Saturday, January 30, 2010

For the Love of Fantasy

What better time of year, as valentines are everywhere we look, to indulge in a little fantasy. Some readers of Victoria may remember an article back in 1991 about Debbie Schramer and her delightful fairy furniture. For the longest time, I kept a wee chair on the bookshelf behind my desk. If a fairy were to come to 224 West 57th Street, they would have had a welcome place to roost.I think a wide-eyed child visited one day, and the chair found a new home. It was very fragile, but I think anyone who would fall in love with it would take good care of its delicacy.

What a pleasure to hear from Debbie on this blog and know that she and Mike are still making little chairs like mine--and so much more. It was a special satisfaction to see how folks grew after they were featured in Victoria. Debbie started her magical enterprise the same year Victoria was launched in 1987, so the magazine was early to hop on her "tiny" bandwagon.

One can only marvel at the enchanted treehouse Debbie and Mike created for their recent film. Don't we all wish we could inhabit such a land for even an hour? You can visit the Schramers in fairyland on the film's web site. And another place I was enchanted by is their enterprise of making fairy furniture for children--with children having the satisfaction of creating something unique and endearing.

Valentines don't all have to be heart-shaped, they can come in a flight of fantasy like a fairy bed crafted of flowers, branches, and mosses. To say I love you with the work a person loves to do is
my idea of a delicious valentine. Again, thanks to Debbie for finding me again and sharing her art, her passion, and her dedication to the love of fantasy.

Monday, January 25, 2010

My Year of Taking Tea - January

As I explore all the incredible experiences one can have over a cup of tea, I want to begin with an intimate experience I had yesterday. My niece visits, sometimes on command performances. In order to gain a bit of attention in her busy life, I find things she "needs" to do for me. I have found that asking, judiciously of course, for some attention is very satisfying to both parties.

Before we hit our market to shop, we stopped at my favorite diner in Westchester. I wrote about it briefly once in the Bliss section we created in Victoria. (Golly, I loved the freedom of those pages. I even thought that perhaps Victoria would spin off in that direction one day.) Back to the Dobbs Diner: My family has been going there for years. My husband and son are in our Iowa digs at the moment--so keeping up a ritual, my niece and I went and had lunch graciously served to us by Gus.

She said she had a story to tell me, so we settled back over our tea. (The brew is often a blessing for conversation, isn't it?) Recently, my niece drove to Baltimore on business. On the way back, she stopped for gas and tea at a rest stop along the way. Traveling on to the toll booth, some miles ahead, she realized that she had lost her wallet--leaving her with no cash to pay the toll.
Turning around, she hastened back to where she had recently stopped.

My eyes started to glaze over, as I have looked for a lost wallet with this lass several times over the years, including a recent excursion at Iowa State University in Ames, just before Thanksgiving. The campus was practically empty and the dropped wallet was sitting politely by the curb, just as it had fallen. Was there money in this lost wallet, I asked. Six hundred dollars was the reply.

Getting out of her car at the most recent stop, she looked around where she had parked, thinking she might have dropped the wallet getting into the car. While she was searching, a young man approached her and asked if she were looking for a wallet. Astonished, she replied that she was. He had noticed it, and suspected that when the person who lost it got to the toll booth, a return trip would be made to the rest stop. So he was waiting for her. Our tea was steaming, but it was the tears in her eyes that accounted for the mist in the air.

She talked to the young man and found that he had just lost his job and was returning home to live with his parents. Parents who should be justly proud of an intelligent and honest son. Perhaps that wallet has some kind of magic--always returning to its owner.

A story over tea--amazing and sweet. One that affirms that most people are good. One never knows what amazing things one will hear over tea. Do you have a teatime story to share?

Monday, January 18, 2010

Personal Hugs

It is an honor to receive and share the intimate stories of family and friendship that the journal has been receiving lately. I would like to personally hug each of you. So consider it done. I am not a person who hugs easily, although it is getting easier. I do "tear up" more than I used to.

