Friday, 15 November 2013

friday flowers: day + molefe at the table

We're about to slide into what the papers are saying will be the coldest British winter on record. Which is also pretty much what they said last winter, and the one before. Global warming needs a new name since its current moniker is a cruel taunt as it's mostly freezing! 

No surprise then that there isn't much left in the garden - and so when we sat down to a best friend's birthday the other day we had to hunt out the last of the flowers to dress the table. Luckily Kirst had insisted on ordering one of our Day + Molefe pin cushion vases - a little ceramic pomander shaped vase that used to be my least favourite of our products - but which is proving itself more and more useful: 
Steph braved the cold and went hunting to see what she could find - the last spindly heads of overblown roses, and the odd hydrangea head. It was a colourway that we had to work with although neither of us would have chosen it if Mother Nature had left anything else alive - but once snipped and propped into the vase, alongside Emma Bridgewater Toast & Marmalade crockery, juicy steaks, warm buttered potatoes and winter salad, those blooms were just perfect...  
which pretty much describes that whole weekend - long walks, best friends, lots of laughs, wine, puppy dog cuddles and birthday cake. 

hope your weekend is as lovely as that one was, wherever you are.

Friday, 8 November 2013

friday flowers

The supernieces' well timed visit meant I had a hand in creating this week's seasonal floral display at our local hairdresser - two little hands in fact, that were superbly adept at squashing in the gourds and moss around the first Amaryllis of the season, alongside leucadendron safari sunset and the upright curls of golden salix that provided just the right level of witchiness.

to aunt is divine

Last week my sister arrived, somewhat unexpectedly, along with the supernieces. 
Yay for surprises involving the supernieces. 

Halloween was slap bang in the middle of half term, and my sister had thought I might want to do the trick or treat thing. 

You bet. 

Tugi and I have been Halloweening since she was too small to know much about it - other than she didn't want to scare people so insisted on being a beautiful princess. That year, we spent all afternoon making picture cards to hand out to those on our route, rather than just accept candy off of strangers. And I carted pumpkin Pookles around when she was a little over two months old. She was jolly good for our candy collection that year. 
This year the supernieces and I are all at ages where we could enjoy it equally:
One morning last week Tugi asked me if I had thought about having children of my own - truth is, it just hasn't happened yet that I have met anyone whom I could love enough and who might make a good dad. And as I get older that's a bit of a hectic thing to try to get my head around. When I asked in return if she would mind if I had my own child, she replied that although I'd be good at it, it was bad enough sharing me with her younger sister. 

Our conversation reminded me of an article I clipped out of the O magazine long before my sister had even thought about children - way back in May 2001. Last year, after a tearful goodbye to my nieces after a particular holiday, I tracked down the author, journalist & commentator Tish Durkin, and mailed her: 

Hi Tish, 
Tonight I said goodbye to my nieces, aged 7 and 2.5. That half is important if you are two. More so at two and a half. 
When their mom, my sister, cut short their five day holiday with me by one day (due to buying a house and needing to do solicitor stuff) there were tears, a tantrum and a full on shitfit - that would be us in age order - 7, 2.5 and 35. 
I'd dearly love to blog/ link to your Aunt Misbehavin' article on my blog - - it is truly the only piece ever written about how divine it is to aunt. As a verb. And it struck such a chord, even before I had nieces, that I have an original hardcopy in a file, along with way too many photos, love letters, and drawings of snails and the letter C. It only took a quick google search for 'oriental fire belly toads aunt' to find it online, and then an email for you. 
 Would that be okay? 
 Best wishes

She kindly replied that she was delighted it still meant so much so many years later (she now has two children of her own) and that she would be happy for me to share it, so here it is: her piece entitled Aunt Misbehavin'

It just about explains why you'll find me frocked up, face made up, waving a witches stick and hunting candy as long as my nieces need me to. And in between you'll find me colouring in, demanding a later bedtime, and discussing the antics of One Direction and Peppa Pig.

'cos while I haven't managed to get sorted to do my own procreating, I'm doing something just as important.

