It’s a Country Inn Hudson Day

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A view of The Hudson Clock Tower on the Village Green
Some Country Inn Days take me out of town, even out of the Country, but other Country Inn Days are spent at my Inn or close to it.  That’s today.  It’s nice to live in a town you love because even simple things done there offers much pleasure.  I always wanted to live in a place where I could walk, where there were sidewalks along charming streets lined with trees and  interesting homes.  I’ve always liked towns that have a Village Green with shops, restaurants and coffee houses in their center, places where one can run into neighbors for a little chat. Hudson is such a town.  Hudson is also fortunate to have a park with a lake and a world-class library, so on this Country Inn Day I plan to stick around the Inn and my neighborhood enjoying simple pleasures in both places.

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Enjoying morning coffee in the newly completed kitchen
My day begins with a bagel, my favorite espresso roast coffee, and some inspiration from author Christie Matheson.  Unless the Innkeeper in me is hosting a tea or a dinner party on an Inn Day I rely for company on books, wonderful books.  It’s very easy for me to imagine the authors of these books are here with me, if not in person, then in spirit.

“The Art of the Compliment” is a wonderful book that encourages us to say all those nice things we’re thinking “about and to” the people in our lives.  I was given a real pep talk as I nibbled and sipped, and nothing like a pep talk to start one’s day.

My bedroom here at the Inn is in need of the maid’s attention

And I’m the Maid!

You see, on a Country Inn Day I flip back and forth from being Inn Guest to worker bee.  Some people may find work an unpleasant activity on a day off, but I remember and take to heart the words of Mary Poppins.  Mary said, “In every task that must be done there is an element of fun. You find the fun and then the job’s a game.”  Imagining I’m a maid or a cook or a gardener is like play acting to me, and “play” is the magic word on a Country Inn Day.

If you were a Downton Abbey fan like me you may have imagined being Lady Mary one day and her lady’s maid the next. Well, on a Country Inn Day I take on both roles in the same day.  After all, don’t most of us play both roles throughout our lives in some manner?  There are days we dress up, go to the theater or to fine restaurants and live like a lady of leisure, but on other days we work, work, work.  Well, on a Country Inn day roles simply flip flop back and forth a little faster.

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Closets in my dressing room at the Jeremiah Brown Inn

 Once the Inn Maid (me) tidies up the bedroom, I proceed to the dressing room in order to get ready (as Inn Guest) for an outing in town.  One thing I hate about taking a trip to a far away place is packing, but on my Country Inn Days I need not pack a thing because everything is here at my fingertips.

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The Inn decorator (me) is thinking about adding some color to the walls and floor of this new dressing room, but even now it’s a pleasure to slip away to this quiet, private place where I get ready for the day.  The dressing room is also a good place to read if I wake up in the middle of the night.  I can retreat here, turn on some bright lights without bothering my husband.

 But now I’m ready for my walk in town.  Come along with me.

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There’s nothing like a walk in town, up and down the old streets in the village we go.  I love to focus on the details of each house.  So many different styles…

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Hudson does have many new neighborhoods too with all sorts of handsome new houses, but it’s the old world that warms my heart.  Hudson was founded in 1799 so many of the houses in the village were built in the early 1800’s.  Walking around town makes me  feel I’m back in Boston where I used to live.

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There’s nothing like taking a walk any time of year.  It’s good to walk in a park, but equally fun to walk in a neighborhood if you like the neighborhood.  To breathe in fresh air,  get a little exercise and give your mind a chance to wander freely…  lots of good ideas can come to us while walking.  And all this is free of charge.  How good is that?

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Part of Hudson’s Downtown area with shops, restaurants and the public library
My walk eventually takes me into the downtown area and just about the time I’m ready for some coffee.  I love coffee and coffee shops.  Hudson has six coffee shops to choose from so I am one lucky girl.  I enjoy writing one, two, or three letters each day in one of Hudson’s  coffee shops. There I find solitude and society simultaneously.

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Today I explore a new shop here in Hudson.  Restore specializes in organic, superfood smoothies and things like organic avocado toast, and meals made with things like chia seeds, grass fed whey, spirulina  and pepitas (whatever those things are).

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It’s decorated in a very minimal style, not my very favorite look, (Notice the tree stump-items serving as seats) but I try to patronize all the local businesses.  I notice when customers do arrive they are usually young adults, often with little babies or young children.  This place must be a new age thing.

