January colors and the High Line’s “Four Arches”

Faded grasses, gray skies, a myriad shades of bare branches. The colors of January are, for the most part, soft and muted. Such colors lined the walkway of New York City’s High Line, an elevated park built on an old train line, on a recent early morning walk.

I was struck by how the earthy colors of the leaves and branches blended with the brick of different buildings.

Other times bursts of color stood out, as with the red berries against a bare wall,

the coppery branches set among the evergreens, and a few splashes of yellow.

An unexpected pleasure was coming across one of the “En Plein Air” art installations that enliven the Highline — “Four Arches” by artist Sam Falls.

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A simple walk through the four slender arches provides a subtle thrill, perhaps coming from the delicacy of plant life depicted on the arches. The colors of the painted leaves and flowers blended with the muted quiet of the day. Understated and elegant, the arches seem perfectly situated for the High Line.

The plaque next to the installation explains why the design so resonates with its surroundings. Falls created “four ceramic archways supported by the steel tracks from the High Line’s original railway, each of which is dedicated to a different season in the park. For one year, Falls collected plants from the High Line, embedded them in ceramic, and fossilized them with colorful pigments.” 

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The linearity of the gray steel rails and the painted plant life complement each other in an unexpected way. The artwork is a collection of oppositions: the rails are durable, rigidly straight, industrial and functional; the depictions of plant life are delicate, airy, colorful, organic in shape, and decorative. The nearly hundred-year-old rails contrast with the seasonal ephemeral plants. 

The installation is so slender and unobtrusive that you could easily miss its intricacies, especially when the High Line becomes crowded at midday, or if you are engaged in conversation or taking in the views of the city. From a distance “Four Arches” is one thing — an angular walkway set among the other angles of the surrounding buildings.

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Close up, it becomes a seasonal garden of gorgeous colors and shapes,

full of individual compositions which must have involved countless decisions for the artist: How to present such variety? How best to portray the delicate flowers, leaves, and grasses? Which plants should be placed at eye level, and which will work on the top horizontal beams? How to represent the seasons? Which colors work best together?

“Four Arches” is a welcome garden on a gray January morning.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Sense of Well-Being

January is a good time to reset the tone for your health and happiness,

to create an atmosphere that brings peace and pleasure into your life. A relaxing soak in a hot springs would be wonderful — but a home spa can be just as indulgent and therapeutic.

Small touches — flickering candles, evocative scents, soft music — can nourish your spirit with beauty and tranquility,

and create an overall sense of well-being.

Sometimes it’s the small things that best bring about that shift in tone — a fragrant cup of tea, a great book and a good reading chair,

a walk outside on a snowy January day,

or beneath the magic of the night sky.

 

 

 

 

A Happy New Year

There are many ways to ring in the New Year.

Whether you enjoy the sparkle and festivities of parties and crowded celebrations

or a reflective evening home alone

or with loved ones,

I wish you the happiness of new beginnings and all the best in the coming year.

May 2020 bring you one step closer to your dreams, and may your life be filled with beauty and love.

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Happy New Year!

An Old-fashioned Christmas Table

In the Christmastime series, baking, preparing meals, setting the table, and having meals  together play a prominent role. Cookies and sweets are made days or weeks in advance, and embroidered table runners, bunches of holly, and candles decorate the table.

Below are images of beautiful and festive Christmas tables (all from Pinterest). Whether traditional, elaborate, or simple, a table set with love and a creative touch forms part of the heart of the holiday season.

Small details at each plate and splashes of red and green enliven the table and add interest.

Colorful fruits such as apples, pomegranates, and oranges add freshness and color.

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Along with fruit, a few sprigs of greenery and pine cones bring the outdoor world inside and connect the holiday to an older way of celebrating the season.

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And, always, candlelight adds a soft inviting glow and contrasts the cold snowy world outside to the warmth and comforts of home.

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Merry Christmas

and best wishes for a wonderful holiday season!

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The Christmastime Series

Stories of love and family set on the U.S. home front during the WWII years.      https://amzn.to/2PUzM1Y

Songs from Christmastime 1940: A Love Story — “Maybe” and “Only Forever”

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Throughout the Christmastime series, I often use paintings or songs to help tell the story.

