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.
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.
Lately, I’ve been thinking about a movie I’ve always loved, Enchanted April, based on the 1922 novel by Elizabeth von Arnim. I remembered that I had bought the book a few years ago and decided to read it — and watch the movie again. Set shortly after WWI, the story is about two women who are unhappy with their dreary, loveless lives in rainy London.
After seeing an advertisement for “Wisteria and Sunshine,”
they become filled with the dream of renting a villa in Italy for the month of April.
The impetuous Lotty convinces her friend Rose to make the dream a reality.
They find two other women, who are also dissatisfied with their lives, to join them in order to help lessen the cost, and set off for Italy.
A month of strolling through the terraced hillsides, enjoying the rocky shore, dining al fresco, and resting in the tranquility of the gardens enables their spirits to heal.
The result is a reawakening to life, love, beauty, and newfound friendship .
To “wisteria and sunshine,”
and to healing the spirit.
Below are a few quotes from the short story collection Seven Tales of Love, along with some images for Valentine Day’s.
Then his heart gave a little lurch when he saw her sitting there – Anna Avilov, his old Juliet. Suddenly, the twenty years since the production of Romeo and Juliet in San Francisco vanished. (from “Juliet”)
The market vibrated with color and sound. A slight breeze blew against her skin as she wandered from one stall to another. There were so many different types of people and objects. Like a huge, exotic bazaar. (from “Offering”)
She lifted one peony and pressed its velvety petals across her face. She plucked a petal and let it drop to the floor. Then another and another, saying, “He loves me, he loves me not. I love him, I love him not.” With the second flower she added, “He never could have loved me. I never would have loved him.” (from “Peonies”)
No, it was the soft crashing of the waves, the shimmering pink and melon sunset. It was the sly promise that night weaves into its beginning. It was all that – and he was just a part of it, surely. (from “The Asking”)
The countdown. Three more days – and then the embrace, the conversations and walks, reaching out to feel his warm skin in the middle of the night. (from “Romantic Love”)
Later in the day, Olivia set the table, and carefully arranged the flowers she had bought earlier….It was just yesterday that he had brought her flowers. Yesterday, thirty years ago. (from “Caramelized Onions”)
I had this little game I played: I used to buy her roses on the anniversary of the day I first saw her. Roses for my Rose. She didn’t know what a momentous day it had been for me. Oh, sure, I brought her flowers throughout the year. She always loved them so. Rose was raised in the country and was used to blooming things, and she missed that when her family moved to the city. So I bought her flowers, whatever I could find in season. (from “Solomon Grundy”)
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.
Happy New Year!
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.)
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.
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.
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.
Amazon link: https://amzn.to/2paLyMt
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.
The Christmastime series is available on Amazon, Kobo, B&N, iTunes, and Google and in libraries by request, on Ingram and Overdrive.
The winds were wild the day you died
Pear blossoms scattered like snow.
First green tipped the thin tree branches
And your redbud flowered in purple.
Cold wind and sunshine embraced us
As we crossed from house to house.
And the grass and hedge surrounding your yard
Shone in an emerald green.
I knew you had a hand in it –
Delighting in the April glory.
A day of beauty and laughter
When Heaven touched Earth in joy.
(From the collection of short stories, Seven Tales of Love.)
Howard Ashbury strolled along Columbus Avenue, enjoying the fine weather – autumn in New York – a welcome break from the gray of Seattle. Something about the pulse of the city, the charm of the Upper West Side, brought back his younger self, and he felt happy, hopeful. He stopped in front of a little café, and, though it was too early for dinner, he decided to go in. He would read the new script over a glass of wine.
As he entered, he took in the exposed brick walls, the long windows, the candles just being lit in the softening light. Then his heart gave a little lurch when he saw her sitting there – Anna Avilov, his old Juliet. Suddenly, the twenty years since the production of Romeo and Juliet in San Francisco vanished.
My God, he thought. She’s as beautiful as ever. There she sat, with a dreamy look in her eyes, pen poised in her hand as she searched for some word or phrase. She wore her hair loosely swept up, and the shimmering aquamarine blouse caught the color of her eyes. What was she searching for – some hidden world of beauty? What did she see?
Howard felt the old chivalrous urge to help her.
But Anna had never needed anyone. He remembered how they were all in love with her, in love with the beauty and charm she possessed. Men and women alike took to her, as did the audience. They all wanted some of whatever it was she exuded – to possess it, to be in its presence, however briefly. He remembered how she had felt pulled down by that hungry need from everyone, and had shied away from the very attention the other actors sought.
Perhaps feeling his gaze, Anna looked over at him. Their eyes met, and her brow furrowed as she tried to place him.
Howard gave a small, wry smile. Have I changed so much? he wondered.
He walked over to her. “Hello, Juliet,” he said, hoping the name would bring back the memory of him. He waited a beat. “Don’t you remember your old stage manager?”
Anna’s eye widened as she gasped. “Howard!” She jumped up and hugged him. “I can’t believe it! Oh, how wonderful! Can you sit with me? I just can’t believe it!” In between each exclamation she searched his face, stepping back a bit to take in the changes.
