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We were beyond excited when we learned that London’s renowned merchants Fortnum & Mason had decided to devote considerable space on their first floor to an installation of MacKenzie-Childs. In case you’ve never been there, the store is quite legendary, and the idea of having our designs in the same shop where the Queen gets her tea made us just unbelievably happy.

The official opening of the pop-up shop happened to coincide with my son Alexei’s spring break, so it provided the perfect opportunity to take him with me to London so he could finally see this fabulous place for himself. I was excited about the trip for so many reasons; it was a chance to return to my favorite city, and for me, a dream come true, to see our products displayed in a store I have always revered as the most beautiful in the world. Best of all, it would be Alexei’s first chance to visit there, and absorb firsthand a bit of its incredible history.

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So about Fortnum & Mason in Piccadilly…the Queen actually refers to this treasure as her grocery store. I’m sure that conjures up an interesting image, but let me try and paint a more detailed picture for you. The ground floor is filled with handmade confections that turn treats and sweets from your wildest imagination into three dimensional reality. Glass jarred candies are named things like Toodle Pips, Potted Shrimp, Splendid Sweets, Rosey Apples, Licorice Bits & Bobs, Bouncing Babies, and Teddy Tots. Delicious biscuits line the shelves in tins that boast colorful art from a history of nearly 250 years.

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Sales associates have a wealth of knowledge about every product, and their attention to each and every customer makes you feel like royalty. Everything in the store is perfectly curated and so very special; particularly fabulous are a range of bespoke products they will tailor-make just for you. A special restaurant can be found on each floor, as well as fine china, picnic hampers, special apparel, home furnishings and much more. They have their own beehives on the rooftop, and legend has it that the bees collect their pollen from the royal gardens at Buckingham Palace. We bought a jar of the Queen’s favorite honey and it is D I V I N E.

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What I hadn’t expected from this trip really hit me as a pleasant surprise. Although I talk about it often, and we draw connections to it in many of the pieces we write about our company, the realization that so much of our inspiration really does hale from English traditions came full circle for me. Our founders lived in England for a few years while they worked in a pottery, and when they returned to New York, they brought the technique for ceramics which we still use today. But it’s more than all that. We have a serious connection to English culture, and a deep love for all things English. I confess! I’m an Anglophile! I find people from England so special—and this goes far beyond their lovely musical accents, whether it be Cockney or the Queen’s English. They do things with such flourish and they are such an incredibly sentimental bunch. They have a great sense of humor and they don’t take themselves too seriously. And of course their love of tea and all that goes with it is without rival. Since our very beginnings, we at MacKenzie-Childs have always felt so connected to the English, and we still feel the same way today.

My Londoner friend Martyn (from Battersea, on the south side of the River Thames) shared a tip: Did you know that the English pour their cold milk into their teacups before they pour their tea? Make no mistake—Americans do it the other way around.

Cheers!

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P.S. My dear friend and sales director Mark joined us on the trip and shared some of his great photos. Here are a few highlights:

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The London Eye

Alexei scrapbooking every detail of our trip

Alexei scrapbooking every detail of our trip

A visit to the Peter Pan sculpture in Kensington Gardens

A visit to the Peter Pan sculpture in Kensington Gardens

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Taking a boat ride under Tower Bridge, Union Jack flying!

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The Albert Bridge, London’s most celebrated, over the Thames in West London at night

How does an imaginative, super-talented team of photographers, stylists, graphic designers, and set designers make a great catalog spread come to life? I asked members of the team to describe life behind the scenes on one of our most important photo shoots of the season. This spring, we debut the Rosie Sweet Furniture Collection with Posie Pop bedding for little girls. The photo shoot featuring this fantastic collection was a major undertaking; the results look effortless, but actually took days to complete. The shoot consisted of re-outfitting a bedroom (including laying a new floor), creating clouds from cotton batting, directing a dog (a pale pink poodle at that!), designing the illusion of a bright spring afternoon, and trying to stay toasty in a no-heat situation as the brisk fall season in Upstate New York set in.

Here are a few words from each to describe the shoot…
Beth: “Rose-colored glasses aside, this talented team loves a creative challenge.”
Andrea: “The poodle was definitely the best behaved.”
Walter: “Wait…did you just say you need me to ‘build & shoot a bedroom inside of a bedroom’?!?”
Maria: “I had my head in the clouds that day ;)”
Kim: “Clouds came floating into my life…not to carry rain, but to consume me.”

