Friday, October 31, 2014

A Little Tale for Halloween.... A Murder of Crows


A Little Tale For Halloween

A Murder of Crows
1.
The afternoon of Halloween found Albert Dalrymple back in the waiting room, watching the clock and carelessly drawing a caricature of the woman across from him on the back of the grocery list he held in his lap.  She was a large woman, all creases and folds, and she was at this moment rifling through her incongruously tiny handbag in search of … what?  Her face gathered itself up in corrugations of concentration while Albert stared.  Then like a falling cake, she softened with the satisfaction of discovery and pulled out a fan.  Pleated and black as a crow’s wing, she flipped it open with all the flourish of a magician’s assistant, and began waving it in front of her face,  revealing the words, See Rock City, printed along the side in the color of blood. Swooshswooshswoosh. The mental image of Tidy, his brother's oxymoronically named terrier, flashed in front of Albert’s eyes.  Tidy’s tail wagged at that precise speed.

“Hot, ain’t it?”, the large woman asked to the room in general.  No one looked up to meet her gaze as it fell on each of them in turn.  Albert had the misfortune of being the only one slow enough, or curious enough, to be caught.  He coughed quietly, uttering an almost inaudible, “I suppose it is”, before dropping his eyes back down to his drawing.  He pulled his coat a little tighter around him.  He’d been freezing for the past fifteen minutes.  

This was his third time here and Albert had already decided it was to be his last.  He was eighty-nine on Thursday and had decided he’d lived quite long enough. Not that he didn’t enjoy his life. He did.  He’d just had enough of it. He was ready for something else.  The young doctor (A specialist. This moniker always made Albert laugh to himself.) had been trying, God help him.  But no matter what new-fangled treatments or trials came down the pike, nothing could stop the inevitable.  Eighty-nine.  People don’t live forever, young man.

“What’cha here for?”  Albert looked up to see the corpulent woman staring at him, fan flying in front of her fat face.  See Rock City.  See Rock City.  See Rock City.

“I’m…. Well… “  Albert looked at the woman for a long moment.  “You know, I really don’t know.”  He folded his grocery list on which was now drawn a most unflattering portrait of the woman he’d just addressed, placed it in the pocket of his black overcoat, got up and left the room.

“Well.  I never.”, said the woman.  The black fan stopped in mid-air.  No one else looked up.

2. 
Albert stepped out into the orange light of a setting October sun.  Brilliantly coloured maple leaves carpeted the pavement in front of him.  Follow the yellow brick road.  Albert hummed to himself as his walked.  He had just enough time to make it to the market and home again before the children started showing up.  He had no intention of being caught having to hand out soda crackers like he’d done last year.  Totally forgot it was Halloween.  Well, Lydia had always kept track of those kind of things.  But this year he planned to be the best house on the street.  Candy bars galore.  And not those little ones either.  The full size bars.

Turning the corner onto River Street, Albert found himself walking alongside the iron fencing of Meredith House, the oldest house in town. His steps slowed a bit as he stopped to gaze at the house from between the vertical posts of the black iron fence. The many trees that crowded the garden had already dropped their leaves; the ground was dark with them.  Long believed to be haunted, Meredith House had, through the years, endured the midnight visitation of little boys who, on a dare, ran up to touch its massive wooden door or peer into its dusty leaded windows.  Albert had been one of those boys, once. He wasn't sure who lived here now.  Old man Meredith was long gone.  But there on the front porch sat two large, carved pumpkins.  Their faces smiled back at him, toothless and macabre.  

A rustling sound began to fill the air and Albert was amazed to see the ground around the house begin to move.  A roiling, rolling mass of black, lifting and falling like waves on the sea.  It’s not leavesWhy, it’s crows!, thought Albert, as thousands, millions, of black wings caught the light, transforming into prismatic ebony jewels, so bright, so splendid, they made Albert’s eyes water.  Then as if answering an authority known only to them, they rose as one in a swirl of black, in a dance of celestial choreography both thrilling and apparitional.

