Monday, November 29, 2010



After lifetimes spent in preparation, they are now departing.
One by one we are watching them go, embarking on exotic journeys of which we can only wonder.
Dressed up in our finery, we gather together to see another one off, once again to wave our goodbyes as we watch one more ship sail into the west and out of our sight.

They were the illustrious class ahead of us all, those of once unimaginable age and unreachable experience.
We studied them carefully, recording their stories at family reunions, seeking their counsel whenever we could.
They were true north - our road maps, our templates.
Don’t they see we aren’t yet ready to move up ahead, to now be the ones the younger ones watch, to now be the ones from whom the answers are required.
We stand on the shoreline and call to them, “Wait!” - but they merely smile nonchalantly and wave us farewell.
We fight our childish urge to wheedle and whine, and stamp our feet - why are they leaving us all so soon?
Too soon, too soon.

But here we sit, the once too-young ones - with our hands folded, our heads bowed - at another valediction, another bon voyage.
Already lonesome for their presence, we are beginning to feel the weight of the mantle we now inherit.
Funny, it seems a bit lighter than I would have imagined.

by Linda Pastan

They seemed to all take off
at once; Aunt Grace
whose kidneys closed shop,
Cousin Rose who fed sugar
to diabetes;
my grandmother’s friend
who postponed going so long
we thought she’d stay.

It was like the summer years ago
when they all set out on trains
and ships, wearing hats with veils
and the proper gloves,
because everybody was going
someplace that year,
and they didn’t want
to be left behind.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Thanksgiving Day

Thanksgiving Day

As wonderful as my country is, there are many aspects of life here in America that I could never, in good conscience, recommend to my friends around the globe. Donald Trump, for instance. He can be a bit of a trial. We are the country of both the Hummer and the Double Down Burger, neither invention worth crowing about, in my opinion. We are bothered with yellow jackets, rattlesnakes, and Sarah Palin. They are ours, I suppose, and we just have to endure them. But there is something that takes place in America that I can most sincerely endorse to all. Thanksgiving Day. One day out of the year that we as a nation set aside just for being grateful. Now it could be argued that the meaning of this day is often obscured by football games and pie. And it's certainly true that part of the national celebration includes a rather sensational parade in which skyscraper size balloons shaped like Donald Duck and Underdog bob along in the air above New York City. Fun, to be sure, but not exactly conducive to quiet moments of reflection. But for each of us, there usually comes a time during this particular day when we pause to reflect on all of the love and wonder that shines in our lives, both individually and collectively, and it is that thankful moment that lifts the fourth Thursday in November up off the calendar and holds it aloft as a beacon to gratitude, a day of Thanksgiving. It is a lovely way to begin the holiday season, I can tell you.
I have many things to be grateful for, many reasons to smile, as I'm sure you do as well.
Here's a random list of ten.
How about yours?

1. Words

I still remember the first time I read the world, salubrious. It was in the delightful book, My Family and Other Animals, by Gerald Durrell. "Saloooobreeeeous". It positively tickled my tongue. I loved saying it and did so at every opportunity, for weeks. It remains one of my favourite words, as much for its definition as for the delicious taste it leaves in my mouth when I utter it. The English language is a divine treasure trove, a veritable diamond mine that sparkles with jewels which, when chosen carefully, can transform the mundane into the incredible, lift high the lowest spirit, or chop the foolish right down to size. With such a magical lexicon at our disposal, it pains me to hear it abused by words such as, "like" or "whatever". Even worse, it is so often simply neglected. So many imaginative, colourful words are ignored these days, it's a pity. I realize I am not alone in my concern for our current linguistic state, for there is now a fabulously entertaining website called Save The Words where one may "adopt" an endangered word, promising to use it whenever and wherever one can. The site is fun to browse through and you can choose your word, or just let them provide one for you at random. My adopted word is "prandicle" and no doubt it will be beneficial to consider its meaning quite seriously over the Holiday season so as not to over indulge.


