One Thing in a Neesh Day

All Creatures Great and Small, Lord Grantham, and the Bloomsbury House

Hello my Neeshies…………

Sorry for such a delay on the Blog. I have good intentions to write each month, and somehow business seems to get in the way. But I have discovered that I love writing and I especially love sharing with all of you. Really! I love the exchange of thoughts and ideas that are generated after I post a new Blog. It makes me happy and we all know that happy girls are pretty!

When I was in art school over 35 years ago I was first introduced to the Bloomsbury Group of artists, artisans, writers and free thinkers. I was instantly enchanted! The freedom of thought and spirit to decorate anything and everything in everyday life…what a concept! As my mother-in-law likes to say, “If you stood still long enough, they would decorate you too”.

I have longed to visit the house and the area for these 35 years and something always seemed to get in the way. But EUREKA, it finally happened. I have just returned from a trip to Europe and made the pilgrimage to Firle, East Sussex to see the home. And I would like to say that it was BEYOND my expectations.

I traveled from London Heathrow to the small village of Firle and its Ram Inn, the one and only place to stay in Firle with 4 bedrooms above the Pub. My girlfriend Mimi accompanied me and we had a fantastic adventure!

I thought I had just arrived on the set of All Creatures Great and Small. The locals were drinking a pint at the bar, the dogs were lined up at the foot of the built-in banquette and the steps to get to the rooms were narrow and steep.

Quickly we learned the story of Lord Gage (the Green Gage Plum was famously named after his Father), and how the entire village of Firle was still owned by the Lord, who we now referred to as “Lord Grantham”. The locals got a chuckle out of our love for Downton Abbey and our renaming of Lord Gage.

Because of Firle’s close proximity to London (only an hour by train), the locals can not own property because, well, “Lord Grantham” owns everything! The preservation of the Village is dependent on residents that live there, not commuters.

Finally it was time to visit the Bloomsbury House, owned and maintained by the Charleston Trust, and it was time to take off (by foot). An adventure! A challenge! A treasure hunt! We couldn’t wait!

The first part of the walk was through the village of Firle. It was picture perfect with an old church and graveyard, local “happy” hen eggs left for you to take and leave money (how about the wall behind the sign? Amazing, right?!), and signs of rainy days with boots and umbrella at the ready!

According to the map I had, not too far a distance remained, though Mimi and I found ourselves trekking it through cows, sheep, farms, stables, and a gravel service road. (And no GPS signal with nothing but the countryside as far as the eye could see.)

We happened to wander into a local garden show where we were lucky enough to find little miniature ceramic fairy doors for our garden.

By some miracle, or perhaps dumb luck, we found our way to the house which was pretty much all by itself on an old farm property that appeared to still be operating as a working farm.

Beautiful gardens and a lovely pond surround the property.

So, a little history of the House and the Bloomsbury Group for you…The core of the group was Vanessa Bell (sister to Virginia Woolf) and Duncan Grant. They were accomplished painters, sometimes lovers, and friends for life. Even Vanessa’s ex-husband and father of two of her three children (Clive Bell) moved in with them at one point.

The house was a creative boiling pot, where everything was discussed, debated, attempted, created…and all this during World War 1. I’m not quite sure what all these guys were doing in East Sussex while the rest of the world was at war, but nonetheless they all lived together.

They teamed up with Roger Fry (a successful dealer and artist himself) and created the Omega Workshops, an outlet by which to sell their art through beautiful decorative items for the home. It was a unique endeavor that broke down the divisions between fine arts and the decorative. To make sure items were bought only for the quality of the work, and not the reputation of the artist, Fry showed the pieces anonymously, marking them only with the letter omega. They printed fabric, wove rugs, made pottery… Beautiful work made by talented artisans for all to enjoy in their homes.

The House in Firle/Charleston was the center of their world. And each of them contributed to the décor. Now, a limited 6-8 people at a time are allowed to enter and go through every room of the house with an accomplished guide to tell the story and recreate the feeling of the those times. That’s not wallpaper…they painted everything!

What is it about this “world” that attracts me with such a connection? I love the notion of surrounding oneself with decoration. I love the freedom of picking up a brush and attacking a surface, with abandon and joy! I love the idea of using everything one possesses to create and surround oneself with beauty. I love not wasting one’s resources, ideas, and fun!

This house, this life, this place in the English Countryside…this expression of joy and beauty resonates in me and makes me wonder, am I there now? I think Yes!

The Castle!

What a winter this has been!  Chicago has endured the coldest February in history. And quite frankly, we are

all SO DONE with Winter.  Ugh!

And yet, there is something special about the feeling I get when I am nestled into my home, warm and cozy, with no reason to venture out into the arctic chill and snow-covered world.    It is hard to explain, but something happens inside that can only happen when one is not tempted to run out for all the required errands and responsibilities of the weekend.  It becomes a time to settle in and fill the senses with the lighted fire in the fireplace, the smell of  yummy biscotti baking in the oven (my favorite is butterscotch with almond), the sound of  classical music, the big knitting needles and soft fluffy mohair yarn in my fingers, perhaps a favorite movie from long ago. Ohhhhhhh… those days are special and in my mind only the winter can produce them.