In Christmastime 1940: A Love Story, there are two songs that reflect the internal stories of Lillian Hapsey and Charles Drooms.

There’s a point in the story where Lillian invites Mr. Drooms to join her and her boys in decorating their Christmas tree. He declines her invitation, believing she is simply being neighborly. However, her anger at his refusal makes him wonder if she sincerely wanted him to stop by. He had long ago closed the door to love. Yet later that evening, as he sits alone at the usual diner, his heart is pried open as he falls into the soft strains of the song “Maybe.” Following is an excerpt from that scene. (images from Pinterest)

Drooms sat at his usual booth, opened the menu that he knew by heart, and began to peruse it. The thought, the possibility that perhaps Lillian had been sincere in her invitation, struck him like a blow. What if she had really meant it? She certainly appeared offended when he declined. He tried to imagine himself sitting at the same table as her. What would they have to talk about? He felt both shaky and warm, almost happy at the thought.

He quickly dismissed such foolery, looked again at the menu and saw that he had been staring at the dessert page. He opened to the specials, but once again his thoughts drifted, and he imagined Lillian moving about her apartment. Was she clearing the dishes by now, trimming the tree? Was she thinking of him?

His gaze fell beyond the menu and into the dark wood of the empty booth. Never one for music, he was surprised to find himself lost in the simple lyrics of “Maybe.” Maybe, you’ll think of me. When you are all alone. He set his menu down and let the rest of the world fall away as he listened to the words, wondering at the desperate stirring in his heart.

The waitress came and asked him if he wanted the meatloaf special. When he didn’t answer, she smiled. “You like the Ink Spots, sir?”

Drooms frowned at being caught in a personal moment. “When did you start playing music here?”

She looked around, perplexed. “You mean the radio? We always have it on.”

He glanced down at the menu. “It must be on louder tonight or something. I’ll have the special.” He slipped the menu back in its stand and continued to frown as he tried not to listen to the song.

(Youtube)

The Ink Spots had great appeal to a wide audience in the 1930s and ’40s. Their ballad style lent itself to a host of love songs, as well as their rendition of the patriotic 1942 WWII song, “This Is Worth Fighting For.” https://bit.ly/32qSUJ2 (Youtube)

Maybe

Maybe you’ll think of me
When you are all alone
Maybe the one who is waiting for you will prove untrue
Then what will you do?
Maybe you’ll sit and sigh
Wishing that I were near, then
Maybe you’ll ask me to come back again
And maybe I’ll say maybe.

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Towards the end of the book, the song “Only Forever” captures the happiness Lillian feels when it looks like her relationship with Charles is sealed. She experiences a sense of joy that she hadn’t expected to find again. Widowed, struggling financially, mother of two young boys, her dreams forsaken, she finally sees a beautiful future now awaiting her.

The following afternoon Lillian was in the middle of her Christmas baking. She wore her ruffled red and green Christmas apron and bustled about the kitchen, singing along with the radio. She didn’t want to appear too different to the boys, but she couldn’t forget that kiss, the warm embrace. She kept catching herself smiling as she remembered his hand in her hair, the gentleness in his voice when he said her name.

When Al Bowlly’s “Only Forever” came on, she turned up the volume and tried to dance with the boys. She could usually count on at least Gabriel to play along, but today both boys were restless and wanted to go outside, and the more she laughed and tried to twirl around with them, the more impatient they became.

“Can’t we go now, Mom?” asked Tommy. “I already read all my books, and if we don’t go now the library will close.”

“Yeah, Mommy, I want to go outside. I need some more books, too.” Gabriel ran to get his coat and started to put it on.

Lillian opened the oven, took out a batch of Christmas cookies, and set them on top of the stove.

“If we can’t go today,” she said, “we’ll go another day.”

“But I already read –”

“Now Tommy, what did I say? I can’t leave in the middle of baking.”

Gabriel stomped his foot. “But Mommy –”

“If you two don’t start behaving I won’t take you to see Santa tomorrow.”

