Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Finding the Balance

Finding the Balance

Having lost all affection for the corporate world, she had left it without a backward glance and was now immersed in a career full of sunshine, animals, art, and a more basic, more personal, commerce.  She was fulfilled and happy.  Over dinner with this new-found acquaintance, I peppered her with questions and soon discovered that a life spent caring for lots of animals bears less resemblance to a Beatrix Potter story than to a constant all-weather slog through the sort of manual labor I’ve never known, nor wished to know.  No sleeping in.  No travel allowed.  After all, who can one call to “pet sit” fifty sheep and thirty goats while one goes to the beach?  Not happening.  In spite of these all too obvious, at least to me, drawbacks, the lady had no hesitation in declaring a total love of her lifestyle and her countenance underscored her words.

She told me she had long ago cancelled her newspapers.  She never watched, read, nor listened to the news and would stop anyone cold who attempted to relate to her the horrors of the day.  She wasn’t familiar with the presidential candidates; she had no knowledge of the 372 mass shootings in the US in 2015; she hadn’t seen the recent photograph of the starving polar bear making his way across the rapidly disappearing arctic ice.  As the conversation flowed away to other subjects this revelation bookmarked itself in my brain and I turned it over and over all the way home, this woman’s choice to be selectively ignorant becoming more beguiling with each mile.  After all, why do I need to know the latest glob of odious lava that spews from the mouth of Donald Trump?  What can I do, really DO, to change the bleak reality of the thousands of homeless, hopeless refugees bobbing like corks in treacherous seas?  There is no doubt I carry the stresses of this type of heavy knowledge;  no doubt it sits on my soul like a brick.  Why couldn’t I, like my friend, simply… blissfully…choose to ignore it?  

Over the next couple of days I mulled and I pondered.  For the life of me I couldn’t figure out how my awareness of the world’s pains, pains I could neither alter nor change by the mere fact of my knowledge, could benefit anyone, least of all me.   In fact, I thought, who knew what might happen if my dedicated nescience resulted in a whole new bank of newly freed brain cells, freshly washed and ready to march to the forefront of my creativity.  Finally I broached the subject with The Songwriter, ready to dissect these possible benefits and weigh them against my current reality.  He looked at me and said, “But awareness is how you develop empathy.  Isn’t it?”

And I suppose that’s the crux of the matter.  Regardless of what the newscasters and politicians would have us believe, the events of the day should not merely generate fear and xenophobia.  They should create awareness that can eventually bring about change.  Great art can certainly engender empathy and so, of course, can travel.   But is that enough?   Can we really afford to be selective about what we choose to know of the culture around us, however disturbing it may be?  There should be a balance, I think, between the sort of immersion in the woes of the day that leads to depression and the conscious, continual, avoidance of bad news that leads to selfishness.  I’m sure the lady I spoke with knew her own boundaries and had chosen accordingly.  But if we are unaware of the refugee, how can we identify with him?  And if we are unable to identify with him, unable to put ourselves into his shoes, why should we care what happens to him?  If we are not personally effected by the changing climate, why should we bother voting for those who wish to tackle it?   If we’ve never been a victim of gun violence, why should we see it as a problem?  If our soul does not regularly bruise with empathy, will it not harden?

I have a friend who chastises me for giving money to beggars on the street.  He’s convinced it’s usually a scam, and maybe that’s true.  But what I’ve tried to explain is that I don’t just do it for the man with his hand out.  I also do it for me.  My sense of empathy allows me to see myself in that man, as painful as that often is.  My impulse is to help, and I fear that to squash that impulse would be tempting damage to my soul.  
 I cannot risk that.

Don't be tempted by the shiny apple
Don't you eat of a bitter fruit
Hunger only for a taste of justice
Hunger only for a world of truth
'Cause all that you have is your soul
Tracy Chapman

I confess I often skip the front page of the Times and head straight to the Arts section in an attempt to escape the idiocy that seems rampant in the world today, so I’m still working this all out.  I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Monday, January 25, 2016

Burns Night

My heart's in the Highlands, my heart is not here;
My heart's in the Highlands a-chasing the deer;
A-chasing the wild-deer, and following the roe,
My heart's in the Highlands wherever I go.
Robert Burns

Happy Burns Night to All Scots Everywhere!

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

In Winter

In Winter

Our summer walks are flower strewn, fragrant with nicotiana and rose.  The varied repertoire of the mockingbird floats on the breeze all around us and we walk slowly, woman and dog, pacing our steps to the heat of the day.  It is too easy to be dazzled by the sheer lavishness of this season, too easy to be distracted by the colour and the warmth, too easy to miss the magic. 

  But here in heart of grey winter, the familiar pathway crackles with skeletal leaves. Woodsmoke drifts from the chimneys like charcoal drawings that move and change with each gust of wind.  My hands are gloved, a knitted cowl nearly covers my face and Edward’s has fluffed out his fur like a late season dandelion, impervious to the cold.  Our steps as brisk as the air, we gaze upwards as a flock of geese stitches its way through a violet cloud.  We stop where we are,  listening to the holy sound, the flapping of their wings sweeter than harp song, a gift to those who stand still under the stained glass sky of winter. 

And we know we are not alone.  There are tracks next to ours where others have walked.  Paw pad and claw print unknown to my eye, normally hidden underneath green but revealed to us now in the bareness of winter.  Raccoon and Coyote.  Hawk and Owl.  Grey Rabbit.  Red Fox.  Black Crow.  All my fellow parishioners beneath the wild gothic spires of poplar and oak.  I feel their bright eyes follow me home.

Later, when Edward has taken up his place at the foot of my bed and a navy blue darkness envelops the house, the voices of these creatures will carry in the cold night air,  slipping beneath my window, granting me admission to a communion of souls at once mysterious and aeonian, reminding me, once again, that all the world is a cathedral.
I love winter.

Painting above by Carol Collette

Monday, January 18, 2016

Dr. King

“I have decided to stick with love.
Hate is too great a burden to bear.”
Martin Luther King, Jr

Happy Holiday

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

The Simple Things - A Wintertime List

The Simple Things
A Wintertime List
December is a riot of kaleidoscopic color that I wrap around me like a favourite shawl.  The reds, the greens, the golds - I love them all.  I pull out the coat I bought at Jenner’s in Edinburgh, the one with the lavish red fur collar (faux, of course) and don it at every opportunity.  I wear green velvet whenever I can and paint my nails oxblood red. I fill the house with orange and red roses and The Songwriter drapes the cottage with colourful lights.  And then suddenly, abruptly,  January arrives and the vibrant hues of the previous month are squeezed out completely by the simple turning of one thin calendar page.  It’s necessary, I suppose, as too much everyday richness can make one a bit queasy.  

We need the month of January - to rest, to plan, to clear our palates for the new year we’ve been given - and for many years now I’ve come to look to this month with sweet anticipation.  It’s the time I pull back, close the