"Parenting is nice, says Tish Durkin, but aunting is divine.
These fish," I say slowly, "are from Sweden." I am unloading a packet of those sugary pastel gummy fish in front of a very small girl with a very big sweet tooth. 

"Sweden is part of Scandinavia," I add ominously, "where it is freezing cold."

The very small girl has very big eyes, and they get bigger.

"So the split second after you swallow each fish, you must drink a big glass of lukewarm water with one-eighth of a teaspoonful of salt in it," I instruct solemnly. "This will re-create the conditions of the Swedish ocean. So the fish will unfreeze, and within eight minutes you will feel it, swimming around in your tummy."

Hours from now, of course, this legend of salt water and sugar will have the small girl with the big eyes bouncing off the walls and running to the bathroom. I will be back in New York City, constructing stories that are a great deal more conventionally true. But right now we are having a moment—the kind of moment that can, perhaps, be had only by those who have exactly our relationship with each other. For the small girl is my niece, and I am her aunt. Her childless, maiden aunt.

In 19th-century literature, maiden aunts were often portrayed as gray, dank, sensibly shod figures. They were creatures to be pitied—greatly or slightly, depending on the poignancy of their long-dead chances for happiness and the plainness of their looks, but pitied in any event.

Thank God that's over. Today's old maid has salary and style to burn. And she is an increasingly rare commodity: We live in an age when all sorts of people previously denied parenthood—single women, older couples, gay men, and lesbians—have become increasingly able and eager to conceive or adopt their own children. The result is a heightened demand for and declining supply of devoted babysitters and pinch hitters. That is to say, people who really love kids—not in the gauzy children-are-our-future way, but in the real down-on-all-fours, oh-what's-a-little-Smucker's-on-my-cashmere way—yet, for one reason or another, don't have them.

As a maiden aunt to eight nieces and seven nephews, ranging in age from 2 to 22, I am not to be pitied. I am to be worshiped.

Who knows? God could give in to my mother. I could still turn out to be a just-under-the-deadline mom, and if so, I'll see you at Gymboree. In the meantime, though, I shall aunt. I mean that as a verb, because it's active. I shall aunt not by default, but with aplomb.

Theoretically, of course, aunting is all about giving. And I do try to give my brothers' children—especially the girls—any nuggets of wisdom I can, such as:

Never learn a skill you don't want to be stuck with.

When in doubt, go with the high heels, the tight skirt, and the bright red lipstick (you know you want to).

Lying and cheating are sins. A hot fudge sundae is not.

Shrinking violets die virgins. (Note to moms and dads: This is not a reference to sex, protosex, or even dating, but a snappy way of saying that those who are afraid to admit and pursue what they want condemn themselves to never, ever getting it.)

Most of the time, however, aunting is much more about taking.

When the children in question are very young, aunting broadens my social life as nothing else can. None of my friends has a healthy relationship with anyone imaginary. I, on the other hand, have shared all my apartments with a finicky, illusory British boa constrictor by the name of Cornelius. I named him after my nephew Neil, a connoisseur of all creatures scaly and crawly. He—the boa, not the boy—subsists entirely on peanut butter and marmalade sandwiches, bears a skin of fluorescent puce that makes him a very convenient night-light, and for sheer entertainment value, far outstrips the average real-life dog, cat, or hamster.

When the children in question get a bit older, aunting supplies great nourishment for the ego. You would be shocked, in fact, at the mileage I have gotten out of a few magazine bylines and occasional talking-head appearances on cable news channels.

"Are you rich?" asked my niece Mary Jane out of the blue when she was about 8.

Quick cost-benefit analysis: Did I want to enhance her delusions of my grandeur or avoid being begged to buy her a yacht?

"No," I said.

What came next was not a question.

"Well, you're really famous."

That's right: Madonna, the late Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy Onassis, Tiger Woods, and me. Really famous.

When the children cease to be children, aunting, like parenting, offers something that is more like a jolt of reality, and that therefore can feel more good-for-you than simply good. Last year, when my nephew Edward picked me up from an airport in his recently purchased SUV, it struck me that I have never owned a vehicle or a home or...well, anything, really. You do not feel old until someone you used to push in a twin stroller has more equity than you do. Alas, it is usually long before they learn to drive that they become more likely to correct my French than to ask my opinion, or to wonder why I don't own my own place than to marvel at the fact that I get to rent my own place.

