Things That Make My Heart Sing




Listing these happy things is like visiting with old friends.  Re-reading is even more fun— a sort of smile and hug that I give myself!  This is an organic list, one I edit as I sort things in my life.
Old china:  I love it for its beautiful flowers, gentle lines, soft colors.  Old teacups have so many interesting shapes, some footed, and the saucers often are part of the landscaping of the design— they continue the design, when you hold the saucer up behind the cup.  Aren't the handles lovely?  And fragile.  Mixing the patterns, if they are all some softly colored flowers, is like having a table set with a garden in bloom.  Or mix the china with white or cream solids, to give some visual "breathing space."  Add old, often-laundered linen napkins (only the large, dinner sizes) and some etched glasses on stems, and the table is set for a beautiful dinner.
Teapots:  This life-long attachment came from the first teapot I loved, one Grandmother Allen gave my mother.  Mother never drank hot tea, but she steeped her brew for iced tea in the pot.  And then a second pot, a brown one that was not attractive, but was compelling.  From the Vermont Country Store, I learned that this pot was a work-a-day-pot from England: a Rockingham tea pot.  As I move through life, I have added dozens of different tea pots to this collection.  There are two funky ones that Julie and Jordan brought me from England, the set where the teapot sits in the top of the cup.  They are both decorated with cheery characters.  They invite me to slow down, to have a cup of tea and stare out the window for a few minutes, or to read a book with the pot and cup in front of me.  Tea and its culture is from a slower age, one I think of as gentler.
White Rooms:  Pale walls, open spaces, soft tissue-cotton curtains at the windows . . .  Spaces to dream in.  Things in these rooms should be softly-colored, not jarring and certainly not plastic or contemporary.  Why is old so much more comforting?  When did it become socially acceptable to have sleek, soul-less rooms with no ceiling trim and skinny moldings at the floors?  Carpets?  All wall-to-wall carpet should be banished permanently from the earth.  Unstained oak flooring, matt varnish to seal it, and pastel rugs scattered where the toes demand softness— that is both clean and interesting to contemplate.  There was a floral wool rug in Grandmother Allen's house, scratchy to a child lying on it, but fascinating.  The forest of legs under the dining room table rising rom this thick rug of wool flowers kept my attention for the longest time.
Old Linen:  Freshly ironed, cool to the touch, linen sheets are the height of summer luxury.  The more they are washed, dried, and ironed, the softer they get.  Linen has to age, like a good bottle of wine, to realize its full potential.  It is trouble to have linen on the table, on the bed, at the windows— the iron and dragon ironing board must be hauled into service.  But for these moments of serenity and absolute delight, the steamy atmosphere of ironing is a litmus test.  The linen responds best if it is ironed after being chilled in the refrigerator overnight, but to do that properly, I would need a huge refrigerator.  So, the napkins and blouses get the refrigerator, but the sheets must keep a stiff upper lip and take the iron in an only slightly damp condition. 
Old Books:  The beautiful ones with woodcut illustrations and leather bindings come to mind.  With these old treasures, the print is actually large enough to read.  Newer books cause me to squint to read them, and the paper is thin and not nice to the touch the way the old volumes are heavy in the hand and requiring a lap or table to hold them as I turn the pages.  These old books were meant to convey important information, they were grammatically correct, and they have a sense of dignity that an electronic reader will never never never have.  Now that the Encyclopedia Britannica no longer publishes a paper edition, there is no more getting lost in pages that are interesting, though they may not have been the original destination.  No more roaming for the imagination when you get the facts and only the facts you googled..
Beautiful old furniture:  Wood with a patina from many hands touching it, polishing, opening drawers and sliding plates or books over the surface.  And painted surfaces have character.  Scratches or chips at the corners— a lifetime of service refurbished, then used and in need of a new finish . . .  Style of furniture is not important, but how well-made it is carries the day.  It must be of solid wood construction.  Any wood will do, humble pine to teak or zebrawood.  Dove-tailed drawers, re-inforced corners— French curves, The straight lines of of American primitive, the involved carvings of the furnishings of Tudor England.  I am always curious about the lives that knew the old pieces, of the value someone placed on a chair or chest or small table.  Was the piece taken for granted?  Was it handed down through generations of family who tended it?  Has it spent more time in shops than in homes?  And what about the mid-century modern furnishings?  The Danes had such clean-line sensibility with their walnuts or blond woods, and the advent of plywood gave us Eames molded chairs, perfect capsules for tired bodies.  I cannot resist opening the doors or drawers of these buffets, thinking of the Swedish-designed china and stainless steel that was stored there decades ago.
Old houses:  Particularly Cottages.  Cottages with cottage gardens and picket fences are topmost on the list.  Grandmother Allen had a picket fence around her enormous yard, though not the side yard where she gardened.  It was interesting that this huge space was left open, and the back yard had no flowers that I could recall.  It was as if the garden and the lawn were two entirely separate things, and some invisible barrier kept them from mingling.  Travelling through old towns, especially near the coast, is a paradise for old home lovers.  One stands near us that is keeping up a brave face, though it is unpainted and some of the siding has slipped to reveal the back of plastered lathing.  How I long to be invited inside!  There are curtains at the windows.  Who lives there?  Anyone?  But who cares for it?  Fixes the leaks, keeps things from growing over the porch?
Container gardening:  Big pots, with delicate arms branching up and over the edges; small clay ones with soil and mineral stains beginning to show, and some sun-shy blossoms hiding under the curved foliage . . .  The really huge ones put me in mind of Savannah and the gardens there.  Smaller pots are attractive, but I always wonder about the space for roots, how the plants will get enough nourishment, so I usually opt for the larger containers.  Any plant looks good in a cobalt blue pot.  Other colors don't always give such a nice backdrop for foliage and blossom, but the blue perks anything up and helps the colors along.
Plant/Garden Nurseries:  This would be large, old nurseries, not the new ones with all the concrete and raised walls and roofs covering things, but the old ones that are acres and acres of cobbled "rooms" of plants.  They smell of damp earth and roots moving through them, of earthworms startled by the removal of growing things.  There are the interesting things to be found— plants that have been growing for years in a distant space, almost forgotten, and now attaining a great size (I think the box nurseries keep meticulous computer inventories and don't let things get so big before moving them out).  And there are unusual plants and shrubs to be found, as well, a lot of vintage growies.
Little children at play:  Their imaginations are the most exciting things in the universe, and watching them as they involve themselves in creative play is like watching a brain growing in a petri dish.  Showing a child how to do something, helping them learn their alphabet or to count or to add— what a gift that is!  The real gift is for the adult helper, although it is meant for the child.  And gift of all gifts— they sometimes bring their toys to you and ask you to join in!
Breakfast with Chuck:  The routine is a blessing.  He makes my tea and his coffee, and usually a half-bagel for each of us (though sometimes I am extremely fortunate to have a bowl of cooked oatmeal!).  We sit at the kitchen island in a stupor and eat and sip, occasionally touching shoulders, mumbling endearments and encouragement to one another.  It's this that starts the engines in the mornings, cracks my face into that first smile.  Thanks to the Spiritus Mundi for this man.
Rain:  Especially a Lady Rain, gentle, polite, apologizing for interrupting the sun of the day but firmly going about her business of seeing that things are watered well.  The stormy days are nice, but the Lady Rains are tender, like a pat on the cheek in passing.
Schubert's Great C major Symphony:  Heavenly lines, heavenly length, pure bliss.  When I'm in the studio working, this background music is hardly background—I often look down and see I've been stitching without even thinking about what I'm doing.  My stitching becomes the background for the music!
Quiet Mornings:  Any season.  Starting with no fuss, no bother, no alarm clock makes the day seem mine, as if I am not living another's structured day, but have the hours unravelling before me in a long ribbon of personal moments.  It is different, of course, when the Adorables spend the night— no chance of quiet mornings then!  They love to pop into the bed with us, and we raise and lower the head and feet, to their giggled encouragement.  But the most giggling comes when we turn on the vibrators and they are gently "massaged!" Then we are all wide awake and the trek to the kitchen begins.  I will treasure these sleep-overs all my days, most especially when these precious children grow too big to play with us this way.

