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New Years Eggnog

Heather Ross11 Comments

As a child in Vermont I often spent New Years Eve at the home of my grandparents. Theirs was a fabulously kitschy circa 70s alpine chalet on the backside of a small, burly ski hill called Jay Peak. There was always heaps of snow on the ground during the holidays back then. My grandmother would put on her dirndl and stand ballerina-still by the fireplace, looking as though the small but lovely party had planned itself, perhaps while she was out roasting sausages while on skis. My grandfather would make and serve eggnog from a big crystal punch bowl placed in a position of honor where his large leather chair usually sat. I remember a wool plaid vest on him, I think. It may have looked Epcot Perfect upon arrival, but somebody always went off the road on the way home. I partly blame the eggnog.

Driving down their icy mountain and up to the top of ours late at night with my mother after a few servings of that eggnog was always harrowing. This was a long time ago, remember, before Mothers Against Drunk Driving brought to our nations attention the fact that while we might have thought the opposite, alcohol made us into terrible and unsafe drivers. In those days it wasn't even illegal. Really, really studid, but not illegal.  It didn't help that we rarely had enough gas to get all the way home, much less to burn while spinning our wheels trying to back out of snowbanks, or that my mothers exchanges with her brother and parents usually put her in the mood to storm out early and then to drive too fast. I should mention here that she is an extremely skilled person when it comes to getting herself out of snowbanks. I have seen her correct an upended honda civic without putting out her cigarette or turning down the radio more than once. Really spectacular. That didn't calm me much though, on those evenings. I was forever telling my uncle to follow us down the hill and keep his eyes open for our tail lights in the deep snow along the 7 mile drive home, which I think he would have always done anyway. Eventually we would get to the bottom of the mountain and turn left to climb up our hill, and he would keep right and find his way to the top of his. Once his headlights had disappeared from our rear view mirror along with the last lights of the houses in the valley, I would watch our gas gauge without blinking. When and if we did run out of gas, I was always a little relieved. Walking was extremely safe, considering. and running out of gas, it turned out, was always much better than worrying about running out of gas. The odds of another car passing us on that road was next to none, and the quiet stillness once the sound of our engine died and we coasted to a stop was the most peaceful sound I can remember. We ran out of gas on summer nights too, but summer forests are filled with noise. In the winter they are silent, even though they are full of life. I would hear very faint feathery sounds and imagine that they belonged to the rabbits with their thick winter coats and broad furry feet bounding across the top of the thick snow silently. If I walked slowly enough along the long dirt road my mothers strong, tall, and sometimes angry strides would put her through the front door a solid twenty minutes before me, which meant that by the time I got home the whole evening would have been balled up and forgotten along with whatever she had used to start what was now a lovely roaring fire.

In later years we moved to town, within downhill coasting distance of everyone we were related to. Sobriety behind the wheel was actively enforced, even in our town where pubs outnumbered graduating eighth graders. I learned to drive, more or less, and how to get myself out of snowbanks. My mother still doesn't trust me to drive in Vermont in the wintertime, even though during college I routinely managed a mile long driveway uphill in reverse on snowy days because my $900 car was rear wheel drive and had better traction that way. The last time I visited her during the winter we drove up that same mountain road that once led to my grandparents house to have dinner. She would not allow me to drive her car, and did not want to drive herself after having had a few drinks, so we took my rental with its terrible slippery little tires. Apparently her fear of me damaging her beloved winter worthy car was a far worse imagined fate than dying together in mine. I gave her one last pleading look in the driveway, promising to drive very carefully if she would reconsider. "Absolutely not." she said, folding her hands across her lap and nestling stubbornly into the passenger seat "and please don't go off the road, I didn't bring my mittens." 

