Monday, May 4, 2015

tiny flowers and brilliant Brits

 The only flowers in my garden are these petite blue scilla. 
Several years ago I planted lots of bulbs, but every year fewer appear. 
I assume squirrels have taken them. Or garden gnomes.
 No daffodils bloomed this year, or even crocus. But lilies of the valley are on their way 
and before you know there will be so many pictures of peonies here
that the internets will break and we'll have to start sending each other letters
and photographs. On paper.

Doesn't Aji look like a giant?

My andromeda shrubs are laden with delicate bells.
After the winter we had I'm grateful for these sweet small blossoms.

(The wedding was almost a year ago, and I've finally framed some pictures.)

After reading this piece in the New Yorker, I've been on a Barbara Pym
kick. Her novels of domestic life in post World War II England are witty and delightful, with enough astringency to keep them from being too cozy, but they also fall into the category of comfort reading. I thoroughly enjoyed Jane and Prudence ,  Excellent Women and Some Tame Gazelle.

Also, Wolf Hall on PBS via BBC is brilliant (as are the books it's based on).

Now, visit Small but Charming for more Flowers in the House
and to see our dear friend Jane.

Thursday, April 30, 2015

the truth is


When I glimpse my last post, with all those pretty pink houses, I feel a twinge of guilt. I do love the charming houses of Charleston and elegant squares of Savannah. I endorse them as great places to visit. But the truth is, I also have a real fondness for the scruffy cities, the neglected ones, and most of all New York City. And not just Manhattan, but Brooklyn, Queens, and the Bronx (where I lived, studied and worked). (Sorry, I've never been to Staten Island.) For years I worked in Paterson, New Jersey and now I have a studio in Lowell, Massachusetts--small industrial cities that never recovered after their factories shut down, cities that struggle, but also are havens for immigrants and artists.

Not to say that I don't appreciate the more polished cities, I do. I love them all. But I have a special feeling for the neglected ones, the battered edges, the rust and hard earned distress marks. I'm comfortable with underdogs. I'm not going to tell you to go to Hartford instead of Charleston for a long weekend, I'm just telling you something about myself here.

There's a lot less blogging and blog reading going on these days. I've been feeling inertia myself in that regard, but I love the connections I've made here, the friendships. You guys have sustained me through some difficult times. Maybe I just need to shake things up a bit to keep it going, be a little more real, a little less edited.

I'm going to the country this weekend. (my other love is landscapes--forests, mountains, deserts, rivers…) I think it's too early for wildflowers, but I can't wait for the sharp air, the scent of moving water.

*All pictures here taken in Greenpoint, Brooklyn.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

midnight in the garden (with pink houses)

Last week, with snow still in my yard, I took a quick trip 
to Savannah, Georgia and Charleston, South Carolina.

I'm showing you cupcakes from Back in the Day Bakery in Savannah,
but actually, I ate the key lime tart, and it was perfect.
Sweet and tart and limey.

 These two fine ladies oversee your order. 
Before the tart I had grilled pimento cheese on ciabatta.
I instagrammed my love for pimento cheese and how hard it is to find in the north
and Susan of Southern Fascinations gave me her recipe (here).

So I'm going to make it, if I can find pimentos.
(I know you can get anything on the internet.)
And don't worry, it's fat-free.

 Savannah is filled with green, designed around 21 squares that have
massive shade trees dripping Spanish moss, and benches and fountains and statues.
Many of them are surrounded by elegant townhouses.


It's beautiful at night too, and a little spooky--
all that Spanish Moss
and there are ghosts everywhere.

 I kept seeing pink houses in Charleston.
I don't actually want to live in a pink house,
but I get excited when I see them.

This spectacular gingerbread house faces the river.

This one looks like pictures I've seen of Dutch houses.

Hard to get a good photo, but behind those verandahs
is a huge pink house.

It seemed that every block had a pink house

or church. 
The French Hugenot church.
Isn't it beautiful with the black trim?

The highlight of the trip was the Charleston garden tour.
They were mostly small and all charming. 
Lots of old brick paths, boxwood hedges, fountains and flowers. 
Comfortable places to sit in the shade and drink a mint julep 
or sweet tea (when you need a change from your verandah).
Small garden "rooms" and secret places, crumbling walls, and patina galore.

