Monday, December 30, 2013

Christmas After Christmas

My family, like many others, is scattered all over the map, and usually meets for Christmas after Christmas. This year, my sister invited everyone (we're talking 22 people) to her house, whereupon she surprised Mr. Husband and I with an amazing wreath she crafted out of 80 vintage ornaments. Lordy! The care and creativity that went into it is nothing short of astonishing. (Incidentally, both she and my other sister have a wonderful blog. Find it here!)

I minute I opened the wrapping and gasped, I knew it would look great on a the huge mirror frame that I have waiting to be gessoed and gilded in the basement. It's been down there for more than a year, and I hoped to have it finished for this Christmas season. Well, that didn't happen, of course. Next year is another matter, of course, and this wreath is encouragement to get on the ball! 

My sister also gave me two 1930's pink ornaments to compliment the handful that I already. Hard to find, they are handblown and sculpted with gentle indentations (you can find them by clicking on the label below). They'll take their place in garland on the mantel next year.

For me, Christmas has everything to do with music making, family, and bringing light into the darkness. 

This kind of wreath brings all those associations together, with its visual music, rhythm and meaning that creates a circle where nothing—and no one—is left out.  

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Here is the little door

Here is the little door,
lift up the latch, oh lift!
We need not wander more,
but enter with our gift;
Our gift of finest gold.
Gold that was never bought or sold;
Myrrh to be strewn about his bed;
Incense in clouds about His head;
All for the child that stirs not in His sleep,
But holy slumber hold with ass and sheep.

Bend low about His bed,
For each He has a gift;
See how His eyes awake,
Lift up your hands, O lift!
For gold, He gives a keen-edged sword.
(Defend with it thy little Lord!)
For incense, smoke of battle red,
Myrrh for the honored happy dead;
Gifts for His children, terrible and sweet;
Touched by such tiny hands,
and Oh such tiny feet.

Poem by Frances Chesterton, Music by Herbert Howells

The poem was written by the wife of G. K. Chesterton, the English author, and sent as a Christmas greeting to Herbert Howells, who used it as the basis for an anthem which has become rather famous in Anglican church music. Written during WWI, it is reflective of a time when a whole generation of men were lost in battle. Listen to Howell's setting here. I'll be singing it in church this morning. 

The red door itself? No, it's not in the country, but rather, in the heart of Manhattan, on 6th Avenue and 20th Street. Originally the Church of the Holy Communion, the building was deconsecrated and sold, and became the infamous Limelight disco before turning into a shopping mall—an ignominious end to lovely building, I read last week that it will now become a David Barton gym. 

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Spanish Red

Actually, the red carpet is English, and sat under my mother's dining table until earlier this year, when she sold her house and moved to a smaller cottage. I've always loved it, and it came to me with a few other things, one of them being the table, which is Spanish, and is quite old. My father found it in Valencia, and used it as a desk, as am I. Sitting in a corner of the bedroom, it holds a Mac desktop that talks to the shiny new office chair. The latter has a runner thrown over it. It's Spanish too, and once had its place on the desk. I threw it over the chair when moving things about, thought it looked interesting, and snapped a photo. Talismans of the past, the runner, table and carpet hold many memories, one of them being Marqués de Riscal, which was my father's favorite Spanish wine. I'd bring him a couple bottles when I would see him on New Year's Day—his birthday.  

Friday, December 20, 2013

Red & Green

The Aesthetic Period frame is decked with pine garland and 1930's red ornaments in the tiny lobby of the Brownstone where Mr. Husband and I live, as a result of having a few extra feet left over from decorating the mantel in our apartment. I wired the garland to the sconces on either side so it wouldn't fall off, and was going to leave it at that when I heard the assembled parts yell out for a bit of glam. So out came the red ornaments! Three seemed like plenty, and I left it at that. Simple. The mirror is placed above a shelf that I put over a narrow radiator to hold morning papers and packages, which, of course, has been appreciated this Holiday Season. I like the mirror's "wheat" pattern, which is echoed in the pine nettles. The sconces are from Rejuvenation Lighting.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Lincoln Center at Dusk

I snapped this photo after leaving the Lincoln Center Library for the Performing Arts on December 5th, seeing that the "blue hour" at its peak. The New York Philharmonic is on the left, the "former State Theater" is in the middle (sorry, I can't type its current name), and the Metropolitan Opera is on the right. The library and and the Vivian Beaumont Theater are behind me. The Two Towers (hard to see perhaps) that make up the Time Warner building loom in the distance at Columbus Circle. 

I'm damn lucky to be living in New York, and even more lucky to have worked at Lincoln Center for more than 20 years with New York City Opera. The library, of course, has been a huge deal in my life. When I started research into historical vocal pedagogy (that's my bag, don't you know) eons ago, I hardly knew what I was doing. Little did I know back then that I would write a book, and be working on a second tome. But that's what happens when you follow your curiosity. 

Stepping out onto the plaza after a productive day and seeing this view is heaven. Sheer heaven. Can't tell you how good it makes me feel. There is no place like home (click heels, Dorothy). 