Mother-of-Perle Buttons.  Having a bowl of these simple shell buttons is a treat beyond measure.  I remember, as a child, hearing the story of King Midas and how he loved to touch his gold.  I never related to such a thing.  But when I discovered Mother-of-Perle buttons, All Was Revealed!  If you are so lucky as to have a bowl of these, run your fingers through them.  Feel the weight of them, the smoothness of the surface as the discs slide through your fingers . . .  this is therapy for a stressful day!  Add to that the delight of being able to use them on clothing, in fabric art, and to give as gifts to a friend when you find an especially nicely carved one ("Jerusalem Perles," these very elaborate ones are called).
Studio Time.  The gift of the studio was one of the nicest things Chuck has ever done for me, my own space, a "room of one's own," thank you Virginia Woolf.  In it are all the materials and equipment for following my fiber interests, and I don't have to put everything up if the project is long and drawn-out, because it is only I who is to be inconvenienced by anything spread on a worktable there.  Finding a place for everything is the ongoing challenge, as the studio space in Knoxville was more than three times this size.  The truth, I have discovered, is that I don't need to warehouse materials.  It is convenient, however, to have an idea and reach immediately to start it without going through the hunter-gatherer phase to assemble all the parts and move right into the creation process.  I must constantly remind myself that, one day, someone will have to clear out the studio, and I am glad I will not be around to see the puzzled face of my son and daughter-in-law as they poke around in drawers and cupboards and boxes.  How to explain how interesting all this is to someone whose interests lie elsewhere?

Adorables Sleeping Over With Us:  The evenings are nice, but the lovely part is their waking in the morning, the sudden energy in the house, the way they converge in the hall and run on tip-toe through the house to the sun room.  If I'm lucky, they will come and crawl in bed with us, Bethy curling into me, Ethan plucking at Granddad's sheets until he opens them and helps him inside.  How rich these moments are!  How blessed we are to have the opportunity to live so close to these two precious little spirits!

Listening to and playing the works of J. S. Bach:  Glenn Gould's second recording of the Goldberg Variations;  Yo Yo Ma performing the solo cello suites;  Little G minor Prelude and Fugue for organ; any of the two and three-part inventions;  The Preludes and Chorales set for organ;  The Well-Tempered Harpsichord, Books I and II;  John Williams performing Bach's keyboard suites on the guitar . . .





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