Sunday, July 21, 2019

Big News and Big Dogs

Big News and Big Dogs

No one goes to the Shetland Isles by mistake.  People don't stop by on the way to someplace else; it's never the destination for a day trip.  The ferry takes fourteen hours across seas that are often less than placid and the plane flight, though admittedly shorter, is a wibbly-wobbly affair whose ultimate success is wholly dependent on the whims of the winds.  Choose the ferry if you can.  Being a romantic, I always feel one should approach a Scottish isle by the sea.  True to that conviction, I embarked on my second ferry trip to Shetland in late May, chock-full of Bonine and an almost giddy sense of anticipation.

You see, just two days before I sailed away for a week of knitting and hiking, (a divine combination of activities led by the wonderful Shetland Wool Adventures and one that included copious amounts of chocolate and homemade scones), my literary agent had submitted my novel to twelve of top publishers in the country.  Had I been home during this time I would have no doubt checked my email and phone hundreds of times a day, all the while vacillating between hope and despair while I waited.  However, as I was in Shetland, a place that feels - and, is - so very far from everything,  I didn't really thing about it at all.  My days were spent learning from some of the most creative and talented textile artists imaginable and hiking into the some of the island's most glorious scenery.  We enjoyed interesting and entertaining conversations, delicious meals, salubrious weather... I even got to hold a lamb!   I only had internet at night and was usually too sleepy when I fell into bed after another adventurous, inspiring day to even glance at my phone.  I concluded the trip with several sunny days in London and returned home inspired and refreshed, not even dreaming that my life was about to change.

Within a week my novel sold to Random House.
It will be published in early 2021.
And no, I still can't quite believe it.

Writing a novel is an all-consuming affair, as evidenced by my sporadic appearances on this blog over the past year or so.  I found it impossible to do any other kind of writing whilst I was immersed in the book.  Now that it's done, I'm hopeful I can be here a bit more often, though I'll admit, I'm still figuring out what that will look like.  To be perfectly candid, in this space I've always written what was on my heart at any given moment, and these days my heart is often heavy.  Three years ago a rock was lifted up off parts of my country and lots of ugly things have since crawled out, more of them emerging with each passing tweet.  It's impossible not to notice, and difficult to refrain from commenting.  I'm one of those people who believe that history has shown us silence is often equated with complicity.  But I've always tried to make this blog a honest place of hope and light in the midst of darkness, and even though at present there seems to be more darkness than ever, I'll continue to keep that as my focus whilst I'm here even as I sometimes shine a bit of that light on the more repellent parts of our current culture.  There is still love, there is still humor... there are still dogs.

Which brings me to Andrew, the big puppy who is now a year old and ninety-four pounds.  Andrew is happy all the time.  He is not afraid of thunderstorms or fireworks and he has a outsized love of cake.    He lavishly adores everyone he meets.  His favorite activity is riding in the passenger seat of the car and as he sits up as high as I do we provide lots of hilarity for our fellow drivers whenever we're out and about.  He sleeps on my feet every night when I'm knitting and rests his head on my chest when I'm reading in bed, which makes it sometimes challenging to adequately see the pages.  If he could sing, he'd sound like Ray Charles.

And I'm delighted to say that at fourteen and a half, Apple is going strong.  Her hips are sometimes stiff on cold mornings but she still goes for two walks a day and rolls around on her back after she eats to celebrate the feeling of a full tummy.  Like any vain and aging Southern Belle, her fur is still jet black though I can verify she's had no help from a salon.  She's very zen, very calm and gives off an certain air of wisdom which is, I suppose, what we all hope for in our golden years.

That's the view from here for now.  I'll keep you all up to date on the progress of the novel and I sincerely thank you for reading over all these years.  Your kindess and affirmation to me as a writer have been an inspiration always and no doubt gave me some of the confidence I needed to attempt this. 
 Bless you all.

Next up:  Summer Books, While It's Still Summer!

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

How Similar We All Look

How Similar We All Look

When the flame-eaten spire of Notre Dame fell yesterday it caused a pain of grief as sharp as any death.  People gathered on the bridges of Paris - staring, singing - strangers made recognizable to one another by the shared shock of unimaginable loss.  I myself fought against tears all day long, on another continent, many miles away.  Into a dark night the tentacles of collective heartbreak spread and spiraled out over the civilized world.

