A cup of everlasting beauty

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: adriannacorby@gmail.com

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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.

Hello, you who made the morning. . .

Hello, you who made the morning

Why I Wake Early


Hello, sun in my face.

Hello, you who made the morning

and spread it over the fields

and into the faces of the tulips

and the nodding morning glories,

and into the windows of, even, the

miserable and the crotchety –

 

best preacher that ever was,

dear star, that just happens

to be where you are in the universe

to keep us from ever-darkness,

to ease us with warm touching,

to hold us in the great hands of light –

good morning, good morning, good morning.

 

Watch, now, how I start the day

in happiness, in kindness. 

~Mary Oliver

A leap of faith

She squints in the sunlight, shades her eyes, stands on tiptoe in the rambling front yard of the old Iowa farmhouse. Even when she looks along the fence line as far south as she can, to the place where the gravel road bends west, she can’t see them, but she knows they’re there – hay bales almost twice her height, hay bales resting row on row in the fallow field where red-winged blackbirds build their nests. It’s a long, dusty trudge, but she’s going there today. Along the way, she reaches up to clasp her daddy’s hand, just to be certain he’s there.

She finds the hay bales even more imposing when she reaches them and stands in their towering shade. Around her, the thrum of insects; above her, limitless blue; within her, something that compels her to grasp thin twine, bury fingers in clusters of fragrant hay, hang on for dear life as small feet flail in search of a toe hold. It’s an upward battle she’s determined to win.

When at last she gains the summit, she’s rewarded with a breathtaking panorama. Verdant summer fields undulate before her and fade away into far forevers. This spot is the highest elevation in the county, and it feels like she’s standing on the shoulders of the world. The vista is indeed spectacular, but she hasn’t scrambled up here for the view. She has come for the jump.

It’s a family tradition, hay bale jumping. For years she has watched her siblings, five and eight years her senior, stretch much-longer legs to leap from bale to bale down the length of the field, a thrilling sight to behold. This year, she’s finally big enough to join them.

And this first jump will be the hardest.

Because hay bales need space to dry in sun and wind, the long rows do not touch. In between each row lies a two to three foot gap where tall grass grows. Hidden in the grass below, she knows, are sticky webs and worse, the spiders who spin them. Knowing they’re there is a powerful incentive not to fail.

If she hesitates, if she lingers too long, her fears will multiply – the gaps between the bales will widen, the shadows grow more sinister, the spiders’ ranks increase. She’s made it this far; she’s not going to back down now. She can’t look down, she mustn’t. Instead, she quiets a fluttering heart, summons her courage, holds her breath, and leaps. . .

A leap of faith

Like a young gazelle, she arcs through the air, braids flying. She’s suspended between earth and heaven, momentarily weightless. . .

And joy waits to catch her with outstretched arms.

Fling wide the door

It’s the last day of 2015, a simple, peaceful day here. As I write, our woods are white with snow; each tree wears an elegant poet’s sleeve or high frilled collar bedazzled with ice crystals. No wind stirs, and apart from the non-stop activity of furry and feathered visitors who frequent our feeders, the world seems hushed and still.

With two surgeries behind me now and one yet ahead to repair the ankle I shattered in my tumble down a dewy riverbank last October, all my days have been rather hushed and still, quiet and contemplative. Having no other choice than to sit quietly in a cast, ankle elevated, might seem a hardship – particularly this evening, when people will assemble at private soirees and other festive gatherings to pay tribute to the New Year. But not so for me. It’s my nature to be contemplative and my preference to ring in a quiet New Year at home.

A year ago, I posted A snow globe of memories, a loving look back to what Christmas was like for me as a little girl growing up in the early 1960’s. Since I’ve time on my hands and nowhere special to be, perhaps you’ll indulge my urge to reach for my snow globe and give it just one more gentle shake. . .

ANV 1963

A photo of me, circa 1963, fresh from a hot bath and ready to lounge by the fire.

It’s the last day of the old year… I am four or five, maybe six. (In this memory, I’m stitching together several years of a similar experience.) Fresh from a steamy hot bath, I lounge on my stomach by the fire in a flannel nightgown and a long, cozy robe, turning the pages of my new storybook or coloring with my latest box of Crayolas. Oak logs hiss and pop on the heavy, black wrought iron grate. I glance up often to feel the heat touch my face and to study the undulating greens and purples and white-hot blues that animate the heart of red-orange flame.