When we bought “the castle” 17 years ago, my beloved niece Megan was 2 years old and she decided that Aunt Neesh and Uncle Neal lived in a castle.  Never mind that it is an 1896 Queen Anne Victorian built in urban Evanston…to her it was magical. She still affectionately calls it the castle.

Nowadays, Megan is in her second year at U T in Austin, and has admitted the castle was not just magical to her but also quite a bit scary, which is something that makes us both giggle. Many of the items I have collected through the years that are to me delightful, whimsical and happy memories of scavenging markets all over the world were somewhat odd and scary to little Megan.  It all makes sense now… Over the years all my old portrait paintings have migrated to the powder room, and apparently floor-to-ceiling eyes observing her bathroom rituals was off putting.  And then there were the 1970’s Italian robot lamps, which when lit were the stuff nightmares were made of! And the long walks down to the dark basement to get a soda from the refrigerator where if you aren’t careful you could bump into an ancient warrior statue! Anyway, I’m off on a tangent again……

There is something about living in this cold, snowy, damp, dark, grey city. We Chicagoans have an undying and relentless hope!  The hope of spring, the renaissance, rebirth…where every living thing that had been hibernating deep beneath the earth is waiting to spring forward and present us with the new world of green and color and warmth.

The garden, the porch, the sun, the farmers market, the lakefront…All a new beginning, a fresh clean start and the solar recharge needed for our batteries to last through next winter.

And this year, in the garden of the castle, the first of my Dad’s transplanted peonies will begin to emerge from the warm earth and bring a special happiness to my heart, knowing they were his!

My dad shared many gardening tips with me, but the two that will always bring him back to me are peonies and the Viburnum Carlesii (fragrant Korean spice)  which I have obediently planted as instructed, “Honey, plant it close to your door, so you will smell that smell every time you enter your home”.

So this spring, when the first peony buds emerge from the soil and the first fragrant buds of that viburnum open I will also remember my Dad.

My home, my castle.

60 and…PROUD OF IT!

Good day my Neeshies! For the newest blog post I was all set to write about my cooking adventures in France.  And I promise to share that with you soon. But earlier this month–before it was (-)6 in Chicago–I woke up in the morning, went out for my jog (yes, at 60, I can still jog 4 miles, YAY) and thought about all the many conversations I have had with family and friends on the topic of moving into this new decade.

Yes, it’s true. This past July 4th, I turned 60!  I think that it has taken me these six months to really settle into the idea.  I’m 60, damn it!  And really, quite proud of it!

So here are some of the things I have realized:

1. When I look in the mirror, I recognize the face of a 60 year old woman, and pretty much, I like her. I’m too chicken to have any “cosmetic” work of any sort.  So, the face you see is the face of 60.  No filling, plumping, cutting, pulling or stretching. This brings to mind a great scene in the visually magnificent movie Brazil where they fashioned some sort of futuristic face lift on poor Katherine Helmond, pulling the skin with clips fastened around the back of her head.  Yikes!

2. There is no substitute for experience! I am surrounded by lovely, beautiful, smart and talented YOUNG women.  And I can see the way they look at each other when I say some of the things that “older” people say. They’re thinking “Oh boy, here she goes again, talking about her youth and Viet Nam and Feminism and the lack of passion to make the world a better place, blah blah blah”. I can see it! But I know that life experience can only be gathered by living life.  And the more years you got, the more you know.  So I feel good about that.

3. Inside I feel the same as I felt at 30. OK OK, I know I don’t look it…but I FEEL it.

(Hey, it was the early 80’s when the shoulders and hair could not get any bigger.)

4. There are few more creaks in the joints, but mostly they work well. As Sally O’Malley said at 50: “I can kick and I can stretch and I can kick some more”

5. I have gained confidence. I really no longer worry about how others may perceive me, or look outside of myself for external validation.  I pretty much find it from within these days. And believe me, that took 60 years and my hero Eleanor Roosevelt as my spirit guide!

So, what’s the big deal???  I’ll tell you the big deal…….

There is still so much to do and see and create and experience.  How am I going to fit it all in?

When I take a cooking class, I want to cook.  Patricia Wells changed my life.  (More about that in another blog. I cooked in France with her 10 years ago–what a happy memory!)

When I visit a vineyard, I want to grow grapes and make wine.

When I knit, I want to make piles of beautiful knitted pieces.

When I take French Class, I want to learn to speak like the natives (though I could live until 110 and that ain’t gonna happen!)

When I visit a new Museum, I want to paint!

How am I going to fit this all in???

Well, maybe I won’t. But I hope to spend every day I have with the desire and curiosity to continue my adventures in living.  I hope you will too!