Hippity Hoppity Easter’s on Its Way

I am crazy about the Easter Bunny. “Bun-Bun” my mother called him. Assuming it is a him. When my little sister Duvall got older and started having her doubts about Santa Claus, she remained steadfast in her furry basket-filling friend. “There might not be a Santa Claus,” she declared, “but there SHOR’ IS A EASTER BUNNY.”

She was 35 at the time. 

Hallmark Shoebox Easter card

I was going through some old letters (remember those?) the other day and ran across this card my mother sent. Inside she wrote, “Sick, I know.” She was wicked, our sweet mama. Our bunny never had a limp, even after we were grown and out of the house. He still hopped over in the mail, chocolate included. And good chocolate, too, peanut butter eggs and fancy praline ones and all. None of this marshmallow nonsense.

Speaking of of nonsense, I’m in the habit of silly Easter posts. Having inflicted upon you, dear readers,  a series of infantile knock knock jokes year before last, and a riveting treatise on the Easter Bear last year, I see no reason to quit while I’m behind.

Apart from silliness and chocolate eggs (and that’s a big “apart”), Easter is the celebration that life, like my sister’s idea of the Bunny, is eternal. Hallelujah.

Happy Easter. Hope the Bunny finds you.

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Book Browse: The Pretty and Proper Living Room

Book Browse: The Pretty and Proper Living Room

A read through The Pretty and Proper Living Room, by Holly Holden, is the next best thing to being raised by a grand Patrician family and inheriting every needlepointed, monogrammed, and engraved bit of decorating DNA they possess. The sub-title doesn't lie: "Old-school secrets for timeless elegance... and the no-no's to know." The Pretty and Proper Living Room by Holly Holden - cover Indeed, writes Holden, quite pretty and proper herself, the nature of her subject "is inherited, not re-invented,"  passed down through the generations "like a secret code." In sharing said code, the designer-author gives us a thorough primer on the elements of traditional design--from accessories to furniture to lighting.  The Pretty and Proper Living Room by Holly Holden - Aristocratic Accessories And whether you were to the manor--or the bungalow--born, the information is darn useful to anyone interested in interiors and perhaps especially to those just starting out. To wit: Holden illustrates the difference between an Ushak and a Heriz rug; shows how to tell a Chippendale from a Hepplewhite; extolls the good sense of protecting tabletops with a pane of glass; and marks the wisdom of buying inexpensive wine glasses  instead of renting them when entertaining. The Pretty and Proper Living Room by Holly Holden - Elegant Entertaining As I've just posted about weddings, or more precisely Miss Manners's guide to wedding etiquette, this book would be a thoughtful gift to the traditionally-inclined young bride. Get her off on the right track, as it were. The Pretty and Proper Living Room by Holly Holden - Sumptuous Seating Anything to save her (and the rest of us) from Forbidden Faux Pas. These might be my favorite parts of the book. "Do not use coasters unless you need them... Do not use plastic cups at parties... Avoid matched sets of furniture... Stay away from candles with bright colors." You don't have to agree with them all, but you can respect the integrity of a point of view. The Pretty and Proper Living Room by Holly Holden - Rug primer The Pretty and Proper Living Room by Holly Holden - Things to ask your upholsterer If you don't know your églomisé from (Robert) Adam, there's an excellent glossary.  The Pretty and Proper Living Room by Holly Holden - glossary And let me be the first to say I did not know the design motif of half-horse-half-fish was a hippocamp. Or that in Greek mythology, hippocamps pulled Poseidon's chariot. Now thanks to the lovely Holly Holden, I do know. I wouldn't Bullfinch you. The Pretty and Proper Living Room was privately published in Fall 2013 and is available through www.prettyandproper.com. The imprint is Fox Hall Publishing, named for the author's historic house in Connecticut.

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Posted in Blog, Decoration & Design | 12 comments

Planning a Wedding? Going to One? Please Read This.

Planning a Wedding? Going to One? Please Read This.