If this is the strangest sensation that aunting provides, it is also the sweetest. For it reminds me that I have been privileged to see all these children up close as they came into the world, and all through their growing up in it. And yet I have never felt obliged to grow up myself. 

I have always been a single working woman, and I embody every cliché of domestic underdevelopment that status can possibly imply. I spend all my money on things like Spanish-language cassettes, Champagne by the glass, and pink mesh trenchcoats. On one last-minute impulse, I went to Australia for the weekend; on another I went to South Africa for nearly three months. I have never sewn a button, hung a curtain, or touched a glue gun. I use my kitchen cabinets as bookshelves.

I am, in short, a very old undergraduate, with less idealism and (slightly) more money.
But I am also an aunt, and that means there are many other things I have never experienced: I have never had that hollow, workaholic feeling that I have nothing to come home to but a Lean Cuisine and a plant. At my house, there is likely to be at least one urgent personal message on the answering machine. "Hello, Tish? It's me, Kerry." (She is 6, going on 42.) "You have to come to my birthday party." I've also never stuck with a dead relationship for fear that if I didn't, my old age would be a matter of splitting tuna dinners with the cat. (Clearly, my twilight years will involve being treated to sumptuous, lively repasts, once all my little darlings have become wage earners.) I have never covered a political campaign or traveled to an exotic land that didn't later come in handy for somebody's show-and-tell. I have never encountered a stay-at-home mom at a cocktail party and felt that we had absolutely nothing to say to each other. And in all of my 33 years, I have never had a Christmas without Santa, an Easter without an egg hunt, a Halloween without an invitation to at least one haunted house. I have often lost my mind, but never my imagination.

You would think that all this aunting would sharpen my eagerness to have my own children. If anything, though, it has only deepened my sense of relaxation about that whole issue.

This is in part because even the least active form of aunting cannot help but serve as a flashing neon sign spotlighting the difficulty of actual parenting. There are nonparents who have not spent any time with children since they last babysat in 1980, and then there are nonparents like me, who have fresh memories of reading the same story 12 times in one night and watching the same video over and over again. I have seen my nieces reenact the long forgotten winter-bitter fights between me and my sister, over who took what from whose closet. I have heard their small, cold voices say, "I hate you." (Not to me, of course. They love me.)

I am also relatively unworried about my own chances of becoming a parent, because although aunting will never give me anything like the full course of motherhood, it does give me a wonderful, powerful—and possibly sufficient—taste of it. While I will never be the children's mother, I will always be their family, with all the history, complexity, and fidelity that entails. I couldn't drop them like a yoga class, a book club, or a waning friendship, even if I wanted to. I have known them forever, and they have known me.

That's it, really: We just know each other and know, as one so rarely can these days, that we will always know each other.

Plus, they are among the most interesting people I know. 

The other day I came across my 11-year-old niece, Fiona, as she emerged, looking zippily reptilian in her pink bathing suit and purple goggles, from a swimming pool.

"Hey, Fiona Bologna, what's big and exciting?" I called out to her.For some reason, that's how I always greet people. And the answers are usually what you would expect:
"Not much."
"Same old, same old."
My gal, however, replied without a thought, or any particular drama: "My oriental fire-belly frogs."
Now, that's an answer."


Thursday, 24 October 2013

friends, fate & facebook - amazeballs, profound & important


It's been so long that I almost feel like I ought to introduce myself again, or apologize and explain my absence. 

In fact, I was half scared my password might have expired but fortunately I had managed to save a number of draft posts, enough for Blogger to know I'm still alive and not think I'm some kind of ghostly voice from a blogger long since gone. 
I guess the easiest explanation is that I've been dreamwalking - a term I'll explain in another post - and then guilt set in. That awful guilt that meant I began to think that having left it too many days, then weeks, then..gulp..a month...and more - that I needed to come up with something totes amazeballs, profound or important before I posted again. 
top 3 pinterest answers to amazeballs, profound and important
So I left it. And while the drafts are full of the kind of things that I'd have happily posted before and some of which I know resonated with the lovely human beings out there who read this (never mind the spam bots who love everything and reward me with links to Viagra, Xanax and investment opportunities from supposedly deposed royalty in all sorts of small African countries you've never heard of); I spoke more and more badly to myself when thinking about what I should do or ought to do (cognitive therapists call it musterbation - far more dangerous than the other type was ever thought to be back in Victorian times). 

