Valentine’s Changes (or, Colin Firth forever and ever, amen.)


Looking through the archives, I see that Valentine’s Day has been one of my consistent occasions for posting something here, for some reason. The feast day to remember a saint who loved God and loved others, enough to die for that love, now serves as the calendar notch on which we hang our ever-changing notions and expectations about love.

In past years I’ve posted about:

This year, my love for MT, and her little friends at school, has manifested itself through Pinterest-inspired activities: heart braid, heart crayons, the best oatmeal coconut chocolate chip cookies.

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So the holiday has evolved quite a bit. In six words,

2007: Went line dancing, found latin lover.
2015: Heidi braids. Heart, please don’t explode.

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This week Kitty’s post (How To Host a Simple Gal-entine’s Party) reminded me of a couple instances when Captain Papa came through in grand style for his baby girl (i.e. me) before marriage and kids. In particular, one year in high school he joined me down in our basement playroom as I watched the six-hour BBC Pride and Prejudice on Valentine’s Day. (FYI, he’s not necessarily a big Austen fan.)

Funnier was the year when he sent me flowers in college. I put the two sweet planters of mini-roses on the window ledge in our sorority house kitchen. The note with the delivery read something like “Love Forever” and it sparked a srat house mystery. Because, although it wasn’t surprising that Dad would send flowers, he didn’t put his name on the note, and when I talked with Mom that day she hadn’t received her flowers yet and told me Dad didn’t send them. The romantic mystery bloomed like the delicate pink roses . . . my friends and I spent many minutes (at least) wondering who my secret admirer was. We even called the flower company to see if they could release the sender’s information. They could not! [Drama!] I can only imagine how pathetic that operator thought we were, especially since she could see that the sender and recipient shared a last name.

Whatever Valentine’s Day looks like on a given year, the bottom line question we want answered is . . . Am I loved? Am I worth it? Is there someone willing to sacrifice for me, willing to watch six-hour Pride and Prejudice with me—whether it’s my dad, my boyfriend, my girlfriends, my cat (not to mention my infant who has no choice). Watching Pride and Prejudice may or may not be a big sacrifice depending on the person who makes it, but it points to sacrifices even greater. Is there someone willing to give up everything, for me? I think the answer is Yes. And when those affectionate husbands, or cats, fail us—maybe you saw it coming—we can go back to the Love who inspired the original Valentine.

Whatever’s going on with you, I wish you much Colin Firth (or maybe Stanley Tucci) this Valentine’s Day.

P.S. To be fair, it’s also about considering whether I’ll give up my sense of taste to watch something I consider ridiculous. What’s the male equivalent of P&P?

P.P.S. I do like the new Keira Knightley P&P, but I officially endorse the 1995 BBC version. My only contention with the BBC P&P is that Lizzy is prettier than Jane, which is inaccurate.

P.P.P.S. Who wore it better?

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Friday Dance, in the British fashion


One of my besties from college did (and to my knowledge still does) a celebratory jumping twisting dance each Friday, her ritual to kick off the weekend. In honor of Ansley, I’m shimmying my bloggy shoulders and hips to shake out some random thoughts and links I’ve been toying around with in my mind to share with you.

First, the big news. We are in Memphis, and—this is fantastic—so are Harry and William. They enjoyed barbeque at the Rendezvous last night, and tomorrow will be ushers at their friend’s wedding at the Hunt and Polo Club. (The former location was the site of our rehearsal dinner; the latter my bridesmaids’ luncheon! We are now connected in a mystical and very important way.)

Israel believes the monarchy needs to go, but I kind of love it. Here’s one take on why it’s fun to see pictures of the young royal family (keyword: family): Ashley McGuire’s “This Is Why We’re Obsessed with Will and Kate.” That, and Georgie’s clothes: The Royal Baby Proves All Southerners are Basically Royalty.