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I obviously chose a quiet time to come for I nearly have the entire place to myself and that can be nice when I’m writing letters.

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I order a macchiato which is very yummy

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 and it keeps me company as I write a letter or two.  But now it’s time for lunch and though I could stay here and have an organic dragonfruit bowl made up of dragonfruit blended with strawberry, pineapple, ginger, coconut milk and topped off with camu camu, goji berries and grass fed whey, I decide to take my leave and go off  to Lake Forest Country Club.

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The decor here is more my style . . .

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I choose a quiet corner with a table for two because I will be having lunch with a “dead friend”. What is a “dead friend”?  A “dead friend” is a person of the past who shares their stories with me by way of a book, or sometimes a film, or a collection of letters. “Dead friends” are wonderful company on Country Inn Days. They’re great luncheon companions and back at the Inn I never know how many “dead friends” will pop up for a visit at tea or cocktails or anytime.

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And here she is, my luncheon companion – Sophia Amelia Peabody Hawthorne

The book that’s bringing Sophia to me is called “The Peabody Sisters of Salem”  by Louise Hall Tharp.  Yes, Sophia was born in Salem, Massachusetts and that’s where she met Nathaniel Hawthorne, one of my favorite authors. Perhaps you’re familiar with his work.  Well, Sophia and Nathaniel married and they lived in a house in Concord, The Old Manse, a house I visited many times.    It’s very special to have been in the house of a “dead friend”.  To walk through the rooms where they walked . . .

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As I munch my sandwich and french fries (not very organic, but mighty tasty) Sophia tells me stories and I’m transported back to Massachusetts, to her old stomping grounds and mine.  Of course she’s talking about the 1800’s, but that makes her stories even more interesting to me for a  little time travel on a Country Inn Day is a nice touch.  I hope you have and enjoy “dead friends”, time travel, and imagination too. All three do wonders to jazz up an ordinary day.

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But time flies as it always does and I leave the club, stopping off to buy some flowers for the Inn.  That’s the job of the Innkeeper (me).  I choose white tulips.

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Back at the Inn I morph into the Inn Maid.  There’s laundry to fold, but after my outing in town it’s a nice change of pace, and variety is the spice of life.  Is it not?

A few housekeeping matters are attended to, a little this and a little that . . .

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The tulips are arranged at the table by the Innkeeper (me) . . .

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The Inn Cook (me) whips up a little dinner for my husband who happens to be a regular guest at the Inn . . .  My son Rory will be joining us tonight too.  It seems like food is a big part of a Country Inn Day, doesn’t it?  Well, it is.

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And once dinner is over and a little time is spent unwinding and visiting with my boys it’s back where I started this morning. . . back to the dressing room.

There were a few dozen other things that went into this Country Inn Day, but I’ll share those things at another time. Sharing surely doubles the joy.  I hope you’re sharing your joy too

Ah me!  the days go swiftly by . . .

Time to say farewell . . .

What will my next Country Inn Day be like?

We’ll just have to wait and see.

Lunch with a few of my friends – a few of my “dead friends”

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The gang’s all here! I’ll take my place and lunch time can begin.

I hate to eat lunch alone so I’ll often invite a few friends in to join me – usually these are “dead friends”.  If you know me at all you know all about my “dead friends”.  You know I meet them in all sorts of ways – through the work they’ve done, the books and films which tell their stories and through their letters.  My 1853 house is always alive with the spirit of interesting people, both living people and those who have moved out of sight, but never out of mind.

At lunchtime, I pull out leftovers from the night before and prowl around the house in search of a few “dead friends”  to join me at my table.  Because I have lots and lots of books about lots and lots of interesting people it’s never very difficult to gather spirits together, and once we’re together my “dead friends” never fail to delight and enlighten me with their stories, facts, and personal philosophy.

Today my luncheon guests are Julia, Harry, Ludwig and George.  That’s Julia Child, Harry Truman, Ludwig Van Beethoven and George Bernard Shaw.  They’re all sharing with me as I enjoy my pasta and wine.

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Bucatini All’ Amatriciana with Cabernet Sauvignon

It’s a good thing my guests weren’t hungry because I had just a little pasta leftover from last night’s dinner.  But I bet they would’ve liked some if circumstances were different.  You might like to try this recipe yourself for it  really is delicious and I’m happy to share.