Albert watched in fascination as they ascended upwards through the trees, up over the house and out into the autumnal coloured sky, all the while moving in patterns as intricate and fluid as music itself.  After a moment or two it seemed to Albert that the crows began to drift downwards a bit, the sound of their wings filling the air all around him like the indecipherable voices of a crowd.  Never stopping, never slowing, they came closer and closer to the spot where Albert stood with his hands at his sides, transfixed into silence.  The flutter and beat became deafening as the birds encircled him.  Feathers tickled his nose.  Then Albert Dalrymple’s feet began to feel too light to secure him properly to the pavement and he felt himself lifting up.  Up with the birds; up high in the air.  

There weren’t many trick or treaters at Albert Dalrymple’s house that night.  He hadn’t left a light on in the window as an invitation and most of the kids didn’t fancy the soda crackers of the previous year anyway.  But if they’d chanced to come up the walk they might have seen a large black crow watching them from the naked branch of a poplar tree.  They might have found a bowl of candy bars on the front porch.  Not the small ones, either.  The full size bars.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Scottish Country Houses, and Books


Scottish Country Houses, and Books
Just around the corner from my hotel in London, sort of catty-cornered from one of my favourite places to eat breakfast and people-watch in the early morning hours, sits a special little shoe shop.  Emma Hope always has drool-worthy samples of their expensive wares arranged enticingly in their crystal clear windows and occasionally I stop to have a look.  Kitten-heeled day shoes.  Riding boots the colour of warm caramel.  Bejeweled evening shoes just begging to be worn to a breakfast at Tiffany’s.  I sometimes sit at my breakfast table across the street and watch women pass by these windows.   Their pace will slow a bit as their eyes catch the colorful array.  Then they stop.  They stare.  You can almost hear the voices inside their heads vehemently arguing back and forth about the necessity of another pair of shoes.  The price!  But the beauty!  The need versus the want.  It’s fun to see which side wins.

Despite my card-carrying femininity, I am not often tempted by shoes.  Don’t get me wrong; I love a good pair of riding boots and have had my head turned more that once by a jaunty pair of spectators.  But, as the little voices inside my own head can attest, I am most often lured into extravagance by old country house hotels, and books.  This most recent trip to Scotland was no exception.  We stayed in some utterly marvelous places.  And yes, despite my pleading with The Songwriter to keep me out of bookshops, I did manage to bring home a few fabulous books on this latest journey.  

I thought you all might enjoy a pairing of these two for my latest post.  So I’m sharing some of the places we stayed on this last holiday, along with some of the intriguing new titles just released for the autumn season.  
I hope you enjoy a peek of both.
  And as always, do share what you plan to read this fall.
Photo above:  Detail of Prestonfield House, Edinburgh Scotland
xo
***

The Manor House
Oban
Scotland
An overnight flight to Heathrow, then a smaller plane to Edinburgh where we picked up a car and drove to Glencoe, my favourite place on Earth.   A hike into the wilds of Glencoe to a place called The Study; a vantage point from which we could best observe the Three Sisters, resplendent that day in the clear, bright sunlight, a gift from Mother Nature that was as unexpected as it was most gratefully received.  A drive through the idyllic scenery of Ballachulish as the sun began to drift downwards towards the horizon led us to The Manor House in Oban.  

Sitting atop a hill overlooking the harbor, the Manor House looks just like its name.  One can easily imagine it as the comfortable home for the Duke of Argyll, which, in fact, it was.  Built in 1780, it retains all of its stately Georgian charm.  Tired and hungry when we arrived, we opened the door of the Manor House and were met with mouth-watering aromas coming from the restaurant kitchen. We were then led upstairs to our corner room where tartan blankets were tucked into our downy bed and windows offered unfettered views to the seaport below.

We sat out in the garden to watch the sun set below the mountains until the Scottish wind reminded us that summer was a thing of the past and we fled to the warmth  inside where a scrumptious dinner awaited us.  There are plenty of fireside rooms in which to read at The Manor House.  And any of these new books would fit the bill nicely.
Just click on the pictures to find out more.

