Monday, July 30, 2012

Summer Beauty

"It is in our idleness, in our dreams, that the submerged truth sometimes comes to the top."
-- Virginia Woolf

Summer can be a great time for inspiration.  It is well known that when we daydream our minds are free to roam and we can come up with imaginative creations or stumble upon creative solutions to problems.  And in the summer, when the pace is slower and we are often relaxing, we can get our best ideas and find inspiration for our everyday life. Sometimes it is just a matter of getting away from our own environment to see things more clearly.  Our thoughts take off and we suddenly come up with an inspired thought or notion, an idea or a plan  At this time of the year everything is fresh and lush, colors are vivid, and there is beauty and fragrance wherever we look.  We may be traveling or staying in our own neighborhood when it happens.  But no matter where,  the mood is the same -- relaxation, surrounded by beauty, and then the great idea.  Here are a few images that might lead to some summertime dreaming and arriving at that moment of inspiration!  

 Bougainvillea at the San Ysidro Ranch in Montecito, California

Lush pergola at the Getty Villa in Malibu

A vista in Napa, California that looks like the Italian countryside

The grandeur of nature in Sun Valley, Idaho

Closer to home, a neighborhood country mart on a summer day -- the beauty of a simple red barn

 A midsummer's night dream at "The Plow and Angel" restaurant in Montecito

Contemplating garden beauty in faraway places
Monet's home in Giverny, France

And places nearby, in a neighbor's vegetable garden

 Or in a Pasadena garden that was on the Garden Conservancy tour 

And right on the kitchen table -- hydrangeas and roses from the garden

Let your mind wander and dream, be sure to take notes, because as someone once said, "life is not a dress rehearsal."  Let's put some of these great ideas into motion!   Maybe it's an idea for that book or short story you've always wanted to write.  Or maybe it's a system for organizing your books or files, wherever it is you go for inspiration. Having it organized will make your life and your writing easier.  That is my current project, and I am loving how good I already feel!  How about that gardening or art class you have always wanted to take?  Why not learn a new language? I want to take more French classes, having taken them in the past and would love to pick them up again.  Or maybe joining a yoga class or taking bridge lessons is something you'd love to do.  Of course you could always start a blog! 

There are endless ideas out there for us to execute.  Fall is around the corner and it is always a time of exciting and creative activity.  Let's get ready!  Happy dreaming!  

Friday, July 27, 2012

The Summer Olympics in London

The London Summer Olympics are beginning this weekend.  Will you be watching? 

I am very excited about the Summer Olympics taking place in London this weekend.  Even though I am not a big sports fan, I love watching the Olympics.  I get goosebumps when the athletes make their first appearance in the parade during the Opening Ceremony.  And this time the London location is especially enticing.   For the next two weeks I will be watching the Olympics, looking forward to the sporting events as well as all the scenes around London!

Olympic Torchbearer at the Globe Theatre

Torchbearer in front of Hampton Court Palace

People take pictures of Prince William and his wife Catherine through the gates of Buckingham Palace as the Olympic Torch relay arrives

Enjoy your weekend in London!

Photos via here and here

Monday, July 23, 2012

Lily Pond Table

Lily Pond table
Photo via here

I am often amazed at how much I learn from my favorite blogs.  While happily reading through some recent postings on the Persephone Post, (part of their larger website which is chock-full of delightful information for book lovers) I spotted this image. It is the Lily Pond table designed and painted by British artist Duncan Grant  for the Omega Workshop around 1913.   I fell in love with this at Charleston in Sussex, England (the home of Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant) when I visited there last September.  I learned that several of these tables were made by the Omega Workshop and that the one featured above is in an art gallery in Australia.

When I first saw the Lily Pond table at Charleston, I noticed how often the Bloomsbury artists used garden imagery in their creations.  Bringing the garden inside was something that they loved to do.  Because Charleston is in the country and surrounded by nature, it made sense that so many pieces of furniture, rugs, pillows, and wall coverings incorporated this theme.  It is one of the reasons the house is so exuberant -- flowers and leaves are everywhere.  The beautiful garden that is behind the house was often a subject of the paintings done by Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant.

