Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Where Gentlemen Fear to Tread: Part 2

And so, while our heroine flittered off with the other nobles to make final preparations for the big event, Her Prince stepped, for the first time, into the forbidden land of Intimate Apparel . . . looking for panties.

In a moment he was surrounded by the strange, lifeless forms that grew there, a jungle-like morass, it seemed to him, of colors, textures and, uh, shapes. One of the local inhabitants was foraging nearby, but to his relief, paid him no heed.

He stood for a moment, settling, assessing, planning his attack. OK, he thought, confidence returning to his side. I can do this. After all, it’s for her.

But the dark powers that dwelt there had not yet arisen to meet him, and when they did, they were formidable. His breath grew quicker and shorter. His eyes darted to and fro, trying to see clearly and yet not too clearly. Confusion began to close its steely grip on his mind, and Dizziness swept its swirling madness over his senses . . .

But his heart stood fast. The Prize, it whispered. You must find The Prize . . . and then he did. It was there, settled among many others, waiting for him. That’s the one, his heart assured him, that’s the one. It must be, for after all, it was, you know, white.

He reached for it and carefully picked it up, the knight grasping the serpent, and in his hand it felt like . . . well, a lot like any other plastic-wrapped package. He moved as quickly as appeared proper to the check-out stand, paid for the thing, and walked out of that land at last, filling his lungs with the first breath of clean air in many a minute. He was alive, he was unscathed . . . and he had The Prize.

He was once again, The Hero.

Or so he thought.

More tomorrow . . .

Monday, January 28, 2008

Where Gentlemen Fear to Tread . . . and With Good Reason

La Belle Dame sans Merci by Sir Frank Dicksee

As a young man engaged, every request for assistance from my true love was yet another opportunity to shine, another chance to be the white knight riding once again to the rescue, and I loved every moment.

Except for the time she asked me to buy panties.

It was the day of her roommate’s wedding. As both a bridesmaid and a roommate, Nancy had spent the previous week or more busily assisting with this task and that, running errands, and serving as emotional support during the occasional moments of high-level bride stress. So she’d had little time to attend to her own To Do list. Looking it over only hours before the big event, she saw one unchecked item: panties. Apparently her dress required some sort of make or model or something that she didn’t have. But the hands on the clock clearly indicated that she would never get them in time herself, and the dark cloud of hosiery horror loomed ominously on the horizon.

But our heroine was undaunted. For just over the freeway, a short phone call away, lived Her Prince.

“Darling,” she cooed into the phone.
“My angel, light of my life,” I bellowed, “how can I be of service? You have only to speak it…” blah, blah, blah.
And the fateful word crossed her lovely lips.
“Panties,” she said.
“Panties?” I asked.
“Panties,” she repeated. “But you must be quick, my love, for the carriage leaves at noon. Find something nice, you know, something sweet and feminine. I’m sure you’ll do fine. Ta!” And with a kiss, she was away.
And so was Her Prince. Away, she thought, on a simple errand. But in truth, away to the land he had avoided with fear all the days of his youth, the land of his nightmares, where he must now enter and stay, until he could bring back his true love’s desire. The land of every knight’s deepest dread: the forbidden land of Intimate Apparel.

More tomorrow . . .

Thursday, January 24, 2008

All the World’s a Stage

Photo from Carolyn Quartermaine Revealed

I’ve always loved everything theater-ish:

Cleverly designed set pieces and elaborate or simple costumes

Scripts ransacked with hastily scribbled notes from the director, and sheet music faded from exposure and smelling of lantern oil

And a stage, indoors or out, magnificently set or bare and waiting…

I used to think it was because I wanted to perform, but now I believe there’s more to it. It’s not about pretending to live something that’s not, but about experiencing something that is. It’s not about escaping from the real world to the fantasy world, but about bringing them together. Like life itself, it’s about creating relationships. It’s about experiencing the two worlds side-by-side, tasting them both at the same time. Like biting into a chip covered with spicy salsa and cool sour cream, neither one gets lost or overwhelmed by the other. Instead, they create a whole new experience together that’s even better than either one alone. It’s the blend of contrasts that’s so delicious.