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Beth meticulously styling Daisy the Cow with my new favorite (pink) book, The Luckiest Girl.

Beth meticulously styling Daisy the Cow with my new favorite (pink) book, The Luckiest Girl.

Walter making adjustments.

Walter making adjustments.

Beth, Maria, Walter, and Kim.

Beth, Maria, Walter, and Kim.

Kim contemplating the finishing touches on the dreamiest bed, complete with fresh bouquets in the vases.

Kim contemplating the finishing touches on the dreamiest bed, complete with fresh bouquets in the vases.

How is the light? Hmmmmm…not sure. Could you move that pillow a scooch to the left, please?

How is the light? Hmmmmm…not sure. Could you move that pillow a scooch to the left, please?

The other side of the room.

The other side of the room.

Beth making clouds.

Beth making clouds.

Andrea working on the set.

Andrea working on the set.

The final shot: Dreaming in pink.

The final shot: Dreaming in pink.

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Last week in our New York City store, we had the wonderful opportunity to host our new friend Joy Wilson while she was in town from New Orleans. The party was to help celebrate the launch of her second cookbook, Homemade Decadence: Irresistibly Sweet, Salty, Gooey, Sticky, Fluffy, Creamy, Crunchy Treats.

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Is your mouth watering yet? If you haven’t seen her books yet or read her blog, then get ready, because she is turning the food world into a party you won’t want to miss. I read about food all the time—it’s one of my passions—and discovering Joy’s blog about two years ago was a watershed moment. She’s adorable, fascinating, and, I might add, a bit sassy…and her take on food fits the MacKenzie-Childs point of view to a “T.”

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It’s sort of a girl thing…I mean the way Joy talks about food. She is witty and fresh, and she is all about quality and the art of oven-to-table; a perfect fit for MacKenzie-Childs. Joy is a big fan of our Flower Market pattern, so we set the table for 25 editors and friends with Flower Market enamelware, Courtly Check ceramics, fresh flowers, and towers of her scrumptious baked goods.

Bon Appétit!
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Paris in September? Perfect—what could be better! Only, on this recent trip I was laser-focused on our exhibition at Maison & Objet, the most intense home furnishings trade show in the world. It is Paris in miniature, a tempest in a teapot, and the eye candy is overwhelming. Just to attend this show once can be life-altering; yet we were there, exhibiting for our second time. So you see, precious little time was spent wandering the streets, chatting with the street crepe vendor, pawing over the latest fabrics from Pierre Frey and others, or walking leisurely around the fabulous antique markets and small shops throughout the most beautiful city in the world.

Window shopping at 6:00 in the morning; trouble with that is that the shops are all closed!

The trip was short and sweet, and filled with the pressures of working abroad, but as always I savored such moments as these:

  • riding through the streets going to and from working at the show, seeing people just living their lives as though unaware they existed in the true epicenter of the civilized world; the traffic wrapping the Arc de Triomphe, their taillights like a necklace of ruby beads
  • the sparkling Eiffel Tower, a beacon for the city twinkling in the night sky
  • waking up in the early morning in the apartment we leased in the 6th arrondissement; the sounds of bicycle bells and street cleaners coming up from the street below our open windows; the lovely cadences of the French language
  • the flavors of the best breads and pastries in the world
  • the latest street fashions; I never fail to marvel at how fabulous everyone always seems to look
  • the barges on the Seine, a city within the city
  • the great iconic cathedral, like a living character out of Victor Hugo

Like countless before me, I’ve forever succumbed to the charms of this incredible city. I always come home with a new appreciation for the piano music by the French modernists my son is constantly playing.

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Let's just say, Flanna didn't want me to go.

Let’s just say, Flanna didn’t want me to go.