He had forgotten how petite she was. She had to stand on her toes to kiss his cheek.
Howard pulled out the chair across from her, and waited for her to take her seat. He then sat down.
They ordered a bottle of wine. As Howard crossed his legs and turned the saltshaker around in his fingers, Anna clapped her hands in delight.
“Oh! You still wear red socks. You haven’t changed. Not a bit. Still so handsome and dapper!”
Howard smiled, realizing that it was ridiculous for her words to mean so much to him. But his recent failed affair had left him wounded and unsure of himself.
They talked and laughed and caught up on the last twenty years. Howard told her that he was still working as a stage manager, the last twelve years in Seattle. He described some of the more memorable productions.
Anna filled him in on the rather haphazard path she had taken. When she moved to New York eighteen years ago, she had found work as an off-off-Broadway actress, filling in the gaps between shows with waitressing and temping. The years since had been marked by a variety of unrelated jobs, a bit of travel, and, ten years ago, the meeting of her husband.
Howard was disappointed to hear that she had given up acting after she married. But Anna said it was writing that she had always felt more at home with.
“Yes, I remember that. You were always writing during rehearsals. What was it you used to say? That you were trying to create the world you were forever in search of. Have you found it? Or have you created it?”
Anna laughed. “Neither, I’m afraid. It still eludes me.”
“And are you still interested in theater?”
“Yes, of course.” She glanced at her watch. “As a matter of fact, my husband has tickets for tonight. Dinner, and then Chekhov. He’s picking me up here. I’m so happy you’ll be able to meet him.”
She went on to say that she had written some one-act plays and was working on a screenplay. As he listened, he observed the old air of wistfulness about her.
After two hours of talking, Howard noticed that evening had crept closer to their window. The candles on the tables and the lights outside shone brighter now, against the dark. That artful thrill of early evening filled the air, and shone from the faces of the couples filling the tables next to them, and from people hurrying by outside – the thrill that the night might hold something wonderful.
Howard knew that her husband would be there soon to take her to dinner, yet there was so much more he wanted to know. He gave a small ironic smile; she still had the power to stir up a hunger in her audience. He poured the last of the wine into their glasses and asked if she remembered William Chase.
“Of course, I do! Benvolio. Or was it Balthasar? You’d think I’d remember.” She looked above his head, scanning the stage of so long ago, squinting ever so slightly, as if the stage lights were still in her eyes.
Howard also wondered how she could forget. “Benvolio,” he said. “And so terribly in love with you.”
Anna nodded. “Benvolio. Of course.” She took a sip of wine. “Whatever became of him? Do you know?”
“Yes, as a matter of fact, I ran into him last year in Portland. He became a lawyer, of all things.”
“A lawyer?” Anna asked, surprised. “Good for him.”
Howard had always wondered if Anna was aware of the effect she had on people. He thought it unfair that beauty could so effortlessly cause pain to others. He recognized his buried resentment, mixed with admiration, for all the things she represented to him. He had never wanted to sweep her into his arms, or make love to her. Rather, he had wanted to be like her, to move through the world with such power and beauty and ease.
Howard would later blame the wine for making him press on as he did. His words came out almost accusingly. “William told me that he never really got over you.”
Anna leaned slightly back, as if in defense. Her full lips shaped her words as she spoke.
“Well, there was never anything between us. I certainly never encouraged him. I guessed he had feelings for me, but you know how that is – how often that happens in an emotionally charged cast.”
Howard nodded and looked down. The image of the beautiful Roberto filled his mind: how their eyes had met across the stage, how their love had developed, those first perfect months. With bitterness, he remembered the torch he had carried for Roberto, long years after being rejected.
“You know,” said Howard, allowing some of his resentment to creep into his tone, “William always thought it was because of his height. He thought you never took him seriously.”
This was actually Howard’s belief, but he assumed this must be the case since William had been strikingly handsome. “That was one of the reasons he went into law, he said. More weight – or height, in his case.”
Howard waited for her answer. He wanted to know whether he had been correct all these years in attributing to Anna a certain small-mindedness; or whether he had ungenerously projected onto her the reasons for his own unrequited loves.
Again, Anna squinted into the past. “Yes. I remember him saying something about that once. He invited me to dinner, but I just wasn’t interested. He asked if it was because of his height. I think I laughed out loud at such a ridiculous notion. I didn’t have the heart to tell him it was his whininess that made him unattractive. It was so off-putting. Do you remember? He complained about everything and everyone.”
Anna swirled the wine around in her glass and smiled. “Besides, I’ve always preferred short men. A better fit, you know.”
Howard snapped upright in surprise – both by her candor, and by his mistaken assumption. He had always believed that height was one of those universally desired attributes – attributes that he, for the most part, did not possess.
He responded with a simple, “Oh?” and began turning the saltshaker around again. His thoughts tripped over themselves as he attempted to reorganize them, realizing that he had indeed misjudged Anna – and perhaps his own beloved – all these years.
Anna spoke as if merely stating a fact, but a sly seductiveness played about her lips.