2. My Vegetable Garden

When I signed up for my community garden plot, I don't think I truly believed I'd ever by eating my own fresh vegetables. I enjoyed the planting and watering, and often go over to the garden just to sit on one of the benches and feel the wind and sun on my face. It's such a peaceful place. I marveled at the beauty of the growing things in my little plot, much the same as I appreciate the flowers in my home garden. But lo and behold! I can actually eat this stuff! Wow! We've been eating our own fresh lettuces for several weeks now, and my very own homegrown broccoli will be on my Thanksgiving table this year! Such a treat!


3. Edward

This third entry is an expected one, no doubt. But really, Edward is such a joy every single day, how could I possibly leave him out? On an afternoon just last week, I was over tending to the garden whilst The Songwriter took Edward and the delightful Apple for a walk around the adjoining parkland. When my chores were done, I locked the garden gate and set off to find the wandering three. Looking across a wide field, my hand shielding my eyes from the sun, I spied them. They spied me. Kneeling down where I was, I watched as The Songwriter unsnapped Edward's lead. A Polar Bear racing over the ice, a Snow Owl shooting through the night sky - the big white dog flew towards me like an arrow, grinning all the while he came. To be loved by a dog is a wonderful thing.


4. Trees

There was a tall Sweetgum tree that stood on the perimeter of a forest behind my childhood house, with one fat limb that hovered just close enough to the ground for an easy leg up. Once on that limb, often with a book in one hand - no easy feat, I can tell you - I could then shimmy up into the middle of that tree with relative grace. There, hidden behind a curtain of green, I would spend hours in my own private emerald castle, with my dog sleeping contentedly far down on the ground. In my life long romance with trees, that Sweetgum was perhaps my first love and indeed, I remember certain trees in my life in much the same way as others may recall past loves. There was the Sugar Maple I used to pass every day on my way to school. I would wait for its leaves to change each autumn - that vibrant blast of colour no artist could paint. I know that tree influenced the planting of the Sugar Maples in my own garden today. There was the Monkey Puzzle tree that greeted me at the end of a long winding driveway in Scotland. I still see that one in my dreams. There is the gargantuan Magnolia in my own front garden. Planted years ago, far too close to the house, it greenly dances in front of each window, shielding us from the harsh afternoon glare and providing the perfect sleeping place for the mourning doves that flock to it each evening.
Each one an individual, each one glorious, I simply adore trees.
And the photograph above is off my own back garden, underneath some very old friends.


5. Weddings

Okay, I'll admit to having a lump in my throat when I saw Diana's sapphire ring resting on the hand of the lovely Kate Middleton last week.
Has it really been thirty years since that other fabled, fated wedding?
I wish these two every happiness in the world. Those smiles on their faces are charming and I'm thankful all over again for the light of new love.
I can't help it - weddings get me every time.
I fervently pray the jackals will leave these two alone.


6. Harry Potter

I swore I wouldn't read them, relying on my usual dislike of anything so universally popular. And it's true, I came to the Harry Potter books rather late in the game. Three had already been published and still I refused to open one. Finally, at the urging of a friend, I promised to read the first chapter of the first book. Just to see. And, just like magic, I found I couldn't hold the seat on my very high horse and tumbled down, down, down into the most wondrous world I'd encountered since childhood. Like millions of grade schoolers, I now waited impatiently for the release of each book. My tradition never varied. As soon as the UPS man placed the book on my front steps (yes, I was one of those who ordered online so as to get my copy on the morning it was published) I would snatch it up greedily, throw it into a straw bag, and head for the beach with my hair in a ponytail. There I would stay, with just the occasional break for sustenance, until I'd finished the entire tale. The last pages of The Deathly Hallows was read in the midst of a thunderstorm - wind and rain blowing all around, lightning out over the sea. Magic? Of course.
And yes, I was there last week on opening day of the next to last film.
Magic? Of course.


