Ring the bells that still can ring. . . .
Ring the bells that still can ring. . . .
Earth Day 2020
A native bee visits a stem of prairie blazing star
in the native plant garden my husband and I created
as an oasis for monarch butterflies and other pollinators.
As we work to heal the earth, the earth heals us.
~Robin Wall Kimmerer
The best way out
is always through.
~Robert Frost, (1874 – 1963)
Miracles, in the sense of phenomena we cannot explain,
surround us on every hand:
life itself is the miracle of miracles.
~George Bernard Shaw, (1856 – 1950)
The lesson I have thoroughly learnt, and wish to pass on to others,
is to know the enduring happiness that the love of a garden gives.
~Gertrude Jekyll, (1843 – 1932)
The future is an infinite succession of presents,
and to live now as we think human beings should live,
in defiance of all that is bad around us,
is itself a marvelous victory.
~Howard Zinn, (1922 – 2010)
There are hearts to be found in quiet places… Here are a few I’ve photographed recently.
I think passing love around
Is all we were born to do.
If you will plant the seed and nourish the soil,
the flower will shape itself.
One of my favorite Instagram accounts is @onebouquetperday. Its administrator, Juliane Solvång, is a Berlin native who resides in Sweden. Her gallery is devoted entirely to wildflowers and vintage dresses. Each day of the growing season, Juliane wanders garden, woodland and field to pick a sweet bouquet. Her photographs focus on the graceful blooms she holds, with glimpses of her charming vintage clothing in the background.
On May 10th, I quite literally gasped aloud when I came across Juliane’s bouquet of the day. It was a tiny thimble filled with delicate flowers, a bouquet to make Thumbelina clap her hands! Suddenly, I knew just what I was going to do. I pulled on my shoes, scooped up my garden shears and headed out to the garden. There, I picked a blossom of “Jack Frost” brunnera, a tiny stem of sweet woodruff, two stems of ‘Basket of Gold’ sweet alyssum, and a pink blossom from the plant in our rock garden whose name I’m ashamed to confess I’ve forgotten.
Coming back inside, I selected the largest of my great-grandmother’s silver thimbles, filled it with a few drops of water, and arranged my tiny bouquet. I was so smitten with the result that I decided to write this post and share a few photos.
As it often happens in families, my mother had next to nothing of her mother’s and grandmother’s special keepsakes. In fact, all she had of my great-grandmother’s was a sterling silver-over-copper hinged walnut, inside of which were two small silver thimbles. Here is the larger of the two, with the tiny bouquet I picked.
The other thimble is so petite that I can only fit it on the very tip of my little finger. It’s my favorite, decorated with three plump cherubs holding garlands of flowers.
To take these photos, I placed this little collection on a hand-tatted lace doily my mother had been working on.
The silver walnut was part of a chatelaine my great-grandmother once wore. Chatelaines were hugely popular from the 1860’s through the end of the 19th century. (I’ve seen a photo of Mary Todd Lincoln wearing one.) A chatelaine (pronounced SHAT-uh-lenn) is a set of short, decorative chains worn on a belt. Suspended from the chains might be a thimble, a pair of scissors, a tiny notebook, a watch. I used to think chatelaines were worn by embroiderers only, but an article I read online recently informed me that chatelaines were worn by nurses, painters, golfers, even by women attending a ball. The items that dangled from chatelaines were remarkably diverse. The word chatelaine is French and refers to a woman who owns or controls a large estate. (“La chatelaine” probably wore the keys to her grand château on a chain hooked over her belt!)
I like to think my great-grandmother wore her silver walnut suspended from an elegant chatelaine that also was fitted with a pair of embroidery scissors, a tiny needle case, perhaps a vinaigrette filled with a tincture of lavender. I’m grateful my mother was able to pass this treasure down to me.
My thimble bouquet still sits on the sill, reminding me of my heritage and days gone by. I wonder what my great-grandmother might have made with the help of her trusty thimbles. I imagine her sweeping into the parlor in a rustle of long skirts, her silver chatelaine jingling in dulcet tones. Pleasant thoughts, these –a thimble of dreams, really… I discover again and again the truth that, often, the very smallest of things can mean the most.