Unfortunately for us, though, Kate and George aren’t in Memphis. And in a prime example of southern hospitality, a local “gentlemen’s club” decided to leave William’s name off of their sign that reads “Welcome Prince Harry” because they “didn’t want to create any marital strife.” Pure class.

On the subject of baby clothes in the South, Mama Rote laughed at this post about various levels of smocked clothing at different churches“And here in the South, I would say that there are definite circles of high-smock expectations and low-smock expectations, generally based around the Church you go to. They may not be spoken guidelines, but as soon as you step foot onto the nursery hallway, you can almost smell it in the air – which smock denomination (smocknomination?) your church falls under.” (Ours is certainly “smock-optional.”)

On my bookshelf currently: All Creatures Great and Small by James Herriot, then its sequels All Things Bright and Beautiful and All Things Wise and Wonderful.


On childhood road trips—in our killer conversion van!—I first listened to James Herriot’s dog and cat stories on cassette tape. Herriot was a veterinarian in the Yorkshire Dales in the English countryside beginning in the 1930s, and his stories are at times funny, heartwarming, and fascinating, and always good. You’ll love his narration and his contagious devotion to the country and its animals. As city-bred Herriot works doggedly to win over the stolid farmers, he’s got to take the triumphs together with the looking foolish—as when he’s called out to a calving in the middle of the night, and realizes as he soaps up his arms that the silent Dalesmen can smell the strong, fruity, feminine scent of the soap he’d only used in desperation, borrowed from his housekeeper. The farmers sniffed, but didn’t say a word.

With his hilarious voice and his images of lambs and calves and green, green grass, Herriot has been the perfect spring reading for me. I’ll be keeping these books around for reading aloud to the family in future years.

Sticking with the English theme, another college friend—not a royal, but a member of my personal aristocracy—will be married this weekend. We studied abroad in England together, and so: Mary Hamner, me best bird, I virtually toast you with a turbo shandy!

Leaving you with some spring-y images from our outdoor painting en plein air session yesterday. (Please infer: we are artsy, worldly, sophisticated . . . if only little Georgie were here for a play date!):

Final question: how can I make some cash off my daughter being a child model? Let me know your thoughts.

Movies to Make You Smile


If you’re in the mood for old movies, here are three that you’ll love (or you should).

Recommending these reminds me of my parents’ friend who took them to his favorite Tex Mex place in Dallas. “Order the chicken enchiladas. They are the best; you can’t go wrong.”

When my mom asked about alternatives in case she didn’t like the enchiladas, he said, “Oh don’t worry. If you don’t like them, I’ll eat them.”

“If you eat my chicken enchiladas, then what will I eat?” she responded. He stopped. “Oh. Well, if you don’t like the chicken enchiladas, you don’t deserve to eat.”

So, no apologies here. If you don’t like these movies, there’s something wrong with you. I don’t feel bad at all. Here they are:

It Happened One Night


In this precursor to Roman Holiday, Clark Gable is a reporter who, in order to get the scoop, helps a young socialite (Claudette Colbert) run from her life of privilege. (They may or may not fall in love.) You get to see Clark Gable’s abs—shocking!—in a move that allegedly hurt the undershirt business for years, as well as the famous scene where Claudette Colbert stops a car by showing a little leg.

My Man Godfrey


William Powell and Carole Lombard make an unlikely pair. She finds him, a bum on the street, in order to win a New York society scavenger hunt, and subsequently hires him as her family’s butler. (They may or may not fall in love.) The mom in this one cracks me up.

Some Like It Hot


Jack Lemmon makes the most hilarious faces. Out of desperation, he and Tony Curtis disguise themselves as members of an all-female band, where they meet Marilyn Monroe’s character Sugar. (People may or may not fall in love, and that’s the funniest part. That, and the cross dressing.)

Bonus fact: My husband wants me to point out that the mafia execution that Joe and Jerry (Curtis and Lemmon) witness in Chicago before joining the all-girl band is the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre. Therefore, if you’re a little weird like us and like to coordinate the movies you watch with the season, go ahead and watch this one now, in late February.