Gabriel gasped at this possibility. “Mommy, we have to see Santa to tell him what we want!”

Tommy heard Drooms’s door open and close, and ran to look down the hall.

“Hi, Mr. Drooms!”

Gabriel also ran to the door and peeked out.

“Hi, Mr. Drooms! Will you take us to the libary?”

Drooms appeared in their doorway, dressed to go outside. He smiled at the boys, then at Lillian.

But she didn’t want to cross any as yet to be determined boundary. “Boys! Stop that. You know better.” She went to the door, pulled the boys back inside, and widened her eyes at them in warning.

Tommy relented. “Okay, okay.”

Lillian flushed with pleasure as she gazed up at Drooms. She had never seen him looking so handsome.

Though “Only Forever” was popularized by Bing Crosby in a 1940 movie (Rhythm on the River), and was performed by many different artists, it is the playful Al Bowlly/Jimmy Messene version that reflects the mood of Lillian at this point in the story.

(www.youtube.com)

Al Bowlly was popular during the 1930’s dance band era and recorded more than a 1000 records between 1927-1941.

He was killed in London in April of 1941 by a Luftwaffe parachute bomb. He recorded his last song two weeks before his death — (ironically) a duet with Messene of Irving Berlin’s satirical song about Hitler, “When That Man Is Dead and Gone.” (wikipedia)

Bowlly Messene

Al Bowlly was among several performers who died related to the war, underscoring the pervasive loss and tragedy of WWII.

1942 – Carol Lombard died in a plane crash returning from one of her many War Bond rallies, devastating her husband, Clark Gable.

1943 – Leslie Howard, of Gone With the Wind fame, left Hollywood to return to Great Britain to make patriotic radio broadcasts and films. He was on the civilian KLM flight that was shot down by the Luftwaffe.

1944 – Band leader Glenn Miller volunteered to lead the U.S. Army military band. While traveling to entertain troops in France, his plane disappeared over the English Channel.

Only Forever

Do I want to be with you / As the years come and go?

Only forever / If you care to know.

Would I grant all your wishes / And be proud of the task?

Only forever / If someone should ask.

How long would it take me / To be near if you beckon?

Off hand I would figure / Less than a second.

Do you think I’ll remember / How you looked when you smile?

Only forever / That’s puttin’ it mild.

Thanksgiving — WWII

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Most of the action in the Christmastime series (stories of love and family set on the WWII home front) takes place in the month of December, immediately after Thanksgiving. The warmth and coziness of Thanksgiving perfectly set the tone for the world of Christmastime.

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During WWII, with so many GIs and military personnel overseas, the idea of “home” became even more poignant and valued.

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(Thanksgiving service 1942)

Below are some facts about Thanksgiving during the WWII years, along with some images both of the home front and abroad.

Hollywood stars made regular appearances and served up food at various USO canteens and elsewhere in support of the troops.

The Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade was suspended from 1942 to 1944 to save on rubber.

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“Rubber was the hardest material to come by because 92% of our supply came from Japanese occupied lands. The balloons were donated to the cause and shredded for scrap rubber, thus canceling the parade for the duration of the war.” (www.dday.org)

“On Thanksgiving Day, 26 November 1942, Casablanca premiered at the Hollywood Theater in New York City. Initially scheduled for release in June 1943, the premiere was hastily moved up to capitalize on publicity gained by the Allied landings in North Africa and eventual capture of Casablanca in November.” (nww2m.com)

“On the home front … many magazines and pamphlets encouraged making pies with molasses, stretching meat rations, and doing other things to create a feast while the nation was at war.” (nww2m.com)

“1942 was the year of the first wartime Thanksgiving and even though sugar was technically the only rationed item in the grocery, shortages of meat and butter created even more of a challenge for cooks. They also had limited access to certain traditional spices because they came from areas now occupied by the Japanese and cargo space needed to be reserved for wartime supplies.” (www.dday.org)

“In 1943, the Norman Rockwell painting, ‘Freedom from Want,’ became the token image for the holiday.” (www.dday.org)

