Sunday, December 29, 2013

A Form of Courage

A Form of Courage

Throughout the whole of this year, people have been calling me names.  Not exactly a assortment of pejoratives, it’s true, but their combined chorus has been unsettling nonetheless.  Words such as “brave” and “strong” have been flung my way, not to mention “tough” and perhaps worst of all....”stoic”.  Hardly compliments a girl wishes for when daring to imagine all the ways she may be seen by others. 

  I suppose when one looks at my past year..... which began with burying my Mother on New Year’s Eve and included the cleaning out and selling of my family home, a trip to the faraway Scottish island of Mull where The Songwriter broke three bones in his ankle, and concluded with me receiving a hip replacement in November... well, one could perhaps surmise that anyone who completed a year such as this one without totally going off the rails is deserving of these exalted labels.    
But I feel neither worthy nor accepting of them.

While it’s true that the experiences of this past year have caused my coffers of empathy to enlarge dramatically, I truly don’t believe I am due any undo merit for surviving them.  When one is in the midst of any sort of difficulty, and I feel I can now say this quite empirically, one never feels particularly brave or heroic; one just keeps putting each foot in front of the other, gratefully accepting help when it’s offered, praying constantly, and wailing occasionally.  There exists no well-drawn road map or magic incantation to levitate you over your trouble; you must hack your way through to the other side.  Brave?  That’s a laugh.  Strong?  Hardly.

But just the other day I came across a quotation that made 
my newly acquired labels just a bit more palatable.  
“Happiness is a form of courage”. 
Deep in the corners of my heart, I know what that means.  Having spent a good deal of time wondering why some people seem to be innately happy, even when things are bleak, whilst others find clouds in the center of every single silver lining afforded them... I have come to know that happiness is more than genetically obtained.  It is, at its core, a choice.  Through the years I have come to recognize a certain kind of melancholy as a herald for its darker kinsmen of depression and negativity and therefore avoid it whenever I can.  Yes, I am one of those people naturally inclined towards positivity, but more often than not I simply choose to be happy.  And here’s the remarkable thing.... if one chooses happiness time after time, one’s soul begins to open wider with each choice until the positive aspects outshine the negative in nearly every situation.  Was I unnerved by our dramatic experiences in Scotland?  Well, sure.  But how much worse could it have been?  How thankful I am that The Songwriter didn’t break something more vital than an ankle.  Was I a bit shocked when the doctor told me that the only way to erase my sudden and incredible hip pain was to have the whole thing replaced?  You bet your boots I was.  But I left his office overwhelmingly grateful that there was something that could be done.  No longer conscious of the choice my soul was making, I found I was happy.

It was starting to rain yesterday as I placed a bouquet of holly upon my parent’s grave.  This is the first Christmas without my Mother and both she and my Dad adored this time of year.  I can see them clear as day... Mother baking in the kitchen, Daddy singing as he brings in another armload of firewood.  In the happy childhood that was mine, Christmas shines as the happiest time of all.  Because I miss them, it would be dangerously easy to allow nostalgia to melt into melancholy, sadness following close behind.  Which do I choose?

 Knowing my parents are not really there on that cold, rainy hill, I left my holly in their sweet memory, pulled the hood of my coat up against the chill, and headed home.  Later that night, as I made my way to bed, I paused at the newly created gallery of family photos that line the passageway and my eyes came to rest on a favourite photograph, one I needed to see.  Taken when I was around fifteen years old, I am seated with my parents in front of the Christmas tree.  My father and I are chose together on an ottoman, his big bear paw of an arm around my shoulders - my Mother is just behind us in the chair.  We are all three laughing.  And there.  Right there.  That is what I choose to remember.  Floodgates of gratitude and love open in my heart as I savour all the merry Christmases that have been mine to enjoy, and once again, I make that choice to be happy.

This is my wish for you in this Christmas week.  May you choose happiness every chance that you have.  May you make this choice so often, it begins to weave a tapestry of golden light in your soul; more beautiful that you can imagine, stronger than you’d dream possible and warmer that all the joyful memories that beg to be remembered.
A Most Happy Christmas to you all!

Thursday, December 19, 2013

The Last of Books at Christmas.... Finishing the List

The Last of Books at Christmas.... Finishing the List
The weak winter sun has managed to break through the morning’s grey sky.  A single beam of its light pierces the bookshop window; a swath of pink gold illuminating the way to the children’s book section.  You check your list once more.  Only two more people to buy for, and they are two of your favourites.  Then you’ll gather up your purchases and head to the little cafe on the corner for a restorative lunch before heading off for another one of your best-loved Christmas chores... Gift Wrapping!  
But first.... those last two people on the list.....

Henry, Who’s Just Begun Reading on His Own, 
but Still Likes to be Read to Every Now and Then
He’s been read to since his first day on Earth.  Goodnight Moon.  Where the Wild Things Are.  It was just several months ago that his mother caught him reading by himself one afternoon in his little rocking chair by the window.  She tiptoed away to call you.  Ah, another reader in the world.  Cause for hope and celebration.  Henry was fun to choose for this year.  You think he’ll adore this selection and you hope he’ll let you read at least one to him.

