Friday, December 17, 2010

The Merriest Christmas and Happiest Holidays

Some time ago, there was a wonderful Cathy comic strip. I remember it every year as I somehow don't get all the things done I'd planned to do. Very resolute, she said to herself:

I will not start knitting on December 1.

How these days slip through our fingers. There are cakes to be baked, presents to be wrapped, trees to be trimmed, and lovely parties to attend. I adore it all, but I must admit to "editing" a bit more than I used to. Yes, Cathy, I will not start a vast project just before Christmas.

I want to enjoy the season--the hustle, the bustle and all the good cheer. My stepmother was a whirlwind and enlisted all the rest of the family in her magnificent plans at Christmas. Our tree was a sight to behold and her village under the tree, spectacular. She made Christmas so special for all of us and she inspires me still to deck the halls and try to think of special surprises. My love of Christmas was shared for many years with magazine readers--so I have had many more Christmas than the the personal ones in my own home.

And so from my family to yours, the greetings of a season of love. For in the words of the poet:

Love came down at Christmas
Star and angels gave the sign.

Photo © Wendi Schneider for Lindemeyer Productions, Inc.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Happy Thanksgiving

I want to wish you all a very Happy Thanksgiving. I'm in Iowa where "harvest" is not just a word but a way of life for many people. All around me are fields that have been harvested. We have not had snow yet, but the days are chilly and crisp.

Please enjoy the two blogs that I have contributed recently to the Hooker Furniture site. Kim Shaver asked me to comment on how to accommodate all the guests for the holiday dinner as well as ways to welcome home college kids. Kim has a way of getting my editor's DNA going. It's fun to think on these topics...and find new ideas for new times.

The Lexington Company is a Swedish-based organization that seems to have it's finger on the American pulse. I thought you'd enjoy their take on Thanksgiving. I think they'd love to have such a holiday. I spent Thanksgiving in England once and was homesick for turkey and all the trimmings. Maybe things are different now with the Brits having embraced so many cuisines from around the world. The Christmas I spent at Michael's Nook in the Lake District did not disappoint. It was just the most wonderful Christmas one could imagine--especially since my husband and son shared it with me.

A final note--read David Brooks in The New York Times about the kind of magazines he thinks might survive today. Seems to me, it was the formula we used to begin Victoria. Let me know what you think--after you've had just the best holiday ever.


Monday, November 15, 2010

On Cathleen Black

Some time ago I came to defend Tina Brown, a publishing super star, when she was being given a bad time in the media. My reason was not based on a professional relationship--although thanks to Tina I got my photograph, along with a slew of others, in Vanity Fair in the early days of Victoria. I had seen Tina and one of her children in a restaurant after mom had put in a long day at the office. I admired how she related to her child. She didn't know anyone was watching her--and she didn't know me.

As many former Victoria readers know, Cathie Black was my boss during the last years of my tenure at the magazine. Recently, there has been a lot in the press because after leaving the head of the magazine division at Hearst, she has been appointed by New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg to be chancellor of the New York City schools.

I was a teacher once--and continued to think of myself as one in the positions I held in publishing. My childhood goal was to be a history teacher. But I moved beyond the classroom of 25 students to one of hundreds of thousands. I kept that trust with my readers at Victoria. The magazine supported writers, artists, scholars, and women in many various pursuits. As we went along as a franchise, I was able to do more and more in this area. No boss at Hearst, including Cathie Black, stood in the way of this direction of the magazine as long as I was editor in chief.

But as I did with Tina, I have looked to my Cathie Black years to find not the hard driving boss to whom ad pages were a major priority, but to the mom and woman that I might relate to. Once, I was in a meeting with Cathie and asked to leave for a few minutes while she took a phone call from her son's school. Obviously there was some kind of problem, probably a little one--which is how I addressed the situation when our meeting resumed. For a few moments, she was the vulnerable mother worried about her child. Granted, it was from behind a desk.

When the writer Mary Pipher was brought to the Hearst building by Victoria for a reception on her being named one of the Stars in Our Crown, Cathie came to the reception and spent a good deal of time speaking with Mary. It seemed to me that she wanted to get the essence of this woman who had written so knowingly about young women in Reviving Ophelia. Mary is a plainspoken woman from Nebraska--and seeing the two of them locked in conversation did not go unnoticed by me. I was pleased to see Cathie, the business icon in high heels, engaged with Mary, the philosopher writer in sensible shoes.

This post is not to endorse Cathie Black in her new job. As a former teacher, I'd have my reservations about how her executive skills translate to a public service job. Having worked for Cathie, I have reservations about how her style of management will fit into the requirements of such an important role in the life of New York City's students. I think the thing I would wonder about most is if she does indeed have that stroke of genius that will be innovative at a time when such talent is sorely needed in education; or, does a business background lead one to rely on the tried and true? The word "management" is often attached to success in the business world. Is not leadership what is sorely needed in our public servants? And a leadership that comes from a deep-seated passion for what they are doing? Passion is not something that executives have always honed in their careers. Business executives have the luxury of dealing from the top down. But does not leadership require consensus building to motivate and steer a huge educational system successfully?

I will follow Cathie's tenure and hope to see the concerned mom and the compassionate listener. And I wish her well.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Two New "Musts" in NYC!

Good News from Harney and Sons! For those of you who might be visiting New York in the future, here's a stop you won't want to miss: Our good friend John Harney and his company have a lovely new place. What could be better when holiday shopping than stopping in for tea--and stocking up on gifts at the same time?

I am in the Midwest at the moment, but am putting this on my list when I get back.

There is also a special little place in Tribeca to stop for a delightful lunch or dinner with an Italian flavor. My good friend Gerard Renny never disappoints when it comes to Italian classics with new twists. Stuzzicheria is also my cup of tea. The rice balls are fabulous--and their sandwiches are award-winning.

Cheers to all...

Friday, October 29, 2010

Tasha Tudor & Victoria Memories...

As luck would have it, I just came across Victoria December 1989 with an extensive story on Tasha Tudor's Christmas. Oh, what lovely photographs taken by Toshi Otsuki. This issue brought back a flood of memories--1989 and 1990 were pretty big years for the magazine and for me.

In the Fall of 1989, Victoria went from a bi-monthly to a monthly magazine. This was a big step for the rather small staff--but there was a bigger mountain to climb. At the very same time, Victoria became the first magazine in the country to be produced completely via desktop publishing. Mind you, this was no small feat. We were pioneers...up until that point, magazines were created mechanically. Now everything was done by looking at a computer screen! I may have discussed this before, but it has never ceased to amaze me how my staff, led by art director Bryan McCay, was able to accomplish this. It took hard work, long hours, and a huge amount of effort. I decided that I would stand down in the process and concentrate on the creative side of the magazine, looking to the future. A magazine editor never lives in the present!

