Monday, November 30, 2009

Thank Heaven...

Leslie Caron has written an enchanting autobiography appropriately titled, Thank Heaven. I am proud to call this lovely woman of film and stage a friend of many years. We met when she portrayed Colette for us in the pages of Victoria, and then later when she performed a dramatic reading of Colette's work in New York. It was to sell out crowds in all of her performances, several for French speaking students.

On December 1, Madame Caron will be signing her book at Barnes and Noble's Lincoln Triangle Store on Broadway at 7:30. She will also be in Philadelphia on Wednesday, December 2 at the Free Library of Philadelphia and on December 4 at All Saints Church in Pasadena, California.

I hope some of you are in areas where you can come out and hear the interviews she will be giving. I'm sure some will be in the media as well. Hers is an inspiring story in many ways. As she looks back at her life, she, like many of us, finds the moments that were highs and lows, and comes to a place in her life where she has resolved old issues. Thank Heaven she has written this book. (Of course, the title comes from a song in her famous film role of Gigi.)

Monday, November 23, 2009

Family Recipes

The best way I could think of to share Thanksgiving with you is by sharing a family recipe. My husband's Aunt Mary passed it along over the years. But it was his sister, Ann Burckhardt, who brought it up to date for us. She's great at that. Her last book, which was considered one of the best cookbooks of that year by The New York Times, revisited all the standard hot dishes and made them work in today's kitchens with the best ingredients. It's called Hot Dish Heaven, published by the Minnesota Historical Society. Ann's been a kind of food detective in Minnesota, bringing back many of the grand old favorites.

This year, we finally decided to give up on the baked mushrooms we've considered a holiday standard. We forgot to bring the recipe west with us and neither of us could remember it exactly. Additionally, I'd noticed that the past few years guests just weren't thrilled with it. We're trying a new vegetable dish instead. But we're going to try it out before it makes its way to our Thanksgiving table. It's always a good plan.

A few years ago, The New York Times printed a letter I wrote about Thanksgiving and the joy of sharing it with others. It was in response to an article about how annoying it was to have "orphan" guests. I guess the author of the article had a poor experience. My experience has always been just the opposite. And in New York, there were always people who couldn't get home to be with their own families. These guests made us even more thankful that we could share what we had with them. Having them grace a seat at the table was a precious tradition. That's a recipe for a Happy Thanksgiving.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Images to Make One "Happy"

In a previous entry, I mentioned my friend, Suzy Taylor. Suzy has been a friend and associate since she decorated my son's seventh birthday. (He's a bit older now.) It was a favor to me because Suzy is and was a recognized product designer, artist, and interior designer. I still have a coffee table she designed. Even she hasn't hung on to the design--but I have. It has several different positions, although I usually keep it at dining table height--perfect for afternoon tea.

Several years ago, Suzy moved to an exotic town in Mexico, and has just recently launched a wonderfully colorful web site, displaying her paintings and her other design work.

I think Mexico has definitely had an influence on her--her flower paintings are vivid and exuberant. Visit the gallery online and say hello to my dear friend and former colleague.

Lady Mendl's Tea Salon in New York has a very enticing program through the holidays and into the New Year. If you are looking for an event when visiting the city, consider this an elegant step back in time. And if you have tea rooms in your community, you might inspire them by letting them in on the very active events at Lady Mendl's. The salon is located at The Inn at Irving Place, which was featured in Victoria, and where we sometimes used the pristine backgrounds for photography for the magazine. The Inn consists of two beautifully restored townhouses that date to the mid-19th century.

For pure delight and fun, check out the Anthropologie site--their "snow house," in particular. These folks go a long way in making their site, stores, and catalog a wondrous experience. Not that we are all going to don "the gay apparel" they feature, but if you want to get into the mood for winter holidays, it's a nice trip across the internet. I thought the "outfits" put together with themes like "iced branches" and "lamplight" were very expressive. And "at home" is the place to find a product that will put you in mind of sleigh bells ringing.

"We're happy tonight," evokes the song--and the folks who create these images sure must have been. Snuggle up and enjoy. And thanks to Tricia Foley for sending it along.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Creating New Traditions

A few years ago I did a series of interviews on television and radio on this topic. I was surprised how many men were interested in the topic, too. First, all of you have your own ideas based on your families. It's the kind of creativity that may need just a small candle light to ignite it. If you've been thinking of something and haven't gotten around to do it, maybe the time is now.

I have always regretted not keeping a holiday log. How simple it would have been to jot down the menu, a recipe or two, and most importantly, who were the guests that year. We spend time these days trying to recreate moments that would have taken just a few to record. One of my favorite gifts for new homeowners in such a log. It doesn't have to be an expensive one. There are such things, but one can make it as simple as a notebook. However, the leather bounds do have a way of not getting lost or misplaced. If you go overboard, the project is likely to be too demanding to keep going year after year. You can find some great journals at sites such as Etsy, Jenni Bick Bookbinding, or Rustico.

I was interested in the comment about having Thanksgiving in one's own home for the first time, rather than bundling up little ones and heading to grandmother's house. Both are marvelous experiences. But if this year, the torch is being passed to your table, it's a great time to start a new tradition and keep some of the beloved ones, too. We Americans move around a lot--and it means that many of us are putting down new roots every few years. How comforting to have a cutting from a previous root to plant in a new community.