Earlier this month, my good friend Sarah and I had the rare privilege to feast on a fantastic Lebanese lunch prepared by none other than our new friend and chef extraordinaire, Julie Taboulie. For those of you who don’t know Julie, I’ll do my best to describe her. A few adjectives will doubtless come to mind the very moment you meet her: radiant, gorgeous, sincere, intuitive, smart, talented, incredibly personable, passionate, delightful beyond belief. Need I go on? Basically, when you are in her presence, Julie just makes you feel like you are basking in gorgeous Mediterranean rays of sunshine. She is full of ideas and is determined to singlehandedly educate the world in the marvels, health benefits, and delicacies of Lebanese cuisine–and mark my words, she will do it! With her delightful (and adorable) “Mama” by her side, who Julie claims is her cultural fact-checker and quality minister, the world will be a better place once everyone has indulged in Julie’s recipes. Trust me. I am on a mission to help spread the word.

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Her show, “Cooking with Julie Taboulie,” airs on Create TV. Check her website for listings and updates at julietaboulie.com.

This is what Julie prepared for our amazing lunch at our MacKenzie-Childs Studio. She was kind enough to recap for us here:

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Mouthwatering Mezze Plate

Labneh, homemade Lebanese strained yogurt: creamy, dreamy, and deliciously strained, silky smooth yet substantially significant, Lebanese yogurt drizzled with extra virgin olive oil and sprinkled with savory and spicy spices, scooped up with warm wedges of Lebanese pocket pita bread.
Jibneh Mashallale, homemade Syrian string cheese: stringy, soft, and somewhat salty super-skinny strands of braided cheese, seasoned with subtle spices, sea salt, and spiked with itsy-bitsy black nigella slightly-smoky spiced seeds (Habbat al Barakah, meaning “blessed seed”).
Zaytoun, olive: the “unofficial official” olive of Lebanon. These small, salty, and spicy cracked, marinated green olives are seen spread atop small plate upon small plate, and presented alongside traditional Lebanese mezze and meals morning, noon or night, making mouths water for more and more of these zingy-zesty Zaytoun!

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Za’atar, Lebanese “Thyme Seasoning” Savory Signature Spice

Za’atar: literally translates to “thyme” in Lebanese. This traditional and staple savory spice mixture is made of freshly dried wild Za’atar, Greek oregano, thyme, sumac spice, sea salt, and sesame seeds that are slightly toasted. Then this earthy and zesty thyme herb blend is finely ground together to create a truly one-of-a-kind taste that is tart, tangy, savory, slightly sour, and salty, yet suddenly sharp all at the same time. This alluring, appealing, and aromatic signature spice of Lebanon is, above all, addictively and appetizingly tasty.

You Just Found Your New Favorite Salad: Fattoush

Fattoush: belonging to the family of dishes known as “fattat,” meaning to use day-old flatbread as a base, this Lebanese-Levantine peasant bread salad is anything but peasant-tasting and full of sudden surprises! An exhilarating and eclectic explosion of colorful, fresh, and flavorful vibrant vegetable variety and hand-picked herbs meet a medley of mixed greens dressed in an extra virgin olive oil, lemon, garlic, and herb vivacious vinaigrette that is generously spiked with sumac spice, then tossed together with crispy-crunchy and toasted-to-perfection pocket pita bread pieces that place this salad in a whole other hemisphere. Unlike its ultra-finely chopped counterpart, taboulie, comparatively speaking this salad is roughly chopped into rather large rustic-style slices, and seasoned sour-to-taste, creating a truly out-of-sight salad!

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Crave-a-licious Coosa Bil’ Lahme Mahshi! Stuffed Middle Eastern Specialty Squash

Coosa Bil’ Lahme Mahshi: Middle Eastern specialty squash stuffed with a mixture of lamb meat, long grain rice, and mint, slowly simmered away in a tomato-based broth.

I’m sharing with you my summer-licious Middle Eastern specialty summer squash called Coosa! It is light green in color, small in size, and unique in texture, with a thinner skin and a one-of-a-kind taste that separates this squash in a class all its own. Originating in the Middle East, Coosa is the staple of all the squash selections there, and now it has made its way across the Atlantic into our American heartland; it seems to be coming up everywhere! In our local farms, farm stands, regional markets, and more, I’ve personally noticed people becoming quite curious about it. Typical varieties you may come across are Magda, Bark, and Cancun, and thankfully I don’t have to go too far to find my Coosa, as Mama has her crops coming up in the garden!