Last night I threw a party and at the very last minute, decided to make eggnog and put on my grandmothers dirndl. Both were a hit, although my grandmother was a smaller woman than I am and the laced up bodice was so tight across my chest that my vision was affected. The outfit looked better on her than it did on me, better in her little snowy chalet than in my post modern loft. Once the eggnog was served though, the evening felt quite complete. My uncle was kind enough to scan and send me his favorite recipe from my grandmothers old copy of Joy of Cooking, he has also carried on the eggnog tradition in past seasons. I have always suspected that my grandfather used Peach Brandy in his recipe, so I instead used this version, which is fortunately available to us all via epicurious. Family members approved and those who had driven to my party knew well enough to stop after one cup. My husband, who did not head my many warnings about the hidden evils of such an angelic looking beverage, had a bit too much of the stuff that he was supposed to be stirring. It didn't stop him from having some of the leftovers today, and he is presently collapsed on the couch, having renamed the beverage Napping Sauce.

Handmade Holidays

Heather Ross11 Comments

When you hear stories of New York women using their ovens for shoe storage, please don't assume that we are all a bunch of fashion obsessed domesti-phobes. This is merely an attempt to maximize the use of an appliance which, in many cases, has been shrunk down to the point of being almost useless for anything other than, oh, I don't know, drying your delicates by hanging them on the half open oven door. Its worth noting here that if you do use your broiler for shoe storage, make a little reminder sign so that when you do attempt to dry your unmentionables or anything else on the half open oven door you do not make your entire building smell like foot. Not that I have done that. Recently.

For this reason, I haven't done a lot of delicate baking since moving here. My little stove means well, and can actually broil and boil like nobodys business, but lacks any real self control in terms of its exact temperature. My oven, regardless of the numbers on its dial, has only two settings. OFF, and #$%%#@!.

This christmas, however, I was pleased to run across this recipe for peppermint bark, which is surprisingly easy to make and absolutely delicious. It requires no candy thermometer and depends on a barely warm oven to melt chocolate. Undeniably festive and hardy enough to survive a trip via post to California, it might just become my new signature holiday baked treat give-away, which will please my inlaws to no end. Last time I visited them for Christmas, I took over the kitchen for close to six hours in order to make a Bouche Noel. I got a little carried away (obsessed) with making the little red mushrooms and red bellied newt from colored marzipan, and drove everyone so nuts that when I announced that I planned to make it EVERY christmas, my sister in law rolled her eyes so hard that it was audible. This recipe should make her very happy.

I followed the recipe exactly, and tried a few different types of chocolate, all of them high quality and all of them semi-sweet. I found it very easy to melt chips or wafers, not so easy to melt big cubes. On the third batch, just to see what would happen, I melted the white chips in the microwave, cutting out the double-boiler step, and had very good results. I only needed to melt them about half-way, which in my old microwave took about three minutes, and then a quick stir with a rubber spatula helped them to melt completely, while allowing me the chance to blend in the peppermint extract. I do love my double boiler, its a vintage glass pyrex model with wooden handles that allows you to see exactly what is happening. Double boilers aren't as scary as they look, and work very well for melting just about anything or making delicate sauces like a hollandaise. I admit that I am a sucker for any recipe that allows me to bust out my blender, my pyrex, or my orange kitchenaid mixer, especially this time of year.

 For my local friends, super, veterinarian, hairdresser (even though she got carried away with her big round brush after my cut and color session last week... even she had to admit that I looked like My Little Pony), dog walker, postwoman, etc., I broke up the peppermint bars and put them into little wax paper bags, (which I found at While Foods and are a great biodegradable alternative to plastic sandwich bags) and sealed them with labels and ribbon. For my crafty friends and the crews at Purl Patchwork and STC, I wrapped bars first in wax paper and then in squares of scrap fabric, and for a few mom-friends living in cold climates I tied them up with little mittens-on-a-string made from embroidery floss and felt. I found these envelopes that are padded and bright white to use for sending my peppermint bark far and wide. If you live near a Container Store, you might be able to find this paper, which I am determined to stock up on next year.