I’m beginning to see that art is the same: it’s about creating new relationships, as Carolyn’s work so brilliantly shows. It’s not about using things to hide from life, but using things to express life in new and creative ways.

I suppose that theater and art reminds us that all the world is indeed a stage, both magnificently set AND bare and waiting . . . for us.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008


I’m continuing my study through the book Carolyn Quartermaine Revealed. Over the years, I’ve been taught various tricks for quickly gleaning the most important information from books. The goal is to get as much as you can, as fast as you can. It’s effective for certain topics. But with gorgeous art like this, you’ve just got to stop and stare at the roses.

Yellow Rose Bouquet from Carolyn Quartermaine Revealed

I turned the first blank page in Carolyn’s book to see this photo. “Whoa!” I said. “Now that’s art.” My internal teacher immediately turned to me and said, “And can you tell us WHY?”

After only a moment’s reflection, I was able to answer. “Sure,” I said, “because it appeals to me on two levels. There’s the initial Wow, but I also see that there’s much more to discover. That yellow ribbon is nearly the same color as the petals – that must have been tricky to work out. And that’s not just clear plastic wrapping to keep the wet stems from dripping on the car seat. That looks like . . . Hmm, what's on that paper? Well, there’s that brilliant yellow color again (Oo – hey, Teacher, I’m seeing a theme!), and those streaks of purple are really cool. I would never have thought that would work. But what’s that in the photo? Am I supposed to recognize it? Or, wait – is that yet another level to discover in this piece of art? And when did I begin seeing a bouquet of flowers as art? Interesting. Perhaps there are lots of things our there that I would view as art, if I just took a moment to see more closely?”

I look up to think this over, and I catch the teacher’s eye.
He’s smiling. “Class dismissed,” he says.

Friday, January 18, 2008


The Best of All Ways . . .

When Night stares the two of you in the face with the unspoken glare that means, “Go to bed!”, he’s usually right. Early to bed, early to rise is wise thinking. But there is another side to the Night, the hidden side, which you’re not really supposed to see. Like the revolving panel in the wall that leads to a secret chamber full of intrigue and mystery, if you can overcome the Night’s overbearing manner, you can push on one side of him and he opens . . .

. . . to Lengthen Our Days

Just a peek through the divide reveals another world: the air is either cool and crisp, or warm and musty, with the alluring scent of old world stories or new adventures to discover, and your senses tingle. At this point, you both realize you must either turn back immediately or expect to be gone – and awake – for a long time. Remember, tomorrow I have this and that to do, and you have here and there to go. We really shouldn’t . . . but then with a grin one of you grabs the other’s hand, leaps across the threshold and whispers, Come on!

. . . is to Steal a Few Hours

The adventure begins, revisiting delightful memories (“That was the funniest thing I’ve ever seen . . . I don’t even LIKE peach cobbler . . . What was he thinking?!”)

or facing dark foes (“It’s not getting any better . . . That’s the only thing left . . . We’re going to have to say something.”)

or discovering new treasures together (“We’ve gotta try that! . . . Who wrote this? . . . Now THAT’S gorgeous!”)

And when at last the magic incantation brings you back (“Oh my gosh, what time is it?!”), you sleep, sometimes aching with laughter, sometimes worn with worry, sometimes brimming with new ideas, but always closer.

. . . from the Night

The Night’s purpose is to restore us, rejuvenate us, re-connect us. But it doesn’t always happen through sleep.

(“The Best of All Ways” quote is from Thomas More)

'The Painters Honeymoon' painted by Fredric, Lord Leighton

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

“So How Was Your First Day of Class?”

My self-directed Design 101 adventure began today. The text book is Carolyn Quartermaine Revealed.

I started looking at the first photos. They’re amazing. But then, like the child visiting the art gallery for the first time, I got distracted by something and wandered off from the group.

Where I wandered was my own house. In the early morning hours, before the day’s tasks awoke to start their demands, I took my own tour through every room, looking at various items and my wife’s layout to see what I thought. I liked it, all of it, and I realized in a whole new way what kindred spirits we are.