Bucatini with bacon and tomatoes

Ingredients/ serves 4  1/2c. chopped pancetta bacon, 2 T. solid vegetable shortening, 1 small onion, finely chopped, 2 c. peeled, seeded, chopped firm-ripe tomatoes, salt and white pepper, 1 lb. bucatini or other pasta shapes, 1/4 c. grated pecorino cheese.

Process  Put on plenty of salted water to boil for pasta.  Put pancetta in a saucepan with shortening and onion and fry until bacon is browned.  Add tomatoes, season lightly with salt and white pepper and cook briskly for about 10 minutes.  Meanwhile,, cook the pasta until al dente, drain, transfer to a bowl, add cheese and sauce, stir and serve hot.

YUM!

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This yummy recipe came from a favorite cookbook called “The flavors of Italy” by Simonetta Lupi Vada.  I love to cook and I have zillions of cookbooks, and a few are even written by my luncheon guest, Julia Child.  But Julia wasn’t in the mood to talk about food today.  She had other things to say.  She was telling me (by way of a letter to her friend Avis) about life with her husband Paul as they packed to move to Marseilles.

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This little tidbit I’ll share with you, along with other Julia stories, are contained in the  book, “As Always, Julia”.  This book is composed of Julia’s  letters to Avis DeVoto, her pen pal and literary mentor.   Edited by Joan Reardon.  it is easy to read the letters and feel Julia is writing them to me.  Here’s one example. Julia writes:

“Yesterday we did photographs, of which there were hundreds and hundreds. Today it is books, of which we have a like amount.  I never want to throw anything away and Paul wants to throw everything away; so between us it works out quite reasonably.  Paul says women want to keep everything because it is their nesting instinct.  Maybe he’s right.”  (Yes, I agree with Julia.  I do think Paul is right about the nesting instinct women have.  What do you think?)

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 Well,  all this domestic talk bored Ludwig to death, so he left and went into the next room to play some of his sonatas.  The sonatas  were a lovely musical accompaniment to food, wine and lunch time chatter with the others.  (That reminds me.  There’s a great movie called “The Others” with Nicole Kidman.  It deals with the subject of “dead friends”.  You might like it.)  I don’t know if Julia, Harry, and George like Beethoven’s sonatas, but I played some in college and I find them very appealing.  It’s better though that Ludwig stayed at the piano.  He  was never much for friendly chit chat.

 Meanwhile, Harry, who was quiet through Julia’s words, now decided to tell a story.  Like Julia, he was able to  communicate with me by way letters, letters captured in books.  I happen to have quite a few of such books being a lady of letters myself.  I will share with you a bit of what Harry shared with Bess and me,

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Harry and Bess

all from a book simply called “Dear Bess”.  It is edited by Robert H. Ferrell.  The book contains letters from Harry to Bess Truman 1910-1959.  Here’s the  story Harry told me at lunch.  He says:

“I had an adventure yesterday. … a most awful good-looking girl came driving down the road like mad and said her dog had jumped in an open well up the road and would I come and get him out. … I got in the buggy and went with her, got a ladder, and I went down and got the dog – a fox terrier.  There were about a half-dozen women tearing around the top of the well all the time trying to get the dog to climb ropes and jump in a bucket.  They were a most awfully pleased bunch when Dudley arrived at the top in as good condition as ever except for a good swim.  The ornery cuss shook himself while I helped him and I looked as if I’d been rained on.  They were very profuse in their thanks and I believe the old lady and the girl would have kissed me if I hadn’t made a hurried getaway…”

I enjoyed Harry’s story.  He is a very sweet man and he enjoys sharing simple daily life happenings.  But when it is George’s turn to share he tells very different tales, and he loves to spout philosophy.   If you know George as I know George you know he is not much for village chatter.  He and Harry are very different types, but that makes lunch with them so much fun.  Add  Julia  and Ludwig and lunchtime is even more fun.

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George Bernard Shaw

George did like the ladies, especially the actresses he worked with, and thanks to one of them, Molly Tompkins, I have an entire book of  letters, letters  he wrote to her from 1921 through 1949.

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George is able to share a lot of his  philosophy with me  (and you too) thanks to these letters.  If he and other “dead friends” weren’t letter writers we could not possibly get to know these talented people of the past nearly as well .

