Wednesday, May 28, 2014

My Picture Gallery - English Cottages

     I don’t live in the midst of a deep wood, or on top of a mountain, or on a cliff overlooking the sea. I don’t live on the edge of the shore, the edge of a meadow or the edge of a moor. I live in an ordinary suburb of tract homes in one of the many towns that bunch up to Chicago like a flock of sheep in a snowstorm. We do our best to make our houses unique, to invest them with elements of our own style, but you know the saying: if it looks like a duck…

     So a tract home is a tract home.

     Perhaps that is one of the reasons I am so drawn to the artwork of Tom Caldwell; he paints the kind of houses I would like to live in. Houses with years and years of character. Houses that really exist in this world, yet pull me into another.

     In Groombridge, I know there is a kettle on the hob just coming to a boil and teacups painted with white trilliums laid out on the table. There is a layer cake with coconut icing on the sideboard and a gentle old woman with stories to tell waiting for me in the kitchen. An upstairs window is open, and the curtains are flirting with the wind.

Teffont Magna
     It is a chilly spring evening at Teffont Magna; the fire has been lit and has drawn me into the circle of its golden embrace. I have pulled an armchair up close to the hearth to warm my knees. A dozen ivory candles, burning brightly in their bronze holders, chase shadows around the room. I have a cup of chocolate beside me on the table with a book I have just borrowed from the library in the village. My husband is sitting on the sofa by the window sipping wine and reading Sherlock Holmes.

Castle Combe

     We cross the bridge on on our way to the village at Castle Combe. Sometimes, especially when the grandchildren are visiting, we stop to play Poohsticks. The woman with the red door steps out as we approach and stands in the road to chat. She gives us the village news, advises us what not to eat at the pub and slips packets of chocolate buttons into the children's pockets. We pretend not to notice her covert kindness.

     Even though I already have these three paintings, and one more besides, there are half-a-dozen others by Tom Caldwell that I would like to own. Alas, there isn't space on my walls to hang them all. Sigh. I am still tempted.

photo of Castle Combe and By Brook

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Robin's Egg Blue

     My husband was out mowing the lawn the other day and found a robin's egg laying in the grass. The egg was empty, most likely plundered by another bird. He stopped the mower, washed all of the smutch from the delicate, hollow shell and presented it to me like a gift. I am not the kind of girl who likes the grand gesture, no elaborate dates or show of diamonds for me; the things that capture my heart are much simpler. After nearly forty years of marriage, the color of our love is robin's egg blue.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Fodder for Trader Joe's

     To celebrate national poetry month in April, our local Trader Joe’s ran a contest. The challenge was to write a haiku on the subject of food, and the winner would receive some treats from the store. I don’t write haiku poetry, but the word treats was incentive enough to try, so I wrote seven. I thought my enthusiasm might grab the judges' attention. It didn’t. I even wrote the poems for some of their products I use regularly. I waited for weeks to hear from the store, but they never called. Now that my balloon has burst, I am sharing my haiku with you.

Ripe plums on a tree
Plucked from boughs of harmony,
Toothsome poetry:

Dark chocolate bite,
Kiss of bliss and caramel.
Give us a buss, dear

Drink Orangina.
A rose by another name
Sips O-rahn-gi-nah.

Double Gloucester cheese
Dubbed with spring onions and chives
Beknight a Cotswold.

Sprouted grain toast is
The most I can boast about
Breaking bread greenly.

Baby bagels broiled
Brown and bubbly with butter
And sweet cinnamon.

Asleep in the mud,
The humble, sightless brown spud
Sighs with dreams of fries.

     I have no delusions of grandeur; I am fully aware these culinary haiku are not rare bits of genius, but if you were a judge, which would you choose?

Tuesday, May 13, 2014


     My sister is coming to visit me this week. She doesn’t sleep well, so I bought her a couple of paperback books to read for those nights when she will inevitably wake up while everyone else in the house is soundly snoring. I picked up The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency and Tears of the Giraffe by Alexander McCall Smith. I carefully removed the Half Price Books stickers and all traces of tacky from the front covers with a little Goo Gone. One of the books had been marked down to a dollar. What a find. Buying books for others can be something of a gamble, but these were so inexpensive I didn't think I could go wrong.


     What if…?

     So I read the first one, taking care not to bend the covers or soil the pages in order to preserve the impression of newness. My sister follows my blog, and I am hoping that when she reads this she will think me charming rather than cheap. I was halfway through the second book and enjoying it so much, I decided I should  buy a few for myself. With limited space to shelve them, I very seldom buy books unless I know I will read them again. I took some Christmas gift money that hadn’t yet burned a hole in my pocket and bought the first six in the series of fifteen.

     Precious Ramotswe, the main protagonist in the series and the owner of the No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency in Botswana, is an African woman of traditional build with a cheerful disposition and a rare gift for gratitude. Her outlook on life is infectious. I was feeling rather sour one morning recently—I don’t remember why, but it was probably due to one of those burnt toast moments we all have—when I began to think about Mma Ramotswe. Before I had finished brushing my teeth and making the bed, that clever woman had cajoled me into a jollier mood.

     That is one of the reasons I read: for inspiration. I want to be inspired by the character and lives of others to become a better version of myself--even if the characters are fictional.

     The author, Alexander McCall Smith, was born in neighboring Zimbabwe (Rhodesia) and later worked in Botswana. He writes his African series with a cadence to the language and an outlook from his characters that reflect the culture he is writing about. His observations are amusing, subtle and often profound. The style of his writing in this series is simple, maybe too simple for some to appreciate, but his fans are diverse, claiming the admiration of both Laura Bush and Flea from the Red Hot Chili Peppers.

     I am finished with all six of the books that I bought for myself, and now I am thinking I should buy another one or two in the series. That way, my sister can wake me in the wee hours of the morning during her visit, to join her on the sofa for a cup of red bush tea and a chat with our new friend, Precious Ramotswe.