Saturday, August 7, 2010

Term for the Day: Vieux Carré

The famed Joan of Arc statue.
Also known as “The French Quarter,” the Vieux Carré (literally, “the old city”) refers to the original section of New Orleans which was developed in which was founded in 1718 by Jean-Baptiste Le Moyne de Bienville. A National Historic Landmark, the Vieux Carré, was damaged during 2005’s Hurricane Katrina, but not as catastrophically as other parts of New Orleans. The French Quarter is defined in boundaries by Canal Street, Esplanade Avenue and North Rampart Street. Among the many historic buildings in the French Quarter, some of the most recognized are in Jackson Square which included the magnificent St. Louis Cathedral, the Pontalba Buildings and the Cabildo (the old City Hall). Now, a center for the arts, the Vieux Carré attracts Millions of tourists eager to sample the culture, music, cuisine and excitement that are available twenty-four hours a day. From the famous beignets at the Café Du Mond to the landmarks of Bourbon Street to the glittering shops on Royal and Chartres, the Vieux Carré offers something for everyone.

Where to Shop: The Whisnant Galleries, New Orleans

Aside from the wonderful food, amazing music and breath-taking sights of New Orleans’ French Quarter, an incredibly varied and remarkable selection of antiques is available. Royal Street, Chartres Street and Dauphin Street are lined with exquisite antique stores. The Whisnant Galleries, located at 222 Chartres Street is one of the best. Offering rare paintings from the Seventeenth Century onward, mirrors, lighting, silver, china, jewelry, objet d’art, arms and armor, among other rare curiosities, the Whisnant Galleries has been one of the most outstanding purveyors of fine antiques in the French Quarter since 1968. A visit to their twelve thousand square foot show room is a must if you’re in the area. Not only is their selection incredible, the staff is knowledgeable, kind and welcoming. You won’t regret your visit.

Punch's Cousin, Chapter 12

You’re my…champion?” Julian said as he sat down in a terribly uncomfortable wooden chair at the corner table in the “Smoking Room” of the Hyperion.

“I am.” Robert Halifax smiled. His smile was not like Arthur’s. This was a genuine smile. Still, Julian didn’t trust it. Smiles had a way of hanging in front of both teeming pools of danger and great empty voids. Julian thought of Punch’s smile.

“How do you figure?” Julian asked, fumbling with the ring on his index finger.

“Take that ring, for instance.” Robert pointed to Julian’s hand. “You designed it.”

“Yes.” Julian nodded.

“You were considered the new elite jeweler in Mayfair until last year when you departed.” Robert continued.

“Mr. Halifax, how does that…”

“Please, let me continue.” Robert Halifax held up his hand. “You left London to return to Fallbridge Hall. Officially, the explanation was that you had returned home to be with your family and assist in the preparations for Lady Barbara’s marriage. However, the real reason you left was because you were attacked at Covent Garden.”

Julian stiffened in his chair and looked intently at Robert Halifax.

“After that, you suffered from some…shall we say, issues with your nerves.” Mr. Halifax smiled gently.

“I imagine you have some point.” Julian responded in a deep voice which wasn’t entirely his own.

“I do. You see, Lord Fallbridge. You may not know me, but I know all about you.” Mr. Halifax said.

“I know that you’re on your way to Louisiana in search of your sister, Lady Barbara, who has fled England to escape her intended marriage to the Sixth Baron Marsden. I know that you are uncomfortable with any sort of travel and, in fact, feel quite out-of-sorts anywhere outside of your home. I know that you’re traveling with your valet, Arthur Mowbry, and that you booked your passage at the last minute.”

“These things are common knowledge, Mr. Halifax. You could have learned about that from any of the gossips who entertain themselves with the comings and goings of the people in my class.” Julian replied stiffly. “I think you are presumptuous to state that you ‘know’ me.”

“How could he possibly know me?” Julian thought. “I don’t even know myself.”

“I shall reveal all that I know in time, and I shall explain the reason that I can be so forward as well. Just be patient.”

“I don’t have to BE anything.” Julian rose from the table. “You are impertinent, Mr. Halifax.”

“Maybe so, Lord Fallbridge, but you need me.”

“I most assuredly do not.” Julian squinted, surprised by his forcefulness.

“Really? You intend to grapple with ‘The Elegant Ogress’ on your own?” Mr. Halifax smiled, extending his hand to Julian again in an attempt to get him to sit down.

“Pardon me?”

“Iolanthe Evangeline. They call her, ‘The Elegant Ogress.’ I am correct in my belief that your sister has been in communication with this woman?”

“You are.” Julian raised an eyebrow.

“Do you know who she is?” Robert asked. “Do you know what she is?”

“No.” Julian sat down again.

“She is…shall we say, a woman of ill-repute who runs a house for other such women. In New Orleans, I believe they would call it a ‘bawdy house.’”

“Barbara is going to…” Julian gulped, feeling the fire in his stomach again.


“So, why is this Evangeline woman called, ‘The Elegant Ogress?’” Julian asked.

“Because she’s a murderess, dear boy, a butcher in the most elegant finery.” Mr. Halifax smiled.

Julian leaned back.

“I can help you.” Robert Halifax nodded.

“Why?” Julian asked. “What do you want in return?”

“I’ve told you enough for one day. We mustn’t overtire you. I’m sure you’re more than a little fatigued from…everything.”

“You can tell me now.” Julian said softly. “What is this all about? Who are…” Julian shut his eyes.

“Who are you to…” Julian opened his eyes again. When he did, Robert Halifax was gone. Julian looked frantically around the room. All he saw through the thick haze of cigar smoke was the door to the deck closing.

Julian rose and followed.

Squinting into the mist on the deck, he saw no one except a group of third-class passengers carousing near the rail.

Julian’s usual low-hum of anxiety once again was heightened to a roar. He staggered away from the rail, fearful of falling in.

Could he find his way back to his cabin?

He walked in what he hoped was the right direction and, for once, wished Arthur would appear.

As he walked he listened to those people by the rail. They were singing. Julian knew the song well. It was a folk song he used to sing to Barbara when she was a girl.

In Scarlet Town, where I was born,
There was a fair maid dwellin'
Made every youth cry well-a-day
Her name was Barbara Allen.

All in the merry month of May
When green buds they were swellin',
Young Jeremy Grove on his deathbed lay
For love of Barbara Allen.

He sent his man unto her then,
To the town where she was dwellin'.
"You must come to my master dear,
If your name be Barbara Allen,

For death is printed on his face
And o'er his heart is stealin'.
Then haste away to comfort him,
O lovely Barbara Allen."

So slowly, slowly, she came up
And slowly she came nigh him,
And all she said when there she came,
"Young man, I think you're dyin'."

“Young man, I think, you’re dying…” Julian repeated to himself. “Young man, I think, you’re dying.”

Did you miss Chapters 1-11?  If so, yo can read them hereCome back on Monday, August 9, for Chapter 13.

