Throughout December, to celebrate the 25th anniversary of Martha Stewart Living magazine, I will examine 25 of the most memorable and influential people, moments and milestones at Martha Stewart's company over the last quarter century: the Martha Moments that fans are especially grateful for. I hope you enjoy these reflections on twenty-five years of excellence!
DECEMBER 18: THE WRITING
If the writing in a magazine is not effective, informative, interesting and entertaining, I don't read it. Thankfully, the writing in Martha Stewart Living magazine has been of excellent quality from the very first issue. It is impossible to list all of the things that Martha's magazines have taught me over the years and that information was mostly imparted to me through the writing. The research involved in many of the stories in the magazine is often not celebrated by the reader but it is what sets Martha's magazine apart from its competitors. Few other magazines in this category reach out to experts and even fewer take the time to synthesize the information learned into a cohesive, interesting article on the subject.
The tone of Martha Stewart Living is instructive but gentle, nudging in its insistence that the reader should really try to make this cake herself. It is never condescending or too "high-brow" for the average reader, although it does ask the reader to be open to learning and to aspire to curiosity.
There have been many wonderful essays and editorials over the years that I still refer back to. Writers like Bunny Wong, Amy Conway, Susan Heeger, Margaret Roach...They all took the time to celebrate the joys of homekeeping and gardening by penning articles that meant something to the reader and I remember their names because they were very good at what they did.
One of my favourite columns in the magazine was Martha's "Remembering" column, which always appeared on the very last page of each issue. The column was pulled in 2004 as Martha faced her legal challenges but each column contains some of the most fondly cherished words from her magazine. With the holidays just around the corner, I thought I would share one of Martha's "Remembering" columns here on the blog. It is my favourite entry. I hope you enjoy it.
REMEMBERING CHRISTMAS PAST
By Martha Stewart
When my daughter was only a month old, we found our country house in a remote section of the Berkshire Mountains in Middlefield, Massachusetts. We had allotted a very small budget to the purchase of a weekend place, a refuge from New York City where I could garden, Andy could build, and Alexis, our only child, could grown and thrive in the pure mountain air.
We bought a one-room schoolhouse on Clark Wright Road to which three small rooms had been added over the years. The house had no bathroom and no running water, only a rain barrell under the leader from the roof gutter and plenty of ice-cold mountain water from a stream about a quarter-mile away. We took turns, Andy and I, lugging water in large pails from the stream to cook with, wash up with, and drink. It was always a pleasure to be there in warm weather, but in winter the place took on a special charm. For Alexis's fourth Christmas, we decided to attempt a holiday with no relatives, no heat, and no frills. Perhaps this is why it remains, in both my and Alexis's memories, one of our happiest times together.
We arrived in Middlefield three days before Christmas. When we got there, the house was bitterly cold. We lit fires in the fireplace, the potbellied stove, and the Glenwood cook range. We wrapped Alexis in down quilts, and she read her books next to the blazing stove. After a cozy dinner, we went to bed early with the sunset.
The next day we went to the woods to cut down a tree. A fresh blanket of snow had fallen, and it was hard to walk. Little Bear, our silver keeshond, struggled and Alexis kept falling and laughing, the snow in places deeper than she was tall. We found a perfect tree, a fir covered with its own small pinecones, sawed it down, and dragged it back to the cottage. We stood it in our living room and decorated it with homemade ornaments - cookies, paper chains, strings of cranberries, popcorn, and pinecones, and origami creations that Alexis and I had made from colorful papers Andy had brought from Japan. While we worked, we listened to to National Public Radio from Amherst on our old console radio. They played music by Bach and Handel and broadcast readings from great writers like Dickens, O'Henry, and Hans Christian Andersen. We laughed and talked and finished the tree, thinking it was the most beautiful thing we had ever seen. It smelled so good and fresh; I remember it as if it were yesterday.
Alexis was a very thoughtful child; buying gifts for her was not difficult. I searched the bookstores for books I had loved as a child, or ones that seemed perfect for that time. I read aloud to her a lot, so some of the books were ones that could be read aloud and understood then, and saved for perusal later when she could handle all the words herself. We opened our presents on Christmas Eve, after we had eaten a country dinner cooked entirely on the wood-burning range. We had roast duck, sweet potatoes, and apple tart. The pastry, the skin of the duck, the caramelized flesh of the potatoes - I remember it as if it were yesterday.
On Christmas morning we strapped on our cross-country skis and followed Andy's freshly cut trail into the hollow. We skied all the way to Glendale Falls, then found our way home and ate a big breakfast of pancakes, local maple syrup, and bacon. The Christmas ham was in the oven, and the plum pudding was steaming atop the stove. Our friends from the village arrived to have Christmas dinner with us. Their two children, Anna and Bo, played with Alexis,and they all exchanged presents and told each other stories of the woods and winter. After frolicking outside until they were almost frozen, the children wrapped themselves up in blankets and whispered by the fire. I remember it as if it were yesterday.