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Central Park Snow

Manhattan experienced its second snow storm of the season a few days ago, and wanting to capture its glory, I went to Central Park—just steps away from the apartment—and found Sheep Meadow aglow with fairy lights amidst snowy beauty. I feel so fortunate to have had Central Park as my backyard for the last twenty years, never tiring of the changing seasons and the vibrant life within the Park itself. The night I was standing there snapping a few photos, you could hear the soft hum of the City, wrapping the senses like a warm blanket. 

Friday, December 13, 2013

An Early Christmas: Little Augury & Howard (Santa) Slatkin

Courtesy of Little Augury 

If you could see me now, you'd observe the silly grin on my face. It's been plastered there for a couple of hours now, after learning that I had won Howard Slatkin's splendid encomium to maximalism—Fifth Avenue Style—in a contest given by Patricia Gaye Tapp at her excellent blog Little Augury. The contest entailed recounting a favorite Christmas memory. Here was mine: 

One favorite Holiday memory is spending Christmas in Bilbao, Spain, when I was 11. My father worked for US Steel, and was transferred there for some months before my mother and my 4 siblings could join him. When we arrived shortly before Christmas, giddy with excitement, my mother found a 4 foot tree, stood it up in a bucket of oranges in our hotel room, whereupon we decorated it with chocolate gold coins while drinking champagne. It was a wild, crazy wonderful start to the next three years. Of course, I didn't want to come back. 

When Little Augury informed me that I was one of five winners, I practically feel off my chair! You see, I looked at Mr. Slatkin's book at Rizzoli Books a few weeks ago, and put it on my list of things for Santa to bring for Christmas. Little did I know that he would show up early! 

My heartfelt thanks to the lucky Patricia Gaye Tapp (who has been to Santa's apartment), Howard Slatkin (who's generosity is greatly appreciated), as well as congratulations to my four literary comrades—Cindy aka Peony, MJH Design Arts, Meredith Parker and Pat. 

Lord knows, I needed a little Christmas, and it's here! Don't be alarmed if you see me sailing on till morning and into the New Year. 

Wishing You and Yours a Wonderful Holiday Season! 

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Christmas Garland

Oh, I'm such a big spender this year, plopping down 18 bucks for garland (a dollar a foot), and another 20 for a pot of narcissus. 

Since there isn't really room for a tree in the apartment, this is a good as it gets, though I am thinking of putting a small tree in the pot were the narcissus are now blooming like mad. They'll be done in a few days, with another two weeks to go. Then again, I may just spring (ha) for another pot of bulbs.

Yes, those are jingle bells on the mantel in front of Paderewski. They find their way there every year, and have been put into service during parties, though we are not planning on having one with a lot of people this year—just friends for dinner, one or two at a time. 

There aren't any cards to be placed on the mantel yet, the slow trickle of greetings not having commenced. Of course, with the ubiquity of online communication, one wonders how much life the tradition has left in it. Are you sending cards this year? I'm guilty myself of sending Holiday greetings digitally, reserving cards to family and a handful of friends, which, come to think of it, may be as it should be. 

Egyptian purple ornaments, gilt pine cones (made them myself a couple years ago), pink ornaments from the 30's and 50's (which talk to the pink velvet ottoman), gold ribbon and faux berry branches—that's the sum of it. I think I did pretty good with that 18 bucks at the Korean deli. 

Monday, December 9, 2013


Sweet fragrance fills the air while I breakfast on tea and oranges. I think of Spring, longer days, shorter nights, and of the decorations to be put on the mantel for the Holidays. Keep it simple, says the Narcissus. 

Friday, December 6, 2013

Ghost of Christmas Past

Taken in 2007, when I had just found Victorian molding for Chinoiserie pelmets at the 26th Street Flea Market, and stashed it on top of the newly-built bookcases; the cards, garland, multiple mirrors, china, flowers and candles on the mantel—flanked by Victorian gilt & walnut frames, making for a very layered Christmas. The frames are hung in the closet now (we'll see how long that lasts), while the molding was turned into pelmets in the bedroom. The cushion on the sofa has found a new home, and the fireplace is still non-working, even though I had it restored with new firebrick and damper. Being five floors from the roof, however, and the firebox being designed for gas originally, it doesn't draw properly. What to do? Install an extractor fan on the chimney stack. Of course, that hasn't happened yet! However, the angel is still hanging above the mantel. Made by my father from barn board from my grandmother's farm, he reminds me of Christmas' with my family in Western Pennsylvania—long Winters with epic snow drifts, and one particular Christmas spent in a hotel in Bilbao, Spain, when I was 11, when my mother found a small tree and stood it up in a bucket of oranges. 

Sunday, December 1, 2013


I stopped in twice in the last month at a small standing-room-only-cafe to grab a cappuccino on the go—the best I've had in a long while outside of Italy—and admired this antique newspaper rack. God. I thought. My dad would love it. Me too: I love the way the wood is warped and smooth to the touch, and the brass hardware has a golden patina.  

It is currently in residence at a clothing shop that has it's own cafe on the ground floor. Shame on me that I can't remember the name of the place (I was not shopping), but you can find it on 5th Avenue on the West side of the street between 21st and 22nd Street.