Goal for the Day: Pamper Yourself

We tend to think of pampering ourselves in terms of trips to the spa, expensive meals or extravagant gifts. However, the best way to pamper yourself is through forgiveness. Carrying around anger isn’t healthy. Every single one of us makes mistakes. We sometimes act in irrational or uncharacteristic ways. We may do something without thinking. The same applies to the others around us. Those in our lives may say or do something hurtful—sometimes in small ways, sometimes in big ways. It’s only natural to react to it. However, it’s also important to process it and move on. The gentlest thing you can do for yourself is to forgive the people who have hurt you and to forgive yourself for what you have done to hurt others. No, I’m not suggesting that we forget. We must remember what we’ve experienced in order to learn from it and grow, but letting go of anger is a certain way to pamper yourself.

Object of the Day: Victorian Manicure Set

At first glance, this elegantly shaped chartreuse mohair case appears to hold something very precious—some jewel or an object of great importance. Upon opening it, however, one’s quite surprised to see that it holds a rather vicious-looking manicure set.

As I’ve pointed out, the prevalent mentality of the craftsman during Queen Victoria’s reign was to give as much importance and beauty to everything. Things like vanity items were no exception. Nestled in sprig green silk, silver implements with mother-of-pearl handles flank a pair of dangerously blunt scissors. To be frank, I have no idea how most of these tools would be used. However, after some research, they do appear to be intended to be employed in the upkeep of one’s fingernails. I’ll pass on that.

However, what this attractive set lacks in comfort, it more than makes up for in visual appeal. It certainly beats those stainless steel clippers you can buy at the drugstore—which, if you think about it, appear rather vicious themselves.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Haiku Contest Winners Chosen

The Haiku Contest Winners Are…

Many thanks to all of our entries. I think they were all excellent. Your votes are in, and we have a tie. The winners are:

Jason Roush

Dark where no one else

hears what soft music you hear,

light from loss of light.

Solitary stone

at the bottom of the sea,

time never knew you.


Lazy summer days,

parasols and big straw hats.

Where are they today?

Sand pails and sea shells

children playing in the sun

sunset on the shore.

Congratulations to you both!

Odd Antique Image of the Day: Prince Ernest Louis of Hesse

Prince Ernest Louis of Hesse
This peculiar image from the Royal Collection was photographed in 1871 by English photographers Hill and Saunders. Here we see Prince Ernest Louis of Hesse in a darling little kilt, neatly posed, but facing the wrong way. The son of Princess Alice (third daughter of Queen Victoria) and Grand Duke Louis IV, Ernest Louis was known affectionately as “Ernie.” This photograph was taken during a visit to Windsor Castle while his mother was at Sandringham helping to nurse his brother, The Prince of Wales, through a serious bought of Typhoid Fever. Clearly, “Ernie” is distracted by the absence of his mother and brother. The tender humanity of this photograph is priceless.

Question of the Week: What's Your Dream Goal?

Each of us has a dream that we wish to realize at some point.  For some of us, our greatest fantasies may seem completely out of reach.  While we may never pilot a mission to Mars or find fame and fortune in films, we can reach acceptable compromises that will feed our souls.  It's important to think big and work small.  After all, the old cliche about "baby steps" is true.  So, what's your dream?  What do you want to be your greatest achievement?

Punch's Cousin, Chapter 11

The cabin was commodious enough. The statelier cabins had already been booked. Since Julian had sought passage on the Hyperion at the last minute, the crew obviously had to scramble to make the small cabin more suitable for his lordship. Julian didn’t mind the cramped quarters. In fact, he found them rather reassuring especially after the crawling, clamoring chaos at the dock.

Julian lay down on the narrow bed and tried to settle his stomach by breathing deeply. He never cared for ocean voyages. He never cared for any sort of voyage. At least Arthur’s quarters were nowhere near his cabin. For once, Julian hoped to enjoy a modicum of privacy. Even when he lived in his townhouse in Belgrave Square, someone was always coming or going.

A knock at the door shattered Julian’s hopes for solitude. Julian grunted and sat up. He’d ordered Arthur to settle into his quarters and insisted he would not need anything for some time to come.

Julian opened the door, expecting to see his valet. Instead he was greeted by a ship’s porter.

“Lord Fallbridge?” The man asked politely.


“I have a note for you.” The porter offered a silver tray with an envelope which Julian took.

Alone again in his room, Julian sat in the small, wooden-armed chair in the corner of the cabin.

On the envelope, in a florid hand was written, “Julian, Lord Fallbridge.”

“Most likely an apology from the captain for the size of my cabin.” Julian sighed. He let the envelope rest in his lap and twisted the ring on his index finger. “Nothing more, I’m sure.”

That familiar twisting in Julian’s stomach made him lean forward again. He hoped he wouldn’t vomit.

Scratching his thick eyebrows, Julian tried to calm himself, but the perspiration rose on his forehead.

“Julian,” a voice from inside his skull called. “Julian, it’s just a letter.”

“Nothing good can come of letters.” Julian responded to the voice.

Whose voice was it? Not his own.

“Master, open the letter.” The voice said. “Perhaps, it will help you find me.”

“I’m not looking for you, Punch.” Julian answered irritably. “I’m looking for Barbara.”

How did he know it was Punch’s voice?

Julian’s hands shook.

“Mother’s right.” Julian said aloud. “I have gone quite mad.”

With shaking hands, Julian opened the letter.

Dear Lord Fallbridge,

Though we have yet to make one another’s acquaintance, I would like to request the honor of your company this evening in the smoking room. I will be there at eight o’clock. You will find me in the farthest left corner. I feel that I have some information that will assist you in your journey.

Robert Halifax

Julian squinted. He’d had no intention of leaving his cabin that night. Frankly, he’d intended to leave it as infrequently as was possible.

Halifax? Who was this man? Most likely, he was some fortune hunter looking to make a tidy profit by offering false hope that he could assist in finding Barbara. Had the news of Barbara’s flight spread so quickly? Surely his mother had kept it quiet. The Duchess of Fallbridge was never eager for the peerage to think that anything could be amiss in her household.

Julian leaned back in the chair and felt the storm that brewed in his bowels. The clouds in his belly filled his chest and spun into his head. Julian let the blackness wash over him.

The cabin was dark when Julian opened his eyes—so dark that, at first, he was unsure if he had, in fact, opened them.

“Where I am?” Julian thought to himself as he tried to get his bearings. He remembered he was on a ship. Yes, a ship.

Julian stood up and lit a lamp which smoked slightly for a moment, sputtering.

Julian placed the lamp on the vanity and prepared to change his clothes before Arthur could come to offer his assistance. However, when Julian saw his reflection in the glass, he realized he had already changed into a different suit of clothes. When had he done that?

Julian reached for his gold watch which sat on the vanity. Next to it, Punch’s tiny bell glittered atop an open letter. Julian picked the paper up to fold it and tuck it away. However, he quickly realized that it wasn’t the same note from earlier.

Lord Fallbridge,

Thank you for your quick response. I will await you in the smoking room.

Robert Halifax

Julian staggered backward. He reached for the watch again, hoping the coolness of the metal would soothe him.