I also realized something else: in my misguided efforts to avoid frivolity and live a “full life,” I’ve been bypassing one of the best windows to that life: artistic expression. “We should be pursuing activities, not things,” was my rationale, “activities that involve the outdoors, nature, life,” which we do regularly.” But as I moved from room to room, eyeing all the creations and styles before me, I began to see that in many ways, art IS life. Both involve creating and growing and learning, and most of all, relationships. In my determination to control life to ensure that we focused on the best things, I was actually missing the best things: the unforgettable adventures that only result from waylaid plans, the exhausting laughter that only comes forth in spontaneous moments of goofiness, the magical delights that only present themselves when you take a moment to try something different.

I can’t wait to get back to class, and to the dazzling exhibits in my text book. But I also can’t wait to continue following the path of life that art and creativity will lead to, no longer just glancing quickly at the windows of opportunity, but throwing them open and jumping through.

Monday, January 14, 2008

When the Student is Ready

Years ago, I read a story about a woman whose son was a chemist. She knew absolutely nothing about the subject herself. So she went to the local junior college and took a class, to learn to talk to her son about his passion.

I’ve never forgotten that story. But it has taken me 17 years to apply it.

So I’m beginning a new study program. I call it Design 101. I’m pulling out all my wife’s favorite design books, and little by little, starting to glean. One of my own favorites is Carolyn Quartermaine Revealed. Even when design used to make my eyelids droop, I was dazzled by how powerfully she creates magical, mystical settings, often with only one or two items.

I’ve also begun eyeing elegant websites by many of you, such as Lidy’s French Garden House and Corey’s Tongue in Cheek. I may have a lot to learn, but you all make it look like so much fun. I’m beginning to see how much I’ve been missing.

So for any interested masters out there, the student is ready . . .

Some of My Favorite Carolyn Quartermaine Creations

Thursday, January 10, 2008

It's Not Just a Party

I used to think that preparing for a party was easy. You grab a few extra snacks at the grocery store, put away the laundry, and remember to vacuum. It was just a matter of adding some simple ornamentation, like wearing a green shirt to the office on St. Patrick’s Day.

Not so for my wife. Picking up food and cleaning up the house are just preparing the stage for the set designer. Then the real work begins.

The wrong chairs go out, and the right chairs come in (this is what husbands are for). The thoughtfully chosen food is carefully prepared, beautifully displayed, and even timed according to the arrival of the guests. The CD player is filled up in just the right order and turned on at just the right volume. The three bouquets of flowers are trimmed, arranged and placed strategically in every room. Curtains, lamps and ceiling lights are adjusted, to create the perfect ambiance. Last of all, scented candles fill the air with a barely perceptible floral aroma. By the time it’s all finished, I wonder if I’ll have any energy left for the party.

Photo from French Country Living

But then the guests arrive, and the magic comes to life. Fatigue is quickly wiped away like the last bit of pepper from the counter tops. There are hugs and smiles for us, and wide eyes and effusive words for the décor. At that moment, it’s all worthwhile.

Of course, at some point it finally must end, and we two are left with only the twinkling candles and a collection of fond memories. My wife collapses in my arms, but I ask, “When can we have another party?” Of course, what I really mean is, “Thank you so much for all that you gave us tonight. It was glorious.”

I’ve come to understand that for a creative spirit, a party is not just an event, it’s an experience, an opportunity not just to express herself to special people, but to give herself to them. And the only way to do that is to give everything.

Photo courtesy of my wife

I Think I Get It Now

Having been abandoned by Logic (or at least my overly-practical view of it), I wondered if there was another way to understand my wife’s frequent room re-designs. I think I found one.

For her, décor is not just about reacting to the season or the holiday, or the function of the room. It seems to be about expressing creatively what she’s feeling inside. Life and relationships are always changing what she’s feeling, and so the palette on which she expresses changes accordingly.