All three movies appear on the American Film Institute’s list of top 100 comedies, With Some Like It Hot taking the top spot. (Some Like It Hot and It Happened One Night are also on the general top 100 movies list, and It Happened One Night makes the list of top romantic movies.) All three make me laugh out loud.

Midweek Motivation: “Simply Charming!”

So maybe not motivation/inspiration, just a little holiday cheer for your Tuesday:

This is probably my favorite scene from Miracle on 34th Street; I quote it all the time. 1947 humor, you slay me.

Although our Christmas movie list has to be hammered out each year, it’s certain that we’ll watch Miracle on 34th Street sometime during Thanksgiving weekend.

One thing Mary Tobin is into right now is talking on her “butter phone”— a wooden block from her set of kitchen play food. She carries it in her jacket pocket, takes it out and says hello and tells the person on the other end (usually one of her grandmothers, or maybe Meggie, my friend who she’s met once) what we’re doing. She swipes the screen with her finger like Mama and Papa do, and recently she’s started taking pictures with the phone or just pulling up pictures of her baby cousins to show us.

Naturally we tried to get her to say “Hellloooooo” like drunk Mrs. Shellhammer, but Mary Tobin wouldn’t take the bait.

“No.” ::shakes head:: (How silly of ME to ask!)

No more pliable baby to experiment on!

 photo null_zpsb866c2e8.jpgMary Tobin and Papa conducting some business in the taxi.

 photo null_zps1432da0b.jpgThanksgiving. Mary Tobin taking a picture of me taking a picture.

On a separate note, MT is wearing a dress by Mama Rote, scarf by Abuela; preppy sweater to represent her father, and moccasins to represent her bohemian-chic mother (right?)– and also Native Americans. :)

P.S. Related: Louis C.K. on kids and cell phones. I love him so much. “I don’t care what you want. It’s not even interesting.”

Civil War Reading: The Killer Angels

You may have heard that last week (July 1-3) marked the 150th (sesquicentennial!) anniversary of the battle of Gettysburg. I don’t normally plan my reading this well, but earlier this summer I enjoyed Michael Shaara’s classic civil war novel The Killer Angels.

Full disclosure: I read it because it’s been sitting on our shelf since two Christmases ago when I bought it for my husband Israel, who hardly ever reads fiction, but loves Civil War history. I thought this could be the book that would entice him over to The Lightside. (More disclosure: I just googled “opposite of dark side” and found the answer.)

[There’s a lesson here. If I wasn’t last minute Christmas shopping and had thought for more than one minute, I would’ve realized this is the worst type of gift. Don’t buy someone a gift that you actually want, or use it as a chance to subtly suggest that the recipient do some self improvement. No exercise equipment, ok guys? The best gifts are something that the person wants but would never buy for him- or herself.]

So, I haven’t given up hope that Israel will love this book, but I went ahead and broke it in for him. Shaara follows the points of view of generals from the Union and Confederate armies in the days leading up to and through the battle of Gettysburg. The tone and style of the chapters vary depending on the general: some stream of consciousness, others much more disciplined and regimented in their self-talk. I was caught up in the characters, and to put it plainly, found the book very readable.

We get to know best General Longstreet, of the Confederacy, a military genius who can foresee the battle’s tragedy but whose loyalty trumps his pragmatism; and General Chamberlain from the Union Army, a mere college professor from Maine, whose unexpected bravery and leadership at Gettysburg earns him great renown. General Lee was portrayed as highly respected and deeply devout, but aging and tired. After seeing the battle from multiple points of view, the reader is left wondering whether the great losses at Gettysburg were inevitable.

I got the feeling that Shaara treated the Confederacy more sympathetically than the Union. That may have been a device for effective storytelling (mid-way through, I had to confirm with Israel: the South lost at Gettysburg, right?), or maybe I brought my own background to the interpretation. If you read it you’ll have to let me know what you think. But for both sides, the fictional format was effective for exploring the men’s motives and beliefs about the war.