The Paying Guests
by Sarah Waters

The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher
Stories
by Hilary Mantel

Behind the Mask
The Life of Vita Sackville-West
by Matthew Dennison

********


Glengorm Castle
Isle of Mull
Scotland
If you are hardy enough to brave the chilled winds that whip round the top deck of the ferry to Mull, you will be rewarded with the site of an ancient castle.  Like a page torn from a fairy tale, Duart Castle presides over the coastline of Mull with a serene solemnity befitting its setting as well as its history.  Soon the ferry will dock, bumping softly into place, and its time to drive off and head north.  

You follow the coastline for about an hour, head wheeling from side to side in attempts to fully appreciate the amazing coastal views, until you come to the tiny roundabout at Tobermory.  Heading off to the left, you notice the landscape becoming wilder.  The road narrows to one track.  Like a green-uniformed army, ancient fir trees stand shoulder to shoulder, staring silently into your car windows as you pass.  The road becomes rougher as you navigate the switchbacks and ruts.  Highland Cows occasionally block your path, facing down your car in a friendly dare.  Then, at a high bend in the road, you suddenly brake.  There off in the distance, on a hillside above a wild sea, you see it.  

Impossibly grand, Glengorm Castle is the castle you dreamed of when you read Sleeping Beauty.  All turrets and spires and achingly breathtaking views.  But never fear its grandness, for Glengorm is run like a family home.  In fact, the owners live there with their two small children and two adorable dogs.  ( We met the dogs, not the kids.)  The rooms are atmospheric and cozy.  The cliffside hikes are dreams.  I managed to carve out a few minutes here to read and to knit, but not nearly enough for either.  This place is heaven.
Here are some new books perfect for curling up at Glengorm Castle.

Lila
by Marilynne Robinson

While Wandering
A Walking Companion
Edited by Duncan Minshull

History of the Rain
by Niall Williams


***


Prestonfield House
Edinburgh
Scotland
I had come to Edinburgh alone, enroute to meet my friend in Aberdeen for our trip to Shetland.  Having said goodbye to The Songwriter at London’s Paddington Station in a scene straight out of WWII,  I took the train northbound on a very early, very foggy, morning.  Now, sitting in the back of a taxi, I listened as the driver explained his position on the Scottish vote for independence all the while peering out the window as we passed through a neighborhood of neat little houses lined up in a row.  This can’t be right, I thought to myself.  There can’t be a hotel here.  But suddenly the cab turned in between two lichen-covered stone posts and the real world popped like a bubble into nonexistence.

As we drove slowly up the tree-lined drive, I saw several peacocks wandering round;   their turquoise feathers shining in the early morning sunlight.  And there, at the far end of the drive in the shadow of Arthur’s Seat, sat Prestonfield House, waiting for me in all its Jacobite glory.  My cab door was thrown open by a handsome young Scot who offered his arm and led me in through the tall wooden doors whilst my bags were whisked away to my room.  Then, perhaps noticing my gaping jaw, the gregarious chap offered to give me a tour of the hotel, an offer I enthusiastically excepted.

I can only say that very single teeny tiny square inch of Prestonfield House is perfection.  From the welting on the double-lined curtains that dress the gleaming windows, to the paintings that line the walls.  I had dinner that night in my room, (Wilmont is sitting on my bed in the photo below) at a lovely table ( complete with complimentary champagne and roses)  by an open window that looked out over the autumnal colours of the garden, feeling for all the world like a Scottish queen of yore.  Paradise.  Seriously.
  
After a brisk walk round the gardens next morning, spoiled for choice, I finally settled myself into the upstairs sitting room for an hour of reading.  Believe me, I have rarely been so cosseted.  Prestonfield is a splendiferous treat for the senses.  
I’d love to curl up there with any of these new books.

Virginia Woolf
Art, Life and Vision
by Frances Spalding
(I was fortunate to catch the recent Woolf exhibition at London's National Portrait Gallery.  
It was magnificent, and this book was the companion piece to the show.
Wonderful.)