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One of George’s letters

In case you’ve not been true to yourself lately, in case you’ve been copying other people, in case other people have been trying to mold you their way,  then you might like to hear what George had to say to me and Molly Tompkins on the subject of self.  George said:

“I think you will have to begin making experiments with your own way of doing things.  You must not take the bit between your teeth all at once all the time … There is only one way of getting your own way; and that is making your own way  convincing in action.  It is quite possible that your notion of doing the thing is the right notion, but that you have not yet got skill enough to put it across; and so for the moment you must do as others do, but in the end you must make yourself something more than a marionette worked mostly by somebody who is not a successful actor, or author or critic or connoisseur or anything else that commands an unquestioning deference.”

There!  Got That?

Be an original

I like it!

All my “dead friends” are originals and that’s why they are such wonderful companions for lunch, dinner, afternoon tea, coffee, cocktails … whatever.   I hope you use your imagination and spend quality time with friends who are originals too –  living or “dead friends”,  and of course I hope you are working at becoming an original yourself.

Don’t be afraid to do your own thing, even if it’s a little unusual – unusual like having lunch with “dead friends”.  Use your imagination and have fun.  You only live once!

Charlotte, Jane, Carol Ann (and Artie too)

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My daily letter

Today, as usual, I began my morning by writing a letter.  It was a letter composed of four  pages, 8×10 inches.  This is the usual length of one of my letters, though sometimes I’ll create a letter booklet, smaller in size, but made up of at least ten pages.  I send these letters off for the cost of a 46 cent U.S. postage stamp, providing the letter is staying in the United States.  Postal rates are higher if letters are going over seas.  Is my letter writing  an economical pleasure?  Whether it is or not I plan to continue writing and sending letters off because it is such a complete treat – a physical, social, intellectual and spiritual treat.

Today I wrote to Artie in Staten Island, New York.  Artie is a very nice gentlemen, and reading his letter, then responding, made for a very pleasant start to my day, but I had even more interesting fun reading a letter from Charlotte … you know, Charlotte Bronte, one of my talented “dead friends”.  I came upon a a letter she wrote to her publisher back on January 12th, 1848.

You’ll find the letters of your “dead friends” to be very interesting  reading, but that’s only if you choose very interesting “dead friends”.  Of course, why would you choose any other kind?

Well, Charlotte’s letter was full of surprises.  Did you know she didn’t think very much of Jane Austen’s writing?  I didn’t know that till I read this letter to her publisher who also happened to be Jane’s publisher.  Charlotte wrote”

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…”Why do you like Miss Austen so very much?  I am puzzled on that point.  (She writes) an accurate, daguerreotyped portrait of a commonplace face!  a carefully-fenced, highly cultivated garden, with neat borders and delicate flowers; but no glance of a bright, vivid physiognomy, no open country, no fresh air, no blue hill, no sonny beck.  I should hardly like to live with her ladies and gentlemen, in their elegant but confined houses.  These observations will probably irritate you, but I shall run the risk … Miss Austen is only a shrewd observer.”

Charlotte doesn’t mince words, does she?  I bet she must be quite surprised and annoyed to know just how popular Jane Austen’s work has become in today’s world.  Though Charlotte and Jane weren’t chummy on earth I wonder if they met in heaven and became friends.  They must both be pleased that their works are still being read by people like us.

Those of us who believe in an afterlife must wonder what people in heaven are doing.  MAYBE THEY’RE WATCHING US!  MAYBE THEY’RE INTERESTED IN OUR CONVERSATIONS ABOUT THEM!  Maybe so, maybe not.  But I like to imagine they’re reaching out to us, and I sure enjoy hearing what my “dead friends” think  and have to say for it’s often more interesting than what a lot of living, breathing  people have to share.  I’m very happy to hear from “dead friends” in all sorts of ways,  by discovering their work, by reading  books written about them, by film, and especially by reading their letters,  JUST NOT BY PERSONAL APPEARANCE!

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All Charlotte’s talk about Jane Austen got me thinking it was about time I paid a little visit to Jane myself so I picked up a copy of “Jane Austen’s Town and Country Style”  written by Susan Watkins.  What a great book to help us go back in time into Jane’s world.

I started this missive by telling you about current U.S. postal rates and the length of my daily letters.   Well, it was most interesting to read what Susan Watkins had to say not only about postal rates in Jane and Charlotte’s world, but also about letters.