We finished 1989 with this wonderful issue, bringing the joy of Christmas and the holiday season to our readers, who never knew that our editors and writers were involved in magazine production as never before. In early January, I fell ill, most likely the result of stress and long hours: first with the flu and then pneumonia. It was a bit serious and I lost several weeks of work. Unheard of. Staff members came to my apartment for short periods of time to get my stamp of approval on things. They could have done very well without me--but neither they or I had come to that point yet.

The first day I returned to work, it was announced that Victoria was named ADWEEK's magazine of the year! We had only been a monthly for a few months, but here we were in some pretty exciting company; and we were number one! I was still pretty weak, and could hardly hold the huge bouquet of long-stemmed roses presented to me by Randolph Hearst. The pictures I have tell the tale.

Readers of a magazine or any creative product only see the end result...and that is as it should be. For those of us behind the scenes the memories are of a more personal nature. But I can't look at these resplendent pages without looking back from a different perspective: What a fabulous staff I had. How they supported me. What a victory we all had. But there is also another lesson here: Driving oneself too hard isn't such a swell idea. And maybe taking on too many challenges has its disadvantages. Of course, it's in my DNA to do both of these things. Usually simultaneously. Maybe the nice thing about getting older is getting a bit wiser of just how much one can do.

Dear Tasha kept busy for most of her 90 years. I think she had monitors to guide her: the rhythm of the farm, her animals, and her art. Her letter to me made it pretty clear that she paced herself with what was important in her life. Her Christmas celebration was a work of art itself.

If you have one of these issues on hand, enjoy it again.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

The Tale of Tasha Tudor's Letter

In 1996, Victoria was proud to have Tasha Tudor as an artist in residence. Together, Tasha and I agreed that she would create four watercolors, each depicting a different season, for the magazine's readers. We made prints of these delightful renderings available for purchase as each was created, and then all four in a set. We even created a Christmas tin at one point.

Tasha Tudor, the creator of many scenes from her Vermont farm life, is still very beloved for her books and her artwork. The marriage of Victoria and Tasha was a natural one--following on several wonderful stories in the magazine, including a Christmas with all the trimmings of the 19th century life she lived so faithfully.

When we began her residency in January, Tasha wrote me a letter--long hand, of course. It was also illustrated with the image of one of her cats, who had been naughty and stepped in the butter and then on to the writing paper. In true Tasha spirit, it was kind, lively, and very New England. Tasha wanted to be sure that I would give her enough time to do her assignments. After all, she reminded me, she did not just sit and create all day long. She had many chores to do about the farm and in my letter was a list of her responsibilities that is quite complete.

The watercolors came in a timely manner and were featured in the magazine throughout 1996. And so the readers experienced many of the enchantments of Tasha-land. Many bought the prints, and it was a very successful venture. In the end, Tasha received her original work back and I put the letter away with the memory of the experience.

Not long ago, the letter surfaced again, and I began to think that it should not be hidden away in a file in my office any longer. I began to search for a permanent place or archive for Tasha's illustrated letter to me. Recently, I found the proper place: The Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge, MA. My correspondence with Stephanie Plunkett, curator, has been delightful. The museum has a collection of Tasha's illustrative work and often exhibits. (In fact, there is a traveling exhibition planned for 2012.) And so the letter is now in a place where others can enjoy the spirit of this remarkable woman that is in every word and line. Puss and the butter make it especially charming.

I minded Tasha and did give her ample time to create and she was so gracious to wish me a very happy 1996. It turned out to be so--and one of the years of the magazine that I especially admire all these years later. The prints have increased in value, as has the original artwork: One season sold a few years ago for $8500. Of course, it is not the monetary value that matters most, but the inspiration for Tasha to give us the seasons of her long life.

If you missed the features in Victoria, you can order cards online. There are two sets and I have a feeling you will only part with the cards for very special reasons.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

The Long Hot Summer

My grandmother used to call the autumn weather in Connecticut--"sweater weather." And so it is again after this very hot summer in both the Midwest and the East. And of course, we had a bit of extra water in Ames, Iowa. We escaped north for several days because our water supply was not drinkable, among other problems.

But it all seems like ancient history now in the days when the sun slides across us at a comforting slant. What hasn't gone unnoticed is the checking in of former Victoria staffers and freelancers. I haven't seen her since I left the magazine a decade ago now, but Patricia Romero hasn't changed a bit. She is still lovely and lively. (You can enjoy her post-Victoria work at her web site.) She became a mom just about the time I left the magazine, and Emma is now 11! Patricia joined Daniel D'Arezzo and me for tea a few weeks ago. The main topic was Daniel's soon departure to reside in Buenos Aires for a spell. Patricia gave him wonderful advice and introduced him to a friend who has already found Daniel some pretty nice digs in the city. Old ties and networks do pay off.

Heidi Adams wrote from Texas that she is about to travel to Japan and will see Toshi Otsuki. I am so jealous! But I look forward to her report this month and hope it will help me with the planning of my trip--hopefully next year. Heidi was so young and talented she knocked my socks off with her work at Victoria. She and her husband had their own shop for awhile, but she now has other projects to apply her super eye to. She always had a terrific smile and can-do attitude which won my heart.

Suzy Taylor and I keep in pretty close contact, but I have been especially happy to hear of her recent art show in San Miquel de Allende, Mexico. I've mentioned Suzy before--but check in at her site. Her paintings are spectacular and may just be what you need for that achingly empty wall.

An event of the summer was the marriage of Ann Levine's son, Tom. He was practically born in our Victoria offices--truly one of our legacies. Tom and Rachel will live in Albany where they will continue their educations. I have to blink not to see Ann pushing that stroller down the hall...years away from the wedding day aisle. How often we realize that it is our kids who make the leaves of the calendar fall so quickly.

Victoria readers will probably not recall the name Patrick Berry, but he was very much a part of our staff on the advertising side as our production manager. Patrick has tales of how he and I had friendly discussions of where to place the ads in the magazine. After a very successful business career, Patrick took his family to the University of Illinois where he pursued a degree in English literature. (I'd like to think that Victoria has something to do with it.) He's about to get his doctorate and move into the academic world as a college teacher. Bravo!

The nice thing about hearing from these folks was how much the Victoria experience meant to them. It makes me proud of the work we did--and it reminds me that as time passes there is something in our DNA of our good experiences that provides growth and vision.