The Lily Pond table is in Maynard Kenyes' bedroom at Charleston.  He was such a frequent guest at Charleston that he was given his own room.  Can you imagine having this piece in your bedroom?  I remember that the table was in front of a window which had a beautiful view of the pond and the nearby countryside.  That side of the house would have been covered with beautiful white clematis in the summer.  It seemed like a wonderful room for sleep and a peaceful room for work.   Duncan Grant's design for the table was based on the goldfish pond in Roger Fry's garden at Durbins as seen from above.  The paint was poured in puddles, rather than carefully applied, to achieve a more free flowing effect.   After doing a little research, I wasn't surprised to find out that the Lily Pond table was one of the Omega's most popular patterns for painted furniture.

If you you love beautiful books and don't know about Persephone Books,  you should take a look at their website here. They also have two charming stores in London.   They reprint neglected novels, diaries, short stories and cookery books, mostly by women and mostly dating from the early to mid-twentieth century.  These books are beauties!  All are elegant paperbacks with a dust jacket.  They have dove-grey covers with cream labels and printed endpapers often of a fabric from the original year of publication. The books come with matching bookmarks inside.  You can buy the books on their website or if you are in London, go to their store!  The one I visited was very cozy and English, perfect for lingering and browsing through all the great titles.

A post card I bought when I was there

And by the way, I just found out that they will be publishing "A Writer's Diary" by Virginia Woolf this summer.  Something to look forward to!

Virginia Woolf
Photo via here

Endpaper for the Persephone Post edition of "A Writer's Diary"
Photo via here

Friday, July 20, 2012

A Summer Afternoon with Edith Wharton

Edith Wharton
Photo via here

"We would love you to join our book club for a discussion of "The House of Mirth."  What a lovely invitation for a summer afternoon.  Some friends invited me to come as their guest to a meeting of their book club.  They were discussing "The House of Mirth" and knew that I was a big fan of Edith Wharton.  I was thrilled to be invited and delighted to spend a summer afternoon talking about Wharton.  On this beautiful summer day I could picture Edith Wharton's garden at the Mount, her home in Lenox, Massachusetts, and how it might look on this day in July.  I love the Berkshires in Massachusetts and have visited Wharton's home whenever I have been in that area.  The Mount is truly an autobiographical house, reflecting the owner Edith Wharton in so many ways.  She was an authority on architecture, interior design, and European gardens.  Her home, which she designed, reflects all these talents.  And it was there that she wrote the book we were reading today.

The Mount
Photo via here

This year is the 150th anniversary of Edith Wharton's birth and I was hoping to find time to revisit some of her books. "The House of Mirth" is one of my favorites.  When I arrived at the home of the friend who was hosting the meeting, we all sat down to a lovely lunch and dove right into a fantastic discussion of this book.  I hadn't read it for a long time and it was such a treat to discover this classic all over again.  I marveled at the beauty of Wharton's writing and the compelling story of Lily Bart's downfall as she struggles to win a place in New York society but ultimately is tripped up by her own mistakes and errors of judgement.

 The Fifth Avenue Hotel, a fixture of the Gilded Age social scene
Photo via here

There was so much to talk about!  We discussed the plight of Lily Bart, a woman with little money and only the currency of her good looks to buy her way into society.  She had no family or any real friends,  and was almost entirely on her own.  It was sad to think of her complete lack of a support system.   We talked about the financial anxiety that is at the core of her character and her desperate hopes to snag a husband based on her looks.  She makes mistakes all along the way and passes up several opportunities for marriage.  We all wondered if it was because she was foolish or she just couldn't face settling for a lifetime of boredom and a loveless marriage.

We discussed the fact that Edith Wharton was herself a member of the New York society that Lily Bart aspires to, and yet wrote books critical of this group.  The people that she knew, their values and mores, came under her critical eye again and again and she skewered them, not just in this book, but others.  We talked about the fact that Edith Wharton became a Pulitzer-prize winning writer despite the fact that she had no formal education and was discouraged by her family and friends.  But we weren't surprised that she chose this alternative life -- she was a brilliant woman with a deep intellect -- considering the empty and meaningless life she would have led otherwise, based on the way she depicted it in her books.  She became one of the most famous writers of the early twentieth-century and when she moved to France for the last few decades of her life, she moved in impressive literary circles.  She also lent her time and vast wealth to the efforts to aid refugees during World War I.  For her war efforts she was made a chevalier of the Legion of Honor.