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“Throughout the U.S. involvement overseas, military officials did their best to provide a traditional, hot holiday meal for the soldiers overseas. In 1943, the American people sent two liberty ships fully stocked with Thanksgiving supplies for the soldiers. Everything was included, turkeys, trimmings, cranberry sauce, and even various pies, all sent throughout the European and Pacific theaters, all the way to the frontlines.” (www.dday.org)

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In 1943 and 1944, “not only were meats, butter, and sugar being rationed, but cheese, fats, and canned or processed foods were as well. Some folks would save their ration stamps for the holidays and use innovative techniques to create the perfect meal. Ironically, even though chicken and other birds were not rationed, finding a turkey for your own table was quite a chore since many of the birds were shipped overseas for the servicemen!” (www.dday.org)

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On November 23, 1945, the wartime rationing of most foods ended. “The rationing of sugar remained in effect until 1947.” (history.com/news/food-rationing-in-wartime-america)

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HAPPY THANKSGIVING!

(All images from Pinterest)

 

 

 

Ursula — the Christmastime series

The Christmastime series takes a turn beginning with Christmastime 1943, with the sub-plot set on Kate’s farm in Illinois. Kate, Charles’s sister, and her two teen-aged daughters, Ursula (17) and Jessica (15), run the farm while her four sons are away at war. With the workforce severely diminished, and the demand for food production greater than ever, Kate does what many farmers had to do – she uses German POWs to help with the farm work.

Her elder daughter Ursula is furious about it. Francis, the brother she was closest to, has recently been killed by the Nazi army and Ursula is filled with anguish and hatred of the German soldiers. She adamantly refuses to have anything to do with the POWs.

Below are a few excerpts from Christmastime 1943: A Love Story, along with images suggestive of scenes with Ursula during the seasons of 1943-1945. Ursula: beautiful, willful, dreamy, passionate. (All images are from my Pinterest board Ursula – the Christmastime series, 1943, 1944, 1945.)

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Our first introduction to Ursula comes from Lillian. She’s been working on a series of war posters with the theme of Women in the Workforce, and the next posters will be on women and farm work. Based on an earlier visit to Kate’s farm, Lillian sketches an image of a young girl on a tractor.

Lillian studied it and realized that she had largely based the girl on Jessica, the younger of Kate’s daughters – blonde, cheerful, wholesome. Lillian had first tried the sketch based on Ursula, but the look was all wrong.

Again, Lillian gazed out the window, tapping the pencil against her cheek. Both of Kate’s daughters were extremely pretty – but Ursula had that elusive quality of beauty. Though her features were striking, Lillian felt that her beauty had more to do with her expressions, her soft way of speaking, her behavior – she was both pensive and brisk – as if her mind pulled her in one direction, and her body in another. No, thought Lillian, Ursula was more difficult to imagine on a tractor than Jessica, even though Kate wrote that Ursula had really taken up the slack at the farm as one by one her brothers had left. It was easier to imagine Ursula as some kind of mythic heroine – Diana the huntress, perhaps, or a winged victory figure.

Lillian thought of Ursula as she was two years ago – setting out on one of her restless walks across the fields or along the country road, or tucked away poring over a book. Her heart was set on going to college, and that was the life that would best suit her. She was intelligent, curious, strong-willed. Kate had sent a photo in the summer, and Ursula was prettier than ever. Lillian began a sketch of such a girl – tall and slim, with wavy dark hair, and those exquisitely lovely eyes – deep blue, beneath eyebrows like angry wings, smooth and beautiful. An air of intensity surrounded her, as if a quiet fire burned within.

Another impression of Ursula comes from Ed, the old farmhand who has worked for the family for years. He has news for Kate regarding the arrival of the POWs, but on hearing Kate and Ursula arguing about it inside, he waits out on the porch, reminiscing about Ursula as a child.

Glancing back at the kitchen door, he thought how he loved them all – Kate and her sons and daughters. He was fond of each and every one of them, but he couldn’t help the soft spot he had for Ursula. Even as a curly-topped child, she had a way of winning people over with her wide-eyed wonder and her demand for answers – “But why? How? What would happen if…?”