The long hot summer had it's benefits--a good rest for me as well as a reevaluation of my own work. I don't mean to be a tease, but I am not quite ready to reveal what that means at the moment. I'm in one of those periods where the tide comes in and out--and my boat is not yet sea worthy. But very soon, I'll be filling you in on this new departure.

Do look at the Hooker Furniture Blog--I had fun being a magazine editor again! And don't forget that this may just be the time you met your first best friend--check in at the website and on Facebook for the book that needs some good advocates to introduce readers to its inspirational stories.

And pull your sweater on and take a good walk in the world of autumn.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Where are they now?

Here's your chance to catch up with Kim Freeman. Kim is such a talented designer, and Victoria was so fortunate to have her as a contributing editor. When I am in Westchester, Kim is a neighbor and we get a chance to have lunch or tea and catch up. She has developed a wonderful design portfolio--and here's your chance to enjoy and learn a thing or two. I always do when I watch her work.

Kim, by the way, did many of the Favorite Things sections...they were always special, imaginative, an inspirational.

For the rest of the summer, I'm going to be off-blog. (Is there such a word?) I hope you all enjoy days like the ones Kim portrayed in Victoria's summer camp pages. I'll be back after Labor Day when I may have news about a new endeavor.

And for those of you who enjoyed MY FIRST BEST FRIEND, pass the word about how wonderful this relationship is and how others might enjoy the book. Soooo hard to break through all the media noise with good stories like these.


Friday, July 16, 2010

A Shopping Spree--Roses and Garden Fresh

I was delighted to find Christina Strutt's wonderful Cabbages and Roses online. Her shops in London feature clothing and home furnishings made in England and Wales. Victoria readers might remember Christina's name in some of the wonderful stories we reported from Great Britain. In her recent book, At Home with Country, she came across the pond to photograph both the New York City Studio of Tricia Foley (Trish to all who know and love her) and her picture perfect Long Island home.

Christina's fabrics remind one of the casual elegance of an English garden. And the photographs in the book as well as the wares for sale on the web site are a testament to the specialness of English interiors. When I looked at the fabrics, I was inspired to do some redecorating of my own--if only a few new pillows for sofas and beds. I really do have a passion for pillows. (I guess I could be investing in worse things!) You can really change the look and feel of a room, especially a bedroom with fresh fabrics.

Closer to home--when I'm in my New York digs--is the distinctive stock of Kristin Clotilde. But for those of you who want to experience it online, you're in for a treat. The home page is pure fun for shoppers. You'll see how this former Ralph Lauren model is spending her time these days. By the way, she and her twins once modeled for us in Victoria. KC is a firm believer in dresses! Remember those? The garments you can twirl in? Her stock in trade has a 50's feel--an Anne Fogarty appeal.

It's on my to do list to drive over to Larchmont and actually visit the shop. In the Thursday New York Times there's an article on how French women age beautifully. One of the things mentioned is that they are more dress-oriented than we are in America. I have to admit that dresses are not exactly a major item in my closet. But I'm very tempted to make a change to skirts and dresses this coming season.

That article has some good hints, including those from Leslie Caron. Leslie gave me her advice years ago--cold showers! And what I've observed myself of her dressing is well-tailored clothes in rich, deep colors and wonderful accessories. That scarf is really a big thing among French women as is beautiful costume jewelry--or the real thing is pocket books permit. I was in Barneys New York this week before going to my dentist. (I accuse him of being in a disaster zone for my pocket book.) I saw wonderful large-beaded necklaces with luxurious ribbon ties by Lanvin. Now that's a way to spruce up some of the beads in the bottom of the jewelry box.

And for a pure fun summer moment, spend some time on Lexington Company's site. These folks come out of Sweden, but have a real feel for what an All-American summer can be like. I feel myself on my knees digging for clams on Long Island Sound like I did when I was a kid.

Refresh and enjoy!

Friday, July 2, 2010


Summer is upon us. And it seems many are spending time packing and unpacking. That's been my life the past few weeks. Book signings...and some nice publicity for the book, especially in Rochester and Minneapolis. Surprised that with two Des Moines, Iowa stories in My First Best Friend--and two other Iowa ones, that the local media wasn't interested. (I used to joke that Iowa claimed you as a citizen if you flew over the state.) However, some wonderful old friends found their way to the very nice Barnes & Noble at Jordan Creek in West Des Moines. It was great to see them. Two of the men were instrumental in my career in magazines. So I was especially happy and proud to see them and share the book.

There is another book we all talked about...Curtiss Anderson's Blueberry Summers. Curt died a few weeks ago. We will all miss his wit and wisdom--and those tales of growing up in Minnesota that never seemed to have an end. At the signing in Minneapolis, a woman asked me about men and their first best friendships, and I directed her to read Curt's book, which the store had in stock! Those readers of the blog who are VICTORIA fans might recall some of these stories in the magazine. That's where the book began--and among the many things I remain so very proud of about my VICTORIA years is inspiring Curt to write his story. I was particularly charmed by his remembrances of his "Aunt Clara," who was really the wife of his dad's best friend.

Kim Shaver at Hooker Furniture has asked me to participate in the blog she has created for the company. Right now she's posted one of my contributions on a topic inspired by a question she's received on how to face up to decorating inertia. It's a two-part entry based on lots of years of answering this question for readers. Once, a woman asked me if it was OK to use her antique tablecloth in a modern kitchen. My response was a little cheeky, but I think it worked: You have my permission. Everybody laughed, but I made my point. You don't need permission to do the things in decorating your own home. Do what pleases you! At any rate, check out the Hooker blog. I'll be contributing on a regular basis. Kim and I worked together on a collection for Hooker a few years ago and I have such respect for her efforts. She puts her heart and soul into everything she does; my kind of girl.

Hope you are all in the midst of vacations that take you to places that bring rest and refreshment. Let us hear about what you are doing on your summer vacation...

Monday, June 14, 2010

Marriage on My Mind

I recently received a wedding invitation for the wedding of the son of a dear friend of mine. I know we all have this realization from time to time: Married? Isn't that kid still in rompers? How quickly the years pass by--and one day the boy who sat at your Thanksgiving table carefully moving around the vegetables he didn't fancy is now going to be a husband. I mentioned recently that another friend's son has just been wed, before being deployed for his third tour in Iraq. His wedding was especially significant to me because I wrote about his mom's wedding in my book, Jenny Walton's Packing for a Woman's Journey. His mom was one of the young women working with me--and our whole staff, with her mom's approval, got together and put on the wedding.