Delicately cored, cleaned, and stuffed with a savory filling composed of ground meat, long grain rice, fresh mint, tomato paste, and seasonings that are slowly simmered away in a tomato-based broth, it tastes incredible. The deliciously savory stuffing is enclosed in a tender-to-the-taste squash. A tasty tomato soup is also created as the squash is simmering away, so you will also have two wonderful ways in which to serve it. You can ladle some of the tasty tomato soup in a shallow bowl and lay the cooked, stuffed squash right on top, or serve the soup alongside of the Coosa. So there you have it, one complete main meal or a side dish accompanying a main meal, and either way, as you serve it up, there is no doubt in mind that you will find it to be completely crave-a-licious!

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Waraq Inab: Fresh-From-The-Vine Glorious Grape Leaves

Mahshi Waraq Inab Althah: Fresh-from-the-vine grape leaves filled with a vegetable, herb, and long grain rice mixture, slowly simmered in a fresh lemon juice and garlicky-good broth.

When most people think of grape leaves, they may think of the grapes themselves (and wines, of course), but grape leaves are actually delicious and nutritious edible leaves that are used in an array of recipes within Lebanese and Middle Eastern cuisines. And, this is one of my culture’s most famous dishes of all time: fresh-from-the-vine stuffed grape leaves. Mahshi Waraq Inab, literally meaning “stuffed grape leaves,” is just that! Freshly picked, filled, wrapped, and rolled up with a simply satiable mixture of vegetables and herbs along with long grain rice, layered alongside one another, then slowly simmered in a saucepot of fresh lemon juice and garlicky-good broth to succulent perfection, tender on the outside and luscious on the inside; it all makes my grape leaves gratifying! Lebanese grape leaves are traditionally served hot or warm right out of the pot, on their own, as part of the Mezze, or as a main meal in and of itself. Paired with my refreshingly cool and crisp Persian cucumber, fresh mint, and homemade Lebanese yogurt salad Khyar bi Laban, it makes one unmistakably mouthwatering Middle Eastern meal!

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MacKenzie-Childs Blissful Baklawa

Baklawa bi Bunduq: a lusciously layered phyllo-dough pastry with a hazelnut filling, flavored with subtle sweet spices, vanilla essence, and orange-blossom water, doused in a sumptuous orange-blossom syrup. Delicately decorated with MacKenzie-Childs’ celebrated Courtly Check hand-painted pattern in a creamy milk chocolate and vanilla-bean white chocolate coating for a famously sweet finish. Memorable and moist-as-can-be, it can only be a MacKenzie-Childs sweet, you see! I was inspired by Courtly Check, along with my adoration and affection for the arrangement of hazelnuts and chocolate, to create this signature sweet. Together these two harmonious motivators made a sweet masterpiece!

Julie and Mama in the garden

Julie and Mama in the garden

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“People are hives…”
— Virginia Woolf

Once in a while, you meet someone who really makes you stop for a moment, and think a little differently about how you view the world. It might be the inflection in her voice, the way she phrases words like a singer would, how her eyes twinkle when she engages you in conversation, or how she can explain a point of view on any given matter with refreshing earnestness. Sanna Russo, who has worked in the MacKenzie-Childs furniture decorating department for nearly twenty years, is most definitely one of those people. I’ve observed her over the years as she sits at her decorating station quietly working away on countless projects, some of incredible complexity and demanding of exceptional skills; she’s like a one-woman arts-and-crafts movement! Recently, I had the wonderful opportunity to catch up with Sanna and learn a bit more about exactly what makes her tick.

She grew up on a small farm in Finland among a very interesting family of five: her father a farmer, and her mother a farmer’s wife who was also a sculptor, whose pursuit in the arts was very active throughout the ’80s and ’90s. The entire family cherished education, and Sanna credits her mother for helping encourage her talent in painting and the arts. She claims this early training as a child is where she first developed her ability to see things dimensionally, constantly studying light and shadow while observing her mother sculpting gypsum cast reliefs and busts. In addition to her unbelievable skills with a brush, Sanna is also an incredible and avid knitter, trained in traditional Scandinavian techniques.

She adores where she now lives, tucked away in a quiet corner of the Finger Lakes. Despite the onward rush of society, satellite television, and the ubiquitous Internet, she feels people here are still profoundly connected to nature and the earth. This is important to her in that it’s exactly how she grew up; she even knows how to drive a workhorse! (How many people do you know who can do that?) Sanna also loves the very diverse and colorful nature of her colleagues at MacKenzie-Childs and deeply appreciates the idea of sharing stories of our experiences as a way of contributing to each other.