He chuckled, remembering how she used to ride around with him on the tractor, how he helped her learn to ride a bike, how she and little Francy used to hold hands as they jumped from the hayloft. And how, after her father died, she had transferred much of the affection for her father onto him.

How quickly the years had passed. Now here she was, almost eighteen years old, and more headstrong than ever. Yet sweet as a summer day. A hard worker, and capable, yet he often caught her staring out at the sunsets, or wondering at the beauty of snowdrifts, or listening to a strain of music on the radio with a hand pressed to her chest. There was a poet inside her, he often thought – though he doubted it would have the chance to come out now. If only she could have gone on to school, like she wanted. Well, there’s still time, he thought. He gave another shake of his head at the memory of the little girl who used to romp around the farm. Ursula. Here she was, seventeen – a breathtaking beauty in overalls.

Now Jessica, he thought, giving a little nod. She had more chance for overall, everyday happiness. Was more practical, down to earth, did not set her expectations up there with the moon. And was dang pretty. But Ursula…

Ed rubbed his whiskers, and his tanned wrinkled face scrunched in worry. She had that kind of dark beauty that troubled the heart. He took off his hat, inspected the rim, and readjusted it on his head. Well, they’re still young. It’ll all work out, somehow – it always does.

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Ursula, after the argument with her mother about having German POWs on the farm.

Ursula plopped down in a chair in her overalls, arms crossed, an angry fire burning in her eyes. The only adornment she allowed herself these days – and in Kate’s eyes, evidence of her contrariness – were the amethyst drop earrings her family had given her after she was accepted into the women’s college downstate. She wore them every day as a reminder that she would go to college. Some day. And though Ursula wouldn’t admit it, she was just as hungry for a bit of beauty as was Jessica – perhaps even more so. In the middle of milking the cows, or feeding the chickens, or hauling firewood into the house, she would lightly touch the earrings – as a reminder of her dreams.

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Jessica later attempts to give another point of view regarding the POWs — but to no avail.

“I was all ready to hate them. I really was. But it’s hard to do when they look like our neighbors. When they look like us.”

Ursula could listen to no more. “Listen to you. They’re brutal Nazis! They’re killing our men. Doing horrible things to the Poles and Jews. You’ve read the papers, seen the newsreels. Don’t be fooled by their appearance. They’re nothing like us. They’re cold-blooded murderers. Never forget that.”

She stuffed the remnants of the overalls into the rag basket, and then stood stiffly, sore from overdoing her chores.

“You look all done in, Ursula,” said Kate. “Why don’t you go soak in a hot bath? It’s been a long day.”

Ursula went upstairs and ran the bathwater, letting her clothes drop heavily to the linoleum floor. She looked at her reflection in the mirror, pushing aside her hair. She did look done in.

She touched the amethyst earrings. It had been so long since she felt pretty, since she had worn a dress, since she had gone to a dance. Everything now was bleak and grim. Her brothers, and most of the town boys, were gone. Everyone was having a hard time, having to adapt to all the changes. For the most part, she didn’t mind. She loved the farm, loved the fields at sunset, had even learned to love the backbreaking work. It kept her mind focused, prevented it from filling with daydreams. Foolish dreams of college and travel, of seeing the beautiful capitals of Europe. She wondered if those cities would even still be standing after this nightmarish war was over.

The steam gradually blurred her reflection – just as her dreams had blurred and faded, she thought. No matter. There wasn’t time for girlish daydreams. Her mother was right; she had behaved childishly today. Work needed to be done, and she would do it. 

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Amazon link:  https://amzn.to/2paLyMt

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Christmastime 1945: A Love Story

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Finally! The concluding book in the Christmastime series, Christmastime 1945: A Love Story, is available. Now you can find out what happens to the characters you’ve come to know: Lillian, Charles, Tommy and Gabriel. Izzy and Red. And on Kate’s farm, what is the fate of Ursula and Friedrich? What about Jessica and her brothers — do they survive the war? How do their lives unfold?

Below are images from my Pinterest boards that evoke the time, place, and feel of the world of Christmastime — historical photos, along with images suggestive of Kate’s farm, Annette’s orchard, New York City, and the warmth and coziness of Christmas.