One recent year, I was separated from my family on Thanksgiving Day. My dear friend Ann invited me to her apartment. I met old friends and made a few new ones. Ann and her family have spent holidays with us over the years. It wasn't at all like being "alone." My dad always used to say it wasn't Thanksgiving unless we had at least two new people at the table. He did his best to keep that faith, I must say. Dear Kim has spent a few holidays with us recently because she had to put her wings down as a result of a horse riding accident. The moral of this story is that the holidays are for good cheer with those we love and those who love to spend time with us.

When creating new traditions, it would be a nice idea to get input from the whole family. Tom, at Ann's, creates the place cards. It was his idea as a little guy and has continued for this college student. And dad can do more than carve the turkey or the roast. As I suggested, men I've talked to want their own part of the festivities. And how many men do we have in the kitchen these days? Well, there's one in my house.

Would love to have you share your new traditions, as well as the ways you keep the holidays in your family. And best of all, how a new tradition blends beautifully with the time-honored ways we celebrate. My friend Suzy, who now lives in Mexico, recalls every Thanksgiving of seeing the parade in our New York offices of Victoria. We watch it on television now, wherever we are, and remember what it was like being eyeball-to-eyeball with those balloons. Suzy writes an email from Mexico--and it's like having her with us--an old tradition blends with a new one. And while I wouldn't have missed the parade for anything when we opened our offices to dozens of people and their kids, I enjoy not getting up at five in the morning to do it.

Happy to have so many good comments; you are all sharing such heartfelt thoughts and ideas. It is exactly what should be happening--Bravo.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Tradition At Home

Dear All,

Your comments continue to gladden my heart. And while I valued every one of the readers of Victoria, it is especially wonderful hearing that young people were coming to our pages. And one all the way around the world from Sydney.

I am in my home in Ames, Iowa, where we plan to spend Thanksgiving. Going back and forth between two residences--1,500 miles apart--has its charms and its hassles. For example, the night I left the New York area, the Yankees decided to play in The World Series. I am (and have always been) a Yankees fan, but the traffic jam getting to the airport made me wonder. They redeemed themselves by winning. And the pilot of our plane got us to Des Moines a whole 45 minutes early. What culture shock coming from streams and streams of cars to highways almost deserted. Of course, it was ten o'clock at night. While New York is the city that never sleeps, Des Moines most definitely does.

A few years ago, the city of Ames took it into their heads to tear our house down in order to widen the street I live on. We live in an old section of the city, and our house was built by a local architect in 1937. (Would you believe that the apartment I live in on the Hudson River was built the same year by the same chaps who were responsible for the Empire State Building?) Ours was not the only house or property in danger and what was really lovely was that the citizens of Ames came to our rescue saying they didn't mind waiting a few more minutes at a traffic light. They didn't want to see fellow residents lose their homes. There's something about these Midwesterners that makes one very proud.

Our house is here for this Thanksgiving and we hope for many more to come. Because it is near my husband's Iowa family roots, it's something of a museum of family things, although over the years we have given some treasures to an historic house nearby. Our son's artwork still graces the wall at the bottom of the staircase, and my mother-in-law's "art treasures" hang in the dining room. She bought them on her world tour of Europe, and my husband grew up with them. How different my two homes are. While I have many family treasures in both places, the ones here seem to defy time. They seem to defy whim. There's a certain "don't tread on me" when it comes to style and sophistication. Rather nice.

Great-grandfather Robert Walton looks down from the mantel--his elegant profile made more majestic by the Grand Army of the Republic hat he is wearing. His picture is next to an old clock that belonged to my husband's grandmother from his dad's side. It hasn't worked for years and has defied all effort to have it keep time. Today I found a huge laundry bag at the back of the closet--our son's name was stamped on it. It's the one he took to camp when he was 12. How could I part with it? Back it goes.

We have all been talking about keeping traditions--and the best part of the discussion is the creation of new ones. I must admit that my family always tells me I call forth tradition on anything that's been done more than once. So be it. As so many of you have suggested, it's the glue that makes families. I've loved hearing from you, and hope you continue to jot down ways you keep the holidays as we travel along this season.


Monday, November 2, 2009

Traditions to Keep

Christi's comment on Saturday's post inspired me to continue on the idea of tradition. There are several reasons I admire your comment, Christi. Of course, I'm proud and pleased that our dear Victoria magazine had such an honored place in your life. When I first began the magazine, I used to say, perhaps too lightly, that Victoria was made a successful publication by women who loved their grandmothers, as I did mine. It also seems, in your case, that grandmothers were proactive, too. Bless her.

For those in the world who didn't understand the magazine, they would be surprised to know that young woman were so taken with our editorial. It never seemed to matter that "our numbers" always proved our claims. But that didn't matter as much to me as did stories like yours. What you know in your heart and soul is way more important. We even had babies named Victoria. And those were definitely younger women having those girls!

And now to the subject of this entry--traditions. You have given us all some great inspiration. Using decorations made by your children and lovingly caring for legacies from your grandmother are so wonderful. I can't think of any other way to express it. You are putting family, your family, at the center of your celebration. And you are doing it in your own special way.

We all have such traditions that bring us great joy. And now is the season when the boxes are getting unpacked and the holiday china is being taken down from the china cabinet and run through the dishwasher (but only if appropriate).

In our house, one of the first things I do with Christmas in the air is polish the silver and cranberry glass pitcher that has been in my husband's family since 1902. The Walton quilt, a log cabin design made on an Iowa farm, is only on display during the holidays. It is the essence of our family--and while we take good care of it, we love to share its artistry with others. The first ornament on our tree every year is a tiny Santa that was given to our son the year he was born.

And so, again, thank you Christi for reminding us of how endearing our traditions are. Traditions to keep. Tis the season. Please share yours with us.