True to her old-world heritage, where everyone absorbs knowledge and skills from the older generation, Sanna is also an exceptional cabinet maker. At the age of seven, her father gave her a carving knife as a birthday present because he grew tired of her dulling, or sometimes even losing, his carving knives. Today, her left hand is full of scars earned while learning woodcarving. Sanna went on to attend Lahti Institute of Industrial Design in Finland. Her teacher once said “I will never be able to teach you all what you can do, but I can show you what you should not do.” And finally: “Don’t cut your fingers off!”

Today we all feel so fortunate to be able to work side-by-side with such a wonderful talent, and incredibly precious person.

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Sanna Russo, furniture decorator since 1996.

There are so many exciting things going on this month, especially in our Design department where right now we are wrapping up our Spring 2015 collection. (But I’ll talk more about that later.) We’ve all been so busy tidying up every last little detail for the launch that there is never much time for anything else. The run-up to every launch always involves a lot of late nights, furious bouts of text messages back and forth especially during the photo shoots, and we usually find ourselves working right up to the very last minute. But between changes in paint colors, tying of ribbons, making decisions on our trim details, and (possibly my favorite part) making the final textile choices, it’s always important to squeeze in as much fun as possible. So even in the midst of our fast-paced work process, I’m always on the lookout for new favorite things.

My friends will tell you that I use the word favorite rather liberally and that I have a lot of favorite things, but I can’t help myself when I get really excited about something. So at this very moment, here are a few of my favorite discoveries (or rediscoveries as it may be):

Favorite Lunch Spot in Upstate New York: Hurd Orchards. A must-have experience for anyone desiring a real on-the-farm, farm-to-table experience.The watercress in my salad was picked from their stream five minutes before it was placed on my plate. Treat yourself to one of the loveliest afternoon lunches in this incredibly bucolic setting. Reservations required.

Hurd Orchards

Favorite Summertime Enamelware Piece: White Flower Market Serving Bowl. Its 12″ diameter is the perfect size for your ultimate garden salad.

White Flower Market Serving Bowl

Favorite Essential Kitchen Tool: Microplane. This is a must-have tool for the kitchen, but especially useful for summer cooking. The Microplane is best for making fresh lemon and orange zest; fantastic in everything from pasta to buttercream icing and beyond.

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Favorite Pick for a Father’s Day gift: Pig Grill. This fabulous terra cotta grill is great for outdoor cooking: vegetable kebobs, corn, or anything you cook on your regular grill.

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Favorite Movie: Grand Budapest Hotel. If we ever made a film about MacKenzie-Childs, the wonderful Wes Anderson would be my director of choice; his humor, wit, use of color, and sense of proportion are all absolutely exquisite. The film’s score by Alexander Desplat, with cimbaloms, balalaikas, yodeling, and beautiful orchestrations seriously takes the cake.

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Happy Friday!
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I’m an early riser. And I mean very early. One of my favorite things to do in the wee hours of the morning is to make something fresh from the oven before anyone else is awake. Because I get up early I’ve always had ample time to do all kinds of things in the morning. Then when we got the puppy … actually she’s more like a small pony; eight months old now and just about 100 pounds … well, I wanted a big dog … I discovered that our early walks were taking a lot of time out of my morning routine. But the baking was something I didn’t want to give up. So I figured out a way where I could make the coffee, walk the dog, write some letters, dress for work and still get something freshly baked onto the table for breakfast. And guess what; it’s not rocket science. It just takes a few easy steps before going to bed (or before pinning that last pin, or streaming Downton Abbey, or reading the last email), whichever comes last. I love these fruit-filled scuffins from The New York Times, but you can make scones, biscuits, muffins, baked oatmeal, etc.

Mix all your dry ingredients in your mixing bowl the night before.

Mix all your dry ingredients in your mixing bowl the night before.

Put everything else you need within arm's reach, including measuring spoons so that you don't have to clank around sorting through your cupboards in the morning. This prevents all the clinking and clattering in the early hours that wakes the whole house up.

Put everything else you need within arm’s reach, including measuring spoons so that you don’t have to clank around sorting through your cupboards in the morning. This prevents all the clinking and clattering in the early hours that wakes the whole house up.