7. The Songwriter

He's funny and kind, even when he's not thinking about it.
He sings to Apple when she's being brushed because it stops her from wiggling.
He makes me pancakes on Saturdays and wakes me up with coffee brewing each and every morning.
He rubs my feet without my asking which is a luxury beyond any measure.
He kills the bugs that make me squeal and refills the bird feeder outside my office window even when it's bone chilling cold.
He sees the humour in everything and his blue eyes get little and round when he's angry.
Whenever we arrange to meet up somewhere, in a shop or cafe, my heart still skips a beat when I see him approach and I am unutterably grateful for that.


8. Individuality

Knowing who you are at an early age is a valuable and irresistible thing.
I am always drawn to such people, they make life a complete joy.
The ones who refuse to follow trends, who are honest and forthright, who dance to a tune only they can hear.
This little chap seems to already have a handle on who he is.
Why do I think he will have a most interesting life?

photo via The Satorialist


9. Jane Goodall

Everyone knows Dr. Jane Goodall is passionate about chimpanzees. Her life's work has been devoted to their study and welfare. There is a wonderfully prophetic photograph of her as a baby, clutching a toy chimpanzee close, a hint of what was to come in her life. But her love of animals and the natural world is far reaching. Consider this little known photograph above. That is a young Jane with a favourite dog named Rusty. Of Rusty, she says... "He was my childhood companion. We did everything together. He taught me about animal personality, mind and emotions..... I could never have left for Africa had Rusty still been alive. I could not have lived with such a sense of betrayal".

There are some people loose on the world who make it a much better place just by their presence. Jane Goodall is such a person to me. Her devotion to animals has been evident all of her life. Her important work with the chimpanzees of Gombe has spawned many books, all of which I can recommend. But the thing I most admire about Dr. Goodall is this - through all she has seen, the ignorance and cruelty of mankind included, she still remains hopeful. Do read her wonderful book, Reason For Hope, and you shall see why she is one of my heroes. I'm thankful we share the same planet.


10. A Mirror

I could continue this list for hours, I suppose. But I'll conclude here with a mirror that I'm holding up to you. Take a look inside! I am so thankful for each of my wonderful readers. Your comments and emails mean very much to me as I continue to chronicle my quirky little journey on this little blue globe swinging out in the darkness. I try to always visit those who comment, but I know I often fall short of that goal, especially now at this busybusy time of year. But please know, each of you, how much I treasure your thoughts and comments. I am consistently amazed by the creativity and caring, the wit and the kindness, you all share with me every single day.
As a holiday thank you for all my readers, I am sharing an exclusive coupon code for my Etsy Shoppe. The coupon is good NOW through the upcoming shopping weekend, ending at midnight on Monday and anything in my shoppe is 20% off when you check out with the code - 77edward26cadogan
You can visit the shoppe HERE.

Thank you all,
and Happy Thanksgiving

Friday, November 19, 2010

At The Bakery

At The Bakery

Our neighbourhood bakery has been around since The Songwriter was a little boy.  As is his custom, he always shows up bright and early on the Friday morning after Thanksgiving, for his first holiday order of bright red Santa cookies. He will continue to stop in every few days until the New Year dawns and the Santa cookie cutter is stored away till the next November.  He is not alone in his devotion to this local bakery.  Stop in anytime of the day and you are sure to see a crowd gathered there, staring hungrily into the long glass cases, lost in the delicious difficulty of choosing between cream horns and chocolate eclairs, red velvet cakes and sweet potato pies.  It’s all here and it’s all incredible.  People drive many miles to visit this place but it’s just a short, pleasant walk from my front door, sitting on the hill, just past the Little League park where a flock of Sugar Maples glow in the sunshine.

Around four o’clock last Monday afternoon, during a rain storm, a runaway car jumped the curb, flew up over the hill and crashed straight through the front entrance of the bakery, scattering brick, mortar and glass, and coming to rest beside the holiday cupcakes and the gingerbread men.  Any other day, this would have been an unspeakable tragedy, for any other day the bakery would have been packed with children on their way home from school, lined up for a treat before heading home.  But it was Monday, and the bakery is closed on Mondays.  No one, not even the unfortunate fellow behind the wheel of the car, had so much as a scratch.  One more mystery to be grateful for in this strange and wonderful life.  