Tell Me the Day Backwards
by Albert Lamb

Mr. Wuffles!
by David Wiesner

The Dark
by Lemony Snicket

Fog Island
by Tomi Ungerer

 Your Friend, Caroline, Who Was Serious When She Told You
 She Was Leaving Town for Christmas
It was over a late lunch on a particularly hectic, particularly rainy day in October when she told you she had booked ten days in Belize and would fly out the evening of December twentieth. 
 “But what about the tree?  Your Christmas cards?  
The parties?  The presents?”, you’d sputtered. 
 “I’m taking the year off”, she'd said flatly. 
 She’d smiled so serenely, you knew there was nothing you could say to change her mind.  And really, who are you to try?  Caroline has had a pretty raucous year, and maybe this is precisely how she should spend her holiday, even if it does sound ill-advised and slightly treasonous to you.  Well, you searched to find the books perfect for this type of escape and you think you’ve done pretty well.  You’ll ship these to her hotel in Belize to be waiting for her to flip through by the pool. 
 What was that.....a touch of envy?
No.  Couldn't be.

by Diana Oswald

All the Time in the World:  A Book of Hours
by Jessica Kerwin Jenkins

The Goldfinch
by Donna Tartt

Beauty at Home
by Aerin Lauder

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Books At Christmas.... Part Three

Your Friend, Katharine, Who Always Gets You Into Trouble
Nobody ever believed you when you were little, but any bad thing you got caught doing was always her idea.  Teachers separated you in class; both of your mothers were called into the principal’s office more than once.  Even today, you would hesitate to sit next to Katharine at a wedding or a funeral, for without a doubt inappropriate laughter would ensue.  You thought perhaps she’d mellow when Harry came along.  But no such luck.  Her hilarious take on life had only doubled.  She’d married someone just like her.  Truth be told, though, you’re lucky to have them both.  Two friends guaranteed to make you grin every time you’re with them are a treasure indeed.  They’ll love these books, and probably read them aloud at your next dinner party!

The Most of Nora Ephron
by Nora Ephron

The Asylum
by Simon Doonan

The Moth
Edited by Catherine Burns

Holidays On Ice
by David Sedaris

Your Niece, Tessa, Who Shares Your Love of Britain
She’s the niece you can count on to get up with you at two am to watch the Royal Wedding.  Like you, she always found Elizabeth I much more intriguing than George Washington and when she hit her teenage years, it was a poster of Jane Austen she hung in her room.  Framed, too, not stuck up with push pins.  Tessa was serious about her passion.  She has vowed to name her first child, Bronte, be it boy or girl and she has a definite opinion on who made the better Darcy, Colin Firth or the chap in the movie. The two of you try to make it to London to Christmas shop once a year; you’ve lost her in Hatchard’s more than once.  You had to choose carefully here, but you think you’ve nailed it.  You know these books are for her.

by Jo Baker

The Angel of Charleston
by Steward MacKay

The Time Traveler's Guide to Elizabethan England
by Ian Mortimer

by Rosamunde Pilcher

Last Installment Coming Next...
Children's Books and Pure Escapism!

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Books at Christmas, Part Two

Books At Christmas, Part Two

Your shopping bag is getting full, two people done.
Now... further down the list.....

Your Friend, Marianna, Who Loves to Bake at Christmas
She still sends out formal invitations.  Often handmade with her own whimsical drawings inside, these invitations are both coveted and collectible.  Dinner at Marianna’s is an event not to be missed.  Warm and informal, with emphasis on friends, family and really good food. Marianna is a happy cook, whose good humour and light seem to infuse her food.  She taught you what to do with saffron and why it’s important to always have your ingredients at room temperature before you bake a cake. We all pray to make her Christmas list, for this means we’ll receive a box of holiday treats unsurpassed by any professional cook. Homemade peppermint bark and fudge - chocolate truffles, gingersnaps. All treats from Marianna’s kitchen.  You are fortunate in her friendship.  
She’ll love these new books!

The Beekman 1801 Heirloom Dessert Cookbook
by Brent Ridge, Josh Kilmer-Purcell and Sandy Gluck

by Tammy Donroe Inman

by Valerie Gordon

Southern Biscuits
by Nathalie Dupree and Cynthia Graubart

Your Friend Sally, Who Loves/Lives to Knit
You taught your friend Sally to knit at your kitchen table one rainy afternoon three years ago.  Since that day you’ve had occasion to think perhaps you created a monster.  She found her passion that rainy afternoon and the most gorgeous pieces have flown off her wooden needles in the months and years since.  She quickly advanced from mittens to gloves, from sweaters to coats, and has recently begun knitting cashmere throws that are simply swoon-worthy.  The two of you can sit for hours, needles clacking away, in the most salubrious silence.  Though recently she's begun to talk about getting some sheep of her own.  Maybe you DID create a monster.  Ah well, it’s a treat to have a knitting friend.
She’ll be crazy over these lovely new books.

