An Early Christmas Gift

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When I was a very little girl, we used to visit Santa every year at a local department store called Muirhead’s. My memories are wispy at this point in my life, but I remember feeling I had entered a magical world. It was designed to look like a giant igloo, with all sorts of wonderful decorations. Each family that made the trek to Muirhead’s climbed into a sleigh that ran on a track inside the store with its ultimate destination being Santa himself.

It was simply wonderful. My mother gave me these photos and I had them matted and framed. The other day, I pulled them out and brought them down to the den and when I saw the photo you see at the top of the post, I had to quickly look away. For a moment, it was too painful. There are my mother and brother in the back seat of the sleigh. Now, both of them are gone.

David has been gone since 1991. My mother died this year.

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Such a simpler time.

My mother was so beautiful. As was my brother. I want to reach inside these photos and hug them. I want to tell them how much I treasure the memories of our visits to Santa, of our Christmases spent together, of loving and being loved by them.

This will be a bittersweet Christmas for me and my family. It’s always there for me, right under the surface, this knowledge that Mom is gone, that this will be the first Christmas in my life without her presence here on Earth. Just as my birthday last month was my first birthday without her.

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This morning I was given a gift.

I had a visit from my mom. I know that as surely as I’m sitting here right now tapping away on this keyboard. I won’t go into details because they are private and precious and I’m holding them deep within my heart.

I’m so grateful. Thank you, dearest, most wonderful Mom. Thank you for everything. Thank you for being my mom and my friend and my guide. I miss you every moment of every day. I look in the mirror and see your face reflected in mine. You are never far away, that I know.

Happy Saturday.

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Friday Thoughts

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• Bokeh-crazy. That’s me. I put in at least an hour yesterday playing with depth of field, changing focus, seeing just what I could conjure up with my lens. It’s awfully fun. Have you played around with Bokeh?

• We’ve now watched the final episode of Newsroom three times. And we’ve gone back to the beginning. We’re re-watching every episode. It’s worth every minute. It’s that good.

• Hackers are on my mind today. There are always people trying to hack into this blog, into every blog out there. Make no mistake, it doesn’t matter what platform a blogger is using: Blogger, Typepad, WordPress, whatever. Hackers are trying to get in. It is unsettling, at the very least.

Imagine how it must be for large corporations who become the target of hackers. Vital and private information is compromised. Secrets are revealed. Trust is eroded. And in the case of Sony Pictures, fear takes over and they cave to terrorist demands and cancel the premiere of a movie. So now we’re allowing terrorists to determine what films we make, what we as citizens of a supposedly free country can see at our local movie theater? What’s next? Will they determine what we can read? Where we go? How we live our lives?

I find it chilling.

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• I’d love for you to join in a conversation I’m having over at Just Let Me Finish This Page. I always have a book or two or three on my Christmas list. You know how much I love books and reading and bookshelves and everything bookish. Are you asking for some specific titles this Christmas? Are you giving books as gifts? Please come visit the blog and share your thoughts. I love reading about this kind of gift giving. And I learn some things, too!

Happy Friday.

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Living Small Can Be Big In Benefits

Several years ago, my husband and I began the process of looking for a house to buy. We had a list of Must Haves, which included three bedrooms, a basement, an attic, more than one bathroom, and a garage.

But a list of Must Haves often clashes with the reality of the market, as well as the call of the heart. We fell in love with a little cottage in the country that was charming, nestled on a plot of land that was a little less than two acres, had wide plank pine floors and big wrap-around porch.

What it didn’t have was a usable basement. Or an attic. Or a garage. Or that third bedroom. It was built in 1891. That meant there were no walk-in closets. In fact, closets were in short supply. We settled for less square footage, less storage, and less usable space because we fell in love with the house.

If you don’t count the tiny outside-entrance basement that houses the oil burner and the hot water heater where, believe me, no one would want to spend any time, we live in less than 1000 square feet.