If you have found yourself in the hand-made holiday spirit this year, its time to head over to Melanie Falicks blog. Melanie is the editor of my upcoming book as well as many well loved craft titles including the Last Minute Gift series, Knitalong, and lots of other titles. She has a very cool post up right now about making gifts by hand, with a give-away to boot! I am ordering a bunch of STC Craft books for gifts, intended for the long list of friends who love to make things by hand. I plan to order them through Purl Patchwork and Reprodepot, and in a few cases throw in a gift certificate for fabric or yarn. There is something about this season, especially this year, that makes me want to make more by hand, don't you agree? I'm also giving away my friend Domenicas cookbook, Mamalicious. Its my favorite cookbook of all time. If you know someone with children (picky eaters included) who needs some healthy and easy dinner ideas, this is the book for them. She has a few free recipes on her blog now, and they are all amazing. My nieces and nephew now demand this one regularly.

My Little Pony Out.



My Weekend With the Clothespin People

Heather Ross23 Comments

This has been a busy, busy week. Actually, its been work work work since I returned from Quilt Market in Houston (I was there to promote my book, due out in March) working on two new fabric lines set to launch in the spring, both of which were due before I left. I had finished the first (for Kokka) and was well on my way to submitting the second (for Westminster) when I decided to tweak it just a tiny bit, to add a print or two more that would really "pull it all together", promising myself it would only take a few extra hours of my time, and now here I find myself,  five days later, with guests on their way and nothing done.

How, you might be asking, did I wander so far off track? Simple. I was led astray by an odd and dandy tribe known simply as the Clothespin People. My diary of this cultural experience as well as some insight into what I like to think of as my productive if not alarmingly tangential creative process reads below. 


My Birthday! large box of incredible swiss chocolates have just arrived by morning delivery from C & J, am so quick to start inhaling them that I assume they are from TC and do not read the card. Must focus and tweak Westminster line, which is looking like it wants to be developed from a "sewing and crafts" theme into a full blown "Odd Church Basement Craft Bazaar Upstate" collection, but must make it quick as it is due. Will try adding a sheep print (rare breeds bred for their wool) and maybe something simple and tiny. knitting needles aren't working. maybe I will try clothespins. Must Google clothespins. Vintage or modern? Plastic or wooden? Colored or not? Eat more chocolates and call my sister, who is also having a birthday today and is therefore the only one in the family that I remember to call. I am halfway through my first draft, which is so boring that I have to go back upstairs and get one more chocolate. see for yourself:


O Dear, so dull. Maybe I should look to vintage clothespins? OOO, this is nice:

TC calls from train on his way back from Washington, and when thanked for the chocolates he tells me they are not from him, which means I have to rummage through the recycling to find the card (the beautiful packaging is already on my inspiration board, those swiss sure know how to get the color green right) that came with the chocolates, but on my way past the computer I see that my search has turned up these two images:


Out walking the dog in the freezing a.m. and begin thinking of clothespin people. Would it be gettable? Confusing? Tacky? Craft Bazaar, certainly, but what would you do with it? The fabric I mean... Am so distracted by voices in head that I leave the leash on the dog when I get home because I go straight to my drawings and only realize it when I hear him coming down the stairs loudly dragging it behind him.  I spend five minutes untangling him and pondering my potential as a fit parent, then get distracted again and go back to drawing little outfits on my clothespins. 


A day off from drawing and spent at the newish Elizabeth Peyton show at the New Museum and lunch with Alli and Denyse trying not to think about clothespins. Still, I realize during my day away that I have become quite attached to my little clothespin people, and look forward to coming home to them. I have begun to think of them as a band of pluckish little pioneers, all full of hope in their long skirts and braids and startled smiles. I can picture them carrying water and driving oxen, knitting warm hats as they move westward in their little wagon train, towards the arduous mountain passes that have tested clothespin people before them, until they huddled cold and shivering, eyeing one anther's brittle little legs as the last of the firewood is exhausted... OK wait stay on a cheerful track here... Perhaps dancing in groups, swinging one another around on those little cocked pipe-cleaner arms. I and am determined to finish them and to introduce them to everyone as a part of my little collection of new prints, which I can see now has been rounded out because of them. I already love them. I am prepared to defend them. And to dress them. Now they look like this:


