real life.
 And so it came to be...
Little House III, c. 1997 as it is today.

A garden shed is attached at the rear of the house.

"Pale Sunshine," a Laura Ashley high-gloss paint floods the enchanted interior
 with a warm light and the high ceiling gives me
 Virginia Woolf's "Cathedral space which was childhood."

Little House III  doesn't belong to me anymore.
 However, I can still visit now and then because we sold our property to our son and his wife when we downsized to a condo five years ago. Every now and then, my adorable daughter-in-law lets me move the little-house furniture into her yard and shine up the interior in time for her next lawn party.

For this party, I child-proofed the fireplace by moving furniture in front of
its light-reflecting mirror insert.

Antique sherry cruets line the mantel of the faux fireplace.

Mr. Wonderful made the floor by pouring concrete aggregate
 into spaces left by a treated-wood grid he built.

For in every adult there dwells the child that was,
 and in every child there lies the adult that will be.
~~John Connolly, The Book of Lost Things