No More Swords, Courts, and Kings!

I’m weary of swords and courts and kings. Let us go into the garden. 🌸 Mary Johnston🌸  Chair dance anyone? Oui! ☺️ MUSICA

I ask myself the same question every day when I get up, “How do I move myself forward today?” It’s a great question, it gets me moving . . . because, I have places to go and people to see, and I need to work diligently in the direction of my dreams. Or I’m not happy. Even my tiniest steps forward add up!

For several years now, I’ve been on a mission, to learn more about the writing process, to see if I could figure out how to write my memoir books, to figure out how to get them published, and then to get it done. And while I did it, many other things in my life went onto the back burner. I was busy! And, one thing I wasn’t doing was deep cleaning, no good old-fashioned organization, or home care for my darling dear house that deserves better. But it got me for a mom, and therein lies the problem. As you are about to see. I can’t believe I am going to show such terrible photos. Normally I clean up before I take the pictures. It’s probably the worst I’ve ever seen it, mainly because we were hardly home last year, and when we got back, I began to “drop off” stuff in my studio, move it out of my view “until I had time to clean it.”  I’m thinking someone else out there may experience this problem, so I thought I would do some before and after photos and talk about Spring Cleaning and how to de-clutter, lighten up, and simplify your life.💞 Shield your eyes, here we go . . .

The question is: Who’s in charge here?  It was a daunting project to begin. I almost didn’t know where to start, every cupboard and drawer in our house is stuffed to the gills. But as time goes on, I’m becoming quite cutthroat about it. I choose emptiness. I took pictures of some of the harder things to get rid of.  Now I own the memories associated with them forever!  The bookshelves are full of books, some of which have been there since we moved into the house in 1989, any new books since then have had to find another place to go ~ I keep inserting tiny bookshelves in corners of the house, packing it all in even further, and now the only place left is the floor. But the floor is already almost totally covered with projects and boxes of who knows what, it’s layered. You could do a dig here, like James Michener’s The Source.

I began to empty the shelves and take most of the books to the living room, where I’m packing them to give to the second-hand bookstore on the Island. Not all of them of course. I kept the good ones! But not too many. I want empty shelves. I want empty shelves so bad. Room for new thoughts, new ideas! Room to breathe.

Because I can no longer live like this.  I think it’s stealing my energy just having to look at it. There are three stacks of original art in plastic pages on the floor under the shelves! I don’t recognize the rest of it, it’s too much of a jumble. Stacks of books, stacks of papers, crowded Beatrix Potter people. I had to design cups on top of the mess in order to get them done in time. Doing a Willard in this mess would be impossible!

All so wrong. That door to the front hall has been blocked closed for maybe three years (It was way worse than this, I’d already moved most of the stuff!). And as I begin to move through it, I ask myself, do I need this, is it adding value to my life, and if the answer is no, then I say bye-bye! I want smooth surfaces, table tops especially. I’ve been getting happier and happier every day, and lighter and lighter, and basically, I’m downright giddy now! Waking up singing! The unbearable lightness of being!

It doesn’t look like this anymore. And as I’ve done it, shelf by shelf, going through everything piece by piece, file by file, box by box, I found interesting things I’d forgotten all about . . . and realized I was engaged in a form of treasure hunt.

I washed each shelf which had not seen the light of day since 1989. Basically the answer to how to do this, is one shelf at a time.

Yard by yard, it’s very hard, but inch by inch, it’s a cinch.

See the cupboards underneath? Same thing, one at a time. And that mess on the worktable?  That BIG pile on the left is recipes, ideas, and quotes for my Tea Book which I’ve been adding to and saving for years, with no place to put it. It’s not there anymore. Now it’s organized, and my Tea Book project has one of those clean empty shelves all for itself!

And, I think, in my most maniacal of moments, now I have room ~ I can go antiquing again! 😜

Here’s one of the treasures I found, this card was in a recipe box I did for my mom around 1979.  I forgot all about it, I don’t think I’ve seen it since then.