The randomness of events is often a hard thing to swallow.  So many what ifs and if onlys.  On that awful September 11th, many years ago - though it seems only yesterday - I remember thinking a lot about those who were supposed to be in those dreadful towers, or on those horrid planes, but for one reason or another, were not.  How would you ever make sense of that one?  Then there was my friend who was hit by a taxi on the very first hour of her very first visit to London.  Like so many Americans are prone to do, she looked the wrong way before stepping into the street.  The timing had to be perfect for her to be hit, and it obviously was.  She spent a week in a London hospital, then flew home to bedrest.  Not exactly the trip she had planned.  You hear of people who have won the lottery several times over.  I know someone who’s been struck by lightning three times.  Three times! Frankly, it doesn’t take much imagination to realize that no matter how carefully we plan our lives, so much is simply out of our control.  
Not too long after that dark September of 2001, I was in a local restaurant waiting for a table when a rather well-known designer sat down beside me.  Although we had both served on a design panel or two in the past, we didn’t know each other well, so our conversation was fairly trivial.  At some point I happened to mention that The Songwriter and I would soon be heading off on one of our trips to Scotland.  She looked appalled and informed me that she didn’t intend to travel outside the country until “all this terrorism business is over”.  Through the ensuing years I’ve often wondered if she is still waiting at home, her faded travel brochures gathering dust as she keeps an eye glued to the news.  No, we can never predict what’s coming round the corner.  Our lives intersect in the strangest of ways.  Sometimes we step off the curb and the taxi swerves to miss us.  Sometimes it doesn’t.  Sometimes the car runs headlong into the bakery on a rainy afternoon, and no one is there. 

 I have found that there exists a soft, shady spot smack in the middle of Mystery and Faith and that’s where I choose to spend most of my days.  Singer Iris Dement says it best when she sings, 
I believe in love and I live my life accordingly.
But I choose to let the mystery be.”

And sometimes, this poem by Robert Bly makes perfect sense to me.

People Like Us 

There are more like us. All over the world
There are confused people, who can't remember
The name of their dog when they wake up, and
Who love God but can't remember where

He was when they went to sleep. It's 
All right. The world cleanses itself this way.
A wrong number occurs to you in the middle
Of the night, you dial it, it rings just in time

To save the house. And the second-story man
Gets the wrong address, where the insomniac lives,
And he's lonely, and they talk, and the thief
Goes back to college. Even in graduate school,

You can wander into the wrong classroom,
And hear great poems lovingly spoken
By the wrong professor. And you find your soul
And greatness has a defender, and even in death
     you're safe.

by Robert Bly

Tuesday, November 16, 2010



We are told that Life Is Short.  Trouble is, we never believe that when we’re young.  It seems inevitable that we shall take no notice of the evaporation of time until many, many grains of sand have tumbled down in the hourglass.  But there comes a day for all of us when we notice that the catalog of our options, once so voluminous, seems to have been edited down to novella size.  No, I won’t dance the lead in The Nutcracker now, and you probably won’t pilot a rocket to Mars.  Those possibilities are past, at least for most of us.  And although it’s no secret that I love to travel, I am well aware of the multitude of vistas I shall never see.  So many seaside rooms in which I shall never sleep, doorways I shall never enter, corners I shall never turn.  It’s true enough, life is too short to pack it all in. 
 But my passport might as well be stamped on every single page, for I have tickets in my possession that are capable of transporting me anywhere I choose to wander, at anytime of the day or night.  For I am a reader, and books are my tickets to the myriad of places, and times, I shall never otherwise visit.  Through them I listen to mysterious voices and gaze into exotic eyes.  I sail turbulent seas and dine with poets and rogues.  I wander strange cities dressed all in blue, all the while filling my luggage with enough souvenirs to last a lifetime.  Such is the power of words.