I loved revisiting Wharton through the book club's discussion of "The House of Mirth" and am looking forward to reading some of her other  books during this anniversary year.  When I got home I opened up "The House of Mirth" to look at some of my favorite passages.  Edith Wharton has a style that is distinctively her own and many of her passages of dialogue and description have a richness, rhythm and beauty that take my breath away.  They reveal a writer with real insight into the way people behave.  There is no one like Wharton for getting to the heart of the struggle in people between individual freedom and fitting in, and also depicting the world of old New York as it existed during the Gilded Age of the late nineteenth-century.  Wharton's ability to convey the accumulated damage to the emotions and hearts of her characters caused by the pressures of society has no peer.   Her novels are a gift to readers.  If you are in a book club you might want to read one of her books this year so you can celebrate her 150th birthday!

Monday, July 16, 2012

Inspiration from England

St. James Place, London -- October, 2011
Photo by Sunday Taylor

I am very excited about the Summer Olympics taking place in London this year.  If you are like me and have been thinking about England and London because of the upcoming Summer Olympics, you might enjoy reading a blog I love called "Inspiration at Ben Pentreath."  A while back the Telegraph published a piece listing "The 20 best interiors blogs."  Ben's blog was one of them.  I read it and have been smitten ever since.  It is the equivalent of opening up a box of chocolates.  Each blog post is visually delicious.  Ben is an architect and interior designer who lives in England. He has a home decor shop in Bloomsbury, London.  He also has a charming country house with an enchanting garden in Dorset called the Parsonage where he retreats on the weekends.  He often writes about the Parsonage and its garden. Behind the house is a small village church and the photos that Ben takes of his house and garden look like images right out of Jane Austen.  He also features his London store and his current design projects on his blog.  I am so inspired by his store and the great home decor items that he carries, his design ideas, his upcoming book, and his Dorset home and garden, that I frequently find myself checking in with Ben via his blog to see what he has been up to. Take a look:

Here is his London store:

He sells beautiful English home furnishings.  I love these chairs, hmmm... there must be a corner of my house where I could put one of these:

Bloomsbury Library Chairs

His book on English decoration is coming out in September.  I have already placed my order:

You can order a copy here

 He often takes us to the Parsonage (his home in Dorset) where we can see what he is up to in the garden:

The setting is right out of an old English novel 

His house is cozy and charming

 And the garden is beautiful

He gives us a peek into the inside of his charming country home

He has a flat in London and posts beautiful photos of the city.   In fact, his blog is often a love letter to London.

And also to the English countryside.  Ben happily goes from one to the other, enjoying the best of both worlds:

Recently he took us to Garsington Manor near Oxford where he attended a concert and picnic.  This is the house that Ottoline Morrell lived in one hundred years ago and where D.H. Lawrence, Virginia Woolf, Lytton Strachey, and Duncan Grant would go for summer parties.  (By the way, it is for sale!)  The property is now used as a summer concert site.   I was very happy to read this post and look at all of Ben's images of Garsington, because even though I have many books with black and white and grainy photos of Garsington, I have never seen it like this! You can read about it here.

Garsington Manor 

I am happily enjoying Ben Pentreath's English life via his fabulous blog.  Please go over and visit.  If you want to vicariously enjoy life in London as well as the English countryside, look no further.  You will also be able to keep up with some exciting English design projects.  With the Olympics coming up, we will all be thinking about England.   And I can't wait to visit his store next time I am in London.