Did you know in London, until 1801, letters were picked up and delivered four to eight times daily for the price of one penny, but the Penny Post became the Twopenny Post in 1805, and by 1812 the cost of a letter was four pence for 15 miles or less, rising to 17 pence for 700 miles.  And we complain about our rate increases!  Susan also explained that postage was paid by the recipient.  Boy, if postage was paid by the recipient today we’d all be getting a lot less junk mail.

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Reading “Jane Austen’s Town and Country Style” is a great book if you want to learn all the ins and outs of life in her world spanning the end of the eighteenth century and the beginning of the nineteenth.  For example, did you know back then “The postage charge was based on letters of a single sheet – more paper meant more money – and because of the cost, letters were usually written on a single page, which was then folded to make a small rectangle envelope and sealed with a wafer of wax.”   To save money  letter writers  would fill the whole paper, then write at right-angles across the first lines of their writing.

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Yikes!  I tried this technique and I don’t think it makes for easy reading, do you?  Many of us like to romanticize life in the past, but I think we have it a lot better these days… at least most of us do.

Speaking of Jane Austen and her time,  you might like to see the film, “Lost in Austen”.  I thought it was great fun, all about a modern London girl going back, not only in time, but also into a Jane Austen book.

Well, letter writing really entertains me.  Today without leaving home I had visits with Artie from New York and Charlotte and Jane from England.  Of course there’s you too, but if I’m to feel your presence you’ll just have to write me a letter.  Go ahead.  Do it!

So till next time…

Solitude and Society Simultaneously

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One of my wonderful “Dead Friends”

After a fun and busy Summer spent with lots of wonderful friends and family members I’m now enjoying some peace and quiet, some solitude, well, not complete solitude.  I’m enjoying the companionship of favorite people from the past, people I affectionately call my “dead friends”.  They visit with me by way of biographies, autobiographies, and their personal letters.

One of my favorite “dead friends” is pictured above.  Do you recognize her?  Maybe she’s one of your “dead friends” too.  She’s Charlotte Bronte.  Charlotte was a writer like me, well, not just like me.  Charlotte was a very successful novelist, but she also was an avid letter writer and as you know I am an avid letter writer too.  Are you?

When I get hold of one of Charlotte’s letters I feel like she’s writing that letter just to me.  That’s the magic of letters.  They last.  They can last a lot longer than we can.  When we write a letter there’s no telling who might be reading it in years to come, or even next week for that matter –  so be careful what you write!

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I feel I get to know my favorite people of the past better through their letters than any other way. That’s because letters are so intimate.  A well written letter reveals personality like nothing else can and it will capture a person’s true feelings about all sorts of things, big and small.  Recently I learned that Charlotte was like me in that she loves nice long letters as I do.  Do you like long letters too?  Do you write long letters or are yours short little teasers?

Though I’m happy to receive any letter I do feel a bit disappointed when the letter in my mail box turns out to be just a short little thing.  After all, when a letter arrives I’ll take the time to make a cup of coffee so I can read and sip as though I were having a visit in a coffee shop with my friend. I’ll get all comfy in a favorite location.  I’ll  tear open the envelope in great anticipation of a nice long visit and then … if I find just a few lines, well, there is great disappointment. What a let down!  It seems Charlotte felt the same way when she found a short little letter in her mail box.  Listen to what she writes in her reply dated March 1, 1846.

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“Even at the risk of seeming very exacting, I can’t help saying that I should like a letter as long as your last every time you write.  Short notes give one the feeling of a very small piece of a very good thing to eat, —they set the appetite on edge, and don’t satisfy it, —a letter leaves you more contented; and yet, after all, I am very glad to get notes; so don’t think, when you are pinched for time and materials that it is useless to write a few lines; be assured, a few lines are very acceptable as far as they go; and though I like long letters, I would by no means have you make a task of writing them.”

These words from Charlotte were delivered to me not by my friendly postman, but rather by Mrs. Elizabeth Cleghorn Gaskell in the book she wrote entitled “The Life of Charlotte Bronte”.  Elizabeth is another of my “dead friends”.  She was also a novelist and an avid letter writer, but then most everyone was a letter writer years ago.

 What so many are missing by never putting  pen to paper and sharing their thoughts in letters.  In a hundred years who will remember them and what they had to say?  This isn’t you, is it?

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Like Charlotte, I prefer long letters to most everything else, but I was happy to know Charlotte also liked short notes.  I  enjoy sending postcards out every day – one a day, just like the vitamin pill.  One day soon  I’ll tell you about my postcards.  The thing is,  a postcard looks like a short note right from the start so one doesn’t get their hopes up for a long visit and  a postcard contains a picture.  You know what they say about a picture.  A picture is worth a thousand words, so a picture postcard is not as small a thing as you might think.

