The Exquisite Luxury of Bloom Time

Time is the ultimate luxury.

It’s taken me a whole lot of frivolous spending and a deeper appreciation of the short life-span of my favorite flowers to realize it.

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I remember a newspaper column by Boston Globe columnist Ellen Goodman I read many years ago, when I  was in my early 20s and I thought 30 was old, about how she measured the rest of her life in lilac blooms. Goodman hoped she had at least another twenty lilac blooms to go. I thought this was the strangest thing I’d ever heard.

But now that I’m on the back side of forty, I understand.

As the iris bed I planted last August begins to reap museum-quality beauty each morning, and then fades within a day or two, I understand. Another year. An entire year before I will see them again. Another year older, if I’m so blessed.

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Crocus. Daffodils. Tulips. Flowering crab trees. Lilacs. Poppies. Peonies. Irises. I cherish the succession.

Each of my lovely blooms last just a few exquisite days. I look forward to each of them like a child looks forward to a visit from Santa. I wake up each morning, grab my camera, and run outside to see what is opening, what has blossomed over night, what is peaking and what is fading.

I photograph each beautiful iris bloom in dusky morning light and in full afternoon sun. I marvel at the irises’ frilly apricot standards, the fuzzy lavender and pale yellow caterpillar beards, veins of fuchsia and purple speckled falls.

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This year is especially poignant for me. For the past two months, I have been watching as my mother’s mind slowly slips away, succumbing to the final throes of dementia. She has been staying with me a week now. While she has been frustrated, fearful, angry, sobbing, sometimes all of the above, I have seen her soothed by the familiarity of my garden. She remembers the peonies of her grandmother’s garden. She felt the satisfaction of mimicking me, as I planted container gardens. She recognized the feathery Cosmos seedlings, just three inches high.

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My poppies are thick and lush right now, as they are each Memorial Day weekend. The tight round balls of luscious pink peonies always follow in the first days of June. It’s a succession you can count on like Monday follows Sunday.

These are the luxuries that I cherish.

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Flower blooms are free to everyone. A beautiful peony is no more beautiful to the rich man as it is to the poor. In a world of technology that moves at warp speed and dissolves in the seconds of a Snapchat snap, moments spent observing the smallest details of a flower petal are savored.

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I try not to think of how many more magnificent lilac blooms I will enjoy,  how many opportunities I have to inhale their delicious perfume. As I see my mother follow the same path my grandmother took with Alzheimer’s, I wonder if I, too, will slip away too soon. But then I pull my attention back to this day, this moment. I am grateful to enjoy this bloom. I wake up each morning, a little earlier to see what’s blossomed.

I hope you do, too. Because time is the ultimate luxury.

 

 

The Lady Delaney: Artist, Style Icon, Muse

 

I’m so excited to introduce a new feature to Chickadee, a featured female artist who inspires me with her talent, kindness and entrepreneurial spirit. The first woman is Lauren Delaney George. She is someone whom I’ve admired since I first discovered her Etsy shop in 2013, where I was surprised and delighted by her amazing shop, full of miniature delights.

Lauren attended NYU, where she spent 2 years in the school’s prestigious MFA program, and started her career working for E. Jean Carroll of Elle magazine fame, helping with a kooky side project social media game site that she had created, “Catch27.”

Since that time, I’ve discovered that she is a costume and set designer with feature films to her credit. She has worked with the likes of Colleen Atwood, 14-time Oscar nominee, on the film Public Enemies. Lauren’s clients include FAO Schwarz, Monique Lhullier, Erin Featherstone and the Cancer Research Institute. Her original artwork, The Exile of Prospero, debuted at the National Building Museum. She is a style icon with her amazing throwback vintage glamour. And most recently she published her first book, All Dolled Up to critical acclaim, with a second already underway.

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Lauren’s office is located in the back of a fabulous vintage clothing store on Magazine Street in New Orleans, Century Girl.

Blog Summary: Lauren Delaney George is EVERYTHING. #allthegoals #ladyboss #shero #girlcrush

Whew. I had to get my fan girl enthusiasm out-of-the-way in order to write any further. Now that you know the gist of my feelings about Lauren, we can get to the heart of the matter…why she should be YOUR creative inspiration, too.

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One of my absolute favorite projects of Lauren’s. The Haunted Dollhouse.

To me, there is nothing more inspiring than seeing a fabulous creative woman living her dreams, except for kindness, graciousness and willingness to encourage other artists in pursuing their dreams.