The moment you open your eyes, drink coffee. Then preheat your oven. Mix your wet ingredients quickly, and fold them into the dry.

The moment you open your eyes, drink coffee. Then preheat your oven. Mix your wet ingredients quickly, and fold them into the dry.

Scoop, spoon, drop, and sprinkle...

Scoop, spoon, drop, and sprinkle…

Pop them into the oven, hop in the shower, check your email, and breakfast is ready by the time everyone else’s alarms go off. So simple it's barely worth writing about, right? But it works.

Pop them into the oven, hop in the shower, check your email, and breakfast is ready by the time everyone else’s alarms go off. So simple it’s barely worth writing about, right? But it works.

Flanna would like one too, please!

Flanna would like one too, please!

“Do you think I’ve gone round the bend?”
“I’m afraid so. You’re mad, bonkers, completely off your head. But I’ll tell you a secret. All the best people are.”
― Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland

Original illustrations from Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, drawn by John Tenniel.

I often hear people mention MacKenzie-Childs and Alice in Wonderland in the same sentence. I used to dodge this discussion because in many cases, I was uncomfortable with what popular culture has made of this masterwork of Victorian literature. At the very same time, I took it as the highest compliment for our company. My admiration of the works of Lewis Carroll has been lifelong and very deep. If someone saw affinities between what we do and that remarkable looking-glass world of his, then perhaps we were doing something right.

The lovely Charles Dodgson hid behind the pen name Lewis Carroll for his Alice books so that his fantastical creations wouldn’t be confused with the books he wrote about mathematics. He was an incredibly complex man; the son of an Anglican minister, he was himself a lecturer in mathematics at Christ Church Oxford (a position he held until his death in 1898), a photographer, an inventor, and as we all know, the author of two of the most celebrated and fantastic books ever written in the English language. Bullied at boarding school as a child, his health was precarious and he suffered with a stammer all his life. It is said that the character of the Dodo bird in Alice was a self-portrait: socially awkward, shy, and somewhat stiff in his manner, but very lovable.

For me, his appreciation of formalities and the social niceties, a well laid table, fine china, the ceremony of tea (door-mouse not withstanding), celebrations of birthdays (and unbirthdays!), the spirit of adventure and rising to a challenge, the importance of friendship, the notion that the back garden can be a universe all unto itself…and above all, good manners…these are all things that speak to me. It’s his point of view that’s so refined yet doesn’t take itself too seriously.

Yours truly,

My costume for a tea party at the Fashion Island Neiman Marcus, April 13, 2013. Designed by Tricia Lancia, costumer extraordinaire.

My family thinks I have a problem with pillows, as in they think I have too many. Personally, I don’t see it as a problem. It’s just another in my long list of passions. But I do seem to keep collecting them.

What can I say? I like them. I have pillows on the sofa and pillows on the love seat. I have pillows on the arm chairs, pillows on the bench in the front hall, on the dining chairs, on the floor, on the beds, pillows in the Tiny House, and pillows on the garden furniture. These are just the ones you see…this doesn’t count the pillows I have in the closet, in the attic, in the basement, or in the storage locker which my husband claims we’ve had to rent because he thought the pillows were taking over the house. Can you imagine? How silly of him! I appreciate pillows like the composer Eric Satie appreciated umbrellas (they found a number of them in his apartment in Paris–I think the count was around 600). I just don’t really see any reason to stop bringing them home. How can one resist? Just think about all the incredible individual personalities of pillows…special qualities such as embroidery, beautiful passementerie, tassels and trims, rich fabrics like velvet, unique details, and the list goes on.

I mean, look at this pillow! Look at these poppies! Isn’t this the greatest pillow ever?


And these?! My son made these for me by hand when he was 10! I think we have a budding designer in the family!


Remember this one? Vintage MacKenzie-Childs!


And then you need your basic pillows. I’m so glad we at MC decided to create a collection because it gives me a good excuse to acquire a few new ones. Courtly Check certainly works with everything. Come to think of it, I actually might need few more of these.


And what about this one? I bought this on a family trip to Keene Valley in the Adirondacks. How could I have not brought this home?


Oh! And these! Just like the mossy floor in a forest!


I don’t expect my husband to understand, but I know you will.

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