You won't often hear me beg. But there is knowledge which, if possessed by all nuptial-bound humanity, would make the world a better place. That knowledge is etiquette. And etiquette is about manners, and manners are about kindness. With wedding season upon us, the potential for manners mischief is about to be unleashed with a festooned and crinolined fury. If you fear for your inner-Miss-Manners, consult the real one in her and her daughter's indispensable and highly readable Guide to a Surprisingly Dignified Wedding. Miss Manners' Guide to a Surprisingly Dignified Wedding, by Judith Martin and Jacobina Martin. My copy is full of stickies and highlights. A copy was given me three years ago by friends of ours, she the former press secretary to First Lady Betty Ford and a friend of Miss Manners' creator, Judith Martin. (If you asked me if I would rather have lunch with Judith Martin or George Clooney, it's not even close--nothing personal, George.) At the time planning my own second wedding, and without benefit of my always-knew-exactly-how-to-do late mother, I trusted my upbringing and  instincts. Miss Manners'  Guide, however, was a great reinforcement and steady reminder of What Is Important, because it's real easy to get distracted in all the Bridezilla insanity. Even if you're not 25. Ahem. Miss Manners' wedding etiquette book as inscribed to moi: ''To amuse you with what those who lack your taste are doing. All best wishes, Judith Martin'' A wedding is not meant to be about showing off or self-aggrandizement. Not that it can't be gorgeous or even extravagant (if you can afford it), and that you can't have a good time. But it can also be simple. Etiquette embraces simplicity, write the Martins. "A dignified ceremony followed by a happy celebration for those who care about the couple, done in a somewhat more formal version of the way they usually entertain..." is just great.  Human beings since the dawn of time have honored rituals around life's important passages. What Miss Manners says she missed, however, is "the section of the Constitution that guarantees every couple an elaborate wedding." Admittedly I cannot help the occasional guilty pleasure of her verbal velvet hammer shattering a display of brittle cluelessness--or silliness, however un-intended: "Dear Miss Manners: ...What about when the bridal party is called to the dance floor and then the parents--is my husband expected to dance with his ex-wife? Or do I? Gentle Reader: You are certainly not expected to dance with your husband's ex-wife. Miss Manners is happy to provide you instant relief from that worry... Last week, in an airport-newsstand-induced spasm of tabloid-itis, I picked up the OK!  sporting Prince Harry and his girl Cressida Bonas on the cover. (Speak of the devil--there's George Clooney, too, trying to make me jealous.) OK! Magazine cover Harry & Cressy, April 7, 2014  They make it sound like the engagement is a done deal, but it isn't--just so you know. Easter, they say... But as "an insider" points out, it won't be "a normal wedding where you do what you want; this wedding belongs to the people of Great Britain." Well, the truth is it belongs to both, and a sense of noblesse oblige is far more attractive than one of entitlement. Yes it is "your day," but it is also your duty to be gracious hosts to the family and friends who've come to celebrate your union. And they should be gracious guests as well. The notion that etiquette and manners are the sole purview of royalty or the well-to-do is absurd. Bloodlines and bank accounts have aught to do with nobility of character.  Miss Manners' Guide to a Surprisingly Dignified Wedding is a compass that points you in the right direction and gives you a jolly good read along the way. If you'd like to call on Miss Manners' website, do so here, where there is also a funny  Simpsons-esque video about her newest book - Miss Manners Minds Your Business, co-authored with her son Nicholas Ivor Martin. Links to buy all Miss Manners books here.

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Posted in Blog, Entertaining, Humor, Insight & Inspiration, Social Graces | 9 comments