The wedding happened to be on my December birthday, and it was memorable for lots of reasons including the bitter cold and ice of an Iowa winter. Dear Ann, tiny but intrepid, walked across the icy parking lot of the church where the reception was being held managing a three-tiered cake she baked. I looked out the window and I stopped breathing for a second. She made it, of course. There must be special angels in attendance on such occasions. Suzy, who now resides in sunny Mexico, had flown into Des Moines from New York in a storm tenderly caressing the floral bouquets she had touched with a rim of gold. As for my contribution--I spent the fall months knitting a series of sweaters in pastel colors for the bridesmaids. The one in progress when my husband and I drove to see our son in high school in Michigan was a most delicate shade of lavender. At one point, with bits of wool dust swirling in the car, my husband suggested I might have to stop lest we get "lilac lung disease." So many good memories.

My own wedding had its share of drama. I won't relate it here, but if one of you has a copy of Packing for a Woman's Journey feel free to tell the story. Our anniversary is coming up and we'll celebrate this year with just a few of our nearest and dearest--including friends who were there on a tropical July day in Washington. I once heard that the British diplomats got special pay for enduring DC summers. I don't know whether it's true or not, but it can be very hot and humid, and it certainly was on our special day.

And so marriage is on my mind: Radiant brides, flowers in hand, aisles whether in churches or sylvan settings, adoring parents, the friends of a lifetime, grooms seemingly too young...happiness.

Above: Wedding Day, Daniel Bennett Schwartz, watercolor, 2010

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

The Book Tour Begins

The first stop on my summer book tour is in Rochester, New York on June 15. First, I'll be happy to see my friend Karen and catch up. Then, after we have a chatty dinner, I hope to meet My First Best Friend fans at the Barnes & Noble at Pittsford Plaza. I'll be there from 7 to 9. Do come if you can, or get the word to family and friends in the area.

Karen, by the way, has a charming story in the book. It is about two little girls who play dolls together, but when you read between the lines--it's a lot more about the very basic nature of feeling that one belongs. Tune in at 7:15 to WHAM-TV the morning of June 15: I'll be talking to Mike on the morning show. Bet he'll ask me about Rochester's Karen.

Writing, as everyone knows, can be lonely. But when one has a finished book, it's getting out to meet "the folks" that provides a special thrill. After Rochester, I'm off to Minneapolis for a signing at The Galleria in Edina on June 23, then Ames, IA on June 26, and Des Moines, IA on June 27.

My friend Coleen says she's got quite a crew coming to the signing at the Barnes & Noble at Jordan Creek in West Des Moines. I'll take her at her word as Col comes from a large family and has five great kids of her own. Mike, the eldest, just left for a third tour in Iraq. Just before deployment, he married Katie, who is to be congratulated with a brand new law degree. I wasn't able to make the wedding, but I am looking forward to meeting Mike's bride. And speaking of weddings, Col is chronicled in my book Jenny Walton's Packing for a Woman's Journey. It's quite a tale of love on many levels. When I looked at the pictures of Mike and Katie on their happy day, I couldn't help seeing his beautiful mom in her ankle length dress carrying a bouquet of flowers touched with gold--brought from New York to Des Moines by friend and designer Suzy Taylor. (Suzy is the Suzy of The Kemplar Street Gang in MFBF.)

Yes, writing can be lonely. But fortunately, my writer's life has been populated with so many friends and familiar faces and stories. They have enriched my life and hopefully, through my writing, the lives of many others.

While on the road, I'll try to blog as much as possible. But at the very least, I'll save up tales for when I return. Hopefully, some of you will have your own when I come to your town. And I'd still like to get reviews of My First Best Friend here--or on Amazon or one of the other internet book sellers. It's good to know what reactions the book engenders.

Until then, Kitty Foyle will keep the home fires burning...

For more details on Nancy's book tour:

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

My Year of Taking Tea--Alice's Party

It is always a delight to talk to my friend Alice Watson Houston. When I heard her bright and lively voice on the phone recently, I knew I was in for a something special. Alice and I were part of a group of young editorial types who began our careers at American Heritage Publishing Company. We all had a marvelous mentor in Alvin Josephy. What luck to have had Alvin in our lives; and what luck to have a group of women whose respect for each other has grown over the years. Before Alvin's death, we would meet every May at his lovely home in Greenwich, Connecticut.

As an aside: I have a favorite house in America--Washington Irving's Sunnyside in Irvington, New York. And I have a favorite room in my heart and memory--Alvin's study, looking out on Bruce Park. It was a tumble of books and comfort for the soul of a writer. Alvin wrote many books in his long and productive life, but I think my favorite is his autobiography, A Walk Toward Oregon.

Alice is inviting Mary Jenkins and me to tea at The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York today. Because her husband, a well-known artist for Steuben Glass, contributed drawings to the museum, she has special dining room privileges. Alice travels from her 1700's home in Stonington, Connecticut, where this time of year her garden must be heaven. My own terrace is glorious rimmed in mountain laurel. (Our Iowa house has June about to bust out all over, too. After a really cold winter, it seems a miracle to walk on a velvet lawn beneath flowering crab apple trees.)

And so I am looking forward to Alice's tea party...and the talk of what we are all up to. I have two copies of My First Best Friend in my bag for two friends who, while not the very first, are very treasured work friends. Alice says tea will be her treat--Mary and I think it will be ours just all being together again, without pencils behind our ears. Work friends--would you like to honor one here?

Monday, May 17, 2010

News from Persephone Books...

Just received The Persephone Biannually. What a cover! Titled Napping on the Best at Monte Carlo (1934), it brings me a picture of restfulness and also reminds me just how much the world has changed. Why do we love these kind of images? Imagine seeing women so clad on the beach today? They look like tourists who have delved into their steamer trunks for just the right outfits. Darling green and white sandals to match the shirt, the trim on the short sleeved cardigan, and the tidy scarf tied about her--nails painted bright red. But wait...we might not see this outfit seaside, but we certainly might in the pages of a catalog like Anthropologie and thus on a lass walking briskly about on her lunch break from her computer-driven job. Just how much do things change?

You may recall, we visited Persephone Books in my Journal back in March. At that time, I just had to purchase several of their vintage titles and my reward is this charming publication. Do go on their web site and check out their news and the recent Spring/Summer 2010 offering. I note that one of their shops, the one in Kensington, is closing. "Trying to compete against Amazon" is one of the reasons. Alas, online shopping is a wonderful service, and it keeps books circling the globe, but the loss of bookstores is a change that many of us lament. But just loving bookstores will not keep them in business, as the notice in The Biannually suggests. Their shop in London on Lamb's Conduit Street is still active, thank goodness.