I always remember my grandmother wiping her pretty blue eyes behind her thick square glasses (childhood measles had weakened her eyes) and being puzzled by it. I think it's one of the things that years gives us the privilege of doing. And so here with Kitty Foyle so perfectly resting next to me, I can have my own "hanky" moment. She doesn't mind a bit.

Let me share a "hug" time with you. The woman was beautiful--well-dressed and composed. I met her at Victoria event. I think we were in a shopping center. I was a bit startled when she took me in her arms. When she drew back, she said: "Victoria helped me get through....." I will not tell you the intimate story she revealed, but it made my world go black that moment. And so we hugged again and I told her that if any small way we had been there for her it was almost beyond my ability to comprehend. What I have loved about the comments here, have been the sharing of happy times, friendships old and new, and reunions. My hug has stayed in mind forever as a reminder that we can do things, acts of kindness, and not realize the impact they have. It's such a good reason for keeping our compasses due north.

My year of taking tea is about to begin. I will be sharing with you a monthly experience that has something to do with tea. I hope to enlighten and surprise you--and have a jolly good time along the way. Putting tea on the dinner table was my job as a little girl. We had a steaming pot every night--with whole cloves, I might add. And I've been a devotee ever since. Will look forward to us taking tea together.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

The Best List Part V

Meetings, greetings, and reunions--there were happy times for me in 2009. With another holiday season just past, I'm still thinking about the greetings from friends I don't see very often--some not for years and years. I know Christmas letters sometimes get a bad rap, and indeed some can be kind of silly. But I love the ones with pictures of kids, grandkids, and yes, cats and dogs. And even if folks are in my life on a fairly regular basis, I like to get that photo taken on the Colorado summer vacation or the hiking trip in the mountains with everybody all smiles. "Gee, I wish I were there," I often say to myself.

Every New Year's Eve day, our family gets together with dear friends. It's been a tradition that has gone on for many years. My friend Dottie was one of the first people to welcome our son to the world, flowers in hand and a broad smile. Her son was one of our boy's first baby sitters.
We've got a lot of history going--and we just enjoyed a lunch launching a new year. Eyes are weaker, bones a little creaky, but our hearts are still young and happy. Dottie's husband was a career naval officer and he and my husband, a navy man too, just revel in remembering the time they spent together in the service. It's a meeting I adored this year and consider it a blessing, too.

Just before Thanksgiving, I had two wonderful reunions. I met a former boss for lunch in a restaurant in Iowa where a charming chap gently played some old favorite songs on the piano in the window. We hadn't had such a meeting in a long time, and while short, it was very pleasant, indeed. I told stories he said he didn't believe: "Why that never happened, Nancy," he exclaimed over a hilarious incident when he had to be boss. It also amazes me what one person remembers about a relationship--and the other doesn't.

"My Mike is getting married in April and he wants you to come," said the voice on the phone. Mike, getting married? These things creep up on us don't they? Well, I know that this young man has just spent several tours in Iraq and is no longer the lad who played with my son's saxophone when he visited. His mom worked in my department at Better Homes and was always special. We have kept up with each other--but several years have gone by since we'd spent time together. Thanks to Mike, we made a point of it and had a long lunch at our dining table. ("You still have these blue sofas," Col remarked, as if it was a comfort to her.) Again, 2009 had this reunion in store for me--and there's a wedding to look forward to while I remember his mother's as if it were yesterday.

This is the last of my Best Lists. I hope you keep up the chatter on this subject...we'd all enjoy knowing the things that bring good cheer every year.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

The Best List Part IV

Some of us take great satisfaction in the work we have done; and I would be among them. But I had no idea when I started this blog that I would bring back together a community who loved Victoria as much as I did. All over again this past year, I have felt that rare flush of joy when one of you remembered, so kindly, what the staff of the magazine, begun in 1987, has meant to you.