All photos (except the first one) from Inspiration at Ben Pentreath

Friday, July 13, 2012

More Italian Postcards

Portofino, Italy

"Such beauty; and she there to see it.  Such beauty; and she alive to feel it.   Her face was bathed in light.  Lovely scents came up to the window and caressed her.  A tiny breeze gently lifted her hair.  Far out in the bay a cluster of almost motionless fishing boats hovered like a flock of white birds on the tranquil seal  How beautiful, how beautiful. Not to have died before have been allowed to see, breathe, feel this...She stared, her lips were parted. Happy? Poor, ordinary, everyday word.  But what could one say, how could one describe it?  It was as though she could hardly stay inside herself, it was as though she were too small to hold so much of joy, it was as though she were washed through with light.  And how astonishing to feel this sheer bliss..."

--  Elizabeth Von Arnim, "The Enchanted April"


"Sunshine and wisteria" -- that was the promise of the advertisement for a small castle on the shores of the Mediterranean that take four women to Italy in "The Enchanted April."  In this book Elizabeth Von Arnim wrote about the miraculous effects of an Italian holiday and the restorative powers of Italy.  It tells the story of four repressed English women who travel from England to Italy and stay in an enchanting castle for a month.  Their lives change and their hearts soften because of the natural beauty of their surroundings -- the "sunshine and wisteria" of their rented castle in Italy.  It is there that they find love and happiness, and are also able to liberate their true natures.   Elizabeth Von Arnim wrote the book while staying at the Portofino Castello in the 1920's during the month of April.

If you are dreaming about Italy and would love to spend a month in the glorious Italian countryside,  read "The Enchanted April."  It will take you there.  Elizabeth Von Arnim's classic book is an inspiring and delightful read and evokes all the sensual pleasures of Italy.  It will make you want to go to Italy and also want to know these women.

Books and travel take us places.  If you can't get to the Italian Riviera or Tuscany this summer, there are many books that will take you there.   Go here for more suggestions.

Have a lovely weekend!

Photo via here

Monday, July 9, 2012

Keeping it Simple

One of the simplest and most delicious summer foods is Bruschetta.  This hors d'oeuvre couldn't be easier.  The Italians invented this brilliant solution for easy summer entertaining.  The ingredients are so simple. Tomatoes, bread, basil, olive oil, and garlic.  The earthiest ingredients.  Bread that gets grilled on the barbecue topped with anything that looks good at the Farmer's Market.  The possibilities are endless!  With a glass of chilled rose or sauvignon blanc it is the perfect food to enjoy on a warm summer night.

The inspiration for my bruschetta making was this article in Martha Stewart magazine (February, 2012) about small plates.  The bruschettas, tartines, and crostinis that were featured looked so earthy and simple and so tantalizingly good.  The concept was keeping the dishes simple but beautiful by using the very best ingredients you can find.  

And so I pulled together the ingredients for simple bruschetta, using the very best items I could find.  Heirloom tomatoes are now available at Whole Foods and they are so good!  I threw in some garlic, salt and pepper, a great loaf of bread and my favorite olive oil.

A big bunch of basil completed the ingredients

We grilled the bread and discovered that crunchy, smoky, grilled bread is delicious all by itself.  When it came off the grill and was still warm, I rubbed it with garlic and drizzled on olive oil.  For the topping, I chopped the tomatoes and mixed them with garlic, basil, olive oil, salt and pepper.  

  Grilled country bread that tasted slightly charred topped with the fragrant tomato mixture was delicious.  On a warm evening outside on the patio, it was a perfect appetizer with a chilled glass of wine. 

Small plates and simple foods using the best ingredients make great summer meals.
Buon appetito!

Friday, July 6, 2012

A Young Inspector Morse

Shaun Evans plays the young Inspector Morse in PBS's "Endeavour"
Photo via here

I love murder mysteries set in the bucolic countryside of England with a moody and complicated detective at the center of things.  And so I made a point to watch the episode of "Endeavour," the new mystery on PBS, that aired last Sunday night.  Set in Oxford, England in the 1960's, it is a prequel to the popular "Inspector Morse" series that aired on PBS in the 1990's. That show's final episode was broadcast in 2000 with Morse dying from a heart attack.  John Thaw played the lead character, the enigmatic Inspector Morse, whose first name we never learned until the end of the show. It was "Endeavour." Only one episode of this new show was made, but due to its popularity in Britain, more episodes have been ordered.  Based on what I saw on Sunday night,  I hope the additional episodes make it to the states.  It was really good!