One of the upcoming events is something we might choose to celebrate, too--a virtual celebration. On Monday, October 18, there will be a lunch and lecture at the Persephone store celebrating the publication, a hundred years ago on that day, of E. M. Forster's Howards End. For those of you in book clubs--what a great inspiration for an event. For shop owners of all kinds, you can plan something like this.

So here at the Journal, we'll be having a Howards End lunch and/or tea--more later as plans progress for menus, etc. You just might set your own table that day, read the book or revisit the film, which is one of my favorites.

Something to look forward to as spring drifts into summer and then fall is once again upon us. The seasons change, as times do, but there are things that never do--like good books, good taste, a restful day at the beach, and the best of friends, first or forevers.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Millbrook Book Festival

Hope to see all of you who can get to the third annual Millbrook Book Festival in Millbrook, New York this coming Saturday, May 15.

I will be involved in a panel discussion called "Living and Decorating with the Things You Love" moderated by Barbra Milo Ohrbach (Dreaming of Florence)and featuring other design experts and fellow authors: Tricia Foley (At Home with Wedgewood), Linda Dannenberg (French Country Kitchens), and Mita Corsini Bland (Sister Parish Design).

Stop by and say hello. After the panel discussion, I will also be available to sign copies of My First Best Friend.

Hope to see you there!

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

To Dwell in Possibility

The Emily Dickinson show at The New York Botanical Garden (picture above) brings to mind how devoted I was to Emily's poetry once upon a time. Like all passions, this one has faded a bit over the years. Now, I have a chance to renew an acquaintance with an old friend whose line about dwelling in possibility was my mantra for a long time. Lately, I have blended it with a spoonful of reality.

No, I have not become a cynic. I guess that is just not in my DNA. But when a few hopes and dreams hit a bumpy patch, don't we all step back a bit? For dear Emily, her possibility seems to have been in her garden and her garden of verse. "This is my letter to the world," writes Emily Dickinson, "who never wrote to me." And so, Emily Dickinson created her own world.

It might be considered either brave or cowardly when considering Emily's choices. She was a recluse from that world that wasn't communicating with her. But in her mind she explored places in the heart and left paths for us to follow and to help us understand our own way.

Do visit her garden at The Botantical Garden and the Emily Dickinson Museum in Amherst, MA (picture below). And delight in the Julie Harris performance of The Belle of Amherst available on DVD--a masterpiece. Does Emily have a place in your thoughts?

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Happy Mother's Day

There will be flowers and lunches out at lovely restaurants. Little ones will help Dad make breakfast and serve it to Mom--who only hopes the kitchen is not a destruction site. (Although she'd never say a word!) Honoring mothers...what a special idea.

Moms and those who do the work of moms are national treasures. For those of us who have offspring or who have adopted a young person to shepherd, it is a day we can stop for a second in this tumbling world and know that this is a moment to give thanks for the breath of fresh air in our lives. We can take our bows--and well we should. But on our way up our eyes settle on the face of the future. And we can thank them for giving us this happy day of days. Feet up, breakfast in bed, flowers on the table, WOW!

Wednesday, May 5, 2010


On Sunday I pulled out my credit card to pay for a gift for Jorden. He's going on to the high school of his choice in New York City. And that's an accomplishment. The chap who "rang up" my sale, looked at me and said: "I have always regretted the demise of Victoria. It always made my day when it arrived." I was so pleasantly surprised that he would recognize my name and remember Victoria in such a nice way.


Having just received my incredibly beautiful note cards from Maria Thomas at Pendragon, I was taken aback by a recent article questioning why anyone writes thank you notes, anyhow. First, I have no objection to an email--and I send them myself all the time. But a handwritten note is still very appreciated. For those who do it, there's a certain satisfaction and a connection with one's own personal choices. Picking out the paper, selecting the card, taking pen in hand. For many of us it has its satisfactions. So sending the note is not only obligatory it's an act of enjoyment. I suppose they may go the way of bustles and buggies. But it's a personal choice, and why in the world does it have to get examined?


In the Style section of Sunday's New York Times, there is a front page story about the concern that professionals in child development are worrying about all the technical social networking that kids do now. Having just written a book like My First Best Friend, I rose from my seat and started communicating with several of the experts quoted in the article. I wanted to add my voice and my "study" of friendship. It was so obvious to me that all the stories in my book are examples of why forming buddies in early life is so important. Granted, my book is exclusively about women. But as I read the examples given in the the article, it seemed they were describing how girls connect and develop friendship. Men, after all, are always telling us how they envy the way we make and keep friends. Of course, many men have close friends--some from youth. I adored Bill Bryson's "The Life and Times of The Thunderbolt Kid." Our son read out large portions on a road trip a couple of years ago. Bill is from Des Moines, so we consider him of our our "Iowa clan."

Jeffery Palmer at the University of Alabama got right back to me--and I sent him off a book. I've always thought that this book, while a wonderful gift for friends, is also a study about a relationship that hasn't got attention in the "study" area. I hope Jeffery will be able to use it in his research and classes.


Dearest Isabel Keating, a lovely actress I got acquainted with when she played the role of Judy Garland in "The Boy from Oz" on Broadway a few seasons ago, sent me a much appreciated note. She's just received Leslie Caron's book, Thank Heaven. I'd sent it off for Christmas, but Isabel's schedule has been so hectic it was just unwrapped. During Isabel's Broadway run, I had dropped her a note about her performance and sent her Leslie's remembrances of Judy Garland, who was always kind to Leslie Caron in her early days in Hollywood. I thought it might help inform Isabel's performance. I never expected a friendship to begin. Now, my dream is to get the two together someday. They'd have the best time. Both are petite and full of life.


Responding about the Victoria book about French chic. I inquired and found out that the listing is in error as the book was never produced. A shame, because French chic is a yummy topic. But there are lots of places to indulge oneself on this subject and maybe some of you can help Valery find one.


Off on an afternoon walk with Janet and her dogs to the beautiful Halsey Pond. Enjoy your day doing something you love. Write a note, be chic, remember a friend, and put Spring in your step. nl

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Loving Things...

I have three books I'd like to discuss. I am always amazed at how the columnist David Brooks in The New York Times gets many of his columns. David reviews books. (I always smile thinking I am the only one on to him.) I don't use this device that often, but here are three books I'd like to talk about.