Daddy sits at the piano, playing selections from Rodgers and Hammerstein or Rodgers and Hart; Momma rustles about in the kitchen, putting away pots and pans from our evening meal; our calico kitty, Cleo, slides a friendly tail along my shoulder as she passes by on her way to curl up for a long winter’s nap beneath the Christmas tree. I watch her for a moment, then return to my book or my coloring, feeling happy, safe, and snug.

Quiet minutes tick by until Momma tells me it’s bedtime. Tonight, I know this means it’s time for our New Year’s Eve ritual. I jump up from my spot by the fire and walk with her through the kitchen to our back door with its bright crystal handle. Momma says, “Go ahead, open it! Let the old year out, and don’t forget to tell it goodbye!”

With a grin, I tug on the handle. “Goodbye, old year, goodbye!” I call, flinging wide the door. My small voice rings out over the frozen hills. The two of us, Momma and I, stand in the chill night air, gaze up into starlit skies, or perhaps an amethyst sky dotted with fast-whirling snowflakes. The night is so close, so perfect and still, I feel I might reach out and capture a star of my own to keep forever – a star of snow, or a star from heaven.

I’m too young to feel wistful about the onslaught of time. What I feel is a sense of peace, of reverence, a sense of kindly hospitality and courtliness, squiring the old year to the door as an honored, departing guest and bidding it a fond farewell.

In the morning as soon as I stir, Momma rustles me out of bed and down the winding stairs to our front door. She allows me the privilege of opening the white wooden door with its shiny brass handle to invite the New Year in. My New Year doesn’t officially begin until I pull open the big door to let the bright morning air sting my cheeks with pinpricks of cold and wild wondrous possibility. I feel elated, fresh and new, aflutter with all the good things that must surely be on their way. How I adore the prospect of a brand new year, what a thrill it is to swing the door wide to welcome it…

Momma sleeps now beneath the winter snows, but it’s only her body that sleeps. Her wise, blithe spirit lives with me still, and the lessons she taught me at New Year remain.

Fling wide the door

Maybe we all need to stand at our own back door to bid goodbye to what is passing, to stand a while and remember, to gaze out over the geography of our lives and allow peace to settle there, soft around our memories as flakes of sparkling snow. Maybe we should keep our old year company, then allow it the freedom to fade off into the distance, knowing we can keep what is precious and let go what is not.

Perhaps, after a good night’s rest, we can find it within ourselves to go with a child’s openness to the front door and tug it open to welcome a new day, a new year, a new now, fresh with the free air of what-might-be…

It’s there, now, in peace, in acceptance, in stillness – this moment, this life. Hold tight to sweet memories: they are yours to keep. And whatever you need to let go of, whatever you choose to let into your life, may today be the day to fling wide the door.

*******************************************************************************

Today marks the second anniversary of this small blog of mine. It scared me nearly out of my wits to begin, in part because I didn’t yet know you, my wonderful friends and readers, were out here in the ether, ready to welcome me. Having had two lovely years to form deep and lasting friendships with many of you, I cannot now imagine a time when you were not a part of my life. Thank you for being here with me in this quiet space, sharing thoughts and dreams, walking this star-strewn path. I so appreciate the gift of your presence.

A happy, blessed New Year to you, my friends, and much love. x o x o

~Amy

 

Shall we dance?

My favorite task of the garden year is pruning back the faded blooms of my lavender plants. Each snip of the shears fills my nose with the delectable scent of lavender and spirits me back to a precise moment in time. When lavender’s in the air, the year is 1963, and I’m an impressionable five year old, worshipfully watching my mother dress up for a dinner-dance…

While I perch on the bed, she swishes around the room in her elegant gown, leans close to an oval mirror to apply lipstick and smooth waves of dark hair. She chooses a pair of pearl earrings from her jewelry box, clips a shimmering cluster to each lobe. Out comes the beveled stopper from her bottle Chanel No. 5; she sets the stopper on a mirrored tray, places a finger over the bottle’s small opening, up-ends it, then traces a droplet or two along her collarbone, a droplet to each wrist. She pulls open my favorite drawer, the one I love to peep into when she’s not around. It’s filled with dainty half-slips, full slips, and dress gloves for every occasion, around which are tucked a number of aromatic lavender sachets. From this fragrant treasure trove, she draws a pair of elbow-length, black gloves with jet black beading. She slides slender arms into each glove, tugs softly at the base of each finger to ensure a snug fit. She slips into a pair of heels, gives me a smile, gathers up her black satin clutch, and floats downstairs to wait for Daddy, who’s putting on his tux. In a state of total enchantment, I trundle down after her.

