Christmas Shopping

Ah, the bustle of Christmas! Decorating your house for the holidays, cooking traditional family favorites,

shopping. Braving the crowds, the weather, the choices —

and returning home to relax with a mug of hot chocolate or a cup of tea.

In the Christmastime Series, Christmas shopping adds a sense of merriment and celebration to the season — whether it’s Lillian preparing for Christmas Night at the Brooklyn department store where she works (Christmastime 1939),

or Mrs. Murphy taking a store escalator up to the “North Pole” toy section to do some shopping for her nieces and nephews (Christmastime 1941),

or Izzy stopping to enjoy the window displays as she walks to work (Christmastime 1943),

or the sisters Ursula and Jessica browsing at the small-town stores in rural Illinois.

Christmas shopping. The sparkle of lights and tinsel, the scent of pine and cloves, the sounds of bells ringing and Christmas caroling heighten enjoyment of the season and deepen the pleasure of gift-giving.

Then —

And now.

Summertime in Greenberry, 1970 (And So We Dream, a novel)

A nostalgic look at the summers of not so long ago…

(The fictional small town of Greenberry is the setting for my latest novel, And So We Dream.)

Back when watermelons had shiny black seeds set in deep ruby red.

Back when corn was grown in wide discernable rows, “knee-high by the Fourth of July.”

Back when the sky was clear of satellite dishes and cellphone towers, when a bike ride uptown to the concert on the square or to the ice cream shop was high adventure.

And dreams were the soul and sustenance of three teenage girls — Anne, Vita, and Beth — and Joey, the twelve-year-old boy who spends the summer with them.

Coming from Chicago, “Joey thinks of the small town of Greenberry as ‘boyland’ – a world of riding bikes, fishing, going barefoot, and the county fair.”

A place where summer meant vegetables fresh from the garden,

and evenings were for enjoying homemade ice cream with neighbors.

When the days were filled with lemonade stands and swimming,

and all the skies were cotton candy skies.

And the magic of summer came from the belief that everything begins with a dream.

(Images from my Pinterest boards.)

A brilliantly engaging, entertaining, and at times poignant coming-of-age story, ‘And So We Dream’ is a compelling read that will linger in the mind and memory of the reader long after the book is finished and set back upon the shelf. From the author of the ‘Christmastime’ series, ‘And So We Dream is unreservedly recommended…” -the MIDWEST BOOK REVIEW)

A dream garden…

“A dream garden is better than no garden at all. At least your mind is filled with flowers and color and beauty. And I think, without even being aware of it, we slowly move towards what we hold in our minds.” (Words from Millie to her daughter Vita in my novel And So We Dream)

If I had a garden, I’d take my breakfast there.

I’d find a hammock or a garden chair and enjoy the peaceful shade.

I’d invite a friend to join me for lunch among the blooms,

and I’d find a quiet spot in the fragrant afternoons.

In the garden’s comfort, I’d indulge in a book or two,

and include a pot of tea and a floral china cup.

And in the scented evenings, the garden all aglow,

I’d sleep among the flowers and dream the sweetest dreams.

(images from my Pinterest boards)

A late spring

While much of the country has already experienced soaring temperatures, here in New York, this has been an especially beautiful spring. Cooler temperatures have prolonged the season of lilacs, irises, and azaleas.

Even the rhododendrons and peonies are just now in full bloom.

I think of these kinds of days as “gift” days, allowing me to more fully enjoy the cool mornings and to take longer end-of-day strolls through the neighborhood, with its profusion of flowering bushes and small flower-filled gardens.

I hope wherever you experience spring, you have an abundance of flowers and blooms to enrich your day —

including bouquets of fresh-cut flowers that also bring about that same springtime joy.

(images from my Pinterest boards – and my neighborhood!)

Springtime reading

Now that it’s officially spring, reading outdoors has even more appeal. Opening a new book amid the first flowers of spring or under blossoming trees speaks of new beginnings, a sense of well-being, and hope.

