May 2, 2012

Currently Obsessed: The House of Eliott

It couldn’t have come at a more perfect time. Imagine a free, rainy afternoon brightened by a red envelope appearing in the mailbox, The House of Eliott tucked inside. This show, set in 1920s London, is one of the last BBC shows filmed on video, and you just have to get past that. It looks awful. At first. But they you start noticing the pretty tucked-up hairstyles, swingy light jackets of ladies, countless flutes of champagnes, whole streets filled with old-timey vehicles, and drawing rooms you’d very much like to curl up into with a tiny china cup filled with tea and a sweater wrapped around you, knotted at the waist. Then, it’s gorgeous.

Many of my closest friends share a recommended sub-genre on Netflix: “Period dramas with a strong female lead.” You too? Then you’re in luck. This is that, but with two strong female leads: sisters with faces so beautiful that enough is reason to watch. That they have modern ideas about what it means to be women in a fast-changing world is my very favorite thing about the show. Better even than the jaunty jazz soundtrack, the marvelous sportiness of their drop-waists, calf-length skirts and practical little heels, or the episode four sighting of a very young Minnie Driver, is that keen reminder of how hard women had to fight for the privilege of the Monday blues and a paycheck. It’s a delight. Have you seen it?

“In Perpetual Spring”

Gardens are also good places
to sulk. You pass beds of
spiky voodoo lilies
and trip over the roots
of a sweet gum tree,
in search of medieval
plants whose leaves,
when they drop off
turn into birds
if they fall on land,
and colored carp if they
plop into water.

Suddenly the archetypal
human desire for peace
with every other species
wells up in you. The lion
and the lamb cuddling up.
The snake and the snail, kissing.
Even the prick of the thistle,
queen of the weeds, revives
your secret belief
in perpetual spring,
your faith that for every hurt
there is a leaf to cure it.

— Amy Gerstler

April 26, 2012

Giveaway: At Home on the Range

This cookbook, originally published in 1947, is so delightful that its origin story is a mere cherry on top. Elizabeth Gilbert was up in her attic, finally unpacking boxes in a new home, when she unearthed a book by her great-grandmother. Gilbert writes in the introduction:

Of course, I’d seen the book on family bookshelves, and had certainly heard the name Gima mentioned with love and longing, but I’d never actually opened the volume. I’m not sure why. Maybe I was busy. Maybe I was prejudiced, didn’t expect much from the writing: the original jacket photo shows a kindly white-haired woman with set curls and glasses, and maybe I thought the work would reflect that photo–dated and ordinary, JELL-O and SPAM. Or maybe I am just a fool, willing to travel the world in pursuit of magic and exoticism while ignoring intimate marvels right here at home.

She rediscovered a gem. Gima, more formally known as Margaret Yardley Potter, columnist at the Wilmington Star, writes in what may sound like a string of opposites: charming but practical, direct yet flirtatious. I was sunk. The first chapter, “Weekend Guests Without a Weakened Hostess,” outlines how to cook for friends at the seashore without missing any vital beach time. Her approach is one of pure enjoyment and reliance on the important things in life: simple food, dear friends, and plenty of ice for cocktails. The result is infectious.

“Go your culinary ways with confidence and without apology,” she smartly advises. “Use only one standard in trying out strange foods or seasonings: that you like the result.”

To enter to win a copy, leave a comment here by midnight EST Sunday, April 29th. (US and Canada mailing addresses only, please.) And should you feel like springing for a copy of your own, proceeds from At Home on the Range benefit Scholar Match.

Update 4/30: Traci is the lucky winner (look out for an email from me). Thanks to everyone who entered!

April 23, 2012

On Turning 30

I turned thirty last week, which felt like a very big deal in the months leading up to it, and then just like a wonderful thing that happened as soon as it happened. Any big life events–weddings, promotions, babies, round birthdays–arrive with a certain amount of pressure tagging along behind. In this moment, which somehow signifies something big, you better have your act together.

I couldn’t quite decide what I wanted mine to look like so I vacillated between extremes: I was either going by myself to an ashram to curl up in the quiet with my thoughts. Or I was purchasing a spangly jumpsuit to wear to a birthday bash held in the VFW party space tucked under a nearby subway stop. Choose your own adventure!

But I couldn’t escape the idea that thirty required some serious reflection, that I should bring intention to whatever was coming next in the new decade. That seemed important and yet…it also seemed like a drag. On an airplane to and from California recently, I pulled out a notebook and kept my pencil poised above a blank page. What did I need to bring into my life to make it fuller, brighter, happier? I’ve written the same thing to myself a thousand times.

Reflecting feels vital to a deliberate life. If we’re not considering what really lights us up and connects us to what’s most important, than aren’t we just drifting along? But as my birthday drew near, it seemed like there were little signs stacking that I might be hiding some micro-managing control freak tendencies inside the idea of “intention.” There was a tarot card of a man so lost in his own reverie he fails to see what’s right in front of him. And then, more pointedly, the friend who gently suggested I didn’t need the help of hallowed yoga halls to encourage me to reflect. If the pressure to reflect had been on my back like an itchy sweater, maybe it was time to stop scheming and time to appreciate the life I’ve already created.

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