Wednesday, August 7, 2019

A Line Across Humanity

A Line Across Humanity

A few weeks ago, when I promised to be a more regular presence here on the blog, I mentioned how much more difficult that promise is to keep that it used to be.  The world has changed dramatically in the past two and a half years.  It seems ridiculous to pretend otherwise.  But I vowed to try and post various things, more regularly.  Then as I was working on a few ideas for this week, the shootings in El Paso and Dayton occurred and I realized how impossible it is for me to post what I'd planned in the cold light of such tragedy.  Anthing I came up with would be so irredeemably trivial it would feel obscene.

There have been 255 mass shootings in the United States so far this year.  The current occupant of the Oval Office, along with his champions at Fox News,  blames this chiefly on video games and mental illness, never once mentioning the idiocy of a citizenry that is allowed to walk the streets with assault rifles in their hands.  While other countries around the world have both video games and mentally ill individuals, their statistics on gun violence reveal these "causes" to be nothing more than what they are:  a continued appeasement of an evil and increasingly unhinged gun lobby.  And while the occupant of the White House decried white supremacy in his official statement Monday morning, one cannot help by refer back to his shocking behavior during his rallies and the endless rascism contained in his tweets to see how well his knows the language of white supremacy.  He uses it freely.  When racist websites are gleeful over their "friend in the White House", it is beyond disingenuous to deny the connection.  When hateful manifestos of mass murderers echo his own words, the responsibility squats like a poisonous toad on his shoulders.

I'll keep trying to write something other than this in later posts.  But for now my thoughts are best expressed by an offical letter released last week, before the shootings, by the National Cathedral.  It is a rare thing for them to put out such a statement, even rarer as it is addressed to a sitting president.  But I'm very grateful they did, and I hope you'll take a few moments to read it.
  This man has drawn a clear line across humanity.  
It is up to each one of us to decide where to stand.

Have We No Decency? A Response to President Trump
The escalation of racialized rhetoric from the President of the United States has evoked responses from all sides of the political spectrum. On one side, African American leaders have led the way in rightfully expressing outrage. On the other, those aligned with the President seek to downplay the racial overtones of his attacks, or remain silent. 
As faith leaders who serve at Washington National Cathedral ¬– the sacred space where America gathers at moments of national significance – we feel compelled to ask: After two years of President Trump’s words and actions, when will Americans have enough? 
As Americans, we have had such moments before, and as a people we have acted. Events of the last week call to mind a similarly dark period in our history: 
“Until this moment, Senator, I think I never really gauged your cruelty or your recklessness. … You have done enough. Have you no sense of decency?” 
That was U.S. Army attorney Joseph Welch on June 9, 1954, when he confronted Senator Joseph McCarthy before a live television audience, effectively ending McCarthy’s notorious hold on the nation. Until then, under the guise of ridding the country of Communist infiltration, McCarthy had free rein to say and do whatever he wished. With unbridled speech, he stoked the fears of an anxious nation with lies; destroyed the careers of countless Americans; and bullied into submissive silence anyone who dared criticize him. 
In retrospect, it’s clear that Welch’s question was directed less toward McCarthy and more to the nation as a whole. Had Americans had enough? Where was our sense of decency?
We have come to accept a level of insult and abuse in political discourse that violates each person’s sacred identity as a child of God. We have come to accept as normal a steady stream of language and accusations coming from the highest office in the land that plays to racist elements in society. 
This week, President Trump crossed another threshold. Not only did he insult a leader in the fight for racial justice and equality for all persons; not only did he savage the nations from which immigrants to this country have come; but now he has condemned the residents of an entire American city. Where will he go from here? 
Make no mistake about it, words matter. And, Mr. Trump’s words are dangerous.
These words are more than a “dog-whistle.” When such violent dehumanizing words come from the President of the United States, they are a clarion call, and give cover, to white supremacists who consider people of color a sub-human “infestation” in America. They serve as a call to action from those people to keep America great by ridding it of such infestation. Violent words lead to violent actions.
When does silence become complicity? What will it take for us all to say, with one voice, that we have had enough? The question is less about the president's sense of decency, but of ours. 
As leaders of faith who believe in the sacredness of every single human being, the time for silence is over. We must boldly stand witness against the bigotry, hatred, intolerance, and xenophobia that is hurled at us, especially when it comes from the highest offices of this nation. We must say that this will not be tolerated. To stay silent in the face of such rhetoric is for us to tacitly condone the violence of these words. We are compelled to take every opportunity to oppose the indecency and dehumanization that is racism, whether it comes to us through words or actions.
There is another moment in our history worth recalling. On January 21, 2017, Washington National Cathedral hosted an interfaith national prayer service, a sacred tradition to honor the peaceful transfer of political power. We prayed for the President and his young Administration to have “wisdom and grace in the exercise of their duties that they may serve all people of this nation, and promote the dignity and freedom of every person.” 
That remains our prayer today for us all. 
The Right Rev. Mariann Edgar Budde, Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Washington
The Rev. Canon Kelly Brown Douglas, Canon Theologian of Washington National Cathedral

Monday, July 29, 2019

Too Soon For School... A Summer Book List

Too Soon For School
A Summer Book List

Humans have complained about change for as long as time has been unwinding.  I do my best to embrace it, particulary because it's one of the best ways I've discovered to learn, grow, or improve.  However, when I run into my local supermarket and find all the familiar aisles have been inexplicably rearranged and I can no longer find the butter, I'm as irritated as the next grump.  It's so often the little things that chip away at my sanguinity.  When your favorite lipstick is discontinued, when the BBC cancels the one show you really liked, or when Ben Affleck is cast as Batman.  Those are the changes that niggle.

Children roll with change far better than adults.  This is perhaps because they are too young to have become well and truly used to much.  For instance, here where I live, school starts this week.  On August 1st.  There are so many things wrong with this I haven't room to list them all.  But for one thing, it's still hot.  Blazingly hot.  What happens to the beloved tradition of "back to school" clothes shopping, which was, let's face it, the seriously great thing about having to go back to school?  How fondly I remember the wool skirts, the sweaters, the plaid.  Dress like that this week and you'll find yourself in the emergency room before lunch, half dead with heat stroke. 

When I was a little girl August 1st was the start of our last, most delicious, month of the summer holidays.  We always went to the beach in August.  When the days were hot and oppressively humid, and it was far too uncomfortable to play outside, all the summer books were pulled out and finally read.  September was the start of school; August was the grand finale of summer.  Here at The House of Edward, it still is.  So even though I'm a little late, here are some great new books to read during summer's last hurrah.
As always, click on the book to see more.
I hope you enjoy them.

The Overstory 
by Richard Powers

Walking in Wonder
by John O'Donohue

Reasons To Be Cheerful
by Nina Stibbe

The Long Call
by Ann Cleeves

Vita and Virginia
by Sarah Gristwood

Woman In Their Beds
by Gina Berriault

What I Stand On
by Wendell Berry

The Testaments
by Margaret Atwood

The Dutch House
by Ann Patchett

The Mueller Report

Where The Crawdads Sing
by Delia Owens

Big Sky
by Kate Atkinson

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.