There’s the promise of longer days and milder weather, and hopefully, more free time to indulge in the discovery of new books.

And if it’s still too cold where you live to read outdoors, bring a bit of springtime inside with a few blossomy sprigs or some fresh-cut flowers to remind you of what’s up ahead.

All images are from my Pinterest boards.

Valentine’s Day – Happy reading!

This Valentine’s Day, light a candle,

fix your favorite hot drink, snuggle into your reading chair,

and indulge in a good read.

Happy Valentine’s Day!

All images from my Pinterest boards.

Ahh – the bath

Relaxing, indulgent, soothing. In bathrooms simple and uncomplicated,

old-world ornate and Bohemian,

or vintage elegant,

the simple act of bathing can easily be transformed into a rich and tranquil experience.

A hot fragrant bath can relax the muscles, ease the day’s tensions, and bring about a sense of wellness.

By adding a few bath salts, lighting a candle (or using a nightlight), and using your favorite soap and bath towels,

the ordinary can become an indulgence.

There’s a certain pleasure to be found in a daytime bath, with sunlight filling the bathroom.

There’s another pleasure with a bath at end of day, in preparation for nighttime and sleep.

On these cold winter days and nights, enjoy the soothing experience of a hot, fragrant bath. It will both relax and recharge you, and increase your sense of well-being.

Home Arts in the Christmastime Series – Part 1

Throughout the Christmastime series, the home arts enrichen the lives and homes of Lillian in Manhattan, her sister Annette on her orchard in upstate New York, and Kate and her daughters Ursula and Jessica on their farm in the Midwest.

Knitting, sewing, crocheting, and embroidering were activities for early winter evenings while they listened to the radio, or sat near a fireplace with a hot drink at hand.

The home arts were practical and serviceable, yet at the same time, they were creative endeavors that added beauty and charm —

whether quilts that were lovingly made from salvaged scraps of fabric,

cozy afghans that kept away the winter chill,

or crocheted-edged pillowcases and handmade sachets that made sleep sweeter.

The Christmas holidays were made more festive with red and green embroidery,

and decorations using oranges, pine, and cranberries added color and scent,

and were used to trim the Christmas tree.

The home arts added a sense of comfort and love throughout the year but were especially welcome at Christmastime.

All images are from my Pinterest boards.

Color, magnificent color – pink

Soft and ethereal, or bold and bright. The color pink is said to be a calming color, promoting happiness, well-being, and relaxation.

It delights when we come across it on doors and windows,

or even on exteriors.

A garden color staple,

pink28

pink also provides lovely touches inside the home.

Pink is associated with beauty and delicacy, and qualities that are romantic and feminine.

Pink is also linked to hope and optimism

and even healing.

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Excerpt from “The Finnish Boy”

Excerpt from “The Finnish Boy” from the short story collection The Dreams of Youth.

And the thoughts of youth, are long, long thoughts. —Longfellow

85-year-old Maggie remembers an incident from long ago when she worked as a nurse in California, shortly after WWII. A memory she has held close to her heart for over 60 years.

Santa Barbara 2

In Santa Barbara, Maggie lived alone in a pretty stucco apartment building with a small fountain in the courtyard. Flowers bloomed year-round, which never ceased to amaze her – pink roses, orange poppies, and exotic flowers that reached up from spiky succulent plants. The palm trees never lost their leaves, like Midwestern trees. Their green fronds glistened eternal-like in the ever-present sun.

Maggie walked to and from the hospital dressed in her crisp white uniform and cap. She worked the 3:00 – 11:00 p.m. shift and was responsible for twenty-nine beds on her floor. She loved her work, the sense of purpose it gave her, of being able to make a difference in the lives of others…

One night, at around 7:00, a nurse and an orderly brought a patient from the Emergency Room to Maggie’s floor. The ER nurse explained that the young man had been in a bad road accident. The doctors had done what they could, but after working on him for two hours, they shook their heads, hooked him up to a morphine drip, and sent him to Maggie’s floor. The nurse said that he had been muttering in a foreign language that no one recognized. She handed Maggie the report and left.