I asked Lauren if she would agree to an interview with me, with her knowing nothing about me and she eagerly accepted. So without further ado, I give you the much coveted interview.

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Spooky things happened when I received goodies from Lauren, including this cool haunted mansion.

Melanie: First of all thank you for agreeing to this interview:

Lauren: I was so honored by your email! And holy moly is your blog b-e-a-u-t-i-f-u-l. I’d love to help in any way that I can with a feature.

Melanie: Thank you. I’m so flattered. Well, I asked a million questions, so let’s jump right in. Are there other artists in your family?

Lauren: My dad is a doctor and though my mom received her MBA, she devoted her life to  raising three crazy children.  Both my parents are very creative.  My mom is a jack-of-all-trades crafter; she knits, quilts, cross stitches, etc.  My dad is really into history and has dabbled in state politics. He occasionally publishes articles and has created a couple of historical documentaries. Though I am the only “professional” artist in my family, traveling to Honduras on a medical relief trip with my dad this year gave me an entirely new appreciation of the artistry involved in cutting up and healing a body.  And my mom has really devoted her life to creating beautiful things for her family and loved ones to enjoy.

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Her style…iconic.

Melanie: You’ve traveled all over the world. Did that have an impact on your creativity?

Lauren: I spent my junior year of college abroad in Aix-en-Provence, France.  I knew that I would never improve my French unless I was submersed in the actual culture.  Several years out of practice, I’m pretty rusty at the skills I picked up there, although I can still mostly understand when it is spoken to me.  When I was in 8th grade, my dad taught anesthesia for one month at a hospital university in Moshi, Tanzania.  My entire family accompanied him and I attended an international school with my siblings (International School of Moshi).  My ISM classmates were from all over the world. 

Melanie So you grew up surrounded by culture, art and history?

Lauren: We grew up really spoiled in the sense that art and creativity were always encouraged in our house.  In fact, our house has always been a bit of a circus, bustling with whatever people’s current projects are!  My brother would often film movies with his friends there, and once even built a “submarine” film set in the garage.  My parents tend to adopt our friends, so there are always people coming and going when we are home.  

My parents are outgoing, creative people, unafraid to try new things.  They don’t operate under the idea that you must have a degree in whatever you decide to pursue.  Their fearlessness has been a major shaping influence in my life.  

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One of Lauren’s exquisite dresses, that she generously shows you how to make in All Dolled up.

Melanie: Have you always known that you wanted to be a designer/artist/author?

I definitely didn’t grow up knowing this was what I wanted to do.  I’ve always enjoyed arts and crafts, but it didn’t even occur to me until I was graduating from college that I could make a career out of a creative field.  My interests and projects continue to evolve and I am curious to see what is in store!

Melanie: Who or what inspires you?

I’m really inspired by creative people and New Orleans happens to be filled with them!  The history of New Orleans also inspires me, because it feels like traveling back through time with all the history and interesting characters who populate the city today.  I also love just discovering other artists through the rabbit holes of Instagram and Pinterest.

Melanie: The best part of social media to me! I read that you met Costume Designer Colleen Atwood on the set of Public Enemies and she influenced your decision to go to NYU. 

Lauren: My encounter with her was hugely significant, because it got me thinking about that possibility. Meeting her was just such an awesomely weird and surreal experience.  It got my brain working on how costume design was this beautiful tangle of all the subjects I loved: history, fashion, and psychology.  

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Melanie: Your artistic resume is so long and varied. You seem to have an ever-flowing river of ideas. Do you ever get stuck? Have you ever felt afraid to try something new?

Lauren: Yes, I definitely get stuck and I think that every human does at some point, regardless of their career choice. For me, the hardest part is sitting down to begin a project. 

Before I dive into something really consuming (like All Dolled Up or The Haunted Dollhouse), my soul gets a little weary thinking about how HUGE it seems. It always helps to break these monsters down into more manageable daily tasks. You need to be disciplined without being too hard on yourself.  Just set yourself up to be moving the project forward every day with small steps. 

For example, if you wake up and say, “I’m going to create a book about paper dolls today,” it’s never going to happen. Instead say, “Today I am going to rough draft a table of contents.  Tomorrow I will outline the introduction. The day after tomorrow, I will create a rough storyboard for the pages.”  The key is that none of these things has to be perfect. Just get your idea on paper and then keep refining it as you bring in new elements.