Just after leaving Victoria, I asked a dear old friend, and a venerable man in publishing: Just how was it that the readers of the magazine found it so intimate and inspiring? (And of course, one has to know that not everyone loved Victoria.) He looked at me across a lunch table and said: "Nancy, these readers believe that you know and understand them. They think of you as a friend because of that." He was right that I and the staff had a special connection to our readers. I believe it was in part because we all started out together with hearts and minds in the same place.

I have quoted dozens and dozens of times a letter I received with the publication of the first issue. I know it by heart:
Dear Gentle People, How did you know?

That was the extent of the letter, but there was no reason to say more. Yes, I did know that reader. I know that she wanted grace and beauty in her life and she wanted to taste the richness of women's achievements in all the areas of life that many of us had overlooked as being "women's stuff." The world was forgetting the quiet pleasure of polishing a silver spoon and perhaps writing a note on paper you shopped for all afternoon.

The publishing world never seemed to completely understand the people who made the first issue of Victoria a newsstand sellout. I think I can tell a little secret here that I don't often share: Some of the folks on the business side of the magazine had prepared their reasons why the magazine hadn't worked to clients who advertised in that early issue. Of course, that was a prudent thing to have done. But luckily, it wasn't necessary. The first issue was a newsstand sellout and the rest is history for me until that day in 2000 when I gracefully made an exit.

It wasn't that I no longer cared. It was that I thought my work was done--and like Queen Victoria, I had done it well. (That is what the crowds in London shouted at her as she rode in her carriage on one one of her last trips through the streets.) I have taken great satisfaction in the work I have done--and I have delight in the people I did it with. It has been even more of a "best" to read here how much it has meant to some of you. Naturally, not everyone who reads this blog is a Victoria person; but it seems many of you are.

Thank you for making my 2009 special, and I hope that while you continue to enjoy the past, we all come along to find the new and the enduring. It was Lillian Hellman who reminded us not to love the past better than the present. And now we are in a new year and on a new journey. I have plans and I'd love to hear some of yours...

Friday, January 8, 2010

The Best List Part III

For much of 2009, I was involved in talking to women about friendship. I heard many heart-warming stories. Some produced enormous surprise; many were the comforting and reassuring memories of how we connect as little girls.

Like the snowflakes flurrying about me, no two stories were alike. I had selected the topic after finding my own first pal. We had been separated for years and years. It would have been wonderful to have shared our lives all these years--but we are overjoyed at reconnecting. There was so much to get caught up on. It was just mind-bending. It was gratifying to tell our story in the book, My First Best Friend.

"Can it be," I asked myself, "that no one has ever done such a book before?" Yes, there have been books about women's friendships--and very good and inspiring ones. But no one had focused on that "first." I heard so many more stories than I was able to put into the book. I was pleased with how many women gave of their time and their precious memories--wanting to let the world know just how much that special friend meant and still does, so often.

Early on in the blog, I shared the cover. Well, that was then. One fine day, I was presented with an even better one, I believe, which is displayed here. What I like most are the pictures of the little pals. I adore how we held our hands before the camera, and how even in old photos love shines through.

There are several reasons why I pick My First Best Friend as being a best of 2009. First, accomplishing something as worthy as I believe this to be is always a moment of intense satisfaction. Second, it was a privilege to be invited into intimate worlds with such generosity of spirit. And third, I am able to share with readers something that is honest and pure.

I am not going to ask you to share your first best friend story now, as I have plans to do that at a future date on a web site for the book (a project for 2010). But I do hope you take this opportunity to embrace such a friend. It might be your sister's friend, or even your mom's, that "auntie" who loved you a bunch, too. But I hope that I can count on your to become ambassadors of "first best friends"--and make this wonderful relationship a best of many years to come.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

The Best List Part II

Last year at this time, it would have been a huge stretch of imagination to think that my dear friend Janet would be my upstairs neighbor. Janet was part of the creative staff in our art department at Victoria. She worked three days a week and I always looked forward to those days. It was my habit to check in the art department first thing after arriving at the office. It was the place where there was most early day activity. When Janet was there, it was an even happier place.

