A Cottage Life

10 May

This morning, I was pondering my life and thinking about what makes me feel most happy. I decided that quite possibly in a former existence, I spent many blissful years living in an old English Cottage surrounded by cool leafy trees, blooming flowers, and birds that sing all day long.

I could have been Beatrix Potter, quietly spending my days writing and drawing while I sipped good English tea and nibbled on freshly buttered scones. When I tired of my creative pursuits and needed to clear my mind, I would meander along the garden pathway and pick flowers for arranging around the cottage. A leisurely walk in the sunshine would undoubtedly clear my mind.

Larkspur and Foxglove from my garden

I figured this out as I puttered about my own tiny front yard garden this morning, staking up purple and pink larkspur plants that were so heavy with flowers that they threatened to topple over. I picked up dainty foxglove blooms off the ground as the bees hummed busily beside me, probably annoyed that my presence blocked their easy access to the speckled blooms that still remained on the stalks. I listened as the Mockingbirds trilled their infinite repertoire of calls as if they were performing an outdoor concert just for me. I practically swooned with pleasure when I stuck my nose into a newly opened rosebud, its deep burgundy petals softer than the skin on the back my young daughter’s neck.

My favorite rose, “Mr. Lincoln”

Most likely, my obsession with English cottages and gardens began when I was a young girl and I discovered that I could leave the stress and sadness of my own life and escape into a more peaceful one through the reading of books.

One of my absolute favorite stories was “The Plain Princess” by Phyllis McGinley—I must’ve read it over a hundred times. It’s about a young princess, so doted on and spoiled that her true beauty is hidden by her selfish and superior attitude. She is sent away to live in the modest cottage of Dame Goodwit, a woman who is thought to have magical powers, and if all goes right, will be able to transform Esmerelda into the beautiful princess she is meant to be.       There, in that humble cottage, the four daughters of Dame Goodwit help Esmerelda understand that real beauty can never be found on the outside, but only through selfless acts of kindness and goodwill toward others, will it be able to shine forth from within.

Because I never thought that I was beautiful, this message resonated deeply with me. I didn’t relate to the rich and entitled Esmerelda—living in a luxurious palace didn’t appeal to me at all. I wanted to be one of the Goodwit sisters who lived a simple life in a cozy, thatched-roof cottage with knotty pine floors and downy featherbeds. I wanted to sit and read surrounded by shelves stuffed full of books, a fire blazing in a stone fireplace while a spring thunderstorm raged outside. I imagined a hearty kitchen; a savory soup bubbling on the stove, fresh baked biscuits just out of the oven, while a streusel-topped apple pie cooled on the windowsill. I truly believed that if I lived in a quaint cottage with a colorful garden filled with Hollyhocks and Delphinium and Larkspur, I could leave the sadness of my own childhood behind and find the safety and comfort that I craved.

I eventually grew up and moved on with my life, going to college, getting married and raising four children, and I thought I had left my childhood fantasy of living in an English cottage far behind me. But just this morning, as I worked in the garden, I suddenly became conscious of the fact that I’ve created my own version of cottage life right here in my own home.

On any given day, there’s a hearty soup simmering on the stove and freshly bakes scones cooling on the counter for my family to enjoy when they get home from school or work. I have time in the mornings before I start teaching my afternoon piano lessons to work on my writing. If I choose to, I can even sit by my fireplace with my nose in a novel. And most dear to my heart, I can putter about my flower garden, filled with the kinds of varieties that one would find growing in front of a quaint, country cottage in England.

My garden pathway

I have everything I ever dreamed of and never even realized it until right now.

I guess you could say I live a storybook life—and I guess I’d have to agree with you.

Flowers freshly picked from my garden

11 Responses to “A Cottage Life”

  1. Kristin May 10, 2012 at 1:28 pm #

    Beautiful flowers, Jess! My garden is wonderful right now too – I wish you could see it! Each day brings something new and today it’s the petals from the flowering cherry tree scattered across the green grass. I always love the pink/green combination! My snowball bush is struggling with the weight of its flowers because we forgot to prune it back after last year’s bloom. I know I should get out there and cut off a few branches, to lighten its load, but I’m not nearly as talented as you with cutting and arranging. I’ll try and take some pictures and email them to you. Glad you have such a sweet cottage life!

  2. Allegro non tanto May 10, 2012 at 7:59 pm #

    I would love to see photos of your garden! In fact, we were just discussing that we want to take a trip up to see you guys. I’ll be in touch!

  3. Claudine Gueh May 11, 2012 at 2:13 am #

    Jessica, I used to dream about living in an English cottage surrounded by flowers and trees, too. (I still do, actually.) What you have now sounds incredibly sweet. That is an enviable storybook life!

    • Allegro non tanto May 11, 2012 at 12:30 pm #

      It’s the life I always dreamed of having, I just didn’t appreciate the fact that I’d had it all along!

  4. debatterman May 11, 2012 at 12:12 pm #

    Seeing the cover of ‘The Plain Princess’ brought back such memories . . . It’s a book I read as a young girl, and reread to my daughter when she was a young girl. And nestled the way it is among the photos of your flowers — not to mention all the sensual detail — is nothing if not a reminder of the essence of true beauty and the ways in which are real lives measure up to our imagined one. I want to visit your garden. And I want a taste of those home-made scones. Beautiful post.

    • Allegro non tanto May 11, 2012 at 12:29 pm #

      Well, on your next trip out to California to visit your daughter, you’ll just have to drive up the coast to Santa Barbara and I’ll make you a fresh batch of scones!

  5. injaynesworld May 11, 2012 at 3:07 pm #

    This is such a beautifully written piece. I was captivated immediately because I, too, have created the “cottage” life. Your descriptions of the book’s influence on you and of your own manifestation of your dream was woven together like fine lace. And oh my — I could smell that rose, and like Deb, I look forward to one day tasting those scones of yours. You’re a lovely writer, my friend Again, I thoroughly enjoyed this piece. Really, really wonderful.

    • Allegro non tanto May 11, 2012 at 4:36 pm #

      Thank you so much, Jayne, for your kind and thoughtful comments! We don’t live so far away from each other–perhaps someday soon we can meet in the flesh. I’ll bring the scones.

  6. Charla Bregante May 12, 2012 at 10:00 am #

    Beautiful. Your garden looks delightful.

  7. Becky Green Aaronson May 14, 2012 at 8:45 pm #

    Gorgeous, Jessica. I’ve seen your beautiful garden and tasted those scones. You are living the cottage life! Great post!

    • Allegro non tanto May 14, 2012 at 9:40 pm #

      You definitely need to come over soon and we’ll have tea and scones together. I miss you!

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