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