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We ended up storing a lot of items in a shed already on the property that we painted red, along with a lawn mower, a snow blower, and other essentials. That makes for a crowded shed.

An interesting thing has come from this adventure, this living ‘smaller.’ I’ve had to be creative with storage, for sure. But, more importantly, I’ve come to realize that we need less than we thought we did. The other day, we were out in our shed and I looked at all the boxes filled with items I didn’t have room for in the house, but wasn’t willing to part with at the time we moved into the cottage. That was almost ten years ago. For the most part, whatever I had wanted to retrieve from storage had been retrieved. The rest? I hadn’t missed any of it. I don’t need those things. We’ll be clearing out those boxes in the spring. We’ll have less clutter. More space. More freedom.

Here’s what I’ve learned to do since we moved into this cottage:

1. I regularly clean out our tiny shared clothes closet and donate clothing we are no longer wearing. Someone who truly needs a coat or a sweater or some shoes that I’ve outgrown benefits. So do we.

2. I attack a room at a time and if I find we are no longer using something and it has no sentimental value, I donate it to the Salvation Army or sell it on Craig’s List.

3. If I fall in love with something for the home, there has to be a place for it. If there isn’t, it doesn’t come home with me.

4. Though I love to collect, I keep the collections small, both in size and stature. We simply don’t have the space for anything big.

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Though I have a lot of little collections, my biggest collection consists of my books. I am a voracious reader. A room filled with books makes me happy. In fact, we recently built some bookshelves in our den because I was running out of space for my most beloved volumes, like the ones shown on the shelf above. I also review books. That means I accumulate a lot of books every year. At least twice a year, I go through them. Any book that I do not feel a visceral connection to, or that isn’t a reference book used in my professional work, is donated to my local library. This little library has an ongoing book sale, the proceeds of which help to defray the expense of keeping the library going. Some of the books, especially new books that have just been published and might not be included in the library’s budget, go on the library shelves. That makes me happy.

Though I would love nothing more than for every wall in my home to be lined with shelves, it simply isn’t feasible. And though I revere the three-dimensional book and think books are pretty much the best home decoration ever, I cannot keep all of them. Freeing up those books I do not need enables me to donate them and spread the joy of reading to others. It helps us to live small, with only those things we love in our home.

I’m fascinated with the Tiny House movement. It truly challenges those who choose that lifestyle to live in a smaller footprint. They live with less, but gain so much more.

We had no choice but to live with less. It has enabled us to give to others in need, and to help our local library. That’s a pretty good trade-off.

Tiny House Nation, a show that airs every Monday night on the FYI network, showcases people who have decided to downsize and join the Tiny House movement. They are faced with the same challenges we have been, purging possessions, living small, letting go of ‘things.’ The second season premieres December 22nd at 9 pm ET/10 pm PT. You can follow Tiny House Nation and the journey of “going tiny” on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

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And That’s Done

I’m posting twice today because I also have a sponsored post going up around 9 am.

I’m happy to do the sponsored post, but I also like to check in with you, dear readers.

I finished my Christmas shopping for Don yesterday. Hallelujah! If I could order everything online, I would be one happy camper. But we were both slow to create our Christmas Lists, which means some things have to be bought in the store. I’m happy to report that I was calm, serene, and I managed to gather everything I was looking for.

Since I dislike shopping in stores, as well as the crowds, calm and serene is a major feat.

We still have to do some shopping for our girl.

A few more photos from NYC:

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I don’t know about you, but I still get a little thrill when I see a book publisher’s name on a building. I know it can be tedious work, but I’ve always had a dream about being a book editor in Manhattan.

Ah well, another life.

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And Scribner’s. Don’t you love the writing on the side of the building? It’s a wonderfully old-fashioned font. New York is full of buildings that have words like this – advertisements for the company that resides in the building. Some are beautifully maintained like this, others are so faded that you can barely read them –  a shadowy remnant of another era.

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And one of the buildings at Rockefeller Center, soaring into the sky.