Sent clothespin people to those who will really tell me what they think, my sister and Brooke, and also to my husband, who will likely think of something funny to say about them and tell me that I am a genius, which usually counterbalances whatever honest critiques I get elsewhere. Also to Denyse because they will make her smile and its Monday. My first response is from Brooke, who thinks they look like little naked mannequins. I am almost ready to defend my little nude clothespins against her obviously extreme views when an email comes through from my sister. She thinks they look like "little nude wooden people". Now I really have to consider this. Westminster is pretty liberal with its designers in terms of creative license, but I am pretty sure nudity is out. A third and R rated email from TC confirms the success of my foray into clothespin _orn. Not since my first day in life drawing am I blushing like this. I also need to rethink the layout and remember loving Andy Warhol's shoe print.... which I am able to find online and compare. Yes, that's better. Here is my next try:

Emails from the council agree, its better, but almost everybody thinks its better without the people. Brooke suggests killing them. I know she means it as an editing term but I am suddenly fiercely protective. I get the attention of my little clothespin family and yell at them to gather up their little prairie skirts and circle the wagons, because we have six months of uncharted territory ahead of us, and as usual, not everybody will know what to think of us. Plus we have to convince Westminster that they should allow me to make this one a border print, with the little people along the selvedge (see top image). This means that the sales reps will have to drag around a sample that is the extra big and cumbersome. They are going to love that.

Am nowhere near done, one year older, and not at all prepared for Thanksgiving.

And somehow, during my accidental process, I managed to miss the loveliest example of clothespin civilization out there, which is led by Sarah Neuberger at  The Small Object. I have seen her cake toppers before, but did not make the clothespin connection! Here are a few of my favorites, but I highly recommend going to get some chocolates or a coffee and looking at each and every one of them. She has a blog too. And look! KITS!

Visiting The Polar Bears

Heather Ross5 Comments


As I type this, there is something momentous happening to the far north of us. A silent annual gathering has begun, in anticipation of a crucial event. The ocean water in Hudson Bay is freezing, little by little, creating islands and bridges made of ice that will stretch into a dark and vast arctic ocean. This is the ice, once formed, that will provide hungry polar bears access to the hunting grounds where the seals that they depend on live and breed. At this very moment, bears and their young are gathering around the edge of the bay, waiting and watching. Each year, the wait becomes a little longer. 

Polar bears have become the icon of global warming, facing head-on the realities of a changing climate and its effect on their survival . Churchill, an outpost of a town that clings to the edge of Hudson Bay, has become their front line. Obviously, bears themselves can do little to change the fact that our planet is getting warmer, and must depend on the human advocates whose mission it is to protect these animals and their habitats. I was blessed last year to spend a few days with these heroic souls when I was invited to visit Churchill and its surrounding tundra, sketching and studying polar bears in their natural state.

The invitation came from my brave and dear friend, Leeann. Leeann, like many of the people I would meet in Churchill, first visited the bears as a tourist a few years ago, and was so moved by her experience that she joined Polar Bears International, an all-volunteer organization dedicated to conservation through research and education, lending her abilities as a writer and speaker.

click to see my sketchbook from Churchill

PBI was my host while in Churchill, which meant that I was able to spend lots of time with Robert Buchanan, its Board President. Robert is a fascinating and perhaps unlikely hero to these bears, whom he came to love after visiting the region annually for more than two decades of arctic photo safaris that inspired him to dedicate his retirement (he was a successful marketing/finance guy) and ample connections and resources protecting. Watching Robert in action, I realized quickly that he is the one, in this diverse community, who brings everyone together. He could swap stories about vodka and near-death with the burly drivers and seasoned guides, and minutes later, he could offer technical guidance to a twenty-something with questions about the northern lights. Later in the trip I watched him smooth over what could have been a mutinous moment involving a visitor who was angry that the bears we were watching were not willing to get up from their nap to give her a few glamour shots. "She doesn't get out of bed for less than ten thousand", was his dry response to her complaints. In a place and a time when so much is at stake, where views are extreme and politics often threaten progress, he is the perfect affable ambassador. 