The first was a birthday gift this year: The Way we Live with Things We Love by Stafford Cliff and photographs by Cilles De Chabaneix, published by Rizzoli. You guessed it--it has a very European point of view. For those of us who adore beautifully composed photographs, this book is a delight. It is a feast for the eyes and not really meant to have you go to a local flea market and find exotic things to discretely place about your abode. I am especially intrigued by a chapter on antiques. The advice for the reader is to find the best use for your treasured possessions. I'm all for that--but few of us have grand headless statues and alcoves to put them it. I did enjoy seeing the wall of great family portraits, however--each in a similar frame and each with a printed scroll above it.

We can all find ideas any and everywhere, and there are ideas in this book. Take for example the daybed in a house in Budapest--the assortment of embroidered and printed fabric pillow sent me right to Pottery Barn to see if I could find ones like it! Of course they are there--not as marvelous as those in the book, but I suspect not as pricey either. Bless You PB.

The second book, I just received. It has the amazing title Living with What You Love. We all know you can't copyright the title of a book. (I could write Gone With the Wind and get away with it if I'd dare try) but I did do a double take. This book by Monica Rich Kosann, published by Clarkson Potter is definitely American. Like most American-style decorating books it is designed to instruct as well as inspire. The cover tells us that we are going to learn to decorate with family photos, cherished heirlooms, and collectibles. One lesson is called Have Fun With Your Clutter. To illustrate, a rather grand staircase wall is adorned with every family snapshot in the owner's archive--school moments, sports events, and a grandmother or two or three or four. (The staircase, by the way, was designed by Stanford White, one of America's great architects.) Create a Multidimensional Collage is another helpful hint. Basically, this means putting a lot of things on a small table in what you consider an artful way.

The reason I am pointing these things out is not to be critical--I know it may sound that way. After all, I edited a magazine and have produced books dealing with things in exactly the same way these two books are doing. And I'm sure there were readers who said, "You've got to be kidding." Now that I am on this side of the fence, I am at least opening up to the possibility that maybe we pay too much attention to our things--and maybe we love them too much, especially in publishing.

In that regard, you might want to pick up a fascinating little paperback by Richard Todd called,
The Thing Itself--On the Search for Authenticity. It got me thinking about things, especially after just having spend a week with Wendi photographing the things that I LOVE. On antiques, he writes: "Old things sustain me in a way I know not to be wholly rational."

Todd's thesis is way more complicated and I'll leave it to you to delve further if you wish--with compliments to David Brooks--but I think all of these books get us thinking about what we love and maybe more importantly, why we love them. I'm sure you'll find inspiration in both the picture books--and this afternoon take all your teacups and arrange them in some amazing way on that little round table in the library. But maybe we should all think about our loving of things rather than the love of things a bit more. I'm going to--how about you?

Monday, April 26, 2010

Second Mothers

I am still thinking about the delightful time I had at Mendham Books in Mendham, New Jersey. First, it is always wonderful to actually meet with the people who buy your book. We were fortunate that day to have My First Best Friend sell so well. One person, whom I didn't get to meet, bought 25 books. Another had me sign 13 books she wanted to give to a group of 40-year-old friends celebrating 27 years together. Being part of of such a fun time made me very happy.

One of the gentleman who came with his wife and both their families reminded me again of how important mothers are in our lives--and not just our very own. His mother's first best friend was also his, he said. He could often talk to her about things that maybe he wouldn't bring up with his own mom. It was a special secret society. Another friend recently told me the same thing about his mom's FBF. "I'd stop by and see her often," he said. "And we talked about so many things."

My sister and I had a family friend, Julie, who was our "very own" keeper of secrets. Julie never had children of her own, so she "adopted" us. She was a part of our lives for a time. I used to walk our little Scottie dog to her house and sit in her immaculate white kitchen while she made wee mince pies. I got one right out of the oven. There always seemed to be some wonderment in that almost magic cottage.

A bonus in doing the research for My First Best Friend was hearing the heart-warming stories of love and attention from "second mothers." The "mom next door" was often an endearing presence, contributing in quiet and unseen ways. Just ask JoAnn, (page 92) who credits her FBF Bernadette's mother with being her role model for mothering her own three daughters. "She never raised her voice," JoAnn remembers. But it is far more than that; a little girl remembered of her little friend's mom--it was the open heart beyond the open door.

With Mother's Day approaching, share your stories of that second mother whose love enriched your life. I'm sure they will enrich us, too.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

A rose by any name..

My neighbor Janet, an art director herself, introduced me to the work of Karen O'Neil, an Ulster County, New York artist. Even though this time of year we all yearn to be outside with real flowers, I can't resist beautiful renderings. Karen seems to understand the soul of a rose in her paintings...and teacups. The nice thing about Karen's very professional work is that her fees are quite reasonable. Keeping fine art in reach is something I applaud.

Last week a lot of my possessions came into clear view again. How many things we have that we look over or around. One small treasure unearthed was a vintage copy of the poems of Robert Burns. There is no date on my volume, which is very fragile, so I assume quite ancient. The cover seems to have a print of roses applied over the binding. Burns wrote a lot more than the two songs that most of us recall.

What better love song can there be than My luve is like a red, red rose/That's newly sprung in June...? It's a statement of simple perfection. Burns wrote the poem in 1794, two years before his untimely death. Burns is beloved in his native Scotland, and around the world. Could there be a New Year's Eve without a rousing chorus of Auld Lang Syne? Graduations, around the corner, are also an occasion when we use this hymn to the memory of old times to commemorate the friends we are about to separate from. Written in 1788, it's just one of the many, many songs and poems in my book. It even has a section with the correspondence to and from Robert Burns. Thank you Hurst and Company Publishers, New York. I shall keep the book within reach now.

With a tip of a hat or bonnet to Burns, my mind wanders to The Bard who paid this tribute to the rose--lines written for Juliet:

What's in a name? That which we call a rose By any other name would smell as sweet.

Are there roses strewn in your path to share? A favorite rose poem or painting?

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

My Accumulated Life

Last week the delightful and talented Wendi Schneider traveled from Denver with her magic camera to record moments in what I call "my accumulated life." We had four days of of putting together a variety of photographs of the things I love in my Hudson River digs. Ames, Iowa to of these days. Having two homes, at least, means dividing what you love around the country!

Try as I may not to, I am still acquiring--and yesterday's find can be almost as powerful as the ones you've grown accustomed to. One of the things that became apparent as Wendi delved into the cabinets and saw things perched on shelves that are so a part of the scenery I almost think of them as permanent fixtures is that many were gifts of one kind or another. I have been living with the love and largess of others--and how fortunate I have been to have people in my life who seem to know what makes my heart sing.