I am afraid on a daily basis. Fear is a completely normal reaction when you are confronting the unknown.  For a creative, this means not being able to envision the end product at the beginning, but trusting the process will bring you through to the end. 

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One of Lauren’s miniature libraries available in her Etsy Shop.

Melanie: How do you approach a new project? Is your approach methodical, researched, experimental? Is there a Lauren Delaney process?

Lauren:  When starting a new project, I spend a lot of time exploring images and reading.  I am gauging my own reaction to things like tone, color, and setting. I make a lot of notes, collecting quotes from other writers, as I begin placing the images next to each other.  Finding the thread through this collection I’ve assembled is how I discover my own opinion about the world that I am creating. 

Melanie: Oh my! I still haven’t even tackled all my questions about your many projects that I REALLY want to talk about. Your miniatures, The Haunted Dollhouse and your new book, All Dolled Up. I think this is going to have to be a two-part interview.

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This is Zelda, one of the guests at Lauren’s book launch party at Century Girl.

Lauren: Thank you so much again for caring about my work and sharing it with the world.

Lauren has very graciously offered to host a random drawing for a signed copy of her book, All Dolled Up. No purchase is necessary to enter. Simply follow my blog (not mandatory, but I hope you’ll come back for Part 2 of Lauren’s interview) and leave your email in the comments section, so I can notify you if you win. I will not use your email for marketing purposes or solicitation. The drawing will be held on May 15th.

Finally,  I want to end with what I think is one of the coolest things about Lauren. In 2013, during the height of Gatsby mania, when the remake of the classic movie, starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Carey Mulligan was coming out, Lauren won first place in the costume contest at The Gatsby Garden Party in Oheka Castle New York.

“Lauren is so cool,” said her #1 fan.

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Photo Credit: Christopher Lane

To be continued…Part 2 coming soon.

 

 

 

Imagination: The Best Medicine

There is a quote attributed to Theo Van Gogh, taken from a letter written to his brother the painter, Vincent. I read the original, and it doesn’t sound much like the quote as we know it today, but I love the quote anyway. It says, “To know God is to love many things.”

Adulting is hard. The older I get, the more I cherish and need my creative escapes. I think it’s so important for children and adults alike to have an escape valve to help them release the pressure of everyday life, technology and news of the world.

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My Fisher Price Little People had 2 homes, a farm, a houseboat and a private jet. Little people, living large.

Growing up an only child, I cultivated the ability to entertain myself, as well as a life-long love of creating tiny worlds filled with family, friends and lots of animals to keep me company. My love of all things tiny started with Fisher Price Little People. I remember vividly being very sick once, maybe 4 years old, and the only thing that made me feel better was my Grandma pulling out a Little People A-Frame Cottage that she was saving to give me at Christmas. I was immersed in another world and things didn’t feel quite so bad.

Then in junior high, I read Tennessee Williams’ The Glass Menagerie, and fell in love with Laura Wingfield’s fragile world of crystal animals. In this small refuge, anything was possible. Everything was manageable.

So you can imagine my unbridled joy when I got my first true writing job creating catalog and box copy at Department 56, the company renowned for their amazing Christmas Villages and Snowbabies. Bringing to life the miniature people who populated the fictional city of Merryville remains one of the highlights of my career to this day.

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A winter catalog from my time at Department 56.
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Hi! I’m Morty

Then some pretty major and traumatic life events occurred in my thirties and suddenly I felt the weight of the adult world on my shoulders. If I’d been able to have kids, maybe the wonder of experiencing the world through their eyes would have sustained me. But I lost my sense of fun. Of play. I lost my joy. I was at a new job, that wasn’t fun, which unfortunately compounded my lack of “joie de vivre.” And that’s when one day I came across a shop on Etsy called Monsters Etc. and met my friend Ruti Dan, a kindred spirit. Here was another adult, with a “real world” day job, who spent her free time making art dolls. NOT for kids.

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Unfamiliar with human customs…like confetti cake, or cake in general.

After Morty arrived, everything changed. I started finding all kinds of crazy ways to photograph him, singing karaoke, playing with the copier at work, investigating mossy woods. The next thing I knew I had started creating small vignettes of my own. I incorporated felted creatures I purchased from Kit Lane on Etsy, and then started making my own felty guys. I propped them with funny trinkets you might find in a gumball machine. Then I found them a red model convertible and a little guitar. Or I propped them in front of the alligators when I visited Avery Island in Louisiana. Before I knew it, I was buying a gigantic dollhouse. My PayPal account was more than happy to accommodate my desire for all things teensy-tiny, and my collection of itsy bitsy shabby chic decor and miniature cakes grew exponentially. As I tell my husband, it’s cheaper than redecorating the house. I can design the room of my dreams in miniature.