Artists, Writers, Thinkers, Dreamers
Portraits of 50 Famous Folks and All Their Weird Stuff
by James Gulliver Hancock

Yves Saint Laurent
A Moroccan Passion
by  Pierre Berge'





To find out more about these Wonderful Scottish Inns....

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

One Indispensable Day in October


One Indispensable Day in October

  Although I prattle on about each season as though it’s my favourite, it’s no secret that autumn holds my heart tight within its bright orange glow.  When that first chill pierces the morning air and the light becomes clearer than an artist’s eye, I feel a unique joy.  So as I sat trying to think of all the delicious puzzle parts that make up the autumnal season I found it impossible to jettison even one.  Fall without scarves or shawls, turtlenecks or Dubarry boots?  Unthinkable.  To take away firesides or flannel shirts, tartan blankets or Halloween?  Never.  Losing pumpkins or cinnamon, scarlet leaves or apple pies?  Oh my goodness, no.  I doubt I could even loosen my grasp on Mario Badescu’s Bee Pollen Cream, my secret weapon for the pinkly chapped cheeks that come after brisk walks with Edward.  But the truth is, the part of autumn I would find utterly indispensable is none of these things, delightful as they are.  You see, I couldn’t imagine autumn without one special day in October.  It is a day celebrated in my family as faithfully as Christmas, and with as much gladness.

The Songwriter and I were best friends all through my teenage years.  We were the type of friends who would call each other after our dates with other people to commiserate with one another about how dreadful they’d been.  We went practically everywhere together, laughing all the way.  Then one afternoon in October, we drove up into the mountains for a picnic by a lake.  We came home engaged to be married and have never looked back.  So, every October, when that particular date rolls around, we go back to the same secluded lake in the woods - to remember, to celebrate, in gratitude and love.

We’ve never missed a year.  We’ve returned on sunny days and stormy ones.  On days when the leaves wore colours more brilliant than butterflies and on days when the heat of summer lingered and kept them clad in green.  We have come during years of bounty and during years of loss.  We have come when we didn’t really have time to do so.   Edward and Apple go with us now, eager to follow the well-worn path that winds through the thicket surrounding the lake.  A family holiday just for us.

Last Saturday afternoon, I visited an elderly friend who’d been feeling poorly.  She happily told me all about her grand-daughter’s new marriage and, as she related their plans for the upcoming holiday season she said, “It makes me so happy to see that this new couple understands the importance of traditions.”.  My mind went immediately to our day in October and I had to agree with my friend.  Traditions are touchstones, occasions set aside to mark the passing of time even as we revel in all the present joys.  Our lives spin so fast; it is vital to keep our eyes on the still places so we don’t lose our balance, lose our way.  Traditions are the still places.  Our day in October is a tradition.   

Oh yes, I know it sounds sappy.  Who celebrates the day they became engaged, for goodness sakes?  Isn’t the wedding anniversary enough?    But I couldn’t imagine autumn without this most personal, most celebratory, day.   After all these years, The Songwriter is still my favourite person; we still laugh every day.  I am grateful. So yes, this is the one part of autumn I could never relinquish.

*****
Once again, I'm tickled to take part in Splenderosa's monthly topic.
Always such fun to see what everyone writes.
See more HERE.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Wilmont and My Passport


Wilmont and my Passport

He had shown me parts of Shetland I would never have seen otherwise:  hidden coves where corpulent harbor seals lounged on grey rocks, blinking their black round eyes at me as I sat watching them with my chin resting on my knees…. secret seasides where the tide came in white with hundreds of swans… a strip of wide sandy beach where waves crashed on either side as I walked its length with the sound of a wild wind in my ears.  Now as he pointed towards the horizon he looked grave as he said, “Weather’s changing.  It’s gonna get bad.”.  

Tom was our tour guide, a life long Shetlander, wealthy in his knowledge of the islands, but as I squinted in the bright sunlight to follow his gaze all I saw were a few thin clouds, misty and grey, gathered together far out in the sea. They certainly seemed innocuous enough. “But… “, I said, noticing he had already left to head back down the hill.  I followed behind him at a clip.