Robert drove me through town on my first morning in Churchill, past a new but uneven row of townhouses that looked as though the ground beneath them had buckled in an effort to shake the buildings from their base. The ground, he explained, was thawing out for the first time in our human history. Until recently, houses in Churchill did not require foundations, they could be built directly on the long-frozen earth. Points just north of us might still remain in a state of "perma-frost" year round, but suddenly, in Churchill, the ground was softening and expanding.   Churchill is only reached via train, ship, or plane, its history one of trade and commerce between nations and continents which began long before its settling by the Hudson's Bay Company almost three hundred years ago. Its port is still ideally located in terms of bringing goods into North America, when it is not made impassable by ice. Freight can be unloaded here and easily transferred to trains that then carry cargo south, where it joins a vast shipping and rail network far into Central America, while avoiding US ports and their prohibitive rules and tolls. And, of course, Churchill is now known for being something else, thanks to the forward thinking of Churchill residents and Manitoba Conservation, who realized that they could protect humans from the bears and bears from humans, while bringing international tourists into town for a few months every fall during “bear season.” It has become known as the Polar Bear Capital of the World.

Signs around the perimeter of Churchill show images of polar bears with warnings not to wander too far out of town limits, but I didn't see any signs warning the bears to stay on their side. This explains why it is impossible to spend even a day in this town without hearing the cautionary tales about hungry bears and their visits through the streets of Churchill, like the one about the unsuspecting resident who had food in his pockets (one of the very few actual human casualties inside city limits) or the recent law banning local children from dressing up during Halloween as walruses, seals, or any other of the bears' preferred prey. My mittens, purchased for my trip, were almost laughed out of town. I had thought them to be uber arctic chic, sort of a Dr Zhivago meets Patagonia, with their fresh white color and small eye-shaped black snaps. "Those mittens look a lot like baby seals." warned a helpful docent at the Eskimo Museum. The serious tone of her voice was enough to cost me $14.95, the price tag on some rather adorable red mittens with the giant maple leaf that is the icon of Canada. "I'm thinking bears don't eat leaves" I said, expecting at least a smile from the woman who was now basking in the certainty that she had saved my life. Still not funny. She was amazed that I had made it through town looking the way I did from behind, as though I was carrying a baby seal in each pocket, without being eaten. Had she taken a better look at my dainty rabbit fur trimmed bots, also more chic than wise, she would have realized that for me, being eaten would have been a painless, quick experience. The streets were so ice covered that had I tried to run away from a bear, I'm certain I would have been flat on my back and knocked unconscious within seconds, my seal pups thrown high in the air, my story remembered as yet another cautionary legend.  "Did you hear about the woman from New York who had her arms eaten off in front of the Eskimo Museum?" they would ask. "Oh yes." would be the reply. "and with such beautiful boots."

Newly terrified of the out-of-doors, I opted to spend another hour or three safely inside the museum, which turned out to be a wonderful thing. It was there, tacked on a wall next to the giant taxidermied polar bear, that I saw the map that reminded me that I was truly in a different world. I had never seen the earth presented this way, its perspective showed the north pole as the center of the world.  Makes sense, now that I saw it. I had no idea that there was so much water, and so much ice. This is a different planet, I thought. A world that knows two different seasons: Frozen and Unfrozen. A closer look revealed that this was one of those magnificent National Geographic Magazine maps, illustrated by a skilled and lucky artist (add to Dream Job List) who had obviously travelled this region (around 1964 according to this map) and created amazing portraits of people and cultures that I was learning of, literally, for the first time. Smiling women with their babies in the hoods of their long fur anoraks, men sitting on the backs of reindeer, one of them using the ample antlers splayed out in front of him as a rack for his enormous rifle. There were sleds and igloos, those were familiar, but there were also shelters and clothing I had never seen. At this apex at the top of the world I could see the close proximity as well as the cultural connection between every northern continent on earth, so much closer than I had imagined them to be, and that was when I felt the earth below my feet change, or maybe it was my understanding of my place on it. How very small I felt, standing there between this map and an 800 pound stuffed polar bear encased in a huge box of thin glass, fangs exposed. And then, pressing my tiny pink hands to the glass alongside it's massive mouth, how very edible.