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Just an evening of desserts and champagne, with the anti-social Mr. Mouse.

And eventually I graduated to this…

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My spring bake shop, Fattycakes’ Bakery

and this…

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Ms. Clara Plum at work in her kitchen.

and this.

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Making Elvis Presley’s favorite – the peanut butter and banana sandwich

One of the HUGE positives of social media is the way a person can find a group of devoted, like-minded people who share a passion for just about everything and anything. I discovered that there were other mini-devotees, who were just as excited and fascinated with all things mini as I was.

I started chatting with the most amazing and inspiring people, and meeting artists who were pursuing vibrant careers based on their art.  Lauren Delaney. Bridget McCarthy. Ana Mimundorosa. Lugart Petit. Paris Miniatures. A Lavender Dilly. PetitDlicious. Kim’s Mini Bakery.  That’s just to name a few.

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A Marie Antoinette roombox at the Tom Bishop International Miniatures Show.

I traveled alone to Chicago to attend my first International Miniatures Show, where I rode in an elevator with a REAL prince (not Harry, unfortunately). He had traveled from the Arab peninsula to Chicago to pursue his passion for miniatures. I met some of my favorite artists in person and others from Spain, Italy, France, Ireland and so many more countries. I took classes from a master woodworker from Ireland, learning to hand-finish miniature cabinetry. And I saw the most magnificent dollhouses and tiny pieces that cost thousands of dollars. One day soon I hope to return and visit the world-renowned Thorne Miniature Rooms at The Art Institute of Chicago.

Following that simple whim, one day 8 years ago, when I was well, well, well beyond a reasonable age to be playing with dolls, I threw caution to the wind and allowed myself to do something silly. I bought an art doll named Morty from half-way around the world, and he reintroduced me to what I’d been missing so desperately – joy.

Through letting my imagination run wild, and indulging my childhood passions, I was able to gradually let go of some of my sadness, put the world on pause and just play. I think that’s really what we need now more than ever, grown-ups and kids alike. So the next time you see that metaphorical merry-go-round with it’s magical horses, merry music, and flashing lights, go ahead and jump on. Buy yourself that giant stuffed cheeseburger pillow. Or the light saber you’ve had your eye on for months now. It could change your life.

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Let your imagination bloom.

Birding – Nature’s Yoga

 

A bird does not sing because it has an answer. A bird sings because it has a song.

– Joan Walsh Anglund

There is only one thing in life that motivates me to wash a window, and that’s to better appreciate the fine details of the birds gathered at my feeder.

Just outside my window there is a whole bustling world of little creatures performing a show just for me.

Nature is one of my greatest inspirations, and the most effective anti-depressant available without a prescription. Birds make me unspeakably happy, just by being. All I have to do is provide them a little enticement, some food, a garden, some water and they are my faithful friends year round.

Stepping outside on a cold winter morning, to take out the trash, I hear cheerful songs surrounding me in all directions, from birds on high, unseen in the tall trees dotting the suburban landscape.  A tell-tale monkey call lets me know a pileated woodpecker is nearby, and if I’m lucky he will come swooping by with his pterodactyl–like head and giant wing-span, with all his red-mohawked glory.

Pileated Woodpecker (dryocopus pileatus)

I read somewhere that birdwatching is nature’s yoga. It helps us all slow down and breathe.

There is no instant gratification in bird-watching. If you want a photo of a bird, you will never capture it by making a mad dash for your iPhone. You will have to sit quietly. As you patiently wait, you’ll gradually become more aware of sound, of birdsong, wind, the leaves rustling. You’ll begin to watch for movement and color, staring fixedly between branches and leaves. During this quiet observation, you begin to take note of your own breathing, your heart rate slowing. It’s like meditation.

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Bird-watching is also good for mental alertness and acuity. When you go to a museum, you study paintings, brushstrokes, a painter’s use of light and shadow. When you go to a city, you may study the architecture,  a certain style, arches, columns, or building materials. When you see a fashion show, you study the sophistication or elements of the design, the intricate details of beading or lace, the quality of the fabrics.

With birding, the objects of your study are typically hopping, flitting, flying or seeking cover. Do you know how many types of finches, sparrows and warblers there are? Do you know how difficult it is to discern one hawk from another? A zillion and yes. I know.