I had not originally planned to come to the Shetland Islands.  But when a friend and fellow knitter wrote to tell me she’d booked a trip to Shetland Wool Week I found it impossible to resist.  After all, I was already in Scotland.  So The Songwriter flew home to Edward and Apple on the date we had planned, and I made my way up to Aberdeen to meet my friend.  We boarded the fourteen hour (Fourteen!) ferry to Shetland, landing early on a rainy Saturday morning, picking up a car and heading north where we took another ferry to the island of Whalsay. There we spent seven hours under the delightful tutelage of two Shetland ladies, learning the intricate techniques of fair isle knitting.  

We took a wonderful tour of the island on the day before we left, returning back to our inn with Tom’s dire weather prediction bouncing round our heads.  Sure enough, we received an email that evening from the ferry company informing us that the ship was sailing two hours early in an attempt to avoid what was coming.  “Really?”, I said, as I stuck my head out our picture window, breathing in the air of a clear, starlit night.  

The next morning dawned drizzly and cold.  We visited a couple of museums and wool shops and whenever shopkeepers heard we were leaving that afternoon, expressions fell and darkened.  “Oh, you’re in for a rough one.”, they said with concern. “Take your seasickness medicine every hour on the hour and don’t even try to sit up.” 

The feeling of foreboding was heavy in the little ferry terminal as we left.  The few passengers there were shuffled down the walkway as a stiff wind blew the rain sideways into the foggy windows.  I swallowed hard.  Once in our cabin, I stretched out on my bed, clutching Wilmont, our stuffed monkey who accompanies us on every long journey, grateful I’d decided to keep him with me instead of sending him home with The Songwriter, and I waited.  

The moment the huge ship released its grip on the dock, it started.  Violently swaying and tipping, we made our way out into the wilds of the North Sea, feeling farther than ever from home.  Two hours later I was holding onto the sides of my bed as it pitched backwards and forwards and side to side when I heard… “Due to the expected adverse weather conditions, the restaurant will close in one hour.  Passengers are requested to stay inside their cabins.  Thank you.”   
OH Lord, I thought.  It’s going to get worse.

And dear reader, worse it did get.  Items sailed off tables, doors flew open.  Occasionally there would be a sound so deafening and a jolt so violent it seemed we’d obviously run headlong into something of monstrous proportions.  The cabin would then creak and moan as though threatening to break apart completely.  Without great effort, I could see myself quite clearly, alone as I bobbed up and down in the dark North Sea, clutching the two items I felt I would need most:  Wilmont and my passport.  

Either I passed out or fell into a frightful sleep, for I woke up at four in the morning and everything was still.  Wondering for a second or two if I was indeed, dead, I peered out the window, saw a tall building and, as it possessed nothing of a heavenly quality, decided I must still reside in the land of the living.  Slowly I stood up, opened our cabin door and ventured out into the eerily silent ship.  Padding upstairs, I found the crew sitting in the bar, sipping coffee and watching the weather on their computers.  “Excuse me, “ I said in a weak voice that sounded nothing like my own.  “Where exactly are we?”

“We’re in Aberdeen”, came the proud reply.  “Made it here two hours early like we hoped.  Beat the worst of it.”

With great diplomacy, I chose not to comment on this last statement, but just said, “Thank God.  I don’t ever want to be on the sea again.”

The room filled with laughter and one man said…”Ay, what you mean, lass?  People'd pay good money at a fun fair for a ride light that ‘un.”

I left as soon as the doors were opened, 
Wilmont in one hand, my passport in the other.