Notre Dame was a symbol of beauty.  We feel its loss most acutely, for as humans, we need such beauty to fully live.  Anyone who had stood in the Holy light of Notre Dame has stood in the midst of such beauty and felt the presence of God.  And, as the late Irish writer, John O'Donahue, reminds us, "we feel most alive in the presence of the Beautiful for it meets the needs of our soul."  To watch such a structure, one that has withstood the barbs of revolutions and world wars, crumble into dust right before our eyes was shattering.

In this holiest of weeks, it is difficult to view the fiery consummation of one of our world's most beautiful holy places as anything less than an symbol of something vital:  a reminder, a portent, an omen.  We live in a time when we are fervently encouraged to slide backwards into tribalism, when we are told our chief concerns should only be those within our own borders, when we are urged to separate, label and fear.  How quickly those darker impulses fade when our eyes are turned towards the same burning light.  How similar we all look, weeping.

Notre Dame will be rebuilt.  It will rise from the ashes stronger and more beautiful than ever before with the help of a myriad of many-colored hands from many different nations.  For while it is a landmark of Paris, a hallmark of France, it is also a lodestar for the rest of the world, one that points humanity towards hope and light, and we cannot lose its Holy beacon when we need it most.  May yesterday's tragedy awaken our better angels to unite and rebuild not only a broken cathedral, but a broken world.

Tuesday, December 25, 2018

No Matter Where You Are

No Matter Where You Are

The first time I boarded a plane my Father looked me straight in the eye and told me, "If you need me, all you have to do is call.  I'll come and get you.  No matter where you are".  This vow - and it was a vow, I can tell you - was even more significant because it was coming from a man utterly terrified of flying.  Having served on an aircraft carrier during the Second World War, he had witnessed far too many pilots fail in their attempts to land squarely on the deck, and that spoiled his faith in air travel for the rest of his life.  It was another testament to his great love for his daughter that I never once doubted his sincerity.  If I was in trouble, if I needed him, I knew beyond question he would surmount anything to reach me.

Over the past year I have thought a lot about the comfort afforded me by Daddy's promise.  As my heart broke night after night thinking of the children separated from their parents at our southern borders - in cells and, God help us, in cages - at the hand of our own government, my mind would inevitably return to those words of my father's.  I know what a gift it is to have security in childhood.  I can only imagine the damage done when it is so cruelly taken away.  It is an awful feeling to know that something so despicable is being done by your country, essentially in your name, and you are powerless to stop it.

This horror was but one of many in this unique year.  Sometimes it was overwhelming. I have seen and heard things that were unthinkable a decade ago.  I have lost respect and trust in people and institutions that once seemed unassailable and true.  I have heard truth denied and lies applauded.  I have begun the process of raking up the ashes of what has burned away, and using them to fashion a shelter that can withstand a harsh wind.  I have learned the value of listening to the murmurs and whispers of my soul and have discovered the need, the vital need, of trusting the still, small voice of my heart rather than the tinkling brass and sounding cymbals of those who have placed their faith in the arrogance of certainty.

Writer Anne Lamott tell us that "these are holy days".  At first glance this statement seems at the very least contradictory to what we read in the papers and see on the news, but I think I know what she means.  We have only to look at Christ to see what is truly holy and we need that holiness today more than ever before.  The warmth of friendship, the balm of forgiveness, the covenant of acceptance.  Tolerance, humility, compassion, loving kindness.  These all may seem small in the face of so much ugliness we cannot control, but a little light shines brightest when there's darkness all around.   In this age when so many claim to speak for God, these holy qualities from Christ's life and words are more valuable than gold, and they are what I cling to.  They stand in direct contrast to the hatred, pride, indifference and greed of our present day.  In these holy days we are called to build bridges, not to hide behind walls.

Tonight as we celebrate the birth of Christ I am reminded that, much like my Dad, He has promised to "be with us always, even to the end of the world".  The past couple of years have often felt like the end of a world I thought I knew.  Maybe it's felt like that for you as well.  If so, it is my prayer and hope that all of us can sift through the wreckage to find the truth in this promise and know that when we need Him, no matter where we are, He will come and get us.

A very Happy and Hopeful Christmas to All.


Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Books At Christmas

Books At Christmas

In recent years Americans have become inundated with television ads for new cars during the festive season.  We'll see at least three in any one-hour program.  In these colourful little ads, delighted flannel-clad family members rush to their kitchen windows on Christmas morning to gape at a brand-new car, shiny and beribboned, parked in their snow-covered drive.  A lot of grinning and jumping up and down with glee then ensues.  The car companies seem bent on convincing the public that giving people expensive new cars at Christmas is a holiday tradition not to be ignored.  Frankly, I don't buy it.  And yes, the pun was intended.

There are all sorts of gift-givers during holiday time, from those who decry materialism and refuse to participate in any sort of festivity that requires legal tender to those who lavish the best of everything on offer for their friends and family.  Personally, the practice of following the Magi's lead and giving gifts to those we love is one I hold dear.  But I'm not a person who stands in the cold outside the local big box store on the morning after Thanksgiving, pawing the ground with the rest of the herd as I wait for the doors to open.  No, I prefer quieter gifts.  I make things, I bake things.  And best of all, I give books.  Lots of books.

When you tie a ribbon round a book at Christmas you are giving so much more than words printed on paper.  You are giving a ticket to other worlds.  You are giving magic.  You are setting a spark to imagination and encouraging empathy to bloom.  Inside that rectangular box is travel and knowledge, laughter and tears.  It's my belief that every book we read changes us, just a little bit.  We see a bit clearer, we feel a bit deeper.  Our hearts, and sometimes even our minds, open just a crack wider.  Now seriously, what new car can do that?

So in the spirit of the season, here are some book ideas for this year.  I do hope you find one you'll want to wrap up for somebody else.  And maybe one, or two, for yourself. 
As usual, just click on the picture and you'll be whisked away to read more about each book.  And though these links take you to Amazon, I would encourage you to purchase from your local bookshops.  You'll find even more wondrous ideas there, I promise!
Merry Christmas to all of you.

Where the Crawdads Sing
by Delia Owens

Carnival of the Animals
by Elizabeth Varadan

After the Party
by Cressida Connolly

All the Queen's Corgis
by Penny Junor

The Secret Gardeners
Britain's Creatives Reveal Their Private Sanctuaries
by Frances Lincoln

Ocean Meets Sky
by The Fan Brothers

A Place For Us
by Fatima Farheen Mirza

The Faber Book of Christmas
from Liberty of London

The Ghost Stories of M.R. James

The Light in the Dark
A Winter Journal
by Horatio Clare

Buckingham Palace
The Interiors
by Ashley Hicks

Thirty Years of Fashion at Vogue
by Grace Coddington

Good Rosie!
by Kate Dicamillo
pictures by Harry Bliss

Wednesday, November 7, 2018

Moving Forward

Moving Forward

"The destiny of man is to unite, not to divide.  If you keep on dividing you end up as a collection of monkeys throwing nuts at each other out of separate trees."
T. H. White


Democrats take the House of Representatives, a huge check on the unbridled bigotry of the past two years.   America elected her first openly gay governor, the first Palestinian-American woman elected to Congress, the first African-American woman elected to the house from Massachusetts, the first two Latina women elected to Congress from Texas and the youngest woman every elected to Congress.  Nine women won Governor races.  Ninety-eight women won their elections to the House, twelve to the Senate.  And the first two Native American women were elected to Congress.

Prejudice.  Bigotry.  Religious Superiority.
Fear.  Hatred.  Racism.  Nationalism.  Arrogance.

We are only free when we all are free.
Thank you to all who voted blue.
We continue working for a better day.

Tuesday, November 6, 2018

Better Angels

Better Angels

"To know what has come before is to be armed against despair.  If the men and women of the past, with all their flaws and limitations and ambitions and appetites, could press on through ignorance and superstition, racism and sexism, selfishness and greed, to creat a freer, stronger nation, then perhaps we too, can right wrongs and take another step toward that most enchanting and elusive of destinations:  a more perfect Union.

To do so requires innumerable acts of citizenship and private grace.  It will require, as it has in the past, the witness and the bravery of reformers who hold no office and who have no traditional power but who yearn for a better, freer way of life.  And will also require, I believe, a president of the United States with a temperamental disposition to speak to the country's hopes rather than to our fears."

Jon Meecham
from The Soul of America:  The Battle for Our Better Angels

Please Vote Today.

Saturday, October 20, 2018

These Are Not Normal Times

These Are Not Normal Times

     I have written this blog for over ten years.  I have written about dogs, about seasons, about books and always with an eye towards lifting up, towards celebration and beauty, towards Love.  If these were normal times, I would happily be writing about those things once a week at least, just as I have in the past, for they are just as important as ever.  These are not, however, normal times.