Even with guidebooks at the ready, I have trouble distinguishing between finches and warblers, so similar are the color and marking of their feathers. There are so many different variables in look and behaviors, type of beak, wing-patterns, the shape of a tail. tail, the notes of a birdsong. If you’re very lucky, you will see operatic displays of romance or jealousy in territorial birds or mating pairs. I once saw a breeding pair of pileateds flying back and forth from my suet log to the tree and regurgitating food in the mouth of a baby woodpecker. I never regurgitation could be so adorable.

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An Eagle from the Wildlife Rehab Center who attended Mark & Michelle’s wedding.

Bird-watching can also lead to human romance. Who needs eHarmony when you’re part of a passionate community of birders? My friends Mark and Michelle met through a birding group on Facebook. They go bird-banding together, at night, with coal miner lights strapped to their heads. They rescue raptors. They travel to exciting birding destinations, like South America. They built a huge backyard waterfall and pond to attract more birds to their yard. Did I mention that among the most distinguished guests at their wedding, were several raptors from the rehabilitation center where Michelle volunteers?

Mark who works at All Seasons Wild Bird Store in Minnetonka, says”Winter birds, with their spring songs and colorful attire, remind a person that life should be happy, not sad.”

If you’d like to become a backyard birder and enjoy all the mental and physical benefits, here is a variety of seed to help you get started. My $15 membership at my local Wild Bird Store, saves me 10% off all my purchases.

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Sunflower chips attract all the little songbirds. Especially my darling chickadees and nuthatches. Nuthatches are the only birds that run head first down a tree trunk. The Berry Nutty blend is a higher calorie blend, great for winter feeding because of its critical nutrients and antioxidants. I like to put out a bowl of peanuts especially for the blue jays, and watch them come and go like planes at the airport. They cache their nuts and can remember hiding spots months later. Golden Safflower is another songbird favorite, but people like it, because the squirrels don’t. A squirrel has gotta eat, too, though! And nyger thistle is a favorite of finches, chickadees and ground-feeding juncos in winter.

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Finally, the best birding gift I ever received was a woodpecker log, over a decade ago now. It’s a birch log feeder with holes drilled to fit these year-round, no mess suet plugs. I can sit at my window and watch seven different varieties of woodpeckers come to feed. I’ve seen cardinals and flickers eat from it as well.

 

I’d like to share a small portion from a poem written by one of my favorite poets, Mary Oliver. The poem is entitled Snow Geese, from her collection of poems, “Why I Wake Early.”

“The geese

flew on.

I have never

seen them again.

Maybe I will, someday, somewhere.

Maybe I won’t.

It doesn’t matter.

What matters

is that, when I saw them,

I saw them

As through the veil, secretly, joyfully, clearly.”

If feeding the birds in your own yard isn’t an option for you, I encourage you to check out one of my favorite pages on Facebook, Ricky Montgomery’s Wildlife. His feeder cameras are amazing.

The Chickadee & Me

Welcome to Chickadee. I hope you’ll like it here.

First things first. Why Chickadee? That’s simple. I draw my comfort and inspiration from nature. Chickadees are plentiful here in Minnesota and they flock to the feeders, where you can pick out their distinctive and merry song “chicka-dee-dee-dee” from the cacophony of other bird music.

Secondly, if you’ve ever watched a chickadee for any length of time, you’ll see them flit about the tree branches, alighting briefly at the feeder, then hopping over to a fence post, all the while watching the world around them.

That’s the way my mind works. I am quite literally a bit of a manic person. Peripatetic is a great description of my thoughts and many passions. On any given day, I will usually have several creative projects going. I might be needle-felting cupcakes, rubber-stamping, or making garlands of rainbow colors, washi-taping dayplanner pages, potting plants, planning gardens, playing with miniatures, decorating my home, or taking hundreds of photos of my three terriers for their Instagram page. You can follow them @missmelliebee15.

Expressing myself creatively, digging in the garden, walking in the woods soaking in the calm I feel in nature and a lifelong passion for books are the things that bring me happiness.

Recently one of the commenters on a photo of my dog Bacon, my kindred spirit, a scruffy rescue who loves snow more than life itself, remarked that Bacon was a “global joy-bringer.” I thought that was just about the coolest compliment anyone could ever give. In a perfect world, that’s what everyone would aspire to.

And that’s what I hope Chickadee can do. By sharing the many things that bring me joy, I hope to bring a little bit to you.

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