Amazingly, many friends over the years have said to me, "You're so hard to buy a gift for." With all the loot that Wendi and I photographed, I have to doubt this. Of course, my Victoria days did engender many lovely things that friends, colleagues, and associates have been gracious with. Take my crown collection, for example: I did not buy even one for myself. Over time, crowns, mostly pins, just keep finding a place in my "tower" of jewels. I, myself, find it refreshing when a friend has a signature piece--it makes gifting challenging. Is there a heart that Ann does not have? Is there one unique and will touch her own tender heart in a special way?

My friend Kim Shaver at Hooker Furniture has asked me to jot down some of the ways in which we live with the things we love for a project she is doing. Kim is a big believer in the idea that how we furnish our homes includes a large dollop of love--that when we invest in a piece of furniture it does more than occupy space and provide function. So, I'll be looking at my own accumulated life for Kim. And I'll have to give thanks to the legions who have helped me with gifts ranging from candlesticks to teapots to artworks to the books that have been written by the people in my life. I think of being especially fortunate to have bequests that make my homes
ever more meaningful--a gallery of generations who stitched and crafted leaving a legacy that means the world to me.

Whew...I was bit tuckered out after working with Wendi. And I know she was also--it's not only physical work but emotional, too, as one focuses on the true meaning behind our possessions. A tiny taste of Wendi's incredible work is pictured here. We both have a big job to narrow down the shots we want to keep--and then to decide if we have a book or other project on this subject of accumulation. We all live on our own stages--mine is filled to the brim with memories. Yours?

Friday, April 16, 2010

Victoria & Albert, Art & Love

For those of us who continue our fascination with Queen Victoria and who have poured over every detail in the current film The Young Victoria, here is special treat: Victoria & Albert, Art & Love is currently on exhibit at The Queen's Gallery, Buckingham Palace. I almost hesitate to tell enthusiasts about this...we may want to lock up our family jewels, less we sacrifice them for some of the delicious objects for sale in the gallery's shop. So promise me, before you start to read this, that you will be prudent.

The exhibition focuses on the gifts that the loving couple gave to each other. It is no surprise to those of us who have poured over Victoria's journals and delighted in her watercolors of her children, that she had a taste for art. And also not a revelation that her dear Albert, always her muse, had a most sophisticated eye. With the magic of this wonderful instrument we write our emails on, you can see many of the items the two gave as tokens of affection to one another--and at the same time, they were supporting artists in all realms.

Birthdays and anniversaries were for Victoria and Albert, as they are for all us, the occasion to delight a recipient with the most personal and meaningful of gifts. For example, for his 24th birthday, Victoria presented Albert with a portrait of his favorite dog painted by a distinguished English artist of the time. And at the birth of each child, Albert gave Victoria a charm for her bracelet...nine charms in all, of course.

Prince Albert's brilliance and talents are properly displayed at The Queen's Gallery--and makes even sadder his untimely death at 42. Victoria mourned her Prince and the nation lost a man who might have done so much more.

PS - A catalog of the exhibit is available for order on Amazon, and The Young Victoria is also now available on DVD.

Artworks shown: Portrait by Franz Xaver Winterhalter commissioned by Queen Victoria for Albert on his birthday; Ceramic inkstand commissioned by Prince Albert; Archie and Annie MacDonald, watercolor by Queen Victoria; I know my position, Sir!, watercolor by Albert Edward, Prince of Wales, with Edward Corbould

Sunday, April 11, 2010

A Challenge on Reading MY FIRST BEST FRIEND

After reading your comments on the Journal these past months, I have a challenge for you wonderful writers, who are so perceptive and so articulate:

If you have read My First Best Friend, I would love for you to review it for me. Say how you really feel. (I may boohoo by myself but I will certainly appreciate all comments and take them as positive criticism.) What did you like most? What story really expressed the essence of women's friendships best for you? If you were recommending the book to a friend, what would you say to convince her? (Of course, these questions are just suggestions - don't limit yourself to these observations.)

If you haven't read the book, perhaps you'd like to comment on what kind of stories you'd like to read in such a book. Or perhaps comment on what such friendships have meant in your life.

And so, Dear Readers, I am anxious to read you.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Penny Martin--Gentlewoman

Well, I have not seen this new publication, The Gentlewoman, coming out of England via a Dutch company. But I trust is will fulfill what it's editor wants it to do--a magazine that will show that women are interested in much more than just handbags.

I think Penny is a might hard on some of the current women's titles. They are interested in food, hair, beauty, home, and a variety of such topics. However, I think she hits the nail on the head with this observation:

Even in the 18th and 19th centuries, women were writing about travel and education and philosophy, and that's somehow disappeared. We have the opportunity to do these things...

Victoria magazine in my tenure did these things...but maybe not in the way Penny would do them. I often felt that there were canons to the right and left of us as we featured the beauty and dignity of women in all fields. If my memory serves me right, we even toyed with the idea of "Gentlewoman" as a title. But when we would use such a word...or heaven forbid, "lady like"...the earth shook. We were taking women back 50 years! I never thought so--I always thought it was taking women ahead to be as complete as they could be. One writer characterized Victoria as a needlepoint magazine. I was never against that beautiful art, but at the time, I don't think we'd ever done a story on it. But on women who were doing every art imaginable in new and creative ways, you bet.

Penny wants women to come away from The Gentlewoman saying that the women featured are great. That was always our goal--no matter what theater she chose to play in. Hurray for Penny beginning with her convictions. Penny is committed to redefining the term "gentlewoman" for the 21st century. However, I think she'll find that women of any time who are totally engaged in life are gentlewomen for all ages. Jane Austen, anyone? Ok, choir, sing if you like!

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Easter Love

I met the angel of my life at Easter time. A middle-aged woman came bearing the biggest chocolate bunny I had ever seen...and it was love at first sight. My father was to marry her daughter in early May and she came to meet my sister and me. From this moment on, she was to be my grandmother in every way, although I never called her so. Rather, we had names of endearment over the years.

That we met for the first time over something sweet and sentimental is most appropriate for how our relationship was to grow. I think of her every day because she is the inner voice of my life--the guiding spirit, the way an angel is supposed to be. Of course, she would just wave her hand at me at such a thought if I had expressed it to her. I was the youngest in the family and she the oldest, as she came to live with us after that May 4th marriage that brought me a new mother, who that day wore a lovely dress and beautiful corsage. We formed a conspiracy and a companionship that fitted us both like the white gloves she always made sure I had to wear on Easter.