Are you checking off items on your To Do lists? Make sure you give yourself time to stop and rest and look at your tree lights in a darkened room and listen to beautiful music and just be.

New post up on Just Let Me Finish This Page.

Happy Thursday.

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Lights

I love playing around with bokeh at Christmas time – or anytime, really. You’ll be seeing a few Holiday Bokeh shots over the next week because I can’t help myself!

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One of my vintage putz houses and the tree lights in the background.

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This little guy is an ornament on our tree. He graciously agreed to pose for this shot.

Speaking of putz houses, a package arrived on my doorstep yesterday. The return address was unfamiliar. When I opened it up and undid the bubble wrap, this is what I saw:

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I gasped! I had no idea who sent this to me until I read the lovely note attached to the present. A reader named Chris wrote that she read my blog every day and was inspired to start making putz houses when I did my first post about the Necco Snow Globe (which has a putz house as part of the snow scene.)

She made this. Oh my goodness!

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Simply beautiful. And pink bottlebrush trees! I mean, what could be better?

She included a bulb because….

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It lights up!

I’m blown away. Thank you so, so much, Chris!

It’s funny. I haven’t put up the little white tree this year. I don’t know why, but I haven’t felt moved to. I also didn’t put up any of my white bottle brush wreaths. I just wanted ‘simple’ this year. So the only decorations in the living room are the ones in the dollhouse.

After I ran upstairs to show this to Don, he said that this seemed to be the perfect substitute for the little white tree this year. And I think he’s right; it’s the perfect touch for that room. Last night, I turned on the switch and the gentle glow from the light filled the room.

I love it.

I am blessed. For whatever reason, this blog has attracted the most loyal, giving and kind readers. Don thinks I have the best readers in the world.

He’s right.

Happy Wednesday.

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Christmas in NYC: Rockefeller Center

Rockefeller Center is a huge complex situated between between 48th and 51st Street. There are many buildings in the complex, which covers 22 acres. I love the architecture and the design because it was constructed in the thirties – the height of the Art Deco era – and you can see amazing Art Deco details everywhere you look.

This is a picture-heavy post. I’ll add some commentary here and there.

As you approach the complex you’ll see:

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Radio City Music Hall, currently home to the Christmas Spectacular starring the Rockettes.

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And The Tonight Show, starring Jimmy Fallon.

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And the famous Rainbow Room, the Observation Deck and NBC Studios. Sigh. Love, love that Art Deco look.

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And suddenly, there it is. The massive Christmas Tree. And it is massive. There were people everywhere. Seriously, it was hard to move around. It was, after all, a Sunday, so there were lots and lots of people determined to take in the Christmas displays – just as we were.

The tree is amazing. (It also makes me a little sad to see this glorious tree chopped down.) I wonder how old it is?

It must be stunning at night.

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Next to the tree is an area surrounded by flags and and decorations and people everywhere. The sunken area is the famous skating rink.

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The famous statue of Prometheus.

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Looks like fun, but it’s been a few years since I’ve strapped on some ice skates!

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You can see it was wall-to-wall people. If it was any other kind of day, I would have found it overwhelming and irritating, but it’s the Christmas season, so everyone is full of good cheer, including Don and me.

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Sak’s Fifth Avenue.

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NBC News.

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The sun finally came out.

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Gorgeous Art Deco details at the entrance to 30 Rockefeller Plaza.

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St. Patrick’s Cathedral.

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Need I say more?

Christmas time or not, this area of Manhattan is gorgeous and well worth the visit. Normally, if I’m in the area, I’m too busy to linger. That’s what made Sunday special. We gave ourselves the time to linger and celebrate the season.

From your tour guides:

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Don

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And Claudia.

(New post up on Just Let Me Finish This Page.)

Happy Tuesday.

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Grand Central & The Final Episode of Newsroom

We watched the series finale of Newsroom last night.

I’m in mourning.

After three seasons, creator and writer Aaron Sorkin decided to end it. And I want to scream, “No!” In fact, I did.