“Quarter to eight.” Julian mumbled.

And, then, curiously, a power within himself, a command that was not his own, propelled him out the door of the cabin toward the smoking room.

There, in the corner, sat a man who rose and smiled when he saw Julian.

Walking over, he took Julian’s hand and shook it.

“Lord Fallbridge, thank you for meeting me. I worried that you might not.”

Julian nodded.

“Shall we sit down?” The man gestured to the small table in the corner where he’d been sitting.

“Do I know you, Mr. Halifax? You say we haven’t met, but I feel that…”

“No. We have not. However, you’ll be glad that we have. You see, I know everything. I am your champion.”

Did you miss Chapters 1-10? If so, you can read them here.

Goal for the Day: Be a Pioneer

Even the most sedate of us feels passionate about something. While not everyone will have the opportunity to be as prolific in our efforts as Elizabeth Fry or Henrietta Ward, each of us has the power to make a difference in the world. Today, I invite you to be a pioneer. If we’re going to create our own Belle Époque, we need to actively pursue it. If you’re frustrated by the pervasive lack of manners in the world today, try being a little extra polite. If you’re bothered by the ugliness around you, do something small to make your surroundings more beautiful. If the well-being of our fellow humans concerns you, take a few minutes to do something to make someone else feel better. Bring a gift of flowers to a local nursing home. Offer a donation of pet food to a nearby animal shelter. Hang a poster in the your cubicle or office. We all have gifts. Share yours today to try to make the world a little nicer. Everyone can be a pioneer every day in even the smallest of ways.

Object of the Day: Mrs. Fry Visiting Newgate Prison by Henrietta Ward, 1893

The granddaughter of famed painter, James Ward, Henrietta Ward was fascinated by art at an early age and showed an uncommon talent as a child. Growing up, she was surrounded by artists such as Sir Edwin Landseer, C.R. Leslie and the great historical painter, Edward Matthew (E.M.) Ward (no relation). In 1843, at the age of 11, she decided she was madly in love with E.M Ward, sixteen years her senior. Her love grew over the years, and in 1848, aided by family friend Wilkie Collins, she and E.M. Ward eloped—an act for which her family never forgave her.

Mrs. Ward’s marriage fostered her artistic talent. As she raised their eight children (one of whom was Leslie Ward, who under the name “Spy” drew some of the most famous covers of Vanity Fair Magazine), she painted some of the most famous historical paintings in English art history. A favorite of Queen Victoria, Mrs. Ward was commissioned to teach art to the Royal children. Very quickly, she became the most famous female painter in England and enjoyed an induction into the Royal Academy (an unusual distinction for a woman). With the support of her husband and prominent friends such as Charles Dickens, she became a true pioneer.

One of Mrs. Ward’s most celebrated paintings was a historical scene of another female pioneer—prison and social reformer, Mrs. Elizabeth Fry. Her painting of Mrs. Fry Visiting Newgate Prison was heralded for its raw drama and sensitivity. Conditions in prisons such as Newgate were deplorable. Mrs. Fry made considerable strides in bringing attention to the conditions in these prisons where entire families were mistreated. Mrs. Ward’s painting continued Mrs. Fry’s crusade. When an engraving of the painting was displayed at the 1893 Royal Exposition, people were shocked by the cruelty it depicted.
In her second memoir, Memories of Ninety Years, written in 1911, a year before her death, Henrietta Ward explained that two engraved versions of the painting were created. An example of one of the versions remains in the Royal Collection. An example of the other was given as a gift to the Lady Abercrombie. This version of the engraving was stolen, but later recovered. Signed by the artist, with the message, “To the Lady Abercrombie, with kindest regards of the artist,” this engraving now resides here—under the watchful eye of security cameras and motion detectors. I discovered this engraving at a local antique store—evidently passed from owner to owner after the dissolution of the estate.

Also signed by the engraver, T.D. Atkins, the engraving crisply illustrates the vile conditions in Newgate prison. Mrs. Fry, the central figure, clutches her prayer book and with a resolute expression seems to be set to battle the Governor of the jail.

It’s a remarkable piece and it reminds me each day of the bravery of two exceptional women. In a world where such inspiration is in short order, I cherish both the artistry and the message.


Thursday, August 5, 2010

Vote for your Favorite Haiku

The deadline has passed for our Haiku Contest. Many thanks to all of you who submitted your poetry. They’re really great. Now, it’s time for all of you to decide on your favorite. Just, take a look at our entries and email your choice to me. We’ll announce the winner tomorrow evening!

Recommended Reading: The Mr. and Mrs. Darcy Mysteries by Carrie Bebris

Are you a Jane Austen fan? Do you enjoy a good “cozy mystery?” If so, you’ll love Carrie Bebris’ ingenuous Mr. And Mrs. Darcy Mystery series. Bebris casts Jane Austen’s Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy from Pride and Prejudice as young newlyweds and “reluctant” sleuths who find themselves suddenly involved in the mysterious goings-on of their family and friends. Named a best seller by the Independent Mystery Booksellers Association, the first in the series, Pride and Prescience, was also heralded by the Library Journal as one of the top five mystery books of 2004. The following books in the series incorporate other character from Austen’s work. The other books in the series are: Suspense and Sensibility (based on Sense and Sensibility), North by Northanger (based on Northanger Abbey), The Matters at Mansfield (based on Mansfield Park), and The Intrigue at Highbury (based on Emma).

Clever, engaging and solidly written, Bebris’ books show Austen’s beloved characters in a new light. If you’re looking for the perfect books to enjoy on a sunny summer afternoon, look no further.

Gem of the Week: The Glorious Garnet

Victorian Garnet Earrings from A. Brandt & Son
No surprise, but I am intrigued by garnets. Their deep red color, reflected in brilliant flashes of orange, white and crimson, imbue them with a sense of immediate life. Much debate surrounds the origin of the word, “garnet.” Some believe that the name stems from the Middle-English word, “gernet” meaning “dark red.” Others think that the word refers to the Latin, Punica granatum, specifically the seeds (or grains) of the pomegranate. Regardless of the origin of the name, the garnet has been revered since the Bronze Age. While most of us immediately think of the classic burgundy garnet, the gem naturally occurs in six species. Other than red, garnets can naturally be green (called tsavorite), blue, purple, gray, orange, yellow, brown and pink. The English, during the reign of Queen Victoria, had a great passion for the garnet. Often clustered in ornate settings, the garnet was considered a suitable gemstone for both day and evening wear.

While writing The Garnet Red, I traveled with my parents and Bertie to New Orleans to celebrate my thirtieth birthday. While we were browsing the beautiful antique stores in the French Quarter, I came upon a Victorian garnet ring, inscribed with the name “Joe.” Though I’ve never been called, “Joe,” it was close enough. I took that as a sign. I enjoy wearing that ring because it reminds me of that trip and that I am in control of my own destiny. The sense of the everlasting makes for the true beauty of gemstones. The sentimental attractiveness of the garnet is the perfect example of that concept.