Kates’ farm

Annette’s orchard

Lillian’s apartment

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The Christmastime series is available on Amazon, Kobo, B&N, iTunes, and Google and in libraries by request, on Ingram and Overdrive.

Amazon link

The Romance of Travel: Biarritz

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On the southwest corner of France on the Bay of Biscay, not far from the Spanish border, lies the beautiful town of Biarritz.

Part of the Basque Country, the town has a rich and varied history. It began as a small fishing and whaling village, became a popular destination for European aristocracy in the 19th century and, more recently, has become known as a premier surfing destination in Europe.

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A leisurely stroll through the town is the best way to take in the various beaches, the lighthouse, plazas, hotels, and old harbor.

The mix of architectural styles — belle époque, art deco, and neo-medieval — add to the town’s glamour.

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Biarritz is studded with elegant villas and charming homes with black filigree balconies, sturdy shutters, gardens and gates — all built to withstand the rough Atlantic storms.

Its maritime origins remain an integral part of the town. The beautiful cathedral, Notre Dame de Rocher, is situated on the harbor where it provided shelter and solace for the fishermen, sailors, and their families.

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A mosaic depiction of a ship is situated near the altar, a large clam shell serves as one of the fonts, and a model ship hangs from the ceiling.

A walk along the old harbor leads to one of many vista points,

and down to a promontory called La Vierge de le Rochelle. A bridge built by Gustave Eiffel in 1865 leads out to the statue of the Virgin Mary.

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At the top of the hill, a cafe with outdoor seating offers the perfect vantage point to watch the sun sink over the Atlantic.

Another day’s walk takes you up a wooded area that leads to more breath-taking views.

October hydrangeas in soft autumn colors lined the path of the hill-climb.

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The steep path offers benches and various viewpoints to watch the surfers,

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and to take in the spectacular views of the ocean and the hazy coast of Spain in the distance.

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There is a quality of light in Biarritz that adds to its beauty — dramatic, dark shadowy clouds pierced with sudden sunlight over waters that can be rough and white-capped, or seemingly calm with a vast shimmer. The weather this time of year can be fair and mild one day,

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stormy and brisk the next.

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A stop at the Miremont Patisserie Salon de Thé was the ideal way to end one such brisk autumn day.

Built in 1872, the cafe exudes elegance and old-world charm, with rich ornamentation, mirrored walls, and mosaic floors. A large window overlooks the ever-changing ocean. It was the perfect place to warm up with a cup of its famous hot chocolate.

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I chose the Chantilly. The cocoa and whipped cream were served separately to mix to taste. The hot chocolate was thick, dark, sweet, and delicious. A welcome treat on a blustery October afternoon.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Christmastime 1939: images

For all my books, I’ve created corresponding Pinterest boards to provide readers with a glimpse into the worlds I write about. The boards for the Christmastime series capture the charm of an old-fashioned Christmas, and a few black and white photographs help to provide a historical context.

Below are images for the introductory book in the series, Christmastime 1939: Prequel to the Christmastime Series. I hope you enjoy them!

1939 street scene

1939 subway map

In the prequel, we are introduced to the series’ main character, the young widow Lillian Hapsey, and her two sons, Tommy (8 years old) and Gabriel (5 years old). Many of the scenes involve Lillian’s determination to give them a happy Christmas.

The theme of transformation runs throughout this book, and I’ve woven in threads of Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol to emphasize this,

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as well as other Dickensian themes of struggle, home and family, and general Christmas merriment.

Other images evoke Lillian’s recent Thanksgiving visit with her sister, Annette, in upstate New York,

the cupcakes Tommy and Gabriel see in the window of the German bakery,

holiday toys and candies,

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and the excitement of New York City at Christmas.

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Come! Step into the world of Christmastime!

The Christmastime series is available on Amazon, Kobo, B&N, iTunes, and Google and in libraries by request, on Ingram and Overdrive

Amazon —  https://amzn.to/2xFgnt0

(Christmastime 1945: A Love Story, the final book in the series, will be available in October.)