Tundra Buggy Lodge

a curious bear

My second day in Churchill was spent as the guest of the impressive Frontiers North, an ecologically minded outfitter represented on our trip by three generations of skilled and professional guides, for whom this place is very familiar territory. FN has a small fleet of vehicles called Tundra Buggies, built to move across the icy, uneven landscape on enormous tires and with great clearance in order to get far out on the tundra and close to the bears. Respectfully, they limit their movements to specific "roads" in an effort to leave less of a footprint. FN also runs a mobile hotel of sorts, part research station, part photo studio, part bed and breakfast where lucky guests can spend the night. On occasion, special guests including scientists and wildlife photographers including the very talented Daniel Cox provide entertainment in the evenings with slideshows and informative lectures. We would be going out just for the day, in search of bears to watch and photograph. I took my place on the Tundra Buggy with twelve or so other guests including Bill Winhall, assistant curator of mammals at SeaWorld San Diego, who showed me the photos on his iPhone on the long drive over the tundra. Pictures of his grinning four year old were interspersed with images of him, his arms full of an orphaned walrus pup, holding a bottle to its mouth.  

Heather Ross

The first bear we saw was asleep, and for the first hour was not responding to our many requests for a better look. Its massive size was difficult to fully comprehend, even when it did finally roll over onto it's back and kick a massive foot into the air. We were a collective bundle of oohs and aaahs, watching it stretch and tumble on the ground, rubbing its neck against the cold ground, stretching and pawing the gravel and ice beneath him. He moved slowly, as though half asleep, like a giant dog having a good dream. Suddenly, just to the left of the bear I saw something small pounce on something smaller. It was a tiny white fox! The bear, which we had been told was likely very hungry, was not fazed. One of our party offered the fox to the bear, as a light snack perhaps. "Eat the FOX!" she shouted, her gloved pointer finger tapping at the glass emphatically "There's some food!" I wasn't so sure that this was something that I should root for, sleepy hungry bear aside, as typically I am in the camp of all things cute, and this fox was certainly insanely cute. The gentleman next to me, who I am sure would rather remain unnamed, sensed my Survival vs Cute quandry and leaned over to quietly tell me his story: "I have been coming here for twenty years. Originally, it was with people who wanted to protect the baby seals. The bears would close in for a kill and they would shout 'shoot the bear!' Now they see the hungry bears and they say 'can't we find them some baby seals to eat??' Maybe we are impatient." Turns out I had nothing to worry about. Foxes aren't afraid of bears, because, for whatever reason, bears don't eat foxes. If they changed their minds they wouldn't have too much trouble, because foxes actually follow bears around hoping for scraps left over from their hunting spoils. 

Heather Ross

The folks at Frontiers North were amazing, knowledgeable and patient, even allowing us to take turns driving the Tundra Buggy for a minute or two each. The vast tundra, with it's sun obscured by clouds and falling snow, looked to me the same in every direction, as far as the eye could see. To our guides, it was a navigable and memorized route with important landmarks. By the end of the day they had expertly steered us into the path of several bears, one of which had two cubs with her. There were moments when we were within several feet of polar bears weighing hundreds of pounds, none of them seemed fearful of our giant vehicle or the flashing cameras. The buggies have viewing platforms that allow you to share space with these bears safely out of reach, but at the same time so close that you could try, at least, to make eye contact. We never left the viewing platforms or touched the ground, which made the tundra seem even more like a moonscape that could not quite support us, which in many ways it was. None of us are built for survival in this climate wihtout a lot of help and support. Living here, in human terms, means an extreme existence. These bears, on the other hand, are engineered for nothing else, and when you see them in their element they are things of pure and heartsopping beauty. We, of course, were seeing them on land, but they are powerful ocean swimmers able to withstand unfathomably cold temperatures, and are able to travel huge distances across frozen bodies of water. Their partner in survival is ice, their great threat is that their once frozen world is quickly disappearing. As we drove home, the sun set against the vast landscape that had seemed just that morning to be barren and harsh. Now I knew it as a system in delicate balance, full of life.