Decorating Tip: Find Your Color Inspiration

Colors elicit a wealth of feelings in us. A green room can soothe us. A red room makes us hungry. A yellow room makes us feel cozy. We’re surrounded by color all day and our reactions are influenced by the colors around us. From the clothes we wear to the furniture we buy, we express our personalities with color. The color of a room is the first characteristic that defines the space. When selecting a color for a room, don’t just try to match the couch, find an inspiration color that triggers good feelings. You can find inspiration colors in your wardrobe, in the foods you like to eat, from the activities you enjoy and from the architecture of the house itself.

For example, when painting one particular room in my home, I found inspiration in the colors of the stained glass window that serves as the room’s focal point. I pulled an attractive plum color from the window to use on the walls knowing that the color would make the room feel alive and elegant.

Sherwin Williams now offers an application for the iPhone and the Blackberry that allows you to pick a color from a photograph. Let’s say you are at the grocery store and see a peach that’s the perfect color. Simply take a photo with your phone and the application will match the color for you. Their Web site also features some useful tools to help you select the perfect color for you. In fact, you can even upload a photo of your room and paint it digitally to see how it would look in any color of your choice.

Painting a room in a color that you adore sets a great foundation—not just for your décor, but for your life.

Punch's Cousin, Chapter 10

Doubled over in his aubergine chair, Julian gripped his head in his hands. His stomach churned like the waves of the angry ocean and he could feel the dry toast and tea he had taken for breakfast rising in his throat.

“Lost, lost, lost, lost, lost.” Julian repeated as drops of sweat fell from his pale brow and darkened his gray trousers in spots along his knees. With shaking hands, Julian smoothed his hair, over and over again.

Arthur skittered about, carrying trunks and bags from the room. Though the footman was moving quickly, Julian perceived his motion through a slow, sticky murkiness—all yellow and hot.

Julian swallowed hard. Beneath his waistcoat and coat, his shirt stuck to his back. His stiff collar and cravat burned his throat where the two bruises from the night before screamed in puce protest. He leaned even farther forward so that his chest touched his knees. He could feel his sternum against his legs. “Lost, lost, lost, lost.” With every beat of his heart—“lost, lost, lost, lost.”

“The carriage is ready, Lord Fallbridge.” Arthur said from somewhere in the room.

Julian sat upright.

“Yes, fine. Thank you, Arthur.”

“Her Grace will be wanting to see you before we depart.” Arthur continued.

“Of course.” Julian drew in a hot breath, taking a handkerchief from his pocket in the futile act of dabbing the flow of perspiration from his brow.

Julian clutched the arms of the chair.

“Shall I inform Her Grace that you’ll be down presently?” Arthur asked, his voice dripping with the bitter honey of his false obsequiousness.

Julian swallowed hard, “Yes.”

When the footman had left the room, Julian rose unsteadily and caught the sight of his own reflection in the shimmering mirror above the mantelpiece.

He felt top-heavy, and gripped the back of the chair to keep himself from toppling over. The room spun. Julian’s reflection gazed back at himself, an ashen specter—the soul of one who had died in utter torment.

“This is the last time that mirror will offer me back my own reflection,” Julian thought.

He looked around the room which swirled around him.

“Lost in the sugar cane.”

“The Duchess is ready to see you, Sir.” Arthur said.

When had he returned? Where was he standing? Julian couldn’t see the man reflected in the glass. When he turned to look at Arthur, the man had already gone.

Julian pressed his left hand against his stomach. The moistness from beneath his arms was cold and stung him.

Julian swallowed hard again. It was no use.

He rushed into his bedroom and vomited in the basin.

Wiping his mouth, Julian moaned. He hated the idea of poor Mary having to clean that up. But, the duchess was waiting for him. Waiting…

Julian walked through his study and out into the passage.

His hands left a wet trail behind them on the thick wood of the banister.

On either side of the Great Hall, his ancestors stared out at him, piercing his skin with the malice in their flat, painted eyes.

He heard a cry. Was it his own?

No. It was the sound of cats fighting, a sound that pricked his ears with the daggers of its terrible sadness.

Julian remembered when his sister had been born. He’d heard the same sound when she took her first breath. It had echoed throughout the house.

The cry rose again from deep within the bowels of the house.

Julian paused outside the morning room door where, invariably, Arthur was waiting for him.

“Whatever was that sound?’ Julian asked.

“What sound, Sir?” Arthur smiled as he opened the door.

His mother sat in her deep-red leather chair. In the cool light of the morning, she was almost beautiful. Were it not for the cruelty in her eyes and the thin crease of hatred on her brow, she’d have looked quite young.

“Come here, Julian.”

He did as instructed. His mother pressed a leather purse of coins into his hand.

“Do try not to lose them.” She grumbled. “And, for Heaven’s sake, don’t manage to kill yourself as you stumble about in that place. That won’t return Barbara to me.”

Julian felt again as though he might unswallow.

“You’re an intelligent man beneath your thin, cowardly skin. At least let your sense guide you. You will one day be the Duke of Fallbridge. Try to remember that.” His mother continued. She looked at him with eyes of coal.

Julian nodded.

“Good Lord,” She spat. “You do disgust me so. Now, be on your way.” She waved a dismissive hand at him.

“Goodbye, Mother.” Julian said for lack of any other thought.

“Yes, yes.” The duchess grunted, looking at her hands.

Julian left the room.

Arthur waited for him in the Great Hall.

“You’re perspiring, Sir.” Arthur said.

“I am.” Julian nodded.

“Are you feverish?” Arthur asked.

“No more so than usual.” Julian answered softly.

Again, the lamentable cry drilled through the floor.

Arthur smiled.

“Lost, lost, lost.” Julian thought.

Arthur took Julian by the elbow and led him out of Fallbridge Hall to the carriage.

Julian reached into his pocket and fingered Punch’s brass bell. It made no sound.

“My head is wax and papier mache,” Julian thought as he stepped into the carriage. “My arms are powered by the fingers of another and my movement is not my own. I have no mind and no heart.”

The carriage door closed.

“And, now, I too, am in a cabinet.”

Did you miss Chapters 1-9.  If so, you can read them here

Term for the Day: Ebonized

A plaque from an ebonized Victorian music cabinet.
To ebonize means to stain or paint wood in order to simulate the look of costly ebony. This method of black stain was both a stylistic and cultural choice. After the death of Queen Victoria, ebonizing rose in popularity in England. Many pieces of furniture were ebonized to darken them as the nation mourned the passing of their beloved queen.

Goal for the Day: Look in the Mirror and Like What You See

No one is a harsher critic than ourselves. We all look in the mirror and dissect our reflections. We see the scars, the flaws, the asymmetry. We compare ourselves against the unrealistic images that look back at us from magazines, films, television and billboards. Men and women alike strive to emulate an ideal. However, no one is ideal. No human being is without flaw. We cannot compete with computer-manipulated images of our own kind. No person is perfect, but every person is beautiful in unique and distinct ways.

Today, when you look in the mirror, focus on what you like about yourself. And, when you go out into the world today, you remember that the face you present is a wonderful and beautiful one.