There’s so much over-hyped drivel on television. It’s all a matter of personal taste, of course, but I find the vast majority of American television series, especially those on the networks, to be poorly written, overblown, not very well acted, sensationalized, and in some cases, laughable. Every new season, I start out hopeful and end up disappointed.

Aaron Sorkin writes smart dialogue. He creates vivid characters on the page and then casts actors who are really good at what they do. He doesn’t dumb down the plot or the words or the pace of the show. We, as viewers, have to pay attention and keep up with the dialogue. We have to use our brains.

What a novel concept.

I’ve been a big fan of this show from the beginning. It makes me think. Don and I invariably spend an hour discussing it after we’ve watched an episode. It’s the reason we keep our subscription to HBO. It’s simply excellent. Sorkin has a streak of idealism running through his veins that I find refreshing and heartening. He examines the issues of the day; in this case, framed around the changing world of 24 hour news. He asks tough questions. He doesn’t play to the lowest common denominator – he raises the bar.

And the cast is uniformly excellent, especially Jeff Daniels.

Can you tell I’m going to miss this show?

And, now on to NYC.

I took a lot of photos. Today I’m going to concentrate on Grand Central Station, one of my favorite buildings in the city.

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The taller building on the left is the MetLife Building. During the blackout several years ago, Don was caught in the city and he had to spend the night sleeping on the floor in the lobby.

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Grand Central in the foreground. My absolute favorite building, The Chrysler Building, in the background.

Inside:

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The soaring windows. The gorgeous hand painted ceiling, showing the constellations.

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The stars light up. I remember seeing the Holiday Light Show several years ago. Music played and the constellations lit up and it was magical.

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This sort of carving is everywhere. They don’t make them like this anymore.

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The holiday pop-up shops in Vanderbilt Hall are an annual event. Unfortunately, we didn’t have time to explore them this year.

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People everywhere. That’s an Apple store you’re seeing at the top of the stairs.

It’s the perfect place to people watch.

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There are tracks upstairs. There are tracks downstairs.

Also downstairs: a giant food court, but a thousand times better than the kind of food court you see in your average mall. I’ve grabbed a meal there more times than I can count.

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And look what we saw! Those of you who have been reading this blog for a while are familiar with my love for Magnolia Bakery’s cupcakes. We laughed when we saw them here at the station because we had already purchased 4 cupcakes from their store located near Rockefeller Center. (We almost bought more, but we ran out of time.)

Tomorrow: Rockefeller Center and more.

Happy Monday.

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Baubles, Bangles & Beads

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I’ve taken to stringing beads.

There was a time, a few years back, where I became excited at the possibility of making jewelry. I purchased beads and tools and wire – everything one might need to fashion an earring or a necklace. And, in fact, I did make some earrings, some of which I still wear. And I made a necklace, which remains unfinished to this day.

It wasn’t for me.

But I have these supplies, you see, and I find myself dipping into them occasionally for the dollhouse. For example, the doorknob on the front door is made from a jewelry finding.

Since I want the newly made dollhouse Christmas tree to last, I am hesitant to glue anything to it. Ideally, I’d like it to be like a real-sized Christmas tree; ornaments go on, ornaments come off, and the tree is unchanged. That would give me some decorating leeway from year to year.

Today I planned on making tiny individual ornaments. However, I quickly realized that I did not have either the skill or the patience for that little exercise.  Oh, no.

“What about a beaded garland?” said I. Which led to a long bead stringing session, longer than I had planned. I took breaks to do the dishes, vacuum, dust, take a shower, and do the laundry.

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Lots and lots of beads.

I ended up with this, which I will most likely tweak and tweak again. I also plan to add another garland in multi-colored beads.

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Caroline might like a bit more on the tree. We’ll have to negotiate.

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Caroline has been wrapping presents. I haven’t even bought any yet. Caroline, you’re embarrassing me.

But it’s not quite enough. Caroline agrees. Off to string more beads.