Heather Ross

I left Churchill the following evening, inspired (and wearing my new pro-canadian non life threatening mittens). At the airport, waiting for the tiny airplane that would carry us back to Winnepeg, I noticed a young woman dressed in a traditional anorak, her tiny baby peering out from under her hood, strapped to her back. Again, a reminder that there is so much in this world that remains untouched, unchanged, and at least by me, undiscovered.

I do hope to go back, or to travel to other arctic places with people who are as dedicated and passionate as the people I met in Churchill. I highly recommend the journey, if you can find a way to make it. If you can't, spend some time on the PBI website, there is so much to learn there. 

If you are looking for a really fun way to support PBI, have a look at these pajamas I designed for Munki Munki. They are covered with the sketches I did while there, along with a few polar bear and arctic fox facts. Munki Munki is generously donating a portion of all sales to PBI.

Very Cool Update! I have just gotten an email from Leeann, who is in Churchill now. PBI is carefully tracking the bears movements and activities and putting together some amazing daily video updates. Really lovely: here is the link.

 And did you know that you or your compnay or school can sponsor an individual bear, and keep track of him as he travels north, thanks to the technology of GPS and  tracking devices? Check that out here.

note: the photos and illustrations of the bears, foxes, and sunset are by me, the images of Churchill and the tundra buggy are from various sources. 


Entertaining Family in New York City

Heather Ross6 Comments

Or maybe this post she be titled: Entertaining Myself in New York City While Dragging Family Members Around Until They Beg For a Nice Nap in Front of the Television Set.

I have family coming to town for the holidays (both familes, both holidays) and am planning some fun touristy days around the city. I have to admit that I might be slightly more interested in the tour's highlights than, say, my father in law, but that is why New York created the Mickey Mantle Pub, which is located within easy crawling distance of Bergdorf Goodman. My Mother in Law, on the other hand, loves All Things Beautiful and Free, which makes her an absolutely ideal window shopping companion. I need to make an extra effort during her visit this year, because I screwed up a bit last year, when we took her to Ellis Island. I made the mistake of convincing her that we didn't need to get off our ferry when it stopped at the Statue of Liberty because it's new security rules made it impossible to get close to anything except Liberty's enormous feet and we could see her perfectly well from our seats, but then as we began to pull away after letting on lots of cheering tourists (who seemed perfectly happy to have spent a chilly hour having their picture taken in front of giant sandal clad feet) she began to cry a little so I bought her one of those foam crowns and promised we would come back. TC, who can always be counted on to lighten the mood, put the crown on improperly until she was laughing again. Come to think of it, I also misjudged my father-in-Laws interest in Ellis Island altogether. I had a solemn and respectful hour planned at the island's museum researching his ancestors journey to the New World, assuming his Irish heritage and love of family was an almost guarantee of a tearful, touching moment, a perfect holiday event. Five minutes into the process, at about the time I had expected to cement my lead as Best Daughter In Law Ever, I actually caught him yawning and sizing up his chair to see if it would sustain a nap. His favorite moment, it turned out, was when we discovered that for a small fee we could have our pictures taken and then, through the magic of photoshop, applied to the faces of an exhausted immigrant family disembarking their ship in an old sepia toned photo. Hello, Fleming family Christmas Card. That's the thing about my husbands family. They love Fun.

This year I am planning big things. TC has reminded me more than once that in his family everyone is perfectly happy to lie around in the living room together like a pile of golden retriever puppies falling in and out of a completely uninhibited state of deep sleep with football games and viagra commercials providing a constant soundtrack. It is no secret by now that this is not my idea of a well-spent day off, and for this reason the job of planning activities is largely mine. Luckily, TC's parents are up for almost anything within reason and easy reach of indoor plumbing and a cocktail hour. 


