December 30, 2009

'Tween Week: Mad for Plaid and Jazz!

It's 'Tween Week (I just made that up, actually) - the week between Christmas and New Year's...kind of like a "lost weekend" only it's a whole week!  I'm catching up on things after the run-up to Christmas, which wasn't too crazy, fortunately, and trying to organize (using the term quite loosely) for the shift to yet another year.  After a half-century plus of these things, I think I've got a fairly good handle on what the New Year holiday signifies - and what it doesn't.  Still, like Spring, it's a time for renewal and looking ahead - infinitely preferable to dwelling too much in the past.  Don't misunderstand, I do embrace the past, heritage, tradition, yada, yada, yada - some of it is quite lovely and gives a warm and fuzzy feeling - but some of it, well, not so much, so better to move on and - as with riding horses - it's important always to keep the momentum focused on moving forward.

In that vein, I'm having a little "Mad for Plaid" celebration here, as you can see from my new background.  I just stumbled across the most delightful blog, Designer Blogs (see their button to the right also).  These nice ladies do custom blog design, and although I'm not quite ready to go there full-throttle just yet, they also, very generously, offer a selection of free backgrounds.  I'm a bit of a plaid madwoman - love the stuff, especially traditional tartans - and was thrilled to see this very cheerful "Journal" design in their array of free backgrounds, so I've snatched it.  I especially like the color combination in this plaid, warm, toasty and cheerful, with a shot of light blue to accent.

To complete my somewhat limited blog renovation, I've changed up the music selection yet again.  I was pleased to come across one of my favorite newer holiday tunes, "Merry Christmas in Love," sung by the wonderful Renee Olstead.  This snazzy, jazzy charmer with a bit of a "big band" feel is the title tune from the 2005 holiday film, "Christmas in Love," with music by Tony Renis and lyrics by Marva Jan Morrow. 

Things that tremble, tingle
Like a bubble full of rainbows

Then crack
Sizzle, sing and whisper
When the shadows lace the moonlight with black
Things with silver lining
Sparkling tinsel twinkle, shining
With waving, whispy willow wings
That breathe a song of Christmas time dreams
Things that glow and glisten
Eyes of children when they listen then burst
Things are touched
The wistful wish of watching someone else succeed first
Days dingle, dangle
With a million parts I'm tangled to
Satin stars that spangle
And those Christmas bells that clangle
Our dreams
I'm dreaming of Christmas
To you, merry Christmas
Dreaming of a merry Christmas
To you, very merry Christmas
Galloping and gliding
Santa Claus his sleigh we're riding in
Bringing joyful tidings to the dreamers who are lying below
Talking of daydreams
Wishes and moonbeams
Let it tremble, tingle like a bubble full of rainbow and light
When you came to wake me and to wish me merry Christmas in love

Christmas in love
I can tremble tingle like a bubble full of rainbow and light
When you came to wake me and to wish me merry Christmas in love

Merry Christmas in love
A well-known young actress, I've enjoyed Renee's marvelous singing voice for several years now and it's very exciting to see her success continue to evolve.  (She was just 15 when she recorded this cheery holiday tune! Scary talented!)  I'm a bit late in sharing it on my playlist, but this tune seemed to capture the happy spirit of the holidays, so I included it here and will keep it on the player for a while.  The second selection, the standard, "A Sunday Kind of Love" is from Renee's debut CD of a few years ago.  (I also highly recommend her latest CD, "Skylark," produced by the legendary David Foster, who also produced "Merry Christmas in Love."  It's a treat! )  Being something of a connoisseur of what I like to call "great girl singers," having grown up hearing so many from the jazz/standards era through the pop/rock era, Renee struck me immediately as a very special young talent - the real deal, with some serious pipes!  Hope we'll all see much more of her, and hear her terrific voice for years to come.   Finally, I've included another selection from the legendary Al Jarreau - "Since I Fell for You" - a classic from the American Songbook sung by Al in his inimitable style.

With that, I'll work on more updates in the course of the next few days, but if I don't get back here before Friday, I thank you for reading and following my musings here, hope you all can take a moment to clink elegant crystal flutes filled to the brim with a fine, vintage bubbly, and offer my very best wishes for a very happy, healthy and prosperous New Year!


December 23, 2009

A Little Touch of the Holiday Season

Most of the time, I write these posts on my laptop sitting at the kitchen table, looking out at my back yard.  I love being in the kitchen, the heart of the house for me and for my mother before me, sitting in this chair at the table, yet connected through the expanse of windows and door that provides a wide view of the outside world to the small bit of Nature just beyond them.