     Jamal Khashoggi was a journalist for the Washington Post, a permanent resident of the United States who fled Saudi Arabia in 2015.  He criticized the Saudi government for many things, particularly the bombs they are dropping on the people of Yemen.  On October 2nd he was seen on CCTV entering the Saudi consulate in Istanbul to obtain documents related to his planned marriage.  He was soon followed by a fifteen member Saudi hit squad who dismembered him with a bone saw while he was still alive.  His Apple watch recorded the whole thing.  This was his punishment for criticizing the government.

    The night after this report came out our “president” held another one of his “rallies”, this time in the state of Montana.  Before his cheering, red-hatted crowd he praised the Montana congressman who is running for re-election, for assaulting a reporter, calling the congressman “my kind of guy”.  He now calls the Saudi government’s explanation of Mr. Khashoggi’s murder “credible”.  That explanation?  That the reporter died in a “fist fight” during an interrogation.  (Who brings a bone saw to a fist fight?)

     Evangelical leader, Pat Robertson, tells his followers (please note I say “his” followers, not followers of Christ) that he agrees with the president.  “We can’t risk a 100 billion dollar arms deal”, he tells us.  Because really, there’s nothing more Christian than selling billions of dollars worth of arms to a fundamentalist Islamic government, is there?

     This is not the America I grew up in.  When the president of the United States refuses to stand against totalitarian regimes, when he “loves” the North Korean dictator, and practically worships the Russian one, while all the while he denigrates and insults our allies,  calls the press the "enemy of the people" and any news that does not flatter him "fake", we  no longer have a leadership that respects American values or even knows what they are.  When so-called Christian leaders stand shoulder to shoulder with this despicable man, we have lost any semblance of moral leadership.  This man and his actions should be repudiated and condemned from every pulpit in the country tomorrow morning.

    We have a chance, a chance, to stop the bleeding of our once respected country and that is on November 6th.  I will be voting a straight Democratic ticket this year.  I cannot respect any Republican candidate, or any Republican, who stands for what that party represents today.  I refuse to relegate a great America to a memory.  I refuse to lay my values at the feet of greed, mendacity and evil.  If you feel the same, I ask you to please vote on November 6th.  Please.   

     If this is not the sort of post you would normally expect to find here, so be it. As I said at the outset:  These are not normal times.

Monday, October 1, 2018

London Books

London Books

My impressions of London were formed by turning the pages of books.  So much so that when I traveled there for the first time, years ago, I expected all the streets to be as leafy as Cherry Tree Lane, the fog as thick as outside the sash windows of 221B Baker Street and each morning as "fresh as if issued to children on a beach".  I wanted to look for the shadow of Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens and inspect every wardrobe in every hotel room in the hopes of finding an entrance to Narnia.  And you know what?  I have never once been disappointed.  As Helene Hanff put it in her book 84 Charing Cross Road, "I remember years ago a guy I knew told me that people going to England find exactly what they go looking for.  I said I'd go looking for the England of English literature, and he nodded and said: 'It's there'."

I just returned from another trip to London, a personal reward for finishing an important task I'd set for myself and one that has kept me away from this blog for awhile.  I traveled solo, which is something I'd recommend for every person to do every now and then.  The solo traveler gets to do precisely what he or she wishes every minute of the day, whether it be skipping lunch, walking too far and too long, or spending inordinate amounts of time in book shops, all of which I regularly did.

London in the month of September is just about as good as it gets.  The air was suitably crisp in the mornings ( I could wear a sweater which is increasingly, sadly, becoming a rare September occurence in the changing climate of my home town ), and the afternoon sky was the colour of flow blue china.  I wandered through Kew Gardens in the early morning hours.  I went to see Harry Potter and the Cursed Child at the Palace Theatre.  I attended evensong at Westminster Abbey and roamed the state rooms of Buckingham Palace.  And I spent long, totally blissful, hours at John Sandoe Books.

I thought some of you just might like to see the books I brought home.  And yes, it took a special sort of creativity to pack all these in my one carry-on bag for the return trip and, yes, that bag was heavy.  Extremely so.  But boy, was it worth it.  I hope you enjoy browsing through my choices.