Our reflections are not limited to what we carry on the outside. Each of us is composed of both an interior and an exterior light. Pause to remember the good in your heart and your capacity for kindness. What you’ll see staring back is a remarkable creature capable of incredible acts. Know, with each step you take today, that you are a person of substance.

Object of the Day: Antique Painted Tri-fold Shaving Mirror

Leave it to the mid-Nineteenth-Century English to imbue something as pedestrian as a shaving mirror with an entirely new level of style. At first glance, this is a fluid landscape painting in an ebonized wooden frame carved to resemble bamboo. Against an angry sky, a nautical scene plays out in front of ominous-looking gray stone towers

However, on closer inspection, you can see that there’s a little brass latch to the right of the painting. Unhook the latch and you reveal a mirror. But, not just a mirror. There’s another painting. This time, we have waves breaking against a rocky shore. Little figures scurry into a typically English cottage nestled into the crags.

But, that isn’t all. Behind that painting is another mirror, and, on its reverse, still another mirror. Opening into a trifold, you now have a three-way mirror to allow the user to see all sides of his face as he shaves.

A very clever design, mirrors such as this would have adorned a gentleman’s room and provided a necessary service while hiding away something as commonplace as a shaving mirror. This is an object that speaks volumes about Victorian ingenuity, mastery of design and functionality. Even the simplest of objects were elevated to new levels of artistry.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Painting of the Day: A Sixteenth-Century Flemish Portrait

Rendered in thick strokes of rich greens, umbers and yellows, this portrait of a young man most likely comes from the County of Flanders and dates to the late Sixteenth Century. The County of Flanders overlapped parts of present-day Belgium. We can tell this painting is Flemish by the style of the young man’s cap and dress. Artist’s apprentices of the time were attired in outfits such as this.

With his sullen, expectant expression, the subject radiates an adolescent insecurity—the emotions of someone learning a craft during an uncertain time. Still in its original frame, the painting is flanked by leather straps which form a decorative pattern around the canvas. An unusual find, I am fond of this painting because of the raw emotion that it exhibits. Here is proof of the mastery of Flemish painting—the ability to create a fully formed portrait from a limited color palette and loose brush strokes.

Term for the Day: Sideboard

A late Victorian English sideboard.
Used in dining rooms, a sideboard—also called a server—is a waist-level piece of furniture consisting of cabinets and usually, one or more drawers. The sideboards use is predominantly for the serving of food, and for the display and storage of china, silver and crystal. Sideboards are typically constructed of fine woods, but can have a top surface of stone. Modern decorators have begun to incorporate sideboards into the design of rooms other than the dining room. The shape and size of a sideboard makes for a perfect display area in any room. Antique sideboards are highly sought after and can be found in a variety of styles and conditions. If you’re looking for an attractive and versatile piece of furniture, a sideboard might be just the answer.

Decorating Tip: Add Dimension to a Room

A grouping of objects including an antique crumb catcher.

Pictures aren’t the only things you can hang on your wall. You can add interest to any room by displaying three-dimensional objects as well. By using a wall sconce, bracket or shelf, you can show off your favorite vase or sculpture. Plates and platters—antique or otherwise—make beautiful decorations. Plate hangers are inexpensive and easy to use. Whether alone or grouped with other objects, a three dimensional work of art will bring a new life to any space.

Reminder: Haiku Contest

The deadline for our haiku contest is this Thursday at midnight, Central Time. We already have some fantastic entries. If you haven’t already submitted your haiku, I invite you to do so. Or. Even if you already have, feel free to submit another one! I’m really enjoying reading them.

Punch's Cousin, Chapter 9

Julian sank into the down of his bed and pulled the coverlet up to his eyebrows. Peeking out, he watched the light begin to settle into his bedroom. The day yawned around him. Outside the window, the morning song of the birds taunted Julian. He could feel daybreak tugging at his blankets. Julian gripped the covers in his hands and held them close to his forehead.

The other part of Julian peered through the bed curtains. He was accustomed to the sensation of being in two places at once. The weight of his thin, but sturdy body, pulled him deeper into the cushion of feathers beneath him. Perhaps if he could flatten himself enough no one would notice he was still abed. He was almost invisible to himself. Almost.

Julian fluttered his eyelids and let the coverlet droop. He was back inside himself and began to take stock of what he was about to do. Arthur would be in presently—ready to offer the false warmth of a dressing gown, skittering to the grate to stir the fire, grandly extending unneeded assistance in suiting himself for the journey ahead.

He rolled onto his stomach and slipped one hand from beneath the warmth of his nightly shroud. With a quick motion, he grabbed his ring from off the bed stand and slipped it onto his left hand. Julian buried his face into the pillow and stifled a scream. His body vibrated and he imagined that his gut was filled with lightning. Flashes so fierce that they deadened his heart so that it sank like a stone into his bowels.

The door scraped open.

Julian didn’t move. Perhaps if he didn’t move, the footman would go away.


That was not Arthur’s voice.

Still lying on his stomach, Julian turned his head on its throbbing neck and saw Mary approach him.


“Mary?” Julian whispered. “What is it?”

“I know I’m wicked.” Mary said quietly. “It’s not fitting that I should be in here.” She stood several feet away and peered at him through the opening in the bed curtains.

Julian said nothing.

“I…” Mary stumbled with her words. “I…oh, it’s too awful, Sir.”

“Come on, girl.” Julian responded flatly. “It’ll be fine. Do tell me.”

“I do know somethin’.” Mary said. “I do know somethin’ I didn’t tell you. And, if Mrs. Foster were to find out…”

“No on need know, Mary.” Julian said to the trembling maid. He knew he should sit up and face her, but he didn’t dare disturb his body. He feared he’d spring apart if he moved.

“Only Lady Barbara, she did go on…” Mary sniffed. “One evenin’ last week, she went on about a woman, some woman in a place far away.”

“Iolanthe Evangeline?” Julian asked.

“Yes, Sir.” Mary nodded.

“Yes. I know that she’s gone to America to see this woman.” Julian replied gently.

“Lady Barbara said that this woman was going to open doors for her.” Mary continued. “And give her a place where she could be with other girls like herself, Sir.”

“Girls like herself? Whatever does that mean?” Julian asked.

“I dunno.” Mary shook her head. “Lady Barbara said that she would have all she ever desired thanks to this woman.”

Julian was silent for a moment. “I can’t imagine…” he said finally.

“There’s more, Sir.” Mary said.


“Last night, Sir, after Lady Barbara went missing, I coulda sworn I saw somethin’ strange, Sir.”

“Go on.”

“Well, Sir.” Mary’s voice quaked. “I thought I saw Lady Barbara downstairs, Sir. She was in the scullery.”

“How odd. She couldn’t have been.”

“Yes, that’s what I thought, too, Sir. Only I thought I saw her with a bag. A canvas bag. And, in it was something that squirmed, Sir.” Mary whimpered. “Squirmed like it was a puppy or a cat or something. I looked away to see if anyone else coulda seen it, and when I looked back, I didn’t see nothin’. Like she wasn’t there at all.”