“Yes, whether kissing when standing, or cuddling at night, or…” Her aquamarine blouse shimmered in the candlelight as she gave a light shrug.
Howard quickly replayed the arguments with Roberto. He had always assumed that Roberto had rejected him because of his age, ethnicity, or some other quality over which he had no control. For the first time, the thought gripped him: What if Roberto had simply found him boring? Or, God forbid, whiny?
Then, as if on cue and choreographed to maximize the insight into his own failed affairs, in walked Anna’s husband – short, if not shorter, than William Chase. He was equally as handsome, though, Howard had to admit, in a more genial manner.
Anna’s whole being surged with pleasure at the sight of her husband’s flashing smile and warm eyes. She stood to embrace him – in a comfortable fit, Howard noticed – and introduced them.
As she slipped on her wrap, the three of them spoke briefly and exchanged business cards. Howard declined the invitation to join them for dinner but promised to stay in touch.
Anna and her husband waved good-bye and left the café.
Howard sat back down at the table and tried to put his ruffled thoughts back in order, tapping the saltshaker up and down. As he shook his head at life’s vanities and wretched misunderstandings, the beautiful Anna Avilov tapped on the window and blew him a kiss, her arm linked with that of her Romeo.
Following is the shortest story from my collection, Seven Tales of Love.
It had been more than twenty years since she had danced. Dancing wasn’t a part of her husband’s character, along with many other things she used to delight in. In the early days, they had moved to music in her apartment. He had tried, for her sake. And yet, in him she had the security that she had never found with anyone else. Before him, there were always the betrayals, small or large, that spoiled her relationships and made her unsure of people. Her marriage was not what she had dreamed of in her youth – but then, neither were the betrayals. At least he was true, devoted, loyal. Rock solid. It had been easy to give up the superficial accessories of love.
So what was this desperate stirring inside her now? This night as she danced to the rhythms of the music, with the man whose hand gently held hers, moving together as if in long familiar ease? Delight, excitement, the thrill of the dance, as in her youth. That dream was supposed to be long dead, long ago replaced with more reassuring, dependable matters. What was it doing so achingly awake in her now – in all of its glittering, hopeful youthfulness?
An alarm shot through her. This feeling did not belong to her, the fiercely loyal woman of unshakable convictions. It was because of the music, surely, the warm breeze, the Old World balconies, the tiny soft lights in the night.
It wasn’t the kindness in his eyes, the flashes of laughter, the protective arm around her shoulder, the earthy connection to the rhythms of life.
No, it was the soft crashing of the waves, the shimmering pink and melon sunset. It was the sly promise that night weaves into its beginning. It was all that – and he was just a part of it, surely.
Unexpectedly, life was offering her a choice. All she had to do was embrace it. The choice was there, offered to her with simple outstretched hands – no demands, nothing but the sweetness of human warmth. The choice to connect with life one more time before age and plodding routine took over for good.
Or, to stay true to her old self, to the woman she thought she was.
This sudden feeling was not part of her code of living. Such a breaking of that code would leave her unsure of anything ever again.
Or, would it open her up to a whole new way of being – once more connected, once more happy and hopeful, her old buried self awake again, bursting into blossom after long dormant years?
Would it be sadder to give in? Or sadder to deny?
Either way was crushing. The question kept rolling in the surf of her mind, along with the feeling that she had recaptured her beauty, her liveliness, the agility and freedom of movement that she thought she had lost.
Then, slowly, there in her mind, was her husband’s face, there with his gaze – the eyes that always asked, that always expressed love and desire for her. Her heart was pierced with tenderness for him, for all their faults and failures over the years. They were bound, bound – no matter what dreams of beauty might cross her path.
Her excuse was sore feet and age when she declined to dance further, when she took her seat, and watched the other dancers dance under the tiny lights.
Rather than a vacation to a tropical location, as the story would suggest, the inspiration behind this tale came from a song. One cold winter’s day, after a dull day at work and a frustrating commute home on the subway, I stopped by a Thai restaurant to order takeout. As I sat waiting, staring through the rain-streaked windows at the traffic on the boulevard and the hurrying figures under black umbrellas, a song began to play — Sea, Sand, and Sun (Arnica Montana). And it took me far away — stirring up feelings and images of younger days, beautiful beaches, and the romance of life.
Seven Tales of Love
by Linda Mahkovec
Amazon Link: http://a.co/20rApfG
In my novel The Garden House, the main character, Miranda, often takes a cup of tea out into her beloved garden and curls up on a bench as she takes in the beauty of her flowers. Her garden offers both solace and pleasure. It’s the perfect place to read a good book, to visit with a friend, or to sit quietly and enjoy the simple tranquility of nature.
“Strange how a teapot can represent at the same time the comforts of solitude and the pleasures of company” ~Author Unknown
“Find yourself a cup; the teapot is behind you. Now tell me about hundreds of things.” ~Saki
“Tea is quiet and our thirst for tea is never far from our craving for beauty.” ~James Norwood Pratt
“You can’t get a cup of tea large enough or a book long enough to suit me.” ~C.S. Lewis,
“Where there’s tea there’s hope.” ~Arthur Wing Pinero