I had lost a mother so very early in life to an illness that had lingered for almost all my young life. I not only lost a mother but the years that were too painful to remember. However, my memories of my grandmother and me have never faded because they were the years when she held my hand, and later when she was to take my arm. Our Easter love lasted a very long time--long after chocolate bunnies, cellophane wrapped baskets filled to the brim with jelly beans and all manner of treats, and outfits she sewed for me. We were life chums.

When I began Victoria magazine, I always said that it was for the women who loved their grandmothers as I did. And who would never forget the legacy of womanhood they gave them. It was much more than appreciation of a gracious time. It was a sense of what was beautiful in life--of what to hold on to that expresses the best we have to give. My angel gave me many gifts, but the gift of her unselfishness was truly the most important one. I paid homage to her by beginning a program at Victoria that honored women who practiced it in their lives. It was called A Star in Our Crown, named for the hymn she loved and the lesson she taught me--that when we do something for which we expect no reward, a star is placed in our crown.

My grandmother's crown was filled with stars for the kindnesses of my life. beginning with bringing a lonely child Easter love.

- Cookies by Dancing Dear Baking Co. Painted wooden eggs and wooden bunny from Wisteria. Chocolates by Cibelli Chocolates.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

In Martha's Corner

When our family spent time--once upon a time--in England, our hosts had a young son who had to go to school while ours did not. In a note of indignation, this former American-as-apple pie boy announced with a bit of the Brit in his voice: "It's not fair." I'm always reminded of this
plea when I see something that doesn't seem quite cricket.

The latest book about Martha Stewart might cross the line from being not fair to downright mean-spirited. I am not going to defend Martha about what she does or does not do. But I am going to applaud her for her contributions to the American home. In that way, I am in her corner--one that is furnished with good taste that is affordable. Some of the merchandise designed in her K-mart days revolutionized the home furnishings industry. I am not as familiar with her current lines, but one can count on Martha to offer good choices at good prices.

When Martha entered the magazine field, we were competitors. But fair is fair and this new book doesn't seem so it me. I don't intend to plunk down my five cents for it, but I will save it for a the Martha product I might find to make my home and my life nicer. Because nice more ways than one.

Friday, March 19, 2010

"I often wonder where she is...

When little first best friends get separated at 8 or 9, as one woman writes on the Facebook fan page for My First Best Friend, I suspect a tiny little hole is left in hearts. At the time, there are probably tears and promises to see each other soon, but new friends probably come to march in those familiar steps.

I am finding that as women respond to the book, there are several themes evolving--and this is certainly one of them. Every time I read such a comment, I want to wave a magic wand and
unite these two best friends and show shared moments no one else can claim. If My First Best Friend has the effect of uniting some of these old friends, it will make me so very happy--and be worth having begun this endeavor which seems to be taking on a life of its own.

Now, there are ways to find old friends, although with women and name changes it can be a challenge. I had considered putting a section in the book outlining ways to try and locate lost friends, but I was sure that as it went to print, there would be other and better search engines. I am no expert on this subject. But I entreat those who long to find that kid in braids you never saw again after one of you moved from "your world" to explore the current options.

Of course, we are always a bit wary. Have we grown so far apart we won't recognize each other? Will we talk about old times and have nothing else to say to each other? Would she like me now? With all these reasons not to pursue a reunion, there are many more that just may be worth the risk, as stories in My First Best Friend reveal. Disappointments may happen. But then, at least, you will no longer wonder. There is a time and a place for things in life, and going back isn't always the path best taken. But one can think of this as moving ahead, perhaps to knowing a grownup who just happens to remember you with braces.

My beloved Emily Dickinson talks about courage this way:

I took my power in my hand and went against the world.

It's a poet's way to summon up courage. Words to inspire?

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

The Winds of March...and April Showers

Outside the window of my solarium is a glorious magnolia tree. I can look forward to it bursting forth with a profusion of pink each spring. It sits amidst a mini forest of pine trees. It's a valiant tree that is still standing, still proud, but not as resplendent. The storms we have had in the Northeast in the past few weeks have devastated many of our trees. Whole trees have been uprooted from the fierce winds that followed just a few weeks after a snow storm. It was that storm, leaving feet of heavy wet snow crushing branches, that has diminished my magnolia.

My friend and neighbor, Janet, and I cut some of the branches from the fallen limbs--and I have been trying to force the bulbs. I didn't realize how much water I had put in the metal container--so much that I couldn't lift it yesterday to get it near a sunny window on the first sunny day we've had in a spell. But with a little ingenuity, I did manage. And now the valiant bulbs are trying to bloom. They are further along than the tree. It's a rebirth after the storm that makes me happy to see. March winds bring April showers...

Speaking of which, I hear from my Rochester, NY friend, Karen, that she has found a fabulous site featuring gorgeous umbrellas: Karen is not one to hold back enthusiasm, but I think you'll agree with her that these are special, and worthy of note and carrying to shed those April showers that are sure to come your way.

I have two big umbrellas--bought in France during my Victoria days--that are treasures. They came from the Cartier Foundation and I bought them from necessity when we were shooting at a story nearby. At Versailles' Little Hamlet we were deluged with rain, but we had to carry on, only having a few days to complete our story on toile jouy fabrics. These French blue umbrellas have a huge wing span. They will keep the rain off--but on a windy day you might just take flight trying to hang on to one of them! I held one over Toshi Otsuki as he and I both stood in water up to our knees. (Oh, the glamorous life of a magazine editor!) We positioned the models, as best we could, under eaves, etc. so they would be dry while we shot. Then, under the blue umbrellas, we all scurried to a dry place. One of the guards at the palace lent me his raincoat until he had to go back on duty. Bless the lad. These umbrellas as so ample, one could easily use them on the beach, but I would never want the color to fade. It is just my favorite azure shade.

This particular story has always been one of my favorites. Maybe because of the difficulty in the shoot, but more because we were able to share with our readers the history and development of a fabric we all know well, but do not know how it came into being. The scenes of toile come from artists' renditions of scenery in the area. They created romantic little tableaux from the bridges, rivers, trees, and streams around them. When we use a toile fabric, it has a very romantic history to bring with it. There is a lovely museum in Jouy-en-Josas, and they have published a glorious book, Toile de Jouy. When you peruse the fabrics or the incredible plates in this book, remember that these are real places with real inspirations.

This month, this March of fierce winds with the promise of spring, is the 250th anniversary of the printing of toile. It's as beautiful today as it always was.