I spent a quiet, thoughtful day yesterday as the first snow of the season sifted down — wet, white flakes gorgeous against boughs of oak and maple, the backyard a patchwork of fallen leaves, our gardens dozing. Daylight dozed, too, wrapped in thick blankets of low-lying cloud…
Days like this used to evoke a certain wistfulness in me. Something inside felt lonesome when November skies darkened and days grew short and chilly. But my perspective shifted…. Once upon a November night, (thirty-one years ago last night, to be exact), a miracle happened: In a hush of snow while frozen gardens drowsed all through our town, a tiny new rose unfurled — a rose perfect for my husband and me, a tender rose in the form of our first child, our precious newborn daughter. We were smitten. And because of our sweet Margaret, Novembers always blossom for us now. They will never feel lonesome again…
To celebrate the arrival of her first grandchild, my sweet mother gave me a wonderful gift. She selected one of her mother’s bone china teacups, a pale pink one embellished with roses, and filled it to overflowing with fresh flowers. There were delicate sprays of pink mini-roses, and baby’s breath, and stems of English ivy. The result was decidedly Victorian, the most charming teacup bouquet ever to brighten a hospital maternity ward. I was enchanted. When the fresh flowers faded, Momma said she’d like me to keep her mother’s teacup and saucer. So the lovely china cup and saucer once owned by my grandmother became the first, and by far the most treasured, piece in my vintage teacup collection.
What’s not to love about vintage teacups? To me, each one is a work of art, a dainty reminder of times long past, when daily life was slower, simpler, and certainly more genteel… When I look at a teacup, I think of hand-embroidered linen tablecloths and lace-edged napkins, of afternoon teas and delectable cakes. Teacups serve as a transport for me. Each one I see whisks me away to a place of my imagining, a place filled with warmth and beauty and laughter and delight….
I’d like to share with you a few of the teacups in my collection. This one is painstakingly hand-painted and dates back to the 1850’s. I found this treasure in an antique shop two years ago, and it’s a particular favorite of mine.
Here’s another of my special favorites. It’s an Italian demitasse cup, complete with mermaids on one side and muses on the other. It’s perfect!
I found this hand-painted Jacobean beauty in a shop in Niagara-on-the-Lake, Canada. Its soft colors and design are enormously appealing to me.
Here is another cup from the same antique shop in Niagara-on-the-Lake. This one dazzled me with its rich cranberry color and gold embellishment.
As my mother so artfully demonstrated thirty-one years ago today, vintage teacups aren’t just for tea. They also can serve as containers for fresh flowers. Below are two of my favorite teacups, in which I arranged cut flowers from our gardens. I’m passionate about English transferware. This little transferware demitasse cup holds the last blossoms from our November garden.
I acquired this little beauty of a teacup last summer. The butterflies in this design turn me inside out. I filled this cup with cuttings from our late-spring gardens. The cup rests on hand-tatted lace my mother made. (Momma was Victorian to her very core.) Everything about this photo makes me smile…
Although my vintage teacups impart joy to me strictly as a collection, they clamor to be used on special occasions. One such opportunity arose last spring, when my far-flung, grown daughters, Margaret and Clare, happened to be home on the same weekend. To celebrate both girls’ belated birthdays, Margaret’s best friend, Addie, offered to bake a special cake, if I would kindly make arrangements for the tea. Happily, I agreed. But oh my! When the day of our party arrived, I was unprepared for the gorgeousness of the cake our dear Addie had made! She lovingly created a stunning cake in the shape of a teapot, from whose spout poured the loveliest sugar flowers imaginable.
The flowers cascaded into a teacup belonging to Addie’s maternal grandmother. And! …the cup actually held a mini-cake, just the right size for Addie’s young daughter to enjoy. (Because what tea party could be complete without a child to share it with? It’s a special joy to pass down a tradition as lovely as this to a member of our future generation.)
Addie’s cake was so flawless, so perfect, we hated to cut it. But oh, we were glad we did! The cake was as succulent and delicious as it was beautiful — a true feast for the senses, and certainly an elegant companion to my teacup collection.
For those of you who live locally, Addie is starting her own cake-baking business. Her artistic talent, marvelous creativity and attention to detail are already thrilling her lucky customers. If you’d like Addie to create a special masterpiece just for you, she can be reached at this email address: firstname.lastname@example.org
It’s another overcast, chilly November morning here. As leaves of russet and gold whirl past my window, I recall the birth-day of our beautiful Margaret, and I bask in that glow…. The heirloom teacup Momma gave me thirty-one years ago today links four generations of our family, uniting past and present. It is a cup of blessings, a cup of sweetest memories, a cup of everlasting beauty.