I’d brought home my mom’s recipe file from California, and inside were handwritten recipes and letters, from my mom, my grandma, and my great grandma. I also had recipes from my dad and my sisters . . .

And this detailed letter to my mom from my grandfather Willard’s mother, my mom’s “Gram,” and my great grandmother . . . her typing strokes are indented in the soft blue paper ~ Sioux City, Iowa is written at the top ~ and she is writing my mom in California about the only news that ever really matters to our lives. Turn off the TV, and this is what there is, the real stuff of life. 💌

This is the rest of the box I did for my mom . . . so I put all the recipes from everyone else in it . . . and a card explaining who is who, for the future people who will someday find it, maybe my brother’s and sister’s children, or who knows. Maybe some rescuing type of person in a second-hand store. But I have a picture of it now, so it’s mine forever, and the box will be saved in a special family file box.

Then I began on the file cabinet, pulled out each file, went through it, threw out tons of useless paperwork, then rearranged and put back what mattered. This de-cluttering adventure is a long-term project, but I would rather do it now when I choose to, than later, when I have to! Right now I just want to! Not all of it is memories, some of it is just stuff I don’t need. I’m recycling, donating, and throwing out. I already cleaned the kitchen and emptied the sideboard in the dining room, and got rid of half of it, and after I get this room done, I go upstairs! That’s also when I will get to start seriously painting four hours a day. As soon as the studio is clean and I feel the spaciousness of it, I’ll dip my brush in water, and hear the ringing sound as it hits the side of the dish and put my first color on the paper, early one morning, in the quiet, with my tea and my cat. I don’t think I’ll get the whole house done until sometime around August. I go as slow as I want. I go to the garden, I stare at the dogwood tree in bloom. Joe and I go to the nursery. I’m planning a tea party. I shoot hair bands for my kitty. I talk on the phone to Siobhan and Rachel in England. I design cups. I brake for John’s Fish Market chocolate shakes!  But all while I’m lightening my life, and indulging in the treasure hunt and the joy of memory.

Luv-lee letters like this get photographed, and put into a “children’s letters” file. I’ve looked up names on some of the old letters ~ and amazingly found and followed them on Instagram (@susanbranchauthor)! Sometimes I don’t like the Internet, and sometimes, I love it!

And now, I have all my ideas for books in one place, in files, and NOT, as was before, in piles on the floor. Every day I feel better, I feel more and more inspired about what will come next . . . and think of the words I heard on some TV show, ” I tremble on the brink of life’s next great adventure.” But I can’t get there until I am out from under the weight of this stuffed house!

I’ve consolidated, whittled down, and distilled . . . honestly, so much of it just didn’t belong here anymore. I saved a few old things, like products I’ve made . . . put them into boxes, labeled them, and up the attic they go, saved for posterity. A very little bit of it. Stuff I hope that someday someone else will want. But if they don’t, at least it’s consolidated. I’m doing this thing just like I redecorate. Taking everything off the shelves out of the cupboards, washing and cleaning them, and putting back only what I can’t live without, and getting rid of the rest.

I had to keep a little bit of this! Just in cases.

And this too!

And of course the piles of original artwork . . .

All organized and stacked on those empty shelves where I can access them. Most of my original art is in an old bank safe in California. Each book I’ve written is totally intact, all the original pages are there, and each book is in its own acid-free box. 

Look at that. I’m making white space . . . ahhh, emptiness . . .

A finished person is a boring person. 💙Anna QuindlenDon’t worry, I’m not the minimalist type, for me that would be going too far. And I’m not done. Only about half way right now . . . but I can see the trees in the forest! I thought you might like to see some of the treasures I found:

First off, this. The box of everything, all the photos, all the memorabilia, the diary pages, even some souvenirs, everything from the trip we took in 2001 with our nieces Heidi and Holly, to London, Paris, and Bath (where we first discovered the English Countryside) . . . our theme music from that trip was Dusty Springfield from the British Invasion cassette we had in the car . . . we sang as we traveled hill and dale . . . we still sing it. Joe sang it too . . .🎵 I don’t know WHAT to do with my self . . .🎵

Here we are boarding the ship in New York. In this photo, Heidi, on the left, is 11, my brother Brad’s daughter, who grew up in Colorado. On the right is Holly, she’s 12, she belongs to my sister Mary and grew up in California. The cousins had met only once before we took them away across the wide ocean for six wonderful weeks. We’d been planning it since they were six. It was the very best time I ever had. They were wonderful and funny and smart! The box with everything from this trip was on a high shelf here in my studio and hadn’t seen the light of day in years. I still have to go through it, and someday, when I get the photos scanned, I’ll do a post about that magical trip.