Wilmont, at Holyrood Castle, Edinburgh Scotland
October 2014

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

The Scottish Highlands


Still in the Scottish Highlands.
More Adventures Coming.
Be Back Soon With Tales to Tell
.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Celebrating Fall.... A Special List


Celebrating Fall.... a Special List

Scotland
It was a day peculiar to this piece of the planet,
when larks rose on long thin strings of singing
and the air shifted with the shimmer of actual angels.
Greenness entered the body. The grasses
shivered with presences, and sunlight
stayed like a halo on hair and heather and hills.
Walking into town, I saw, in a radiant raincoat,
the woman from the fish-shop. 'What a day it is!'
cried I, like a sunstruck madman.
And what did she have to say for it?
Her brow grew bleak, her ancestors raged in their graves
as she spoke with their ancient misery:
'We'll pay for it, we'll pay for it, we'll pay for it!'
by Alastair Reid
*********

The photograph and poem above might give you a clue where The Songwriter and I are.  
Needless to say, I am in my favorite land at present. 
 More later.
For now…. here’s a few treats for an early fall.  
Enjoy!

1.  Outlander Knitting
For those people who have always questioned my tendency to head to Scotland whenever I go on holiday... (“What about Italy??  Wouldn’t you prefer a more tropical clime?”)... I have only to point to the new television production of the book, Outlander.  An endless stream of scenes from the Scottish Highlands, romantic and achingly atmospheric, I dare anyone not to be seduced by their beauty.  As I lover of Scotland, I haven’t missed an episode.  But there is another reason I have become a devoted viewer.  And yes, I am well aware of the remarkable handsomeness of the show’s male lead, but he is only a distraction to the real temptation of this eye-catching show.  I am talking here about the knitting.  Shawls and scarves, sweaters and capes - enough to make a knitter positively swoon.  Just take a gander at the fabulous cowl worn by the show’s star  in the photo above.  Sigh.
The knitting community is nothing if not resourceful and new patterns for these Outlander creations flood the internet after the airing of each new episode.
See HERE.  And HERE.  And HERE’S the cowl that I made.


And of course, here’s my favourite model in two of my latest finished projects.
 I am wearing these in the Highlands right now!
(I tried to make him smile, but he took this modeling job very seriously.)
********

2.  The Bartering System
As someone who loves to bake but is reluctant to partake of every concoction in its entirety lest I become rounder than tall, I have recently entered into the most satisfying deal ever.  One of my favourite neighbours raises not only three adorable children, but a mini herd of mini goats, a rabbit, two cats, and a flock of designer chickens that seem hand-painted by angels; I see designs for rooms and sweaters in their feathers each time I visit.  Well, here’s the thing.  Even with a family of five, my friend was gathering far more eggs than she could use each and every week.  So.  We have joined together in an old-fashioned arrangement known through the ages as the bartering system.  I bake something fabulous for her family, and in return receive a large basket full of fresh eggs.  All colours, all sizes, as befitting a flock of feathered individuals rather than a bunch of poor systemized, programmed, industrialized fowl.  These eggs have transformed my breakfast into a tasty treat I look forward to every morning.  Plus, I get to wave my wooden spoons over desserts both delicious and ambitious.  A win-win for everyone!  Highly recommended if you have the right neighbours.  That’s the adorable middle child, Dahlia, pictured above. 
******

 3.  Kitchen Tiles
I think it started with the kitchen so prominently featured in the 2003 film, Something’s Gotta Give.  A somewhat beachy kitchen, with white cabinets, white subway tiles, black countertops and dark wooden floors.  Almost instantaneously it seemed, that kitchen was absolutely everywhere.  It’s undeniably beautiful, but so sadly ubiquitous now.  With each new copy it seems more and more unoriginal and bland; it could be anyone’s kitchen.  I don’t know about you, but I am longing for colour and individuality in design these days.  Even wild eccentricity, if it accurately represents the personality of the owner.  To that end.... these tiles by Welbeck have me entranced.  The whole line sends sparks through my mind.  Can’t you just imagine the kitchen these could inspire?
It would definitely require an Aga.
Find them HERE.
******

4.  Dog TeePees
Edward loves to hop up in our bedroom windowseat to view the back garden at his leisure, and to nap. Apple has a special spot in the family room just behind a painted monkey book stand and just over a floor vent for the air-conditioner.  Both of them can also occasionally be found snoozing together underneath the piano, a hiding place  where they are guaranteed privacy as well as an excellent view of the front door.  Every dog loves a special spot to call his on.  Which brings me to the photo above.
Find it HERE.
*********