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Better! Those are pretty little glass beads that I had in my jewelry stash.

The wreath is on the front door:

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And a quick shot of the new bedroom rug – this time with accurate colors. I didn’t want it to be pink. That’s why I went with this rug. There’s a little bit of pink in it, but it’s predominately ecru and light brown.

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We’re off to NYC today. It will be a quick trip. We have our girl to think of and we have to make sure she’s not alone too long. We’re taking the train this time because it arrives in Grand Central Station, which is absolutely glorious at Christmas (or any time of the year) and then we’ll head over to Don’s new agents’ office, near Times Square. I’ll hang around waiting for him, then we’ll head up to Rockefeller Center. After gazing at the tree and indulging in hot chocolate, we’ll hightail it back to the station and head on home. I wish we could spend a bit more time there but when both of us are going, we just don’t have that luxury. Little Scootie (another of my nicknames for her) is more important than anything.

Happy Birthday to my cousin Eileen! Eileen, I hope you’re reading this today. Sending lots of love your way.

Happy Sunday.

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In & Out With No Stops Allowed

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A trip into the city for professional purposes, whether it’s an audition, in Don’s case, or some coaching work, in mine, is always a whirlwind. Drive to the bus station in a neighboring town. Take bus into the city, which takes about an hour and a half, exit the bus at Port Authority and either briskly walk to the destination or grab the subway. Audition. Or coach. Grab some food to go. Return to the bus station. Wait for the bus. Return home, which takes another hour and a half.

You can see why I very seldom do any window shopping or travel to another part of the city. There’s really no time. So, tomorrow will be fun change for us. We’re going in to see Rockefeller Center all lit up for Christmas. (Don has a ten minute meet and greet with his new agents, but we’re not really counting that.)

It was very cold and windy as it often is in a big city where the streets and tall buildings end up being a sort of wind tunnel. My destination was about 12 blocks from the Port Authority and I got there in time to order a hot chocolate to go. I needed something warm to drink!

I was there to coach an actor who is replacing another actor in a play that is currently touring. He needed some help with a Scots dialect. I also worked a bit with the other two actors in the play. They couldn’t have been nicer. My friend and former colleague from back in the Old Globe days is the producer of this production and he’s the one who called me in.

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I was right around the corner from the former Ed Sullivan Theater, now home to the Late Show with David Letterman and soon to be home to the Late Show with Stephen Colbert.

I love, love Stephen Colbert, but I must confess that I’m curious as to how he will transition to being a late night talk show host without the persona we’re so used to seeing on the Colbert Report. And I’ll miss David Letterman, of course.

Today, I’m going to work on the mini Christmas tree and take care of some other chores that need to be done.

The big news? It’s sunny today. I can hardly believe it. I feel like I’ve emerged from a dark cave.

Happy Saturday.

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Off to Manhattan

I’m off to Manhattan this morning, so I’m a wee bit rushed as I drink my much needed coffee and gather my things together for the trip into the city. Any trip in ends up being a rather big deal, simply because of the amount of time it takes to get there. The Kindle is charged, as is my phone. I know where I’m headed once I get off the bus.

But it’s cold out there!

Two more items arrived yesterday for the dollhouse, and that’s the last of the deliveries for a while. I purchased these from an Etsy shop called Green Gypsies.

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This extra large rug is perfect for the floor in the bedroom. The floors needed some softening and, besides, Caroline’s feet were getting cold. This photo is making the rug look a bit too pinkish. It’s more muted than that. I’ll try for a better photo soon.

And in the kitchen:

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This charming retro design that I’ve had bookmarked for almost two years. I finally hit the purchase button. Isn’t it perfect for Caroline’s kitchen? And we all know it helps to have a nice rug underneath your feet when doing dishes.

That’s a carton of egg nog on the counter that Judy sent me last year.

Photo taking has been difficult because it’s been so dark and dreary around here. My kingdom for a sunny day.

Ah well.

I’m off, friends.

Happy Friday.

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