0183_Shall we dance? 2When my parents meet in the living room, they beam at one another – so happy, so in love. While Momma gives last-minute instructions to the babysitter, Daddy, ever the gentleman, cordially asks me, ala Oscar Hammerstein, “Shall we dance?” With a grin, I accept.

He offers a steadying hand as I place first my right, then my left foot on top of his size 13, black patent leather dance shoes. As we glide around the room together, my feet slip on his shoes’ shiny surface, and I can’t stop giggling. He takes small, measured steps to accommodate my much shorter legs and never once lets me slide off. For a few giddy moments, I’m the belle of the ball in my white robe and slippers.

0183_Shall we dance? 3

Momma’s all ready now, so Daddy twirls me in a circle, plants a kiss on my head, bids me goodnight, and goes out to the car. Momma blows a kiss into a gloved hand, presses a lavender-scented palm to my upturned cheek. She is the most beautiful thing I have ever seen. She drapes a stole over her shoulders and rustles out to the car. Daddy waits at her door, closes it after her, strides around to the driver’s seat, gives me a wave before sliding behind the wheel.

My small heart, filled with dreams of dancing and music and beauty and romance, feels the pang of an evening’s impending separation. I press wistful hands to glass, watch my lovely parents recede from view, red tail lights fading to pinpricks before vanishing altogether…

Time is a peculiar thing, something I don’t suppose I’ll ever get used to. It’s an astonishment to realize the evening I describe took place over a half-century ago; that I, the baby of the family, am now twenty years older than my parents were in this photo; that my precious father –my living, breathing, perpetual font of love and security– is 90. How is this possible? Moments ago, my parents were young, and I was their littlest girl…

0183_Shall we dance? 1

Nudged by a photograph, or an old song, or a certain aroma, memories of life’s loveliest moments flit through our days on diaphanous wings. One whiff of lavender is all it takes for me to dance again in my daddy’s strong arms and feel the lasting tenderness of my momma’s touch.

******

This post is the last in a series of five in a 5-day Photo/Story blog challenge, to which I was invited by my friend, Kristine, who blogs regularly at candidkay. (Thank you, Kristine; this was fun!)

The challenge: Post a photo each day for five consecutive days and attach a story to the photo. It can be fiction or non-fiction, a poem or a short paragraph, and each day nominate another blogger to the challenge.

Rather than nominate a particular group of bloggers to this challenge, I prefer to open it up to any who would like to participate. If you’re interested, step right up, and give it a whirl!

see how beautiful

0164_see how beautiful

Right in the difficult we must have our joys, our happiness, our dreams;
there, against the depth of this background they stand out,
there for the first time we see how beautiful they are.

~Rainer Maria Rilke, (1975 – 1926)

its ever-widening circle

Last week, a dear friend and I visited a charming garden center, tucked miles away on a winding county road deep in the midwestern heartland. We spent blissful hours together among the plants and flowers, loading carts with choice annuals and perennials. Knowing I couldn’t carry the entire garden center home with me, I walked around to snap photos of flowers I had to leave behind.

I’ve long admired verbena’s cascading blossoms but have had trouble keeping it happy in summer’s extreme heat. So, alas – whenever I spy an appealing display of verbena, I’ll smile, sigh, walk wistfully past.

But not so last week. As one who takes perpetual notice of hearts in nature, I was stopped in my tracks by this delicate face – Verbena, Lanai: Twister Pink.

With sweetest simplicity, this flower’s inner circlet of deep rose hearts forms an image of my ideal world, a place where hearts unite with shared joy, love, friendship, peace. This blossom’s simple eloquence reminded me of a quote I cherish.

I’ll just leave it here for you. . .

0161_the oasis, the little cell of joy

We can, to a certain extent, change the world;
we can work for the oasis,
the little cell of joy and peace in a harried world.
We can throw our pebble in the pond and be
confident that its ever-widening circle will
reach around the world.
We repeat, there is nothing we can do but love,
and, dear God, please
enlarge our hearts to love each other. . .

~Dorothy Day, (1897 – 1980)