1.  Edith Sitwell
by Richard Greene

2.  The Diary of a Nobody
by Weedon Grossmith and George Grossmith

3.  Manderley Forever
A Biography of Daphne du Maurier
by Tatiana de Rosnay

4.  A Talent to Annoy
Essays, Journalism & Reviews
by Nancy Mitford

5.  The Pursuit of Love
by Nancy Mitford

6.  Love in a Cold Climate
by Nancy Mitford

7.  Wigs on the Green
by Nancy Mitford

8.  The House in Little Chelsea
by Clare Hastings

10.  Transcription
by Kate Atkinson

11. Ninety-Nine Glimpses of Princess Margaret
by Craig Brown

12.  Lethal White
by Robert Galbraith

13.  Nina Campbell 
Interior Decoration/Elegance and Ease
by Giles Kime


Also, for all of you who might be wondering about Andrew, he's now ten months old and seventy-something pounds.  Here's a little video of him reveling in his favourite activity, flying.
You can see more of London of Andrew, and many various and sundry things on my Instagram page.

Wednesday, July 4, 2018

Happy Fourth of July

The New Colossus

by Emma Lazarus

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

Tuesday, June 5, 2018

Puppies and Books, A Summer Reading List

Puppies and Books
A Summer Reading List

Andrew doesn't like the owls.  They come in the gloaming; just at that evanescent moment when the light of day turns mysterious, when it's almost possible to mistake their black silhouettes for things more expected, like a squirrel's nest or an insomniac crow.  They soar to the treetops in silence.  It's easy to miss them, especially if you've never seen one before, and if your introduction to the world of owls is an audible one, well, who can blame you for being just a tiny bit unnerved? 
 I always know when they're out there.  Andrew will burst through the back door like a gust of winter wind and dash to my side where he will sit down quickly at my feet and proceed to pretend nothing whatsoever is wrong. It's an act he has yet to perfect.

I'd forgotten how entertaining it can be to watch a puppy discover the world.
 Everything is a new experience.
Andrew is six months old now.  And over sixty pounds.  We have no idea what he is or how big he will actually get.  In the three months that we've had him he's found out that he loves carrots and watermelon but is decidedly unimpressed with Apple's favourite food, the green bean.  Birdsong fascinates him and he will sit for the longest time under the trees with his head pointed straight up in an attempt to catch the singer in action.  He is bewildered, loudly so, by dogs on television and will come running if he even suspects one has made an appearance.  He has a habit of climbing up into any chair in which I happen to be perched and resting his face in the crook of my neck for a few minutes before happily continuing on his way.   I find this both amusing and comforting and it is something for which I am rarely prepared, often yanking a book, or knitting, or a computer screen out of his way in the very nick of time.
His puppy chewing path of destruction, though varied, has thankfully not been very wide.   He has decimated three newly planted vinca, a couple of well-established hostas, four knitting needles and one of The Songwriter's hats.  We are still learning not to leave anything vital at his eye level which is not as easy as it sounds as his eye level is rising with each passing week.
But, bless his furry heart, he hasn't destroyed a book.
This is a more impressive fact than one might think because books are everywhere here.  
They are stacked beside chairs and on tables;
 sometimes a stack of books is used as a table. 
 They lie open on ottomans, chairs and beds.  
Big books, little books.
New books, old books.
And Andrew has left them all alone.
I am both impressed and grateful, particularly because it's the season for adding new books to my collection for summer, and I have my eye on quite a few.  Here, in no special order, are some of the ones I'm considering as well as a few I've recently loved.  I hope you enjoy browsing around.  As always, click on the photo and you'll be able to read more about the book.
Reading is one of the best parts of summer, don't you agree?
And come to think of it, Andrew doesn't know what summer is either.
This ought to be fun.

Summer Books

I Am I Am I Am
by Maggie O'Farrell

The Overstory
by Richard Powers

by Michael Ondaatje

The Art of the Wasted Day
by Patricia Hampl

by Tara Westover

The Soul of America
The Battle for Our Better Angels
by Jon Meacham

Life in the Garden
by Penelope Lively

Perfect English Townhouse
by Ros Byam Shaw

Mr. Lear
A Life of Art and Nonsense 
by Jenny Uglow

A Larger Table
by John Pavlovitz

by Maira Kalman

The Secret Gardeners
Britain's Creatives Reveal Their Private Sanctuaries
by Victoria Summerly

The Cottage Kitchen
Cozy Cooking in the English Countryside
by Marte Marie Forsberg