While the masthead above is of the snow-covered front of the house, most of the exterior photos in my earlier posts were taken of the lovely, big maple trees in the back yard as their colors changed from emerald green and deep, rich garnet red to the bright yellows and oranges of autumn.  Through these windows, I watch the squirrels, the birds and the resident chipmunk that routinely chirps loudly when ever he (or she - not sure) sees one of the cats inside the window, peering out menacingly at them, studying their potential prey (but never the twain shall meet, if I can help it).

Now that winter is here officially, the scene out back is looking pretty stark - a bit like an Andrew Wyeth landscape.  It has its own kind of appeal - revealing the time of rest and recovery of the trees and grass, preparing for the renewal of springtime to come - so I don't mind that it's fairly bleak, as winter is inclined to be. 

Yesterday, though, I decided a shot of bold color was needed to brighten the landscape and help celebrate the holiday season.  I haven't decorated much inside the house yet, so I'm not quite feeling the holiday spirit.  I grabbed one of the round, rich green wreaths that I store from season to season, attached a bright red bow, took it outside and placed it on the old green bench under one of the sugar maples that I can see readily from the warmth of my kitchen.

Today, as if on command, it began to snow...just a light dusting (I hope), adding even more holiday flavor to the scene.  I'm starting to get that holiday feeling.  Maybe now I'll pull a few more decorations out of storage and start decking the inside halls...just in time for Christmas.

December 21, 2009

Winter Solstice Serenity

I just noticed on the calendar that today is the winter solstice - the day when we have the least hours of daylight (or according to the online information I came across, when the earth's axial tilt is farthest away from the, okay). 

With the glow of the holidays twinkling all around and snow-covered winter scenes blanketing much of the Northeast and mid-Atlantic thanks to the past weekend's winter storm (which, fortunately, managed to avoid my area of upstate New York - phew!), I thought I'd share an image of this beautiful painting, "A Quiet Stream," circa 1890, by Albany native Walter Launt Palmer (1854-1932).  Some things may change, but the serenity of a magical rural landscape in winter endures.

December 20, 2009

How Sweet It Is!

Ah, that illustrious line from the late Jackie Gleason...and so relevant to my latest thrift store adventure.  I was "cruising" my local outlet looking for more little bargains to re-sell on eBay when I was stunned by an item I found hidden in a sea of glassware.  As it happened, a few months ago I was doing something at my kitchen counter where I keep a group of circa 1970s glass canisters that I use for the usual storage purposes - flour, sugar, coffee, tea, etc.  I had purchased these Scandinavian-inspired canisters - sleek clear glass with cork tops and wooden spoons - new.  It was the 1970s and I think they were among the first items I ever purchased deliberately for my own home.  Prior to then, much of what I had used was inherited from the great aunts whose charming 1940s Cape Cod style house I had purchased and occupied as my first home as an adult.  Trendy as mid-century modern might be now,  the 1970s was the era of new, post-mid-century modernism and clean lines, simple, elegant design, and lots of clear glass and whites accented with bold solid colors were all the rage - think Marimekko from Finland, Kosta Boda from Sweden, Dansk - with a lot of natural elements - pottery, big green houseplants, etc. - you get the idea.  Well, I admired these simple glass canisters with their natural cork tops and wooden spoons at a local higher-end gift shop and eventually purchased them.  (I don't recall now what their cost was, but they were pricey even then, so I suspect I waited until they went on sale!)

Back to standing by my kitchen counter a few months ago - I don't recall exactly what I was doing, probably fumbling around to make coffee one morning and - whoops! - the glass sugar bowl slipped from my grip and broke into several pieces on the floor.  Dang!  This nice bowl, with its cork top and wooden spoon matched my canisters.  In fact, it wasn't necessarily intended as a sugar bowl - it looked more like a jam jar, with its straight sides - but it was the right size so I've used it for sugar for several years after I broke the bowl I originally used that was a small replica of the canisters' traditional milk can shape.

Knowing the canisters' provenance, the bowl was now a "vintage" item, so I wondered whether I could find an exact replacement.  I checked the listings on eBay just in case.  There were some similar pieces, but they weren't quite the same as these canisters or my bowl, so they just weren't right.  Not finding anything that pleased me, I resorted temporarily to putting a few cups of sugar in a clear plastic container just for convenience, while keeping the rest of the sugar supply in the larger glass canister for storage, as usual.

As I wandered about my thrift store the other day, I was looking for a small, clear glass votive candle holder for a ceramic candle lamp I purchased recently that lacked a votive candle when - whoa! - there it was...a small glass container with straight sides and a loop for the spoon that was literally identical to the one I had broken!  There was no cork top and no wooden spoon, but no matter, I still had those, and the price was maybe $1.99.  Ecstatic at my incredible luck, I quickly plucked the glass bowl from the myriad wine glasses, vases and crystal bowls that surrounded it and placed it safely in the basket of my shopping cart. 