“Perhaps it was your mind playing tricks on you.” Julian said gently. “We’re all worried about Lady Barbara. Our thoughts, sometimes…when we’re preoccupied, they make pictures of things that…” Julian felt queasy. “Do you understand?”

“I dunno, Sir.”

“Thank you for telling me.” Julian answered, still on his stomach. “Is that all?”

“I think so, Sir.” Mary looked nervously over her shoulder. “I’d best get on my way before Arthur comes in. “

“Very well.” Julian smiled.


“I won’t mention to anyone that you were here.” Julian assured the girl.

“It’s not that, Sir. I just want to wish you a safe journey.” Mary said.

“Thank you.” Julian nodded.

With that, the maid scurried out of the room.

Julian shut his eyes.

He lay as still as stone and tried to blot out the intrusion of the light through the partially open bed curtains.

Julian had no idea how much time had passed. He hadn’t even heard the door open again. The sound of the metal rings of the bed curtains sliding all the way open made Julian’s pulse quicken. Yet, he did not open his eyes.

He felt a hand move slowly up his back and settle on his neck—a thick, rough hand with chipped nails that tickled Julian’s hair with a strange, deliberate gentleness.

“Lord Fallbridge?” Arthur oozed. “It’s time.”

Julian’s blood turned to ice.

Did you miss Chapters 1-8? If so, you can read them here.

Goal for the Day: Speak Up

Every person possesses important qualities and can contribute great things to our world every day. The greatness of our actions cannot be measured by money or fame. The truest barometer of our importance as human beings lies in the result of what we do. As long as that result is something positive, we’ve done a good job. If the only thing you do today is to encourage someone to smile, to feel good, then you’ve done something magnificent.

Everyone has a voice and everyone has something wonderful to share. So, use your voice! Speak up. Encourage the people around you. Let someone know that they’re special. Show your gratitude for the little things that people do each day. Most importantly, remind yourself that you’re a valuable human being. Negativity only breeds more negativity. However, if you find something good in every situation and communicate that feeling, you’re allowing positivity to grow.

The steps toward a new Belle Époque are vocal footprints. So, let your voice leave a positive trail behind you. You’ll soon find yourself on a journey to true brilliance.

Object of the Day: A Victorian Papier Mache "Silent Butler"

During the Victorian era, The English had a tool for everything and made sure that each one of them was as attractive as possible. This Papier Mache crumb catcher is testament to that. Also known as a “Silent Butler,” crumb catchers such as this one were staples of fine dining rooms. With an accompanying brush, crumbs would be swiped from a table cloth into this shallow bowl. Constructed of countless layers of Papier Mache, this scalloped receptacle is inlaid with mother-of-pearl and hand-painted with a Chinoiserie scene and abstract decorations.

As is the case with most Papier Mache objects, few of these Silent Butlers remain. Rarer still are complete sets which include the accompanying brush. Asian scenes such as this one were a popular motif of the time. Others are adorned with winding painted roses and violets in bright reds, blues and purples. Usually black, I’ve also seen Silent Butlers in a bright Chinese Red. While some might consider such tools to be the height of Victorian formality, I regard them as evidence of their love of combining functionality with beauty.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Humanitarian of the Week: Betty White

Betty White in one of her first TV appearances.
2010 has been “The Year of Betty White.” She’s everywhere. Her career in television is legendary, spanning over sixty years. She’s an icon. The sudden resurgence of appreciation for the eighty-eight year old comedienne is long overdue.

With all the hubbub about White this year, one fact is often overlooked. For over forty years, Betty White has enthusiastically worked as an advocate for the health and well-being of animals. Her love of animals and her desire to protect and help them has led her to work with the Los Angeles Zoo Commission, the Morris Animal Foundation (an organization dedicated to advancing animal health and well-being), and Actors & Others for Animals. Named President Emerita of the Morris Animal Foundation in 2009, Miss White’s contributions are not in name only. She gives of her time, her energy, and has donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to ensuring the care of both domestic and wild animals.

Betty White today, courtesy JPI Studios
Joy to the World,” a maker of glass Christmas ornaments, donates a portion of their proceeds to The Morris Foundation. To help raise awareness, Betty White has been known to travel throughout the United States to autograph these attractive ornaments. It was at one such event that my parents had the opportunity to meet Betty White. Miss White was extremely kind and friendly. She listened with interest as my mother and father spoke of their “grand-dog” and how he likes to sit and watch The Golden Girls. Miss White signed the paw of a Westie ornament, and when shown a picture of Bertie, she exclaimed that he was a very handsome boy. Miss White asked if Bertie would like her to sign his picture. My parents said that he would like that. That year, Bertie received a very special Christmas present. I can say with a fair degree of certainty that he is the only dog in my town (perhaps in the state) who has a picture of himself signed by Betty White.

Those are the moments that define a person—those sweet, personable moments. For that, and for her tremendous work in giving all animals a quality of life, Betty White is our Humanitarian of the Week.

To Bertie.  Love, Betty White.

Film of the Week: The Picture of Dorian Gray, 1945

Medina's portrait of Dorian
Who among us wouldn’t want to preserve our youth and beauty forever? At what cost?

Oscar Wilde posed this question in his only published novel, 1891’s The Picture of Dorian Gray. We’re all familiar with the novel which tells the tale of the handsome Dorian Gray whose beauty so impresses his friend Basil Hallward, a painter. Upon painting Dorian’s portrait, Basil reluctantly introduces Dorian to a Lord Henry Wotton who, in turn, introduces Dorian to the concept of hedonism. Under Lord Henry’s influence, Dorian’s desire to remain youthful and comely costs him his soul. The portrait that Basil painted will age while Dorian will remain physically uncorrupted. However, Dorian’s soulless and increasingly debauched and depraved behavior shows in the painted flesh of the portrait, and, soon Dorian reaches new depths of corruption as he tries to hide his secret. The novel is a multi-layered masterpiece, rich with meaning—a true work of art.

Hatfield and Sanders
Any film version of Wilde’s work would be faced with the tremendous challenge of meeting the subtly and brilliance of the original. Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer’s 1945 film directed by Albert Lewin rises to the occasion. Hurd Hatfield was cast as Dorian. Relatively unknown, Hatfield had only one film—Dragonseed—to his credit. Handsome in a peculiar sort of way, Hatfield made such a perfect Dorian Gray that he found future film work hard to find. Directors only wanted to cast Hatfield in horror-parts.

Rounding out the cast was the perennially creepy George Sanders as Lord Henry, and Angela Lansbury (in only her third film role, most notably following her brilliant turn in Gaslight) as music hall singer, Sybil Vane. The picture also features a young Donna Reed and Peter Lawford.

While the script writers took liberties with the original text—toning down some of the references to Dorian’s lifestyle and introducing a very-Hollywood plot device of a mystical Egyptian cat sculpture—the film captures the spirit of Wilde’s novel very nicely.