Until friends,fate and Facebook stepped in.

And over the course of a few weeks I had such lovely messages & posts that reminded me why I started this, and that written & posted is better than all the 'brilliant' unfinished posts in drafts. 

Time slips by too fast to stress too much, and that this brand was always supposed to be about connecting *all* that we covet & collect - which isn't just stuff for buying in the shop. It's experiences, how we live, what we love, who we are.

So the amazeballs, profound and important message in this post is for me. I loved my blog.
I have missed my blog. I was happier when I was writing and creating, and connecting. The world was bigger. And smaller, more connected.

And part II of the profound & important message - well, if you ever thought about randomly mailing one of your friends, bloggers or family - do it. If they're anything like me, it might just be the most important message of their day.
It's nice to be back. 


Tuesday, 16 April 2013

wild about wallpaper

This image in April's Lonny was my favourite - when I saw it my immediate thought was that it I'd probably smile *every* single time I crossed the hall. I don't think I'd ever get bored of it. 

And then I read the caption - how true? 
It led me to doing some research on Zuber wallpapers - turns out they are still handmade in France today exactly as they have been for the last 216 years. Panoramic wallpapers of exotic locations became popular in France just at the end of the eighteenth century.

Back in 2001, Forbes magazine outlined how staggeringly expensive it is - 'A roughly 12-foot square section costs a minimum of $10,000; even a modest room could cost between $20,000 and $30,000' - crisis - I knew I had expensive taste but that's outrageously expensive, isn't it? 
Michael Smith's inspired design using Zuber paper in this small bedroom manages to give it a big country house personality.

Only it doesn't seem too expensive when you find out how it's made - first a designer produced a full size painting, which was transferred slowly onto wooden blocks. 'Each block must be carved so as to transfer a different area of colour. The 1000 or more blocks needed for just one scenic could take 20 engravers close to a year to complete.' Zuber has over 100 000 blocks engraved during the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries. 

And then this:  'Given that the number of wooden blocks was large, and that they needed to be applied with exactly the right colours and strictly in the correct sequence, it was small wonder that some of the printers went mad.*' 


Can you even imagine that any other wallpaper would work with that incredible day bed?
On a happier note though, the Zuber site explains that the product is an investment, rising in value at between ten to fifteen percent each year. The company advises 'many years later, take off the walls, you just have to search into the Zuber price lists to know its valuation.' 
An investment AND an elephant on my wall. Deal. 


images: Lonny, Michael Smith, Four Seasons Milan, House Beautiful, Elle Decor, Houzz

Friday, 12 April 2013

friday flowers: Lainston House wedding

This week's Friday Flowers are really Sunday's flowers - those we did for a wedding last weekend at Lainston House Hotel, a handsome Hampshire red brick country house of beautiful proportions that makes for a charming wedding venue. (And a jolly nice place to visit even if you're not getting married!)
Wedding flowers are almost as important as the bride's gown in terms of setting the tone for the big day. The scary part is the admin - trying to ensure we order enough flowers to create exactly what the couple wants of their big day, allowing enough for any unforeseen dramas, but not too much as to create waste when weddings are so very expensive.

The fun part is what a lot of people think of as the most stressful part - the day before and the morning of the wedding, when it's high pressure and seemingly chaos. 