My Sister and her family of five are coming for Christmas, which is huge. There has already been a trip to American Girl Place planned, which is more than fine with me. I am hugely fond of all things American Girl. I love that the characters are smart and brave little girls, I love that their stories are about overcoming hardship, friendship, heritage, and problem solving. I love that they are the opposite, in terms of identities marketed to young american girls today, of Paris Hilton. Though not a huge critic of Barbie, I would rather spend a day in the little log cabin of Swedish Immigrant American Girl Kristen fending off bears and carrying heavy wooden pails of water than one minute trying on white high heel shoes in that horrifying Dream House. This Christmas will be my niece Quinn's first and much anticipated visit to American Girl Place, and her parents are preparing themselves. The average customer spends more at this store than they do in mortgage payments each month. As my cousin Ruth (the mother of three little girls) put it, say what you will about Barbie, but at least she's cheap.

My sister and I would have visited another little girl in New York City had we had the chance at Quinns age. We would have headed straight to The Plaza, in search of Eloise. Eloise's life, described in Kay Thompson's wonderful books, was nothing like ours. Eloise was a city child, we were undeniably country children. Eloise made New York City seem like an opulent playground for little girls, filled with stern hotel managers, fancy ballrooms, debutantes, and a glamorous but silly cast of players who existed solely to be mocked. Eloise was too chubby for her tailors, too wild for her tutors, too clever for her nanny. We loved her. Our copies of the Eloise books belonged to our mother, who, like Eloise, had been raised by nannies and tutors in big fancy houses, which made Eloise even more special in our eyes.  The Plaza  has recently been transformed into condos after falling slightly out of fashion as a grand but crumbling hotel, causing many to wonder if Eloise would still live there until the new management announced that "there would always be a place at The Plaza for Eloise", which touched my heart completely and made up for the fact that they had employed her image in their massive marketing campaign.

Eloise and her pug, above, and taking center stage in a marketing campaign for the new Plaza residences.


Just across the street from the Plaza is another must-stop on the tour: FAO Scwarz. FAO never ceases to amaze with it's custom made menagerie of full sized stuffed bears, dragons, horses, and gorillas. On her visit last year, my niece was especially impressed with the enormous replicas of the dragons from the Harry Potter movie, which corrected some of her disappointment that the big floor piano (made famous by the movie BIG) was commanding a twenty minute wait.

Just around the corner from The Plaza and FAO lies Bergdorf Goodman.

Bergdorf's holiday windows are of the stop and stare variety, and are breathtakingly good year round, thanks to the very talented Linda Fargo. Linda designs and builds the displays at Bergdorfs (hello, Dream Job.), and has for a very long time. In 2003 the high high end publisher Assouline released a book about her and her designs. It's highly sought, even used copies command $75 or so on Amazon, but still a must for anyone who loves fantasy, costume and drama.

Linda Fargo Windows at BergdorfsThis years pre-holiday windows featured a new favorite artist of mine, Mark Gagnon, who has created a series of paintings depicting every notable era of fashion in history (more or less) as modeled by beasts large and small.

Mark Gagnon's paintings on display at Bergdorf's.

Oh, and one last note about The Plaza. When renovations began a few years ago and the old rooms and halls were gutted, some very unusual items began showing up at the Flea Markets and quirky boutiques around
the city. If you acted quickly, you could buy a huge mirror flanked with molding from the hotel's hallways, a picture frame made from tim ceiling tiles, or, my personal favorite, a necklace made from one of the elegant gold numbers that once hung on each of the rooms tall front doors. These have been so popular that designer LuLu Frost has made casts from the originals, and a very well priced collection of reproductions will soon be offered at the Plaza'a gift shop as well as online.

I have found it pretty easy to imagine Eloise at the The Plaza post-redo after all, currently twenty and starring off broadway in a dark comedy. She sits with her mother at one of the corner tables in the Champagne Bar discussing something serious and smoking, (she will quit next year, when she goes back to Barnard and finishes her degree in Literature) dressed in a simple silk blouse, flannel trousers and devilish Louboutin Mary Janes .  An oversized golden "6" hangs on a chain around her neck, mostly hidden from the familiar waiter, who suspects but forgives that she stole it from her apartment's front door the day that she moved out. She lives downtown now.