A Gallop Through the Getty, and Jackson Pollock’s Mural

A Gallop Through the Getty, and Jackson Pollock’s Mural

I promised you a gallop through the Getty Center in Los Angeles, and a gallop it shall be. The place is so large and the collections so extensive that you must gallop, or at least briskly trot, to take it in within a morning's time. Finally, yours truly gets around to it nearly a decade and a half after its opening. Mustn't rush into these things. Getty Museum - Calder sculpture His Grace (my husband for new readers) is not a big fan of Calder. How can you not like Calder? It must be an Iowa thing. He is from Iowa, which is relevant down the post. In any case, the outdoors is as beautiful as the indoors. Getty Museum - Delusions of Grandeur by Rene Magritte You probably know the sprawling complex sits atop a hill accessed by tram, unless you have a coveted top-of-hill parking pass, which we luckily did.  Getty Center, Los Angeles. Architect Richard Meier Artful as the art itself is the compelling Richard Meier architecture.  Getty Museum - Interior … And the daring landscape by artist Robert Irwin. What we missed in blue skies on this late February day, we made up for in blooming azaleas in this water feature.  Getty Center, landscape design by Robert Irwin Reportedly there was a bit of ego clashing between Meier and Irwin in the planning. Shocking, I know. This gal would have sorted out ol' Richard and Robert, I bet. Or at least would have gotten them thinking about other things... Old master portrait at Getty Center While this one would not likely have been bothered by either of them. Do you think she was really this thin, or Sargent just painted her this thin? I have a portrait of my 6-foot-tall (fabulous) mother, d'un certain age, who looks to be about a size 4, which in real life she would have outgrown by the 3rd grade.  Portrait by John Singer Sargent This Sargent dainty was holding a cigarette when he painted her, though it was later painted out. Maybe that is how she stayed so thin. A nickel if you guess this artist: An early Vincent Van Gogh Ha! Currently on exhibit is "A Royal Passion: Queen Victoria and Photography." She was the first British monarch whose life was fully recorded by cameras. I don't know that she was all that thrilled about it, if you know what I mean. It is easier to be painted skinny than to be photographed skinny. A Royal Passion: Queen Victoria and Photography - exhibit poster But I do not want to give the impression that being skinny is all that great. I gave up on it years ago. This red leather folding album was magnificent. Victorian photography exhibit at Getty Center Another current exhibit is that of Jackson Pollock's gigantic, amazing, much mythologized Mural, which  brings us, of course (you are saying to yourself), to Iowa. It is a long and rather juicy story (compendium of articles here), but Peggy Guggenheim, who originally commissioned the painting for her New York townhouse, gave it to the University of Iowa in 1951. (Another good article from UI Museum of Art here.) I love this photo. Look at the masterpiece just hanging up there like an old beach towel. University of Iowa Studio With Pollock's Mural, top left. UI is well known for its Iowa Writers' Workshop, but did you know it was the first university in the country to offer a degree in the creative arts? That is definitely an Iowa thing. His Grace is a UI alum, but not exactly what you would have called intimate with the creative writing dept. Although judging from his emails I wonder he didn't minor in Haiku. Getty Museum - Jackson Pollock Mural, with conservator Laura Rivers What is  Mural doing at the Getty, you ask? It was there to be restored, a complex and painstaking process two years in the making.  At almost 8' x 20' the dern thing barely fit in the museum's freight elevator, said conservator Laura Rivers, who hosted us in the gigantic studio where the restoration was being done. Pollock had to tear out a wall in his New York studio to accommodate it. "It looks pretty big," he wrote at the time, "but exciting as all hell." Jackson Pollock Mural signature Well it was exciting as all hell to see it there and just be there with it -- at the risk of sounding reverential -- but it was. Mural is now on display at the Getty until June 1. It will then have a world tour before  landing back home at the UI Museum in Iowa City. Though at one point in danger of being sold to raise scholarship funds (with a value of $140 million+, it's tempting), the good people of the Hawkeye State wouldn't hear of it. Mural, it seems, is truly an Iowa thing. Jackson Pollock Mural date - '43 Ah, now here's something you won't see when it's hung in the museum: the back. All new and improved and permanent for the forseeable future. You can imagine the problems of warping and sagging with a canvas of this size. I wish I hadn't brought up "problems of sagging." Getty Museum - back of Pollock's Mural While we are behind the scenes, as it were, the tools of the conservator's craft are also fascinating and fun to see. Getty Museum - Conservator's paintbox Getty Museum - Conservator's tools The notes pinned up on their bulletin boards say things like "In Rembrandt's studio in the 1630s…" Conservator's note to self, Getty Center Mine say things like "Get bikini wax." Exhilarated if not overwhelmed by so much art excitement, we were in need of nourishment. Joining us for lunch was the Getty's personable and engaging director Timothy Potts, whom we had met and dined with a few weeks prior. It is comforting to know one's behavior was not such that Mr. Potts was discouraged from our company in future. Thanks... Film producer and dear family friend Jeffrey Pill organized this very special day for us, accompanied by Jane Van Voorhis from the University of Iowa Foundation. Gallery Educator William Zaluski was our trusty and able guide. Thank you all again, so very much. And thank you again, Timothy, for that fantastic lunch.  If you go... If you go, the excellent restaurant is a must. There is an informal cafe as well, and snack bars and such. You will want to make a day of your Getty visit in any event. I can't wait to go back. Bonus Points... P.S. Bonus points: At our earlier dinner with Timothy Potts, hosted by the lovely Cynthia Spivey of The Water Is Smiling, we met Timothy's friend the (also) lovely and gifted photographer Kathy Suder. Kathy's work is being shown through August 17 at the Amon Carter Museum in Fort Worth, in an exhibit of subway photos entitled Underground. And OMG and I almost forgot: Years ago, Kathy, as a young assistant at Glamour Magazine, cooked dinner for her then-boyfriend, after which he proposed. What she prepared for him came to be known as "Engagement Chicken," and her recipe and story--the recipe "worked" for others, too--were published and became something of a national sensation. Find the recipe and rest of the story here, on The Water Is Smiling. Just be careful whom you serve it to. I don't think it's an Iowa thing. Outdoor sculpture at the Getty Center