Knowledge is a river that flows, swiftly, through our lives.  We stare down into the dark current, searching for our reflection, but all we see are words.  And it is of no benefit to simply watch them rush by.  Indeed, if we choose to sit on the grassy bank for too long, it may well transform into a bog just as deadly to the imagination as Grimpen Mire was to life and limb, leaving us forever stuck in the dim light of incuriousity.  No, far better to grab a ticket and cannonball in.  For there are places we shall never visit, people we shall never meet, knowledge we shall never attain if we don't read.

I adore all sorts of books, but my favourites are those in which the current of language washes over me, leaving behind insight and heart knowledge I couldn’t possibly articulate.  In the hands of wizards such as Virginia Woolf, Edith Wharton, or Anne Michaels, words can crack open a soul and give us a glimpse into truth impossible to find elsewhere. When Mrs. Dalloway walks through London on that morning in June, I feel what she’s feeling deep down in my bones.  That pendulum in her soul that swings betwixt wonder and despair is recognizable to me.  What a Lark!  What a Plunge!  Indeed.

I recently finished another book that explores the inner workings of the soul better than any archaeologist could.  Tinkers by Paul Harding hasn’t gotten very much attention, even though it recently, and deservedly, won the Pulitzer prize.  The story of a dying clockmaker, it is a novel in which nothing much happens, but through Mr. Harding's  brilliant use of the English language, we are taken on a journey through the human soul that is as lovely as it is rare.  There are sentences here that I read over and over, just to wallow in the beauty of the words.   

Now that Christmas is fast upon us, I am busy compiling my annual list of books to consider for presents.  I’ll share that list here soon, but in the meantime, are there any tickets to wondrous places that sit on your own bookshelves?  Do share, won’t you?

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Edward and Bigfoot

Edward and Bigfoot

Edward is a dog who sleeps on my feet when it’s cold.
He stands at the window and waits for me to arrive home safely, as the photo above clearly shows. 
 He is a fellow who goes with me everywhere, is enthusiastic and cheerful about everything, and makes me laugh everyday. 
Edward would defend me to the end. 
 So please bear this in mind as you read my latest......

It was the day before Halloween and I had come to the pet store with a list.  In this, the tenth year of my tenure as Neighbourhood Dog Show organizer, (something for which I blame Sister Parish) it was my responsibility to put together the winning basket for the soon to be crowned Top Dog.  So I gathered up gourmet biscuits shaped like ghosts and jack-o-lanterns to go with the big blue ribbon and golden trophy I’d had engraved, and headed over to the toy aisle.  
Let’s see, would it be the fat grey whale that made glugglug sounds when bitten in just the right place?  
Or maybe the hedgehog that grumbled.
  Or wait.... what was that?  
Over in the corner sat a furry black monster of sorts, with a toothy, malevolent grin on his face.  His tag informed me that his name was Bigfoot.  He squeaked appropriately, and to my delight, I discovered that when one of his long arms was pulled, the corresponding leg got shorter, and when one of his legs was pulled, the corresponding arm... well you get the idea.  Needless to say, he was perfect.  I purchased my loot and headed for home, tickled with the bounty the winner was due to receive.

Still with much to do before the Dog Show next day, I threw my shopping bags on the red damask chair in my office, and sat down to catalog the fifteen contestants.  I soon became aware of a slight rustling sound behind me.  Turning to look, I spied Edward, well, part of Edward, as he was standing up on the chair, with his big white head submerged deep inside the red shopping bag wherein sat the Bigfoot toy.  Now, in his defense, Edward loves toys.  He really does.  He carries them around with him.  He employs them as pillows during his long afternoon naps.  Without prompting, he  brings them in from the back garden at dusk, lest they get ruined by inclement weather.  I’m not kidding.  But this was not meant to be his toy.  He hadn’t even seen it, hidden as it had been inside the bag on the chair.  But somehow, he knew it was there.  I stood up hurriedly to snatch Bigfoot away but, as his head slowly rose from the depths of the shopping bag - Bigfoot held securely in his jaws - Edward cut his big brown eyes my way and I knew I was licked.  Edward would have his Bigfoot and I could see myself, clearly, driving home from a return visit to the pet shop later that night, with a hedgehog that would remain in the car until showtime.