I was struck by the strong emotions of classmates from West Point who never expected to face off opposite one another; soldiers sipping coffee in the early morning on the day of the fight, too charged up to sleep any more, like a modern day football rivalry; men drinking and singing around a campfire late into the night, not thinking too hard, because they know, if they survive, they’ll never find camaraderie like this once the war ends.

Not your basic chick lit summer read . . . I was never averse to war as the subject of a story, but still, I didn’t expect to enjoy this one as much as I did. If you’d like to feel smarter about the Civil War, but you’re more of a fiction fan, this is a great choice.

Classic Movie Alert: The Court Jester

Email from Mama Rote today, to all her offspring and our significant others:


The Court Jester is on TCM Sunday evening at 8pm ET/5pmPT.

I think you should NOT MISS IT. But that’s just my opinion.


“The chalice from the palace has the brew that is true.”

If you’ve ever considered taking my old movie recommendations, now is the time. You’ll love this one. It’s full of hilarious scenes, memorable lines, and of course, Danny Kaye making faces like this:

(Fair warning to my husband: there’s singing and dancing. But also a great sword fight scene.)

You’ll do a double take when you see Angela Lansbury as a beautiful young princess, rather than Jessica Fletcher in Murder She Wrote. And then there’s one of my all-time favorite villains, Basil Rathbone.

Enjoy! (And you’re welcome.) Have a great, swashbuckling weekend.

Easter Movie Ideas

When you’re relaxing Sunday night after the Easter feasting is over, you want to watch something uplifting, not a particularly dark episode of Mad Men like we did last year. (I love the show, and I can handle heavy viewing. Just not appropriate for Easter, you understand.)

You want something to make you cry with joy. You want to see redemption, to see the good triumph—bursting forth in glorious day, as the hymn goes.

A handful of suggestions:

  • Chariots of Fire
  • The Sound of Music
  • Les Miserables
  • Lord of the Rings: Return of the King

What would you add to the list? (Sorry I don’t have one about JC. In this post about movies for Lent, Steven Greydanus recommends kid-friendly The Miracle Maker, which I haven’t seen.)

P.S. Here’s some beautiful Easter egg hunt inspiration! Have a wonderful weekend!

Christmas Movie Battles: “Everything is Hunky Dunky”

It was a Dostoevsky character who said that God and the devil are fighting over beauty and “the battlefield is the heart of man.” My updated version: that husbands and wives are fighting for their marriages, and the battlefield is the Netflix queue.

By the time we’ve been married 50 years, Israel and I will have hammered out our ultimate Christmas movie list, and the order in which films must be watched will be well established. I got in some trouble this December for making us watch Love Actually too early. (You want to save the best ones for closer to Christmas.)

My victory this year: Israel took me to see White Christmas The Musical at the Kennedy Center. That’s love. (It’s a musical. “That means that the performers will periodically dance about and burst into song.” Name that movie.) White Christmas is one of my favorite movies, so even though the dancing and costumes in this performance were a lot of fun, it’s impossible to live up to Bing and Danny. I could watch the movie over and over. In order to sustain the yearly tradition for the other half of this marriage, though, we may have to create a White Christmas drinking game: take a sip when Danny Kaye rubs his arm. When a new number begins. And whenever the general enters the scene. Why? Because he’s the man.

Israel’s victory: tonight, at the pinnacle of our Christmas movie season, we’ll have a screening of It’s A Wonderful Life.  I’ll admit that this one is not at the top of my list—a little too much of a downer (especially compared to the singing, dancing, and glorious technicolor of White Christmas!)

But I always loved it when George and Mary fall in the pool, and when he offers to lasso the moon for her. Sigh.


So, in a Christmas movie ultimate smackdown battle royale, which do you think would come out on top? White Christmas or It’s A Wonderful Life?