It's less than a two hour flight from Boston to Savannah and Charleston
and they are only a two hour drive apart, so to my northeast friends,
it's easy to make a short trip to either or both.
Spanish moss, pimento cheese and pink houses make a nice change.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

a florida weekend

When I got off the plane in Florida it was like walking outside after a matinee movie. Bright and startling, an altered universe from the cold and snow I left behind. One day I want to find what's left of the Florida wilderness, go to the Everglades, the Keys, some little islands that will show me what it was before it was paved over, something swampy and scary with wild orchids and alligators. Alligators are around--on golf courses for example, but I'd like to see one in its native habitat. I don't even know if those places still exist outside of books and movies.

You probably know by now how much I form my images of the world by reading. The last time I went to Florida, two years ago, I wrote a post about that, sort of. (here) In that post I also wrote about my brother in law's bit of Florida wilderness.

Since then, he's added goats and a donkey to his menagerie.

Anyway, this trip was about family. You know my father in law recently died, and we went to spend time with my mother in law. I grew up in a small, quiet family, and now I have almost no family, but the one I married into is big and noisy. And it turns out that big and noisy can be good for mourning.  There was more laughter than tears mixed in with the memories, the presence of the absent.

I saw herons and lizards and lots of pink flowers

 and ate some really good fried chicken,
outside, at a picnic table.

"It can look brand-new and man-made, but as soon as you see a place like the Everglades or the Big Cypress Swamp or the Loxahatchee you realize that Florida is also the last of the American frontier. The wild part of Florida is really wild, the tame part is really tame…fifty acres of Everglades dry up every day, new houses sprout on sand dunes, every year a welt of new highways rises. Nothing seems hard or permanent; everything is always changing or washing away. Transitions and mutation meld into  each other, a fusion of wetness and dryness, unruliness and orderliness, nature and artifice."

--Susan Orlean, The Orchid Thief

Thursday, April 2, 2015

h is for hawk

Hello friends. I'm reading a marvelous book, H is for Hawk, by Helen MacDonald.
It's "one part grief memoir, one part guide to raptors, and one part biography of T.H. White," (who wrote about falconry in The Goshawk before starting The Once and Future King). That quote is from this essay on the book in The New Yorker (please let me know if you can't access it).

Macdonald writes beautifully, and I am making myself read slowly,
to savor it.

I'm going somewhere warm and sunny this weekend,
and am so excited to see real flowers growing out of the ground
as my year is still covered with snow.

(I meant to write "yard" not "year" but will leave as is--
it seems apt.)

It's a bit early, but I wish you a happy Easter, Passover, and weekend
filled with your favorite combination of friends, family, food, flowers
(and of course books).

xo, Jen

Saturday, March 28, 2015

more sweet than bitter

I made a recent bittersweet visit to Brooklyn
during which my dear father-in-law died.

From 2006-2010 I experienced the death of my father, mother, stepmother and best friend.
So I've learned certain things about the process of grieving,
but it's different every time and for everyone.

My father was first. I was alone with him when he died.
It was profound. Since then I've tried to remember the idea of living 
every day as though it's my last. Which I don't do literally,
but I've made some changes with that in mind.

One thing is arranging my life so I have more time to read.
The bliss of having entire evenings to do nothing but read,
for five or six or seven hours straight!
(except for occasional tea/cookie/cat breaks)
We all have our own ideas of living life to the fullest.
(And why didn't I become a librarian?)

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

a country weekend

We are climbing the walls around here, so it was nice
to escape to the Catskills for a weekend.

There's plenty of snow there too, but hey, it's country snow.
I haven't been in ages, because the pipes burst and
our kitchen flooded and had to be ripped out, too depressing to see.
But it's almost back together now.

The waterfall is frozen, which always amazes me,
the water rushes so fast I wonder how it stops in space and time,
what is that instant when water becomes ice?

Saturday we drove to Table on Ten for breakfast.
Conde Nast Traveler wrote about them in this article on food in the Catskills, 
which made me suspicious, but the article does a pretty good job of describing
the western Catskills, our neck of the woods.

And there were eggs with brilliant orange yolks
and fresh sourdough bread, and delicious treacle cookies.

Saturday night we had dinner with friends,
and Sunday I made the rounds in Margaretville, where I had my store,
saying hello to friends and buying a few books at the Bibliobarn.

And then home Sunday night, to cats, books, and a pink quilt
that I am disproportionately fond of.

Remember the greenhouses in my last post?
I brought home some begonias. Touches of pink
brighten up the bleak late winter.