We have our family and living friends.  We have our pen friends, but it’s wonderful to have a collection of “dead friends” too.  Talk about solitude and society simultaneously!  And people of the past have so very much to offer us, both in information as to how things were back then, and also in the realm of inspiration.  If you’re looking to meet some “dead friends you’ll find lots of  them in the library or your local book store. 

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As I share my favorite things with others I’m always thinking of my “dead friends” and what they had to say on so many subjects.  I’m sure they’re happy to be remembered by me and others.  Wouldn’t you be happy if people remembered you and the things you had to say a hundred years from now?  I should think so.

Descartes, French philosopher, mathematician and writer, (1596-1650) and another of my  “dead friends”, put it  well when he said ” The reading of good books is like conversation with the finest men of past centuries.”  Descartes understood how I feel about my “dead friends”.  Do you?  And though he only mentioned books as a way to have conversation with people of the past, I’m sure he would agree that reading personal letters is an even  better way to have those conversations.

 I encourage you to cultivate relationships with your own “dead friends”.  They may become some of your favorite things… I mean people.

Solitude and Society Simultaneously

Yes!

I feel like going visiting today!

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“Oh how this spring of love resembleth, The uncertain glory of an April day! Which now shows all the beauty of the sun And by and bye a cloud takes all away.”
Shakespere
I feel like an outing on this first day of April.  How about you?  But not just any outing for me.  I think I’ll go to England or Scotland… or maybe I’ll go to both places.  After all, I have an hour or two free.

You see, I am very blessed to have a wonderful imagination.  I suspect we are all born with wonderful imaginations but some of us fail to exercise them, and as with so many things, we  “use it or lose it”.  I use my imagination regularly.  Do you?  Oh, I hope so.  Imagination is a terrible thing to waste.

So today I decided to leave Hudson for a few hours and take a little trip.  I feel like spending some time with my lovely “dead friend” and nature artist Edith Holden.  What is a “dead friend” you ask ?  A “dead friend” is a person from the past who we get to know,  admire. and enjoy.   We meet these people by reading their biographies, autobiographies, and/or by studying and becoming  familiar with their work.  I bet you have a few “dead friends” of  your own, at least I hope you do.  “Dead friends” add so very much to life,  more than a great many living, breathing people we meet.

I met Edith years ago when I discovered her beautiful book, Nature Notes of an Edwardian Lady. This book was published in 1906 by her husband Ernest.  It was published after Edith’s untimely death at age 49.   You see, Edith  drowned in the Thames while gathering buds from chestnut trees which she intended to paint.

Edith was born at Kings Norton, Worcester, in 1871 and was one of seven children of a Midlands paint manufacturer.  Her family lived in the small village of Olton Warwickshire and it was there that she wrote and illustrated her Nature Notes.

I think I’ll join Edith on one of her trips to Scotland where she studied painting for a year.  Would you care to join me?  Ok, let’s go!

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Nothing like an old fashioned train ride through the English countryside toward Scotland. Our train is powered by steam and imagination.
And here we are (That was fast!) at the home of her art teacher and his family.  They invited Edith to stay with them since she was so very far from home.  Romantic and peaceful setting, isn’t it?

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Edith’s home away from home one Summer
But let’s pop into the art studio and catch a glimpse of Edith working with her classmates.  I personally love how people ‘dressed up’ back in the old days.  No blue jeans and  t shirts for them.

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Practice makes not perfect, but improvement
Of course one can’t get very good at drawing nature while sitting in a classroom so after a certain amount of instruction in basic  technique off to the outdoors we all go.  Put on your sweater for it’s early April and the air is chilly.

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Let’s watch Edith paint a horse or two
Do you ever draw?  You should.  It’s great fun and anyone can do it.  As I said, practice makes improvement.  I love to draw flowers creating original stationery for some of the letters I write.  Maybe you’ve received one such letter.   Flowers are easy to draw.  Try drawing this one:

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Come on. You can do it! I’ll take a break from writing this post and draw this pink flower myself. I’ll create a floral notecard, then use this card for the letter I’ll be writing tomorrow to a friend in the state of Washington
Ok.  Here’s what I came up with.  I wonder what drawing you came up with.