As it happened in 2009, Janet's husband changed positions and they were looking for a new abode in my neck of the woods. Of course, I suggested that they look in my building. The chances of them settling here even then seemed quite remote. However, to sweeten the possibilities, I introduced Janet to my favorite real estate agent, Laureen Paul. With the patience of Job, Laureen worked to find the right place for them and their two beloved dogs, Dixie and Willy. The latter not being lap dogs at all, but nice big hefty ones.

I never tried to influence Janet, other than to tell her how much we loved living on the Hudson River when in residence in New York. When we are in Ames, it's a nice walk to the banks of the Skunk River, but even Iowa proud folks can't compare it to the mighty Hudson. This summer was the 400th anniversary of the discovery of the river and it didn't hurt to have boats from around the world and a replica of Henry Hudson's own ship, The Half Moon, often drifting graceful by our building. Additionally, we have "our own" train station at the foot of our building with "our own" post office in the 19th-century station. A few years ago we were able to go from the building directly to the train platforms. Now, we have to take an extra step or two, but it is still mighty convenient. One can leave our station and be in midtown Manhattan in 35 minutes. We have even taken the train north, and with one transfer gone all the way to Canada.

My new neighbor Janet and I call ourselves "Ethel and Lucy" because of our madcap adventures--like getting lost in the parking garage at the Westchester Mall this holiday season. We were laden with shopping bags...and Janet even had a small tree! I guess we had some explaining to do to our husbands who couldn't understand how we managed it. It is truly the best to have Janet so close, even though she still does spend time in her country house. It's like the magazine days; I look forward to the time she's here. I'm more content knowing that upstairs is a bright, funny, talented and beloved friend ready to lend a hand or a pinch of nutmeg! And my Kitty Foyle has tender, loving care when I'm away. It's just the best! And now it's your turn to share a best with a friend from 2009....

Monday, January 4, 2010

My Best List

It's the time of year when we reflect on the past, and hopefully build on the best. I started thinking about what my Best List of 2009 would contain. I had some lovely times and several delightful reunions, but at the top of my best list has to be a spring day in Rhode Island, when I was able to share some of the research on my new book project with the family of the Civil War soldier whose letters I have. To protect their privacy, I won't use real names of the current descendants.

My husband and I were fortunate to share a 100th birthday in the process of our visit. That alone was worth the trip. Assembled were the great-grandchildren of Julian W. Merrill and Matilda Caroline Morgan Merrill. They had one daughter, Georgianna. The folk gathered in a sun-drenched living room were her grandchildren. Unfortunately, they knew very little of her because of her early death when their father was just a toddler. When a new mother came into the family, Georgianna's memory dimmed over the years. Matilda did live many years beyond her daughter, but the family ties seem mysteriously to have vanished.

I shared Julian's letters--the writings home of a young man involved in a brutal war that shaped his future life. A wonderful historian had prepared a CD of them--a miracle in itself. And from that same source, there is a reprint of a book Julian wrote in support of the building of a monument to the men of his unit who served and who perished in the Civil War. The monument still exists, as does the book, published in 1870. Julian and Matilda had exciting lives in many ways--and I was able to recount them as they revolved around Matilda's father, and Julian's benefactor, Nathan Denison Morgan. What became clear was that while the Morgans had a fascinating historical footprint, it was the story of family discovered and rediscovered that was the most exciting and rewarding.

We tarried into the afternoon, had pie and refreshments. As we left, I stopped to admire the tidy garden kept by a tall and graceful man who walked with us to our car, thanking us for the day we had all had together. A best of 2009, or any year, to be sure. What tops your best list?