Albright's Dorian
The set for Dorian’s Belgravia townhouse is exquisite and makes for some perfectly-framed shots. There’s also the added attraction of the paintings of Dorian themselves. Henrique Medina painted the original portrait of Dorian and Ivan Le Lorraine Albright made the grotesque changes to the painting while the filming was underway. Albright’s version of the painting now hangs in The Art Institute of Chicago. With it’s surprising Technicolor inserts, haunting score and superb acting, The Picture of Dorian Gray is a thoroughly enjoyable adaptation of a brilliant novel.

When you watch it, keep looking at the toy blocks under the table in the upper-story room where Dorian hides the picture. Just a bit of trivia…

Building of the Week: The Lanesborough Hotel, London

St. George's Hospital, 1852
Originally built in 1719 by James Lane, Second Viscount Lanesborough as a private residence, the building sat proudly on what was then countryside. As London continued to grow, this area became what is now Hyde Park Corner in Knightsbridge, Central London. 1732 saw the conversion of Lanesborough House into St. George’s Hospital. As the need for more space in the public infirmary grew, the house was expanded. In 1827, the hospital had fallen into disrepair and was demolished to make way for a new facility. The new building was completed in 1844. The hospital remained open—despite many physical and political changes—until 1980.

The Lanesborough today.
After a ten year renovation of the historic building, Rosewood Hotels and Resorts once again opened the doors of Lanesborough House in 1991, calling the building The Lanesborough Hotel. Now owned by Starwood’s St. Regis operation, the Lanesborough is a luxurious five-star hotel and considered the finest in London. With its sumptuous rooms and a private butler for each guest, the Lanesborough is the height of luxury. As grand as it is historically interesting, if you’re in London, make a note to take a peek at this beautiful hotel. With rooms as much as 8000 pounds a night, you may not be able to stay there, however, it’s definitely worth a look.

Punch's Cousin, Chapter 8

With every step he took, the sweaty grip of anxiety clenched Julian’s soul tighter and tighter. With each click of his shoes on the marble tiles, his thoughts floated above him so that he could see himself walking. The closer he came to the dining room, the more his body stooped as if the weight of his own head and torso were too much for his legs to hold. From above, he looked for all the world like a marionette in search of its strings. A lost puppet. How apt.

Part of Julian continued to watch his slow, painful journey to the dining room. He was a man on his way to the executioner’s ax. But, instead of his throat on a stone, it would be severed and served on the table with the quail. Julian chuckled at the thought of Jackson removing—with considerable flourish—a great silver cloche to reveal Julian’s glazed, head…white daisies and violets on his eyes, his mouth stuffed with a compote of peaches and apple.

“How delightful. Do tell Mrs. Foster how pleased I am.” His mother would hiss while Jackson carved.

Julian laughed. The portraits laughed with him—those portraits that lined the great hall. Chestnut-haired, wide-eyed ancestors with Julian’s face—his mother’s face—all gazed at him. No, they weren’t laughing. Not those long-dead Dukes and Duchesses of Fallbridge. No, they wouldn’t laugh—not from amusement, at least. No, they were smirking with narrowed, deep eyes. Julian glanced above him to see if he could spot himself watching—some grim spectre, some shade—surveying his own journey. Sadly, he could not. Julian could never see himself watching. He left the watching to others.

“Sugar cane, sugar cane, sugar cane. I am lost in the sugar cane. I am lost.” Julian’s thoughts chanted with the rhythm of each step. “I am lost. I am lost. I am lost.” Click…click…click…

No portraits of Molliners lined the great hall. His father’s family was not in evidence. Though greedy and brash, the Molliners were slightly more agreeable than his mother’s family. Well, slightly more agreeable than his mother. She was the last of the line.

Well, no, Julian was the last of the line. Wasn’t he? And, Barbara. “Sugar cane, sugar cane, sugar cane…”

A bell chimed.

Julian looked for Punch as he turned the corner toward the grand, columned doors to the dining room—deep, dark wood, the color of his mother’s eyes…his own eyes.

But, Punch wasn’t to be found. He was lost. “Lost. Lost. Lost.” Another chime.

The clock…

Arthur opened the door to the dining room as the clock struck its last.

“Oh, well, Lord Fallbridge is punctual for dinner with his poor, sad mother.” The Duchess growled from her chair.

“Yes, Mother.”

“Arthur!” The Duchess spat.

“Your Grace?” Arthur cooed.

“Go prepare Lord Fallbridge’s things for your trip. Then, pack your own.” She commanded.

Arthur looked to Jackson who stood in attention by the sideboard.

“Don’t look to him. I’ve given you an order.”

Jackson nodded.

“Yes, Your Grace.” Arthur bowed his head and retreated from the room.

Julian sat across from his mother—the length of the gleaming mahogany table comfortably separating them. The pendants of the chandelier sparked against the sheen of the wood. Julian was reminded of his diamonds and, for a fleeting second, felt at ease. Only just that fleeting second…

“Julian!” his mother bellowed.

“Yes, Mother.”

“You leave on the Hyperion tomorrow.”

“Yes, Mother.”

“You’ll be accompanied by Arthur who has the unenviable task of seeing that you don’t wander off and drown.” His mother said sharply as signaled for Jackson and William, the Under Footman, to begin serving.

“Yes, Mother.”

“Do stop yes-ing me!” The duchess commanded.

“How you will ever be able to survive amongst the American savages is beyond me.” The duchess sighed. “However, you will return triumphant with Barbara.”

“I will.” Julian said.

“I hear that this New Orleans is a very crowded place.” The Duchess smiled—no, she smirked like the portraits.

“It’ll do you good.” She continued. “You know, they throw madmen into pits of serpents.”

“I’ve heard.”

“Consider yourself thrown, my dear.” The duchess narrowed her eyes.

“Lost, lost, lost, lost, lost.” Julian thought. Or did he?

“What are you mumbling now?” the duchess groaned.

“I wasn’t aware I was mumbling.” Julian replied.

“Well, you were!”

Silence rose up and filled the room like a violet mist. Julian liked it.

Sadly, the duchess’ voice turned the mist to a stinging rain.

“I had a letter from your father today. The fool is still in Paris. Looking for artifacts…” She sighed loudly. “He’s wasting my money.”

Julian nodded.

“You people with Molliner blood and your quests for beauty.” She visibly shuddered. “Such waste.”

Julian watched his mother lift a crystal goblet of wine to her lips—it shimmered in the light like rubies, scarlet against the alabaster of her skin.

She put the goblet on the table.

“You’re gaping again!”

“Only admiring you, Mother.” Julian answered.

“You’re an odd man.” His mother hissed. “You are aware what will happen if you don’t manage to return Barbara home?”

“I have my suspicions.” Julian replied, leaning back in his chair as Jackson placed a serving of swede on his plate. The man smelled of lemons and astringent as though his touch would burn one’s flesh.

“Take your suspicions and magnify them to their utmost worst.” His mother took a forkful of quail. “And, then, perhaps you’ll be a thousandth away from the reality of your fate.”

They continued their dinner in utter silence. Julian forced himself to eat. He was too distracted by the tenuous quiet in the room—almost comfortable, but too dangerous to be so.