{Memory lane roses at back, Quicksand at front}

It always feels as though there is an insurmountable task ahead of us, but as it comes together  all the little things that were so carefully considered- what colour ribbon, favors, whether to 'serve' the boutonniere's on silver trays or wooden boards -  contribute to an over-riding sense of occasion. Our brief was to create a soft,  romantic, vintage-style wedding. The bride wore a very pretty nude dress with lace overlay, which led us to a romantic mix of Quicksand and Superbubble Roses, white Antirrhinum, Libretto Parrot Tulips (insanely beautiful), Viburnum Snowball and Syringa. We were lucky too - in that peonies are the bride's favourite, and while we had discounted the idea of using them due to cost this early in the season, our wholesaler had some left from another wedding order and so we were able to get some at a great price to work into the bride's bouquet. The room at the hotel was really warm too, so the tulips and peonies opened fully during the day.
{wax flower and roses tied with pink ribbon for boutonnières}
{ladies favors}
Each round table was decorated with three vintage cut glass vases of varying heights, and we placed foxed mirrored glass tealight holders near the glass vases, to make the glass sparkle in the candlelight.

The bride had initially chosen pale pink ranunculus and roses, but the Carlton Room at the Lainston has curtains of a burnt orange silk - way too overpowering for pale pink, but Quicksand roses have an almost desert type dusky pink hue which was perfect for the romantic look we wanted to achieve. We added Ammi Majus, commonly known as Queen Anne's Lace, Syringa and Viburnum to add softness and volume.


 {15 mixed vintage cut glass vases for table centrepieces}

The focal point of the room, apart from the impressive black chandelier, is a huge fireplace, at over 2 metres in length, and nearly the same in height. We considered symmetrical vases either side but we felt we needed to create an arrangement that would appear to lower the ceiling height, which is considerable. The perfect solution was to create a full length mantel arrangement with trailing Amarantus:

Having a job that involves making the most important day of people's lives the most beautiful day too is pretty cool. 
have happy weekends y'all.

first image: exclusive hotels

Tuesday, 9 April 2013

icons in blue, and pink & green

Yesterday the world was hit with the news of the passing of two great women - although they couldn't have lived more different lives.
In Britain, the news of Margaret Thatcher's death has reignited all the controversy of her life - did she save Britain from the austerity of the post-war years, (she definitely saved us from the Euro) or cause the demise of Britain with her unrelenting position on unions and the like? All I know is that she was formidable, and that growing up she was an example that women could do anything men could do, particularly given the chauvinist attitudes of a lot of old South Africa at that time. The older I get, the more I find it hard to find any one politician who makes sense - when I agree with someone on monetary issues, invariably I think differently to them on human rights issues - but I think Time magazine nailed it in their essay yesterday - Farewell to the Iron Lady - when they outlined her as a conviction politician, which doesn't seem to happen very much these days, particularly not in the UK!

Meanwhile, across the pond, Lilly Pulitzer also passed away yesterday. I can imagine that lots of British and South African readers might be saying 'who?' but while Maggie's life might have been one led in the conservative panelled halls of Westminster and facing down the miners of South Yorkshire, Lilly, six years younger, lived a much more colorful life as a fashion designer and marvelous hostess. 
She was a socialite who eloped to Florida and needing something to do after suffering with depression, she opened a fruit juice stall in her husband's citrus groves. Her clothing line was one borne of necessity - she needed to hide the fruit stains that were the side effect of her new line of work! Soon though, her frocks became her work, and the patterns and prints are now iconic. So iconic that despite Lilly having closed the business in the early 80's, a company contacted her over a decade later to bring her pieces back to life - there are now dozens of Lilly Pulitzer stores in the States selling all kinds of garments & home decor items. The fabrics might be cute or kitsch, but they are summery and happy, and that works for me: 
While Lilly might have been the doyenne of high society fashion and prints involving flamingoes, peacocks and pineapples, there are a number of quotes attributed to her that might sound flippant, but are pretty good mantras to live with - all the more fascinating given her depression and how she found a way out of it. I guess that they are the kind of things Maggie had to tell herself too - 

(I've set this as my iphone wallpaper - save it to your camera roll and then change it in settings)

(Lilly's answer as to why she refused to do a Fall or Winter collection!)

Other quotes that I love include:
 “Anything is possible with sunshine and a little pink.”
 “Being happy never goes out of style.”
“Style isn’t just about what you wear, it’s about how you live.”

“That’s what life is all about: Let’s have a party. Let’s have it tonight.”

Although I wonder what Thatcher would have made of this: 

RIP Ladies.

images: google, lee jofa, pinterest