Something else, a note from my dad.  Writing me about the correct way to drink tea.💞 Now it’s in my mom’s recipe box.

And this painting my dad did of his beloved dog, Chief.

And my mom’s jacks and balls. Which I labeled and saved.

And I found this photo of me and my brother Jim with my cute mom and dad, which I don’t remember seeing before, something else to put in her recipe box. Too bad about the over-exposure, but still . . . look how their arms lean into each other. They are in it together. And there’s a picket fence back there! I must have seen it and fell in love!

And this book was in the pile. I still remember the night I met Julia and how much it meant to me.

Deep in the files was this little notebook I used when writing my first book with all kinds of little reminders, quotes and notations, and even grocery lists. The address of Little Brown, and Random House. Lots of dreams tied up in this messy little book.

And I found the hollyhock seeds sent to me by Nicoline, one of our girlfriends from Holland, over a year ago! But I wasn’t here to plant them last spring, and we also went away in the fall, so they didn’t get planted then either ~ I decided to see if they would sprout, and look, they did!

Kind of a miracle . . .

You might remember Nicoline from our picnic in England! She and her husband came from Holland and she brought her own Petey doll to show me!

And now her hollyhocks are planted in my garden . . . I get so many plants from my girlfriends, I call my garden a friendship garden!

This was what it looked like outside this morning, the wisteria has begun to bloom, Lowely’s bluebells are blooming too, at the far corner of the picket fence!

I bring the blooming things in for the little shelf over my kitchen sink . . .

And took a photo of the inside of the little bells of Lily of the Valley . . .

And, you may ask, what has Joe been doing all this time! Oh, we are a team! He has been doing to the yard, what I have been doing to my studio. He’s been thatching, raking, mulching, top dressing, seeding and watering. Men ask, “What do women want?” But they should know . . . This is every woman’s aphrodisiac, someone to build a life with.💞 When we stand next together, our arms press together.


You can hear Jack meowing! I love it when he talks in a video, not easy to get him to do it!

I heard the ferry boat whistle just now like a long musical note. 🎵 Sometimes I forget where I am, how close the sea is, until I hear the boat whistle!

And as so many of you know, the Studio has been busy too . . . sending out your new English bone china cups . . . 💞

And these are the people who’ve been making that happen.  Alfredo, Sheri and Kellee at the Studio. Couldn’t do it without these wonderful people! Monday is Kellee’s birthday!

And I got mine!! Just as excited as everyone else!

I’m very proud of them. It’s hard finding really beautiful things, and then being able to afford to get them made, especially in foreign countries! Now we are importers! We talk palettes, air freight, and customs! TMI for sure!

It’s been a lot of fun on Twitter, so many Girlfriends have written and sent photos, saying, “Got mine!” Marcia (@msmrph) sent this darling photo of herself and her best friend Julie captioned “Tea for two Besties!” Makes my day! Our cup club is not very big, but it’s very wonderful!

We’re working to make your Christmas especially easy this year. I know it’s a long time until then, but in order to get things made in time, we have to start now… we love planning surprises. Especially for you. Like our dream charms. So many of you have asked us to bring them back, so we did. 💞 Here they are! I think they’ll be in our web store the first couple of weeks of June.

We reordered three of our most popular charms . . .  Autumn (in that first photo), A Fine Romance (see the hedgerows?👍),

and the ever-popular “Be an Elf,” all with small gift cards . . .