5.  Two New Books for Fall
With fashion weeks in New York and London just past, 
 two books sound like so much fun.
I’ll Drink to That 
by Betty Halbreich
If you happened to see the delightful little bonbon of a film, Scatter My Ashes at Berdorf’s, you’ll easily remember Betty Halbreich.  She stole the movie away from everyone else, including personalities as gilded as Lagerfeld and Armani.  A personal shopper at Berdorf-Goodman department store for years, Betty has stories to tell, all with a snooty, imperious tone than somehow manages to charm rather than repel.   She’s now written a book that’s sure to be an entertaining romp of a read.  
Find it HERE.
and here’s a bit of Betty from the film.....

Vivienne Westwood
by Vivienne Westwood and Ian Kelly
One of the most original and iconoclastic designers writes her autobiography.
This one has to be a good time.
Find it HERE.
**********
6. Artistry and Kindness
I’m not particularly sure how I came to be so fortunate, but I’m convinced I have the best readers in the entire world.  Whenever I hear about the horrors of the internet, I don’t say much, for my experience through this blog has been nothing short of lovely.  Case in point:  the charming Tish Jett of the blog Femme d'Un Certain Age … posted a photograph of Edward and me a few weeks ago along with the words, “somebody should paint this!”.  A few days later, I received a letter from the gorgeous artist, Helen Tilston, who informed me she had done precisely that.  Whilst on holiday in Ireland, she placed her easel beside the sea  and painted the image of Edward and me.  It arrived this week, along with two special pebbles from the very same Irish shore on which the painting was created.  What can I say to such generosity?  A mere Thank You seems quite anemic to me.  Needless to say, I shall treasure this forever.
Visit Helen and see more of her work, HERE

Helen painting Edward by the sea in Ireland.
Love this!
******
And before I go,
 a bit of Outlander for you to enjoy....


I'll be in touch soon! xoxox,
Pamela


Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Sharing.... Sort Of


Sharing, Sort Of

A buttery golden pound cake always sat under a cut glass dome on the kitchen counter of my Great-Aunt Susie.  No visitor was too insignificant to be offered a slice of this delectable concoction and no visitor would ever dream of refusing such an offer, for Aunt Susie’s culinary skills were legend.  Her pièce de résistance was her Burnt Caramel Cake, a towering wonderment that was known to make grown men swoon as easily as it turned their wives positively green with the sort of domestic envy reserved for those shirt-waisted, pearl-draped housewives of a bygone era.  It was the icing.  Deep, rich, and tawny as the king’s honey, it was impossible for any woman in town to recreate, no matter how diligently they tried.

Now, Aunt Susie was a formidable woman, something even I, the little golden-haired grand-niece on whom she showered unabashed affection, could easily see.  She was not a woman to be crossed, pushed, or pressed.  Deservedly proud of her cooking, she preferred to be thought of as unique in those abilities and kept her recipes as secret as the spells of a sorceress.  The few women who had been so foolish as to request her recipe for that Burnt Caramel Cake only did so once.

So, frustrated by years of unsuccessful attempts to recreate that caramel cake, the women of Aunt Susie’s church hatched a plan. They decided to publish a cookbook.  My Aunt could not possibly resist the lure of publication, in hardback no less.  Her name placed forever in print as the creator of such a magnificent cake would surely appeal to her pride, her altruism (for the cookbook would raise needed funds for the church, after all), as well as her sense of legacy and veneration as it would be handed down in her family, generation after admiring generation.  To their surprise and immense delight, my Aunt agreed to include her much coveted Burnt Caramel Cake recipe in the book and the ladies of the church could hardly wait for the date of publication.