Tudor Roses
by Alice Starmore

Woodland Knits
by Stephanie Dosen

Adventures in Yarn Farming
by Barbara Parry

Knitting Yarns  - Writers on Knitting
Edited by Ann Hood

Part Three Coming Wednesday!

Friday, December 6, 2013

Books At Christmas

Books at Christmas

The cold presses against the kitchen window, causing the steam from your coffee cup to whirl and dance in the warm air.  Yes, not only a heavy coat today, but gloves, boots and shawl to boot.  You smile to yourself in happy anticipation.  No better weather for the task at hand.  Placing your carefully curated list in your coat pocket, you give the dogs a treat, tell them to enjoy their naps and set off into the wind.  The ground, still silver plated from last night’s frost, crunches beneath your feet.  It will be hours yet before the chilled December sun manages to soften the landscape.  Pulling your coat up tighter at your neck you follow the pavement into town.  Across the green you can hear the music of ten o’clock choir practice - “the holly and the ivy, when they are both full grown, of all the trees that are in the wood, the holly bears the crown”-  the beautiful sound seeps under the stained glass windows and oaken doors to drift freely in the morning air, bringing to each ear a memory, a hope, a shiver of unexpected happiness.   You can see the big green tree in the city square now, its fat red and gold balls swaying in the wind.  Swags of garland drape the tiny lanes, streetlight to streetlight.  Snowmen made of light stand guard round city hall.  And there, just off to the right, your destination awaits - your pot of gold, your Wonderland.  The Bookshop.  The shop you love more than any, especially at Christmas.   For is there a more satisfying activity than Christmas shopping for the ones you love? 

 And is there a better gift than a book?  None more individual, more imaginative, none that brings so much for so long, to so many.  To give a book is to give ideas, travel tickets, laughter, joy, thought, enlightenment - oh, the list can go on and on.  Books never wear out, never lose their ability to transport.  Oh, some can be the wrong fit, which is why one must put thought and consideration into each purchase.  But that’s what is so much fun.  

The bell on the green door jangles as you enter.  The orange cat on the counter jumps down to thread his way through your legs while you take a measure of the place.  There is a faint wisp of Nat King Cole drifting along from some back room.  You pull out your list, loosen your coat, and begin the best shopping trip of the year!  Happy Christmas to All!

For Great Aunt Octavia
Great Aunt Octa taught you that everyone can wear red lipstick, and should.  She impressed upon you the importance of a good bag, told you that not everyone is a hat person and that good manners are the most significant characteristic of a woman.  Always.  Octa lived in London in the sixties.  She heard Jimi Hendrix at the Bag o’Nails.  She wore Mary Quant dresses and worked the scarf department at Liberty.  She knew Grace Coddington as a model. After marrying Uncle James and moving to Virginia, she set about creating a home that, though decidedly un-Southern, remains to this day the most fascinating place you’ve ever visited.  You still escape there for the occasional rejuvenating weekend.  Always interested, always individual, always just outside the box, Aunt Octavia will love these books.

Darling Monster
the Letters of Lady Diana Cooper to her son, John Julius Norwich 1939-1952

An Exuberant Catalog of Dreams
by Clive Aslet

Dior Impressions
by Florence Muller

Francois Halard

Great Uncle James
You could perhaps be forgiven for occasionally thinking Great Uncle James is a bit of a grump.  It’s true that he doesn’t suffer fools gladly.  He finds current pop music stupid - his word, not mine -  greatly prefers Gosford Park to Downton Abbey,  and wouldn’t know a Kardashian if he fell over one.  Dinner conversations round his table center on the events of the day; you are often asked your thoughts about international affairs before the salad course.  He refuses to eat brussels sprouts, thinks Jello is “unnatural” and insists on sleeping with the window open.  But if you succeed in making him laugh, which is not as difficult as you would imagine, his laughter is loud, warm and infectious.   
Uncle James loves his Norfolk Terrier, Martin, and strangely enough, Uncle James loves kids.  His own, those of his nieces and nephews, neighbours, you, and your friends.  As long as you can remember, he has gathered you all up to read aloud, cracking open his latest find with a wry smile and launching into a marvelous story in which each character has his own voice and personality, provided by James of course.  He taught you to love stories like candy.  And this year at Christmas, his house will be full of children.  They will all love these books!

by Aaron Becker

The Collected Stories of Roald Dahl

I’d Know You Anywhere 
by Nancy Tillman

The Illuminated Adventure of Flora and Ullysses
by Kate DiCamillo

A personal note....
Thank you all so much for your kind words and best wishes following my last post.
I'm happy to report I am moving along like a champ.
Decorating the house, running errands.  Amazing, really.
Edward is a constant presence at my side...
 He sits beside me, sleeps beside me, watches intently as I go out to the car. 
 If I get up to leave the room, he gets up to leave the room.  
Truly a comforting chap.
I am walking fine, using a rather fabulous cane when I'm outside... one that I just may keep as an affectation when I no longer need it.  I ordered it from Italy... ebony wood with a ivory-coloured rabbit's head on top.  The rabbit has gold-green eyes.  I mean really, how can I give this up??

Stay tuned... many more books to come!