What Does A Festive Season Need?

Last December, when we went to London with our younger son and his sweet bride, I thought about my favorite parts of the holiday, wondering if we’d find what I treasure – joy and laughter and love for sure, the cheerful ghosts of Christmas past, and some specifics in the present.

We brought family with us – a critical component, and made a bare bones flat in Notting Hill home base. It was the sweet bride’s first trip to London, Harry Potter and Harrods’ led her list, but by the 21st the fact of Christmas became more pressing.

Friends – a warming Christmas element – were in short supply. We did eat dinner one night with our English friends at their cheery house (ironically, they left the next day for the States to spend their holiday). They gave us a small, bright red poinsettia for the flat’s fireplace mantel.

London provided wintry weather aplenty – rain and wind or clear, cold days – appropriate for the woolen hats and scarves we bought as small gifts to stuff stockings from home, and hung by the fireplace with care.

Solstice night we joined a walking tour to view Christmas lights – Covent Garden and Oxford Street a-twinkle, and giant white snowflakes glittering between the buildings in the tiny lane leading to St. Martin’s Square. Shoppers gathered in front of store windows with Victorian Christmas scenes – the kind that only huge and old-fashioned department stores can offer.

My family later reported spotting that Christmas tradition, “Love Actually,” playing on a big screen in the outdoor part of a pub. I missed it while talking to a fellow walker or I would have returned!

We played Christmas music on a tiny speaker for the iPhones, and heard the live BBC broadcast of the Festival of Carols. (I associate that with early morning on Christmas Eve in Anchorage). And by Christmas Eve, awash with the memories that color the holidays, I wanted to gather food for a feast – even if small.

Dramatic Christmas trees decorate public London – each year the City of Oslo presents the people of London with a huge tree that dominates Trafalgar Square (given in gratitude since 1947, for assistance during World War II), a red velvet tree designed by artists for the Victoria and Albert Museum filled the foyer there, and in Covent Garden’s Piazza giant red balls and white lights covered an enormous tree that stood in a whiskey barrel of startling size.

The bay windows of London townhouses seem designed for Christmas trees, and in our neighborhood one stood out. I opened the gate, snuck inside the tiny front yard, and took a photo. A book tree! Books artfully piled and strung with white lights, broad at the bottom and tapering to a skinny top where an artist’s wooden figure stood with arm raised in good cheer.

We had noticed trees for sale in lots tucked into spaces beside churches and in the entrance areas of big stores. I longed for one in spite of impracticality.

Finally the sweet bride and I cobbled together a tiny tree – evergreen boughs fresh with fragrance from a florist shop tied together with red ribbon, decked with a miniature string of colored lights, and topped by a star cut from shiny paper.

The basics of Christmas magic in place – off to bed!

Workroom Book tree

 

The Workroom in Winter – 2015

A brief interruption in what begins to be the season of red and green all day, every day!

A new session of The Workroom is forming, and I wanted to let you know. Perhaps you’d like to put something for yourself on your Christmas list? The dates are 5 January to 13 February – six weeks to pursue a creative project (and that can encompass many, many things – if you wonder about what you have in mind, please email me at herspiritsrose@gmail.com – I’m betting your project would work).

More information here on the blog, including a little brochure describing The Workroom:

http://katygilmore.wordpress.com/2014/09/02/the-workroom-a-new-session-2/

http://katygilmore.wordpress.com/category/the-workroom/
http://katygilmore.wordpress.com/2012/09/04/her-spirits-rose-the-workroom/
http://katygilmore.wordpress.com/2013/08/08/the-workroom-fall-2013-an-invitation/

Or on my website: www.katygilmore.com

Here’s to new beginnings in January – and now, quickly – back to the season at hand!

SB Project The Workroom page 20-21

Holidays

Lady Baby turns three in a few short weeks – three years old! And she is every bit as grown up as that number implies. I worry sometimes about the Lady Baby title, maybe after three it should be a more grown up Lady B. I could probably ask her opinion – as a hypothetical – as in do you think if someone is three, they shouldn’t be called baby any more? She’d probably have an opinion.

Mrs. Hughes sent a wonderful little video the other day, cleverly titled “pre-nap, holiday spirit,” which showed Lady Baby, walking a little tipsily toward her mom, singing a forceful rendition of “Jingle Bells,” complete with hand gestures and emphatic jumps. As sung, the words included the line: “oh it is fun in the white horse open sleigh – HEY!” (Fist pump with the hey.)

I’m with her – ready to be in that white horse open sleigh December holiday mode. But first – this week – a week of true thanksgiving. I’m so eager to see everyone, ready for many trips to the grocery store and the ferry, exited to have voices and people about – ready to celebrate how very lucky we are. Even willing to cook the sacrificial bird (or act as advisor to the younger son and his sweet bride) – not my usual fare.

But just a quick look back at the October holiday, to add the postcard I sent to Lady Baby when I learned about her Halloween costume. Her own idea was to be “The Tiger Who Came to Tea” – such a good idea. And her mom gathered a most fine tiger outfit for her, fuzzy orange top and pants with painted black stripes, ears and a swell tail from a thrift store. In her face paint on Halloween night, Lady Baby looked exactly like a tiny version of Judith Kerr’s famous tiger.