Many of us were fans of the original "Inspector Morse" television series -- it was so much fun to watch.  Morse was a moody and mysterious hero, fascinating in his complexity.  We couldn't get enough of the beautiful university town of Oxford where the show was set.  And there were so many things to love about the show:  Morse's vintage red Jaguar Mark II, his obsession with opera and crossword puzzles, his love of good ale, and the mystery of the man himself. Many episodes opened with booming strains of opera as we saw Morse in his home listening to his beloved records, ruminating on whatever was on his mind, usually with a drink in hand.  We never understood why he was so lonely and unhappy.  But we did know that he was an excellent detective and we enjoyed watching him and his partner Detective Lewis as they endlessly sat in the pubs of Oxford dissecting their cases, or wandered through the idyllic grounds of Oxford University investigating various misdeeds that took place there.

Evans as Morse with Roger Allam who plays his boss on "Endeavour
Photo via here

The episode of "Endeavour" this past Sunday night took us back to the beginning of Morse's career when he is in his twenties and called in to solve his first case, the mysterious death of a young teenage girl who is being tutored by an Oxford don.  We learn that Morse attended Oxford University for one year, but dropped out because of a failed romance, joined the army for two years and is now exploring the idea of becoming a detective.  The show opens with him writing his letter of resignation to the police department.  But he gets called in to a case and decides to take it.  He is already moody and unsettled, but also obviously an excellent detective as he leads his associates to the solution of the crime. He listens to opera, does crossword puzzles, and is already lusting over a Jaguar that he sees in a parking lot.  Turns out it is the exact red Jaguar that John Thaw drove in the original series.  The producers found the car and used it in Sunday night's episode.

John Thaw, the original Inspector Morse

With his beloved red Jaguar
Photo via here

"Endeavour" won me over.  In it, the young Morse falls in love with a woman who happens to be one of his favorite opera singers.  For several different reasons (no spoilers here!) the romance is not to be.  Unlucky in love, but brilliant at solving murder mysteries, he is starting to become the Morse we knew back in the 1990's.  Let's hope that PBS will air the additional episodes that are being produced, so we can learn more about the mysterious Inspector Morse and what made him the way he was.  Come winter time, I can see myself happily settling in with more episodes of "Endeavour," watching the young Inspector Morse solve crimes against the backdrop of the "dreaming spires" of Oxford.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Simple Pleasures

  How was your weekend?  We have been having the most beautiful weather.  The days are longer, the sun is shining and it is the season for casual get togethers and spontaneous outings --  "Let's drive to Corona del Mar and go to Roger's Gardens"!  (a favorite nursery in the area)   July is here and I am appreciating all the simple pleasures of summer.

  I love to take advantage of the fabulous things to do in my own city.  Recently I visited the gardens at the Huntington Library in San Marino.  When I stumbled upon the Lily Pond, I was in awe of its ethereal beauty.

Visiting the Getty Center to see some incredible art ( the Herb Ritts photography exhibition is there right now) and ending up in the gardens is one of the very best things to do in Los Angeles. 

The bougainvillea arbors at the Getty are just amazing!

 Going to the Hollywood Bowl for a concert and picnic is a Los Angeles summertime tradition.

Visiting a local nursery for inspiration in the garden is a summertime treat.  My favorite is Roger's Gardens in Corona del Mar.

Putting together a great stack of books for summer reading is a must. 

Going to the movies!  My current favorite is The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel with Judi Dench, Tom Wilkerson, and Bill Nighy.  Have you seen it?   It is in the vein of "The Enchanted April."  In this case, it is India that has the power to transform the lives of the cast of characters.

Bakes sales for charities such as "Share Our Strength" are a wonderful L.A. summer tradition.  I go to this one each year.

Favorite cookbooks for summer cooking need to be out for inspiration.

A summer cooking goal, to make Paella!
Photo and recipe via here

Discovering a new summer cocktail -- Blood Orange, Mint and Chamomile Margaritas
Photo and recipe via here

And at the end of the day, we all want to be out on the patio sipping that chilled summer cocktail.  I hope you are enjoying the simple pleasures of the season!