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Posted in Adventure & Travel, Art & Culture, Art & Culture, Art & Photography | 6 comments

How to Zen Your Bookcase – A Quick Fix to Unclutter

A well-styled bookcase can make a room. A messy one can break it, not to mention drive you mad in the meanwhile. This no-brainer fix is effected with a mere flick of the wrist and little else, leaving your shelves in a state of veritable visual Zen until you get around actually to organizing and styling them. Or not. Bookcase detail, spines up. Zoffany wallpaper. The solution: Stand them on their sides, so the spines face up and the pages face out. This creates a neutral expanse of texture and pattern, while still allowing you to read the titles from above. Since relocating from the old 69th Street digs to new, I've found the higgledy-piggledy book jackets to be a visual clutter in this particular bedroom bookcase, now against wallpapered walls. Against a former, solid backdrop, the conventionally (if not creatively, ahem) arranged bookcase was acceptable, providing a welcome spot of pattern. Bookcase, spines out But jostling against the shimmery pastels of flora and fauna, the colorful tomes clashed. Short of re-covering them all in some lovely, neutral vellum and lovingly labeling them by hand - a lesser likelihood than say, pigs flying - what's a girl to do? It's an odd assortment to begin with, seeing as how they are plucked from my so-called "library" and its organization that perhaps only the Almighty and I can know - a bibliophilic version of sausage (to continue with the porcine analogy). But these are the books I want by me when I sleep, and just before and after. Bookcase, spines up, with the titles easily readable But the important thing is the titles are readily visible from above. I have seen books arranged on shelves with the spines facing in, away from the peruser, but I've never quite understood it. Bookcase detail, spines up, titles visible from above Of course in cases of higher shelves you will need a stepping stool or ladder to gain the necessary perspective, but if you have higher shelves you need a lift anyway, correct? For a small etagere, however, none is necessary. Bookcase, spines up. Wallpaper by Zoffany. This is but a tiny sliver of advice for attaining bookshelf chic. For a full complement of counsel, see designer Scot Meacham Wood's superb bookcase styling tips at House Beautiful.com here. And you might also enjoy Scot Meacham Wood's feature in HB a while ago here, written my moi; and the FS.com post on him here.) It is amazing what clearing even one little spot of clutter can do. The whole room seems to breathe a little easier, and me too. Let me know if you try it - and send me a picture. Ommmmmmm.

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Posted in Blog, Decoration & Design, Little Life Enhancers | 12 comments