I have that cookbook in my kitchen now.  And yes, there on page 40 is my Aunt’s famed Burnt Caramel Cake.  She has provided a detailed recipe for the cake, which is a basic yellow cake the sort of which most amateur bakers would have easily mastered in grade school.  But at the close of the recipe, she has simply written :  Frost with Burnt Caramel Icing.  No instructions, no ingredient list, no special secrets revealed.

I would like to say that this tradition of culinary secrecy ended with my Aunt, but I laugh to myself now as I remember my Mother sneaking out of church down the back stairs one Sunday morning, determined to avoid a lady who’d requested the recipe for her Christmas Fudge.  I use that fudge recipe still, every festive season, a family privilege reserved for those of MacDonald blood, but I feel the ice cold stares of the matriarchal wing of my family whenever anyone asks for the recipe.  “I’ll just make you some”, I usually reply, unwilling to disturb those formidable women gone on before.  I have toyed with the idea of finally sharing these recipes by engraving them on my tombstone, thereby ending the secretiveness once and for all even as I ensure that my grave will be visited for years to come.

Above painting by P. J. Crook


***
I am once again honored to have been included in By Invitation Only, 
 the brainchild of Marsha Harris, creator of the beautiful blog, Splenderosa.  
You can find all the other essays on this month's topic of Sharing, HERE.


Wednesday, September 10, 2014

I Credit My Father


I Credit My Father

As punctual as daybreak, as constant as the tides, it is a memory that returns to me every single time I walk along a lonely beach at twilight.  The wonderfully reliable recollection floods my senses and I find that, once again, it takes no effort to see myself as I once was -  a little girl, holding the hand of my father, trying without success to match his stride in the sand as we strolled along in the light of a setting seaside sun.  We would stand with our eyes on the dark stripe of horizon as the sea stole the sand away beneath our bare feet, grain by grain, as though in an hourglass, causing us to sidestep to firmer footing every minute or so.  The wind would whip and whisper. And my Father would tell me stories.

“Look”, he’d say.  “Way out there.  As far as you can see, and then a bit more.  Can you see it?”

“See what?”, I’d ask, my little eyes squinting as they stared at that mysterious place where sea becomes sky.

“Oh, there’s so much to see”, he’d reply.  “There are creatures, way down in the water, creatures taller than buildings, creatures that can fill up the sky.  Monsters and heroes, angels and witches, good things and bad things.”

“Dogs?”, I would ask, hopefully.

“Maybe, “ came the reply.

And I would stare and stare, my eyes stinging, with my little heart throbbing halfway in hope and halfway in fear.   And just the night took over the day, I would squeal....”I think I can see it, Daddy!  I see someone walking out over the sea!  Someone really big!  Can you see him??”

“Of course I can, Squirt.  You bet I can.”

Sometimes at night when Edward lays quietly beside me as I read before bed, I catch him looking up at me, his big brown eyes a mirror of his devoted soul, and I’m almost certain he’s getting ready to speak.  There is a part of me that would not be at all surprised.  I watch the crowds in airports, wondering which of these people might be in disguise.  Which ones are angels?  Who is here from a different time?    I think the owls speak in a lyrical language I have yet to learn.  I think there just might be those around me I cannot see, busying themselves in work of which I know nothing.  I don’t have to talk myself into this way of seeing the world; it is as much as part of me as breathing.  And of course, I credit my Father.

My imagination was awakened on those seaside walks when I was little.  My Father told me stories that erased a flat and monochrome world forever, stories that sparked and crackled as they opened door after door in the halls of my mind, doors that, once opened, can never be closed.  When I weary of a world too often as insipid as it is cruel, it is to these rooms that I flee, finding comfort in the colour inside them - the light, the knowledge, the joy.

A couple of weeks ago, I stood again by the sea in the blue black light of approaching darkness.  My Father has been gone from this world seven years now, but just as he taught me all those years ago, I watched the horizon - staring hard, eyes stinging - in anticipation, hope, and a little bit of fear.  And just as the stars began to prick through the blue velvet sky, I could see him.  Walking along the ribbon of night - as tall as a giant, as solid as a rainbow.

“Do you see him, Daddy?
“You bet I do, honey.  You bet I do.”