I’ve always marveled at the sea as it endlessly and wondrously redecorates the face of the shoreline, placing shells in an elaborate pattern one moment, then moving them about in the next moment, and finally taking them back altogether. The rolling tide is living art, and the constant change is an essential part of its beauty and magic. So the ebbs and flows of my wife’s decorative expressions in our home are always beautiful. But more importantly, they offer me glimpses into her soul. Each one, like a photograph, tells me for a moment who she is, until the next moment when there’s something new to discover.

So I think the answer to my question, “What do you do with a wife?” is clear: let her express, let her create, let her be. And take the time to marvel.

The Latest Glimpse

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

I Don't Get It...Yet

I’ve always understood setting up a room to look nice. On the 1st day of spring, it’s perfectly logical to turn the couch to face the newly blossoming garden, and to switch out the dark red drapes for the sunlight-softening sheer ones, and to put two more vases on the mantle, perfectly spaced, to display the long-awaited Double Delight roses from the front yard. Then my wife can stand back and say, “I like it.”

But what I’ve never understood is starting all over on the 9th day of spring.

“What are you doing?” I would ask, with Logic at my side, as my wife rearranged and replaced.
“Just changing some things around,” she would answer.
“Well I see that, but why? We just set it up perfectly,” I’d respond, with Logic nodding in hearty agreement.
“I just wanted a change.”


When she was finished working, I would be expected to comment.
“What do you think?” she would ask.
“It’s fine,” I would say.
“Well, what do mean, ‘fine’?”
“I mean, it looks just as nice as it did before you moved it all around,” I’d assert truthfully.
“So you don’t like it?”

At this point, Logic would turn to me and say, “I can see I’m not needed here,” and then he'd storm off in a huff.

Abandoned I would now be, alone without a clue – or so I thought . . .
More tomorrow.

Photo from Bringing it Home Sweden.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Baby Steps

Recently, after writing out the latest round of good intentions for my life, I wondered about my relationship with my wife. We’re still each in love with our best friend, but after 17 years of marriage, there’s an awful lot that can inadvertently wind up on auto-pilot. I found myself asking, “OK, so really: what do you do with a wife?”

Of course, I realized that what I was really asking was, “What can we do together that would be really fun for ME?” But somehow, I managed to escape from my clutches and ask, “What about all those things she does that seem to be really fun for HER? Why don’t we go do them?” That’s when a whole new world of experience was opened to me, a world that I admittedly had long been doing my best to avoid: the world of artistic expression, interior design, and French antiques.

Learning to appreciate cracked old French frames takes time for some of us. But you know, it really is pretty amazing, I wonder how it got to America . . .

Monday, January 7, 2008

Loving Her Beautiful

Welcome! Thanks for visiting. I hope you’ll take away something worthwhile, and maybe drop off something in return.

One of the best bits of marital advice I ever got was at a bachelor party. A friend offered these four words to the groom-to-be: “Nurture her creative interests.” It hit me like a board. My wife is ceaselessly creative in so many ways, yet I usually just nod and say, “Oh, yeah. Nice.” But if to know her is to love her, then to love her is to know her. And to know my wife is to know her creative side. So rather than just looking up and smiling at her latest creation, I’m jumping in with both feet to join her.

My own theory of design has always been, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” But lately, I’ve found myself assessing the décor of a room by how it feels, and eyeing the way various objects on a display table work or don’t work together. The other day, I made a tiny adjustment to a slightly tilted tabletop candelabra. I wasn’t even aware I had done it. But my wife saw me, and joked, “What have I done to you?"

About the title. Simply put, I want to learn what makes her tick creatively. Why does she find an item beautiful while I look at it and think, “Where did that come from – and can you take it back?” Why does she love old French embroidered linen sheets when I think the ones at Target are just fine? And just what is ormolu? Anyone?

So off I go, on a journey to discover my wife through her world of creative expression. If I overlook anything along the way, feel free to point it out. I’ll use this blog to share what I learn. I expect I’ll learn a lot about creativity and décor. More importantly, I’ll be learning about my wife. Most importantly, I’ll be learning to love her beautiful.

A special card she created for me.