Other observations so far this season:

The plots of way too many made-for-TV movies have to do with creating a fake engagement or fake boyfriend to bring home to your family for the holidays. I can think of three that we encountered this year, so I’m sure there are many more. (And during the rest of the year you can watch Melissa Joan Hart and Joey Lawrence’s classic My Fake Fiance.) Lesson: if you’re looking for love, just get yourself into a situation where you need to lie to your family and hire a boyfriend. It’s highly likely that you will hate the person in the beginning, but hilarity and bonding will ensue, and you may just find that what you’ve been looking for all along is right under your nose!

But seriously. Don’t miss Christmas in Connecticut and Uncle Felix saying, “Everything is hunky dunky!”


I’m officially a fan of this one, and I love Barbara Stanwyck’s voice.

We hope things are hunky dunky for you, and that your encounter with Santa goes better than this:

santa 1 santa 2 santa 3

These pictures simultaneously slay me and crack me up. Don’t tell me I’m a bad mother. It was less than five seconds. (Pics by Shannon. Thanks!)

P.S. Christmas movie reviews from years past.

For Your October Viewing Pleasure: E.T.


Can you believe it? I’d never seen E.T. til this month. I loved it. I’m not much for scary movies, so this one was the perfect Halloween flick for me.


On a cool night, we bundled up with candles, red wine, and the Whole Foods organic version of Reese’s cups. (Full disclosure: I feel asleep so it became a two-night viewing. Not bored with the movie, just Denmark-inspired warm and cozy (=drowsy), and jet-lagged.)

I loved the relationships between the siblings. Plus, Elliot is adorable.


Queue it up if your Halloween plans are messed up by Frankenstorm!

What’s your go-to scary movie? Ask Israel about our date when we watched Friday the 13th. Never again.

Call me Fishmael.

Breakfast at Tiffany’s. Source: via Josie on Pinterest

Hey, internet friends, what do you think?

It’s fall, and we’re looking forward to all those nice fall-y feeling things. Israel and I brainstormed over lunch this week, and he’s specifically looking forward to:

    • college football
    • tailgating
    • pumpkin beer
    • pumpkin anything
    • delicious air
    • sweaters
    • getting out his Patagonia fleece
    • romantic comedies that feel appropriate to autumn, such as St. Elmo’s Fire and Breakfast at Tiffany’s

It’s also about time to switch out clothes and little house items, like putting away the summer table cloth and getting out that delicious candle. BUT we have a dilemma. “Fishmael” is our gurgling cod from last summer’s New England vacation, possibly my favorite souvenir I’ve ever purchased. (We obviously had to choose Nantucket Red.) Does he stay or does he go?

Here’s Fishmael in his native habitat:

[Let’s take a moment, not for silence, rather for loud appreciation of Mama Rote’s handiwork on those shelves during her last visit! I had the vision; she handled the execution. Here’s the before; the cabinet on the right:

Note well: this metamorphasis took place only during times when Mary Tobin was asleep. And, these cabinets are heavy as the dickens, so we didn’t budge them to paint. When we move, we’ll have to paint the three remaining sides.

We lined the back with wallpaper (from a Washington Design Center sale) and used Annie Sloane chalk paint, which lived up to its rep of being nice and easy. The color is a mix of Duck Egg and French Linen that we dubbed “French Duck Linen” or “French Egg” or “Linen Duck” . . .  shall I go on?]

What do you look forward to for fall? I hope you’re pulling out the blankets, sprucing up the nest to make it nice and cozy, and enjoying the cool breeze through your windows.

More importantly, if you had a gurgling cod pitcher that brought an awesome glug-glug sound to the water glasses at your summer dinners, and—let’s be clear—undeniably reminds you of summer and whaling in Nantucket, would you let him stick around through the cold months? Or are some things made even more special through their absence? Again I ask you. Does he stay or does he go?