Thank you for reading “Her spirits rose…” and many, many warm Thanksgiving wishes to you – for family, friends, and food – time to have tea with a tiger – and plan a trip in that white horse open sleigh!

The tiger who came to tea

 

The Neapolitan Novels of Elena Ferrante

One day, half listening to New Yorker “Out Loud” podcasts while doing something else, I heard Sasha Weiss, literary editor of newyorker.com, say that she adored “these books,” and always tried to tell people about them.

Speaking on the podcast with the translator Ann Goldstein and the writer, D.T. Max, Weiss referred to Italian writer Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan novel cycle: “My Brilliant Friend,” “The Story of a New Name,” and “Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay.” Utterly fascinated with the novels, these three on the podcast struggled to describe the books – sometimes disagreeing (speculation abounds about the reclusive Ferrante’s gender – neither Goldstein nor Weiss, nor I, think she could be a man), but always agreeing on the vividness and power of Ferrante’s writing.

The novels trace the lives of two girls, Elena the narrator, and her friend Lila. The first book begins with a prologue set in the present when Lila is 66 and gone missing, but quickly shifts to the beginnings of this lifelong friendship in a hardscrabble, colorful, angry, and loving Naples neighborhood.

And now I am in the same spot as the podcast people! Wanting to say – read these stunning books, full of so much detail and life, an infectious, propelling read, unputdownable. Not just a coming of age story, but a described world to live in as the decades go by. I hurtled through the books’ pages and years, through the political turbulence of the 1960s and 70s, the evolving relationships of men and women, and above all absorbing this singular yet universal friendship.

For some, the novels parallel one’s own experiences (though plenty of men and younger women adore these books as well). And maybe this is the part Weiss grappled with, how to describe the glimpses, moments, of yourself and your friends found in both Elena and Lila. You keep reading for more, another scene or description, life with small children, the violence of a sausage factory, and sustaining moments of creativity.

The sole man on the podcast thought the narrator was full of self-loathing, but both women (and this reader) strongly disagree. Ferrante captures that way we often think and talk to ourselves, sometimes with ruthless honesty, other times with ebullient hope. And anger – anger can be fierce here – and Ferrante wields a master storyteller’s use of suspense.

Preparing myself to bid farewell to Elena and Lila, I felt such relief at the end of book three to realize there is another volume forthcoming. It’s scary to think I might have missed these books. I read on my Kindle – unaware of length – and at the end, wanted to order the “real” books to read again.

mom's lamp negative

 

 

 

Pinterest for Dinner

In October when I reengaged with cooking, I looked at the Pinterest boards I made a couple of years ago and let languish (languish in that I never added anything more, or used Pinterest the way you are supposed to – scavenging beautiful or interesting things and pinning them). I made a Pinterest board with posts I’ve written about dinners – to remind me of ones I liked and inspire me on a flat-about-dinner day.

Several pinners have pinned my post about “Big Bird’s Banana Bread” – that banana bread must be searched for frequently on Google by viewers with fond childhood memories. I’m watching a new generation meet Big Bird and his cohort now (although Lady Baby thinks “Sesame Street” is only available on her dad’s iPad on long car rides or airplane journeys). Soon we can make the yellow bird’s banana bread together!

My Pinterest address if ever of interest – just click on the image and the original post appears: pinterest.com/gilmorekaty.

Big Bird's Banana Bread Recipe

 

Flowers from the Archive

A few weeks ago Red House West wrote a post about titled “Feeling Floral,” and they rehabilitated the word floral in my mind with their updated look at flowers in design. I loved their post, of course, relishing the flower-infested objects they featured in needlepoint, oil paintings, and fabric – often big blowsy blossoms on black.

Reading the post and seeing the end of the garden and flowers for this year (though we haven’t quite given up here in the Northwest – nasturtiums still rampage), I got nostalgic for my flower painting days. I’ve had a folder on my computer’s desktop for some time with “low res” images, made from slides of paintings done in the 90s.

They glow with the blue of slide film – but they bring back so many memories of their making. I picture glass jars full of flowers across my workroom’s white tabletop (now a happy room with Lady Baby’s teepee and toys – times change) and many hours spent observing these flowers to try and render them in watercolor.

The Himalayan blue poppies (with small yellow Welsh poppies) grew in my garden – and now I remember that they were painted in the garden because I couldn’t bear to cut them. I perched on the edge of a garden chair, paper balanced on a little table (that now lives again as a bedside table at Downtown Abbey) – trying to capture their palette of blues.

And this triptych – each panel a full sheet of watercolor paper 30″x22″ – the flowers from a friend’s very fine garden in Anchorage – in September. Lupine, foxglove, poppies, lilies, lavatera, malva, anenome, sweet peas – the painting took ages, flowers collapsing, water cloudy by the end. Was a huge ordeal for the framer – but the gallery sold it – and I’ve always wondered what it looks like in place.

Triptych

And sweet peas – my favorite flower – a joy to draw and paint with their tendrils and shadowed petals – a deconstructed bouquet scattered on the page. Painted on another full sheet of watercolor paper, hot press (for all these paintings). I entered this in Watercolor U.S.A.’s annual competition, and it won an honorable mention and a big box of fine watercolor paper. I was thrilled!

Sweet Peas

Thank you for indulging this walk down a floral memory lane. I could add more – but it’s November – time to put away flower things  – for now. (Oh, except those Red House West florals!)