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Erika, this is for you
If you have not  made your drawing yet, it’s ok.  You can finish reading my post and then get busy.  Art  play is really a lot of fun.  You’ll see.  But if you think flowers are tricky I wouldn’t suggest you try animals… not yet anyway.

Edith drew all sorts of animals and she was wonderful at the task.  She drew snakes, birds, butterflies, bees, mice, so many creatures –   even the occasional cow.

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MOO!
Between reading Edith’s book and viewing a wonderful four-video series I own all about her life, I can experience a faux visit to Scotland and the English countryside any time I like, getting close up looks at its flora and fauna.

I can sit beside Edith using my imagination and watch her sketch picturesque vistas.  She’s encouraged me to try my own hand at sketching.  Friends always encourage each other you know.

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The making of landscapes
We then explore streams with all their exuberant life forms and I don’t even have to get wet.

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An April flood carries away the frog and his brood — (just a bit of Folk-lore)
My time spent with Edith, looking at nature and looking at her drawings of nature, soothes my soul.

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It may indeed be only phantasy that I essay to draw from all created things deep, heartfelt, inward joy that slowly clings
Coleridge
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I love the season well when forest glades are teeming with bright forms
Longfellow
 I’ve read that spending time with things of beauty helps that beauty enter into us.  The beauty becomes us.  I can sometimes feel that happening.  Can’t you?

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Our expedition in search of wild flowers takes us across hill and dale.
To be off with Edith is a wonderful escape from one’s daily routine.  And when we’re tired from all our walking we can sit quietly together,  meditate, or share our favorite lines of poetry.

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Can trouble live with April days, or sadness with the Summer moons?
Tennyson
Yes, spending time in England and Scotland with gentle “dead friends” like Edith Holden is a wonderful experience.

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My “dead friend” Edith Holden
 And  Edith’s  spirit stays with me long after these imaginary visits.  As I walk  the garden paths in my own town, in my own time,  I can still feel her calming presence dignifying my every step.

So now I’ve introduced you to Edith, but  it’s up to you to cultivate your own friendship with her.  Perhaps she’ll inspire you to create your very own nature notes or you might get yourself some watercolor pencils and take up sketching, creating art for your home or floral note cards to send to your friends.

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Edith loved to write letters as I do
Why here’s an idea for you.  Take a walk outside and sit yourself down to sketch a flower, plant, or creature and then send your picture  to me with a note – or better yet, a letter.  I would love that!  Here’s my address:

204 E. Streetsboro Street

Hudson, Ohio 44236

USA

I’ll be watching my mail box, and of course if you write to me I’ll write back to you.  So from me and Edith  too — a fond farewell.  We’ll leave you with the entry from Edith’s nature notebook dated April 1, 1906.

STILL, WARM, CLOUDY DAY.  GATHERED SOME WILD DAFFODILS IN A FIELD.

Happy Art Play in Nature

Note:  Pictures used for this post are attributed to Central Independent Television’s video entitled The Country Diary of an Edwardian Lady starrring Pippa Guard as Edith

Haunted Houses

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Hower House
“All houses wherein men have lived and died are haunted houses”, so says Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, and this is Hower House, a Victorian Mansion built in 1871.  It was the home of John Henry Hower and Susan, his wife.  I dropped over to sing John “Happy Birthday” along with a number of his other friends – The Friends of Hower House and a group called, The Victorians.  When you’re turning 191 years old it’s only right that people fuss a little,  pop over to your house with a cake, and sing a chorus or two in your honor.

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Carol Ann, Evelyna, and her beautiful cake
 Here I am with John’s cake and the lady who created it, my friend, Evelyna.  Not only is Evelyna a master baker and my friend, but she’s also my pen friend.  We send letters back and forth to each other in between our visits. Everyone should have talented friends like Evelyna,  plus a handful of pen friends, and of course, a few dozen “dead friends” too.

But let’s get back to John and Evelyna’s cake.  Here it is in its full delicious glory.

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One luscious slice
Evelyna calls this cake her Half and Half.  You’ll want to remember that name in case you order one for your next party.  Trust me.  It is DELICIOUS!  In between the white and chocolate cake is a European butter creme filling.  Yum!  The frosting is Italian Satin, based on a meringue style frosting recipe.  A shame John couldn’t have a piece of his own birthday cake, but hopefully he has pleasures of equal or greater value where he is now.