When she had finished her meal, the Duchess signaled to Jackson to help her with her chair. She left the room without a word.

Julian sat alone in the enormous dining room—alone save for the staff who cleared up around him.

“Lost, lost, lost, lost…” Julian chanted in his head.

The clock chimed again. Only this time, it sounded like a ship’s bells. The room was awash in fog as Julian bid the staff goodnight.

On his way back to his rooms, he felt the floor sway beneath him. The whole of Fallbridge Hall seemed to creak and groan under his footsteps. The scent of grass and mud scratched at his nose and Julian had the faint sensation of sinking into the earth.

A sharpness stung his head.

Once inside, Julian collapsed into his velvet chair and sobbed. He did not care that Arthur looked on.

Did you miss Chapters 1-7? If so, you can read them here.


Goal for the Day: Exercise Sitting Down

Today, our high temperature will be 105 degrees with a heat index of 110. That’s not very pleasant even if you like the heat. Normally, I’d grab my ten-pound hand weights, put on my new Shape-ups and go out there to roam the streets of my little Victorian town, stalking the Belle Époque. But, not today. Still, I want to get some exercise.

Most of us want to get a little exercise, but are prevented for one reason or another. One of the biggest deterrents in a daily exercise routine is a simple lack of time. By the end of the day, we’re all too exhausted to get out there to do something. Exercise doesn’t necessarily mean you have to go “work-out.”

You can't tell, but Bertie is exercising.
You can exercise at home, sitting in a chair in front of the TV. The whole point is to get your heart going and to work your muscles. There are a variety of exercises you can do sitting down.

Most of these involve isometrics—the act of pitting the force of your own muscles against each other. Press your hands together in front of your chest and push one hand against the other. Hold this for ten seconds, pause, and do it again as many times as you can do this comfortably. Similarly, press you feet into the floor and repeat that motion. You can extend your legs outward and flex your feet forward and backward in slow repetitive motions to tone your calves. Tighten and relax your stomach muscles a few times.

These simple exercises will make a big difference when repeated just a few minutes every day. No, you won’t look like a body builder, but you’ll feel better. One of the keys to living beautifully is taking a little time to keep your body working beautifully.

Object of the Day: Antique Beaded Mohair Chair

Victorian designers loved to add just a little sparkle to almost anything, and, one of their preferred means of doing do was with beading. Victorian beading rarely survives today. Most beaded pieces have had weakening of the threads which hold the beads and the result is a balding reminder of a once opulent textile.

That’s why I was thrilled to find this decidedly Victorian chair. Deep red mohair is divided by petit point panels which have been hand-beaded in silver, gray, robin’s egg blue, cream, white, pewter and opalescent black. The beadwork is in excellent condition with very little loss of the precious glass beads.

Perched on hand-carved rosewood Ionic legs, this chair is low to the ground. With its flared parson’s arched back, the chair most likely served double duty as a prie-dieu or “prayer chair” wherein a person would have knelt on the seat and rested his arms on the back of the chair while praying. Prie-dieu were often used in the home to make prayer-time more comfortable.

I have never sat in this chair. Not once. I don’t want to risk loosening any of the beads. People wonder why I bought a chair that I refuse to sit in. In fact, this is one of many chairs that I won’t use. The reason is simple. These little reminders of the beauty and artistry of the past have earned the right to rest. My job was to rescue them so that future generations can appreciate them. They served their purpose and, now, it’s time for them to simply be lovely. Let’s call it “retirement” for furniture.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Person of the Week: Kitty Carlisle Hart

A sketch of Kitty by Larry Sobel from my collection
Perhaps you know her from her starring role as the star-crossed ingénue in the Marx Brothers’ A Night at the Opera. Maybe you remember her as a panelist on “To Tell The Truth” from 1957-1978 (and again in revivals until 2000). You must have heard her name at some point in your life. She’s Kitty Carlisle. She was fabulous.

Born Catherine Conn in New Orleans in 1910, she preferred to be called, “Kitty.” Kitty Conn and her mother were extremely close. Her mother’s singular ambition was to see her daughter achieve her dream of success as an opera singer. Together, they traveled the world to make that happen. Very quickly, Kitty Conn (then known as Carlisle), became a celebrated beauty—mixing with the elite and making her mark on the world. She was engaged to George Gershwin and had romances with some of the most prominent men of the day. Her heart, however, belonged to one man—legendary playwright, Moss Hart. Moss and Kitty married in 1946 and remained married until his sudden death in 1961. They had two children.

After the death of her beloved husband, Kitty continued her work—both professional and charitable. She became a champion for the arts and especially for young artists. For twenty years, she served as the chair of the New York State Council for the Arts. Age meant nothing to Kitty Carlisle Hart. She exercised daily and continued to perform her cabaret act until her death in 2006 at the age of 96.

Kitty as "Rosa" from A Night at the Opera
Among her many achievements, she starred in the American premiere of Benjamin Britten's The Rape of Lucretia and sang the title role in Georges Bizet's Carmen. She made an indelible impression with her 1935 role in A Night at the Opera with her life-long friends, the Marx Brothers. Among her many film roles were Murder at the Vanities (1934), 1935) She Loves Me Not (1934), Here Is My Heart (1934), and Hollywood Canteen (1944). Later, she appeared in Woody Allen's Radio Days (1987) and in Six Degrees of Separation (1993).

One of her crowning achievements was her debut with the Metropolitan Opera, as Prince Orlofsky in Strauss's Die Fledermaus. She would play the part ten more times in her lifetime.

Most importantly, however, Kitty Carlisle Hart was the epitome of grace and class. Eternally beautiful in every conceivable way, I will always remember her kindness and unceasing support of young artists.

Three cheers for the amazing Kitty Carlisle Hart!

I recieved this photo from her after sending her the first manuscript for The Garnet Red.

Home Security Tip of the Week: Check Your Windows

Though it seems like common sense, many of us forget to lock our windows. Ground floor windows as well as upper-story windows should be kept locked when not open. Most standard window locks are sufficient. I like to use extra window locks in addition to the standard variety as well as electronic sensors that set off an alarm when the window is tampered with. Adding extra locks to your windows is simple and inexpensive. Check online or at your local home improvement store to see your options.

A window lock with a home security camera.

You should periodically check your window locks. Changes in temperature and humidity can cause window frames to shift. This can sometimes cause your window locks to become loose. Taking a few minutes for a seasonal glance at the locks is always a great idea.

If you often have your windows open for air circulation, just see that the windows are closed before you leave the house or that those that remain open are not accessible.

Another thing to keep in mind is the overgrowth of shrubbery and trees around windows and doors. While many of us like the English garden look, having too many overgrown areas isn’t to your advantage. You want the area around the windows to be somewhat visible so that your neighbors can spot someone lurking where they shouldn’t be.

When you leave the house, close blinds and draperies. Not only does this keep unwanted eyes from surveying your territory, but it’s a good idea from an energy-saving standpoint.

Remember, your windows are your source for light and a great view, they’re not meant to be an entrance for other people.