I ask you, what would you have done?

Sunday, November 7, 2010



Although I am not its slave by any means, I have to admit that I’ve always found fashion endlessly entertaining, setting aside an evening each month to read both Vogues, US and UK, cover to cover.  With a cup of hot tea and a gingersnap or two at the ready, I get lost in the exuberant creativity that teems between those glossy covers. The visionary work of artists such as photographer Tim Walker, or stylist Grace Coddington, often rocks me back on my heels.  I pore over the tailoring of a Stella McCartney suit, marvel at the boundless imagination stitched into an Alexander McQueen gown and always close the issue completely inspired and often rather hungry for a new pair of boots, or at least a change of lipstick.  To me, fashion is an art form as vital any other and I’m always fascinated by how people express themselves sartorially.

 One of my favourite pastimes is to sit in a cafe and people watch.  As I study their clothing, I imagine them all a few hours earlier, sleepily rummaging through their closets, deciding what to put on for the day. 
 Did they examine themselves in the mirror before leaving? 
 Did they change once, or twice, before giving approval to their ensemble?  
What made that person choose the blue coat over the red one?  
 That gentleman’s tie in a prominent plaid?  Was it a gift, or did he choose it for himself?  
 I notice how often best friends seem to dress alike, right down to the shoes and the handbags.  Rarely do I see a preppy with a rocker, or an artist with a senator’s wife.  Curious.
I create back stories for the people I observe, much like Miss Marple at a seaside hotel.  This one went to Wellesley, but veered from the path set out for her and left in her second year to travel through Asia.  And despite her impeccable black suit and red-soled heels, that one is chafing in a corporate career; her jewelry gives her away. 

Now I am well aware this is a pretty superficial analysis on my part, and I doubt I would ever wish to volunteer my wardrobe for such scrutiny.  But I do feel that how we choose to dress speaks volumes about us, telling the world who we are, or often, who we wish to be.  Just think of the two Hepburns, Audrey and Kate.  Didn’t their wardrobes tell us so much about their very different personalities?  Today I love to watch Cate Blanchett or Tilda Swinton, both masters at dressing to reveal or accentuate their delightful individuality.  And I was happy to read, just this week, that Harper’s Bazaar UK  named the luminous actress Carey Mulligan, pictured below, as the best dressed woman of the year.  Her unique style sets her apart from the pack, beautifully.

My mother tells me that from an early age I had most definite opinions about my wardrobe.  Even now, I am rather impervious to trends.  But I can still be surprised by secret facets of my own personality, unknown parts of my psyche just waiting to be given voice.  By way of example,  I was once boutique shopping for a fancy dress occasion The Songwriter and I were scheduled to attend.  Not finding anything that charmed me, I was preparing to leave the dressing room when the elderly saleslady opened my door and said, “Here dear, do try this on.  I think it would be perfect for you.”.  She handed me a dress I would have never pulled off the rack in a million years.  Gold (!), with a deep vee neck and metallic threads running through the fabric, I held it out in front of me, and fixed it with my most disdainful stare.  But thinking it might be worth a giggle, I decided to slip it on.  Turning to face the mirror, I was astounded.  It was lovely.  I felt like a princess.  I couldn’t purchase it fast enough. Who knew?   I had obviously unlocked a hidden room down one of the side hallways of my nature, and discovered that golden dress waiting patiently inside.  That, I suppose, is the fun of fashion.  As we grow and change on this twisting journey of days, clothing helps us translate ourselves in colour, texture and style.

My purchases so far this winter season have been a divine red tartan jacket,
 black and tweed spectator shoes
 and a fabulous pair of grey trousers, in a size smaller than last year!  
How about you?