Who would have guessed I'd ever find that particular bowl in my own neighborhood, at my favorite thrift shop?  How sweet it was...and is, yet again.

Merry Christmas to all!

December 7, 2009

Let It Snow and Al Jarreau

Well, we finally got our first decent dusting of snow of the season over the weekend.  Some accumulation was predicted and, no, my new masthead photo is not indicative of the result of the weekend's snowfall.  That was from a few years ago when we were really inundated with the white stuff.  We did get about three inches or so...just enough to make driving a bit treacherous (I know, I was headed down the interstate in the midst of the worst of it), but not impossible.  The good news was that I reached my destination in good order and more or less on time.

I enjoyed a little "B&B" weekend of sorts.  Spent a few hours with friends in the country on Saturday, then headed south to Putnam County to meet up with other friends who have the most charming historic house on the Hudson River.  It's a jewel box of a house, with a panoramic view of a lagoon, the river and a mountain on the far shore.  Heaven!  We headed down to Peekskill for a wonderful dinner at a restaurant in a former grist mill - the food was "hand crafted" as the menu indicated, so everything was prepared meticulously to order...and simply superb.  Then it was off to a concert by legendary jazz/R&B vocalist Al Jarreau and his impressive band.  The set list was a blend of Mr. Jarreau's hits and some holiday tunes from his 2008 holiday CD.  Afterward, he signed copies for audience members and while they had run out of inventory of his CDs, I waited in line to say hello and quickly share with him a little story. 

I had first seen Mr. Jarreau in concert at Saratoga (NY) about 25-30 years ago.  I remember the evening vividly because he was riding the crest of the wave of initial mainstream success after some of his great tunes were released and had become popular radio hits - tunes like "Mornin''" and "We're in This Love Together."  Great stuff.  But beyond the music, which was terrific, Mr. Jarreau was perhaps the first popular entertainer I'd seen who had such a profound rapport with the audience that it was palpable, and thrilling.  I had seen many concerts in my young life even at that point - rock, jazz, classical, etc. - but I'd never been part of such a special, magical concert experience as that one.  It was so enjoyable - and impressive to me - that, over time, it set the standard for me for everyone and everything I've heard since in concert, and it still is.  Then, on July 4th of this year, Mr. Jarreau was the headliner in an afternoon and evening of free concerts celebrating the holiday in Albany.  I hadn't had a chance to see him in concert in the intervening years until then, but I made the effort to see him that evening.  He was as good, if not better, than ever.  (I've added a few samples of his music to my player here, so you can enjoy him as you read.)

When the chance arose recently to see him again in concert over the weekend in Peekskill, I jumped on it and my friends were keen to join me and hosted my wonderful weekend visit.  It was a terrific performance (with an equally enthusiastic audience) and it was such a treat to meet and share with him on Saturday evening, for the first time, how special that his concert was for me so many years ago, and how the memory of it has stayed with me throughout the years as an important benchmark of high quality and specialness.  He was so gracious as he listened and responded to me cheerfully, "Well, you just keep on coming back!"  Indeed, Mr. Jarreau, I most surely will.

December 3, 2009

Black Friday's Cool Coup

While I had no intention of venturing out into the retail fray on infamous Black Friday, I happened to find myself at the nearby thrift store while I was running an errand to the post office.  The parking lot was fairly empty, which surprised me, so I decided to stop in to see if they had any items that would be suitable for re-sale on eBay.  I've had good success finding great items there that I've purchased very inexpensively and resold on eBay for a decent profit.  It's a great resource and I get to support a worthy enterprise that is run by a well-known nonprofit organization, while earning a few dollars at the same time.  Every little bit helps.

I learned upon arrival that there was a storewide sale in progress - discounts on clothing and holiday merchandise, in addition to their usual weekly 50% discount on items marked with a specific color of price tag. The color changes each week and this week it happened to be pink.  Armed with that information, I began to scour the housewares shelves for potential re-sale items.  I noticed that a group of dinnerware items - some salad plates, cups and saucers - marked with the "mse" (Martha Stewart Everyday) mark bore the price tag color of the week.  I had seen them before and admired them, but, even though they were quite affordable, I didn't want to buy for myself.  I strolled down the next aisle and - lo! - there were the matching dinner plates.  I picked them up, looked at the price and started to do the math.  All told, there were 16 pieces in the store, a complete service for four, including dinner and salad plates, cups and saucers - all in perfect condition.  They made their way into my basket and out the door for a mere $12 plus tax!  They are a calm and cozy taupe color, octagonal shape, with a simple raised dot pattern around the border, and make the perfect dishes for everyday use.

I've been using these dishes for about a week now and I love them.  Happy ending all around.  Oh, and I found some great stuff to re-sell on eBay, too.  Happy holidays!