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John and 2nd and 3rd generation Howers
Here’s an old picture of John (on the far left) with his son and grandson.  Because I’ve been to their house a number of times I’ve learned a lot about John and his family.  I’ve learned John was born February 22, 1822 in Stark County, Ohio and I learned we have a few things  in common.  We’ve both been teachers.  John taught school for a while and I taught  music in schools.   Both John and I value creativity.  I create posts for my blog, write books, give talks on the art of letter writing, host teas and dinner parties, and John created a successful business that made him a fortune.

John was in the right place at the right time.  He met the inventor, John F. Seiberling, who patented the Excelsior Mower and Reaper, a machine that dramatically influenced the mechanization of agriculture, and they formed a business partnership that thrived  because of the Civil War.  The Union army required food and supplies and the agricultural machinery industry was there to provide what was needed.

Yes, John is one of my many “dead friends”.  What are “dead friends”?  They’re people of the past who we meet and get to know by discovering their work, reading their biographies and letters and visiting their houses.

John was truly one of Akron, Ohio’s leading industrialists, a great man, but he’s moved on now to a new address.  I’m not exactly sure what that address is, but  whatever it is, I bet he’s happy there, pleased that his Second Empire Italianate house is still being carefully maintained.  I’m pleased too, because historic preservation is important to me.

John’s house has been called one of the finest examples of Second Empire style in Ohio.  Historically, the House is the last remaining mansion from Akron’s first “Gold Coast,” and was the home of three generations of a  family that shaped history.  The Howers and their descendants occupied the home continually from 1871 until 1973.

Now Hower House is owned by Akron University and is opened to the public for guided tours. It may also be rented for receptions and private parties..

I love visiting most old houses, but I especially love visiting the old houses of my “dead friends”.  To see the very things these people lived with, the simple things, their antiques, the treasures they collected from far off places —  it’s fascinating!  But it’s not just the material goods that make a big impression on me.  It’s the very spirit of the people who lived in those places, spirit that may not be obvious to everyone, but is usually quite visible and clear to me.

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The Longfellow House
 I first experienced the  spirit of a ‘dead friend’ when I popped in at Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s House in Cambridge, Massachusetts.  Henry’s spirit was  all around that house.  I felt he’d be walking through the door at any moment.  Then, as if  that wasn’t enough, I discovered his very own words on the subject.  His thoughts about spirits and houses were captured in his poem,  Haunted Houses.  Henry was my very first “dead friend”.  Many more followed, and now John Henry Hower is one of them too.  You can never have too many friends you know — be they old, new, living,  or “dead”.  As friends share their stories inspiration flows.

Drop in at Hower House when you’re in Akron, Ohio and get to know John Henry, his family and his house.  If  you’re in Boston, pop on over to  Henry Longfellow’s house.  Tell them both I sent you.  But now, before you go, Henry wants to share his poem with you.  I hope you like it as much as I do.

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Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

 HAUNTED HOUSES

All houses wherein men have lived and died are haunted houses.

Through the open doors the harmless phantoms on their errands glide,

With feet that make no sound upon the floors.

We meet them at the doorway, on the stair,

Along the passages they come and go,

Impalpable impressions on the air, A sense of something moving to and fro.

There are more guests at table than the host invited;

the illuminated hall is thronged with quiet, inoffensive ghosts,

As silent as the pictures on the wall.

The stranger at my fireside cannot see the forms I see,

nor hear the sounds I hear;

He but perceives what is;

while unto me all that has been is visible and clear.

We have no title deeds to house or lands;

Owners and occupants from earlier dates

From graves forgotten stretch their dusty hands,

And hold to mortmain still their old estates.

The spirit world around this world of sense

Floats like an atmosphere,

And everywhere wafts through these earthly mists and vapors dense

A vital breath of more ethereal air,

Our little lives are kept in equipoise

By opposite attraction and desires;

The struggle of the instinct that enjoys,

And the more noble instinct that aspires.

These perterbations, this perpetual jar of earthly wants and aspirations high,

Come from an influence of an unseen star,

An undiscovered planet in our sky.

And as the moon from some dark gate of cloud

Throws o’er the sea a floating bridge of light,

Across whose trembling planks our fancies crowd

Into the realm of mystery and light,  —

So from the world of spirits there descends,

A bridge of light connecting it with this,

O’er whose unsteady floor, that sways and bends,

Wander our thoughts above the dark abyss.