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.

Friday, March 12, 2010

New Notes

Yesterday, I called Maria Thomas in a panic. "I am running out of my beautiful notecards," I exclaimed to her. There is no way I will be without them, as I have used them since early Victoria days. Maria began her calligraphy company Pendragon just minutes before the magazine began. (Again, my theory that elegance was in the air.) So, why am I surprised that Maria is doing new and exciting things? And while I leave in her perfectly graceful hands the style of the notecards (just as I did for many of the invitations to events hosted by the magazine) I was intrigued to hear of her new flourishes and even a new exciting and fulfilling adventure. How we grow is such a satisfying subject...

Of course the reason my notecards, each with an original flower, are flying off my desk is that I am including a personal word with each copy of My First Best Friend that I send out to friends. Over the years, the cards have made any gift ever more special. Maria's cards are so dignified, I have used them to pen an expression of sympathy. When you visit Pendragon, you'll understand why in nearly 25 years, I've been a devoted fan and client.

Perhaps the time I appreciated Maria's contribution most is when the magazine feted Lady Bird Johnson as "Star in Our Crown." (When asked, as I often am, what events were the most rewarding and memorable in my magazine career, without hesitation I respond, "Meeting Lady Bird Johnson.") Before the luncheon event in Austin, Texas (near the Johnson ranch) Claire Whitcomb and I, along with Toshi Otsuki, visited with her. "Do things that make your heart sing," the gracious First Lady told us as we walked along the river bank, admired the wildflowers she fought so valiantly to save for all of us to enjoy. I plan to share much more about this memorable time for me here shortly. But I wanted to recall Maria's work--first the invitation to the luncheon when Mrs. Johnson accepted our award and the then the booklet presented to each member of her family and the other guests who attended. It is just a superlative example of how we relied on Maria to make Victoria events unique.

Now to Maria Thomas's exciting new venture which she shares with her husband, Rick Roberts:It's called Zentangle, and Maria is so passionate about it I could hear the phone lines sizzling. Her skill is going beyond making people happy and appreciative to making them creative themselves. Zentangle is an involving experience and to do it justice, you should read more about it at their site. Maria and Rick are putting the power of line art into the hands of many through their kits and workshops. Maria sees this graphic experience as a new art, and I can't wait to try it. (I have a feeling that Zentangle kits may make their way into a few Christmas stockings.) How often do you get to share something new and exciting, especially from an old friend you've counted on to be a part of many, many moments of your life through the notecards she creates for you?

Bravo Maria--my line to many, many words and feelings.

Thursday, March 4, 2010


My grandmother used to say that "pearls bring tears." I never thought much about it, but I recently looked up the legend that gives rise to the saying. I won't get into it here, but if you are interested, you can find it here.

I adore my pearls...the gifts my husband has given me over the years. But the very first real pearls I ever received came from Japan and from a naval officer who responded to my request for earrings. I still have them, although I almost always wear the Tiffany earrings my husband gave me a few years ago. For one special occasion, I asked for a single strand choker. If pearls bring tears, I rejoice in having tears of joy in my life.

What brings me to this topic is the response that I have been getting from readers of My First Best Friend. When one writes, one has only a glimmer of how the words will affect others. The same is true for many art forms. I just wept while watching the film Julie and Julia. Why, you ask? What was there about that film that prompted tears? When Julia receives the first copy of her Mastering the Art of French Cooking, I remembered getting my copy of that very same book when I was first married. The emotion, totally unexpected, just came over me. A gentleman leaving the theater with his wife asked me why I was crying. I launched into my story. "Do you still have the book," he inquired. More tears--"You bet I do and I even remember the stains on some of the pages!"

Hearing from several women in the book, and from a few readers, I realize there have been "pearls." That is, moments of remembering that have brought a flood of tears. One pearl I treasure is the report I got from my first best friend. The book is dedicated to her and it was sent as a present for her birthday this past weekend. (That was good timing, as the official publication date of the book is March 1.) The touching moment in my friend's experience was the fact that I had remembered her brother, in my words. Not have Robert as part of our childhood? Unthinkable.

I also want to respond to several comments here about the sadness that thinking back may bring. Again, I never wanted to make anyone sad. But it is, after all, unavoidable in any recounting of lives, isn't it? Difficult things happen; loss is almost unbearable. I never intended to inspire tears--but hopefully, in the main, they are jewels that honor precious memories. In the section of MFBF called Paths, I write this: "Not all first best friends are destined to travel along together." Friendships can be fragile and have their time and place. But that doesn't mean that the memories aren't pearls, even if they bring tears. Wear them proudly...for the friendship you had when learning how to love was so very important.

PS - Just in, this announcement featuring turquoise jewelry from Gumps in San Francisco. I love the a color very close to the cover of MY FIRST BEST FRIEND! (Turquoise is also my birthstone.)

Monday, March 1, 2010

Stories To Tell

Several years ago, I was absolutely mesmerized by a show at the Dahesh Museum of Art. It was called Stories to Tell: Masterworks from the Kelly Collection of American Illustration. One of the reasons I was so enchanted was that some of the works were magazine illustrations, especially from the days when magazines published the work of many women writers. But even the advertisements from this period were something to sing about. And the covers of magazines like Redbook, Cosmopolitian, and Saturday Evening Post.

There is one illustrator whose work I am sure you will all recognize: Jessie Wilcox Smith. Aside from many familiar books, she produced nearly two hundred covers for Good Housekeeping magazine. During my days at the Hearst Corporation (the publisher of Good House, and Victoria as well) I saw many of her works. We always received the famous popover recipe of the Good House dining room with a Jessie Wilcox Smith illustration. One of my personal favorites is a mother buttoning a little girl's coat. But I also love "Mother's Morning" (1902) for Scribner's Magazine.

Photography replaced these marvelous illustrations; and the stories were fewer and fewer as magazines changed with changing times. But I am reminded of Stories to Tell because a friend just brought me back a catalog from Persephone Books, after visiting the shop in London and sending me these pictures.

This wonderful company has reproduced some of the charming fiction of the past and done it with the taste and sensitivity of the period. Some of the old illustrations accompany the tales like Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day, that was also a recent motion picture. I immediately ordered Good Food on the Aga, 1933, by Ambrose Heath for a friend who has a love-hate relationship with a newly installed Aga that was indeed a saga.

Persephone Books reprints neglected writings from the early to mid-twentieth century with patterned end papers that are appropriate to the time period. The company maintains a wonderful web site and you can purchase the books online, paying of course the postage from Great Britain. (Perhaps one can find their books here in the U.S.?)

Bravo and a tip of the hat to Persephone--seems like old times--"dinner dates and flowers."