Maggie saw that the patient was just a boy, around twenty-four years old or so, her own age. He was tall and slim, with fair hair and a handsome face. As she gazed down on him, his blue eyes opened and fixed on her.

Maggie smiled her nurse’s smile, competent and compassionate. By then, the morphine had worked its magic and he didn’t seem to be in too much pain. He watched her as she adjusted his pillow and blanket, his eyes searching her face for an answer.

As she took his pulse, he turned his wrist and clasped her hand. Maggie spoke a few gentle words of comfort and was surprised when he answered in English. He thanked her and asked her name. He told her he was from Finland.

Finland

That he had wanted to see the United States and had found work driving trucks for a transport company. He smiled when he said it was the best way to see such a big country. He soon became fatigued and closed his eyes…

Maggie was thankful that the night was slow. She couldn’t leave him alone. There was no hope for him, and she guessed that he knew. She took a deep breath and returned to his bedside.

The sun was beginning to set and the room was slowly growing darker. She turned on the nightlight above his bed. As soon as she sat down, he opened his hand for hers. It seemed that he wanted to talk.

Maggie asked him which parts of the States he had seen. He became slightly more animated as he described the Great Plains, the Rocky Mountains, and the Northwest. But when he described the coast of California, a softer look filled his face. He told her it was the most beautiful place he had ever seen. Maggie replied that she felt the same way, and that she, too, had come from far away to be near the beautiful California coast.

Pacific Coast

Monterey

She then asked him about the place he was from. In a few spare words, he told her that he was from a small town, a small family. He said he had wanted to see the world. His voice quivered slightly when he told her how his family had taken him to the train station – how his mother had cried, how his father had tried hard not to cry, and how his younger brother and sister had run alongside the train until he couldn’t see them anymore.

Finland train

He was quiet for a few moments, and his mind seemed to shift. Then he told her about the accident. He said he had been driving, enjoying the beautiful scenery along the coast, and that all of a sudden someone from the oncoming lane passed a car and was in his lane. He said he knew that if he hit the car, the driver would be killed. And he couldn’t do that. So he turned the wheel, and went over the hill. The next thing he remembered was the sound of a siren in his mind that grew louder and louder.

He looked at Maggie and told her that he didn’t want to die. He didn’t want to die so far from home. Somehow, he knew. And there was nothing Maggie could do but try to comfort him. She held his hand and tried to look strong, though she felt a sad crumbling inside her. Then she leaned closer and put her other hand on his cheek. This gesture of tenderness seemed to ease his anxiety, and his eyes glittered with gratitude. It was becoming more difficult for him to speak. He asked Maggie to tell him about her, where she was from.

train California2

She told him about her family, about how she was from a small town in the rural Midwest. How she became a nurse so that she could see something of the world, and how the ocean had always called to her.

They smiled, realizing how similar they were in their youthful dreams. His eyes fastened on her as he drank in her words, eager to take in just a little bit more of life. His speech trickled down to a few words, uttered slowly now and then. After a little while, he closed his eyes.

Maggie continued to speak in a soft, low voice, watching his face closely. She gently began to move away, thinking that he had fallen unconscious, but he increased the pressure on her hand. So she continued to sit with him, lightly squeezing his fingers to let him know that she was there.

Then she covered his hand with both of hers and sat quietly. And even though she was expecting it, she started when his hand went limp. She looked closely at his face, his chest, and leaned in to feel for a pulse. Her fingers searched again and again, but his warm wrist no longer held life. She placed her ear to his chest, but heard only silence. She watched him for a few moments, and put her hand to his cheek once more. Then she swallowed her emotions, and left the room.

Maggie stayed late that night to finish her reports. She walked home slowly, not noticing the tears on her cheeks. She made her way to the beach and stood for a few minutes, looking out at the glittering dark ocean, the wind blowing her hair…

dark ocean