And in the midst of cleaning the Studio, sort of on top of the layers, I did manage to finish designing the bottoms, the handles, and the backs of the new mugs, and sent them off to England where the process of manufacturing has already begun. They are supposed to be here by August! We’re taking no chances they would be late for Christmas, and we need that Autumn cup first! And, yes, they are in the web store for Presale right now! I know it’s hard to think Christmas, but please try, because, like with the last ones, when these are gone, they are gone. You’ll be glad when December comes and you don’t have to go Christmas shopping! ❤️ Here they are:

Santa Claus is coming to town! In 16 ounces of fine bone China from “the Potteries” in Staffordshire, England! And, yes, they are all dishwasher and microwave safe!

This is the back . . . (only a mockup, made from paper in these photos, will look a lot better in real life!)

I did a construction-paper chain for the handle. Oh by gosh by golly!

And we have a 16-ounce Bluebird of Happiness. Which is going to look really good in my new blue kitchen! 💙

Here’s the back. It’s trying to be whimsical!

And the handle. I think it’s adorable. But still, only paper!

And my Autumn cup is a little bit smaller, 11 ounces, because you asked! I’ll do one for every season, all this same size. The only difference between this design and the real life one to come, the handle is actually going to be on the other side . . . This quote will actually be on the “front” of the cup. . .

And this will be the back ~ the handle will be on the other side from what you see here, and the squirrel will be on the left facing the other way . . . I decided I liked it better like that. Decisions, decisions.

The handle. 🍂 Signifies abundance.🍁

And now, my Martha’s Vineyard, Isle of Dreams 16-ounce cup.  You drink from it, and I hear, could be a rumor, but I think not,  your dreams will come true. ⚡️

It’s a short trip to the Island, via cup. 🛳

And here’s the handle. 💙

Be sure to read the small print on the ordering page, it explains lots of things, like what we are doing, and why, when we retire each of the cups . . . too long for the blog, but extra reading while ordering and good clarification! Hope you like them!

Now, last but definitely not least, Jack. He has taught me a couple of new tricks. You know how cats jump up to rub on your leg? Well, he gets on the table and rubs (sort of butts) my forehead, and now I softly butt him back, and we have a meeting of the minds. He puts his head near mine and wants me to do it. We are blood cat brothers. He also LOVES the running water in the bathroom . . . we go there to play . . . he is rather calm in this video, because I have the camera and he knows it, but usually he makes me turn the water on and off really fast, he bites it and grabs it and sometimes he comes out of there wet! It’s his secret life. Joe doesn’t even know about this. How do I explain that I’m being trained by the cat?!

💙💙And one more thing, I have a surprise for you . . . I thought we’d give away one of these new cups! If you already have yours, it’s okay, you’ll have a best-friend gift all ready to go!

And whoever our lucky winner is will get their choice of which one! In Love with Nature on the left, Little Things in the middle, or Love on the right. All you have to do is leave a comment! And in a week or so, we’ll get Vanna back from Bali (I think that’s where she is ~ she’s hard to keep up with!) to pull the winning name.  And I hope it’s YOU! 🌸

Bye for now Girlfriends, have a wonderful day! Love and ❌’s, Me.

Oops! P.S. Almost forgot to say, in case anyone will be around, I’ll be signing books and visiting at Titcomb’s Book Shop on Wednesday, June 7, from 1 to 3pm … joining this wonderful, independent, family-owned bookstore in celebration of their 50th Anniversary! Please come by and say hello if you can! It’s on Cape Cod in East Sandwich, click above for details. There will be cupcakes, and you don’t need a ticket to come! 😘

Posted in Blog | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1,759 Comments


May 4, 2012, Five years ago today . . . we, including lots of you, were here . . . sailing out of New York Harbor on the Queen Mary 2, beyond giddy (and not just because of the champagne!) . . . for our dream-come-true two-month ramble through the English Countryside. MUSICA!

So many of you came along with us, remember? That’s why we had to bring all this luggage.  Okay, I know, you were virtual, and we have no excuse. Darn! Lots of art supplies in those bags, cameras, batteries, chargers, wires, and converters, not to mention Musica! . . . we were ready for desert-island living, just in cases!

And so the love affair began, over hill and dale we went, along narrow lanes, on the wrong side of the road, on the wrong side of the car, through hedgerows overhung with bowers of hawthorn and cow parsley, popping in and out of three-hundred-year-old pubs, listening to the birds sing, winding through stone villages festooned with bunting, wandering through gardens in sun and in rain, everything the slow way ~ and all just perfect for a house-crazy person like me . . .

Visiting the tea rooms the National Trust so kindly provides at each of the lovely properties they own, and writing everything down.

We learned about and could feel the history . . . they took such good care of their country, in most places, you can feel yourself in 1756 or 1835 or even 1250! It’s amazing for the imagination.

From Kent (The “Garden of England”) and Sussex, up to the Peak District and the Lakes, through the amazing Dales to York, back to the Cotswolds, Wiltshire and Hampshire. And it all basically looked like this.

This is where I first saw bunting in it’s natural habitat! Festooning doors and windows, and criss-crossing streets . . .

Gardens and gardens and gardens. Remember? And it was never boring. How could anyone get tired of seeing this?  This one, considered a “small garden” was designed by the famous garden designer Rosemary Verey. We were so happy to be there. Lunch waited on the other side of those windows on the right, and cold Pear Cider.

Visiting kindred spirit William Morris’s house (where I bought that scarf . . .) learning about the guy I’d been quoting for years . . . and finding out just what an amazing person he was 💞but this quote had already told me . . .

Everyday was a discovery.

They mow paths through wildflower fields . . .

Then of course…to Beatrix Potter’s Hill Top Farm, a place I’d dreamed of seeing for a very long time.  I was beside myself. 

Alone her garden, with her darling Bee Bole . . .

Sketching the whole way because they didn’t allow cameras in the house . . . then turning the sketches into pages for the book I knew by that time I was definitely writing!

Honored to be there . . . Grateful for all that Beatrix Potter left behind . . .

I kept a diary of everything, took lots of pictures, and when we got home, I spent the following fall and winter watercoloring and writing everything down in my “good” handwriting . . . I had to tell the whole story . . . because if you fall madly in love with something you want everyone to feel it! You want to share that feeling!

It turned out to be part love story, part travel guide, with recipes too . . . not really knowing if I was succeeding as was doing it, but trying very hard to include every bit of the magic we found in our travels . . .

Day by day I wrote, page after page piled up, and then one day . . .

Still another dream came true. I hadn’t written a new book since 2004 and I really wanted to try something different with this diary, and here it was, bedecked with ribbon, hanging out with Petey who saw the whole thing first hand. And off it went, out to the world, introducing itself and saying Howdy Neighbor while I quaked in my slippers, waiting to see what people would think!  Then the reviews started coming in . . .

This was sent to me by one of our Girlfriends, you might remember it . . . her daughter had her own review system, I cried when I saw this! All of my books have been, for the most part, just like this, word of mouth.

And reviews started coming through on Amazon, and more crying ensued. And still does. Probably all authors think of their books as their babies, and I’m no different.  Course, then Paul McCartney had to get involved!

Or kind of. Not so sure he actually knew about it! But I love this anyway. And that’s it Girlfriends, just a little go-back-in-time celebration of a luvlee memory. Hope you enjoyed it!

So what else have I been up to? Same ole, same ole, actually . . .

Making new things. Thought we might like a Martha’s Vineyard cup!  What do you think? Selfishly, I admit, this will look wonderful in my new blue kitchen! Want to see the back?

. . . just a little something to celebrate the magic . . .

And then I thought, how about a cookie plate, tea cup and sandwich plate, wall hanging plate . . . combo? Like this . . . good for almost everything … with lots of good old-fashioned white space!

And I thought they look cute together. Mix and match. You can fit a sandwich on there, or a cookie!

Off I go! Just wanted to say hello. Off to the garden I go. Hope all is well with you. By the way, my computer person, says everything should be working with the ‘comments’ correctly now. Thank you for letting me know the troubles, and if it happens again, feel free to say something. Love you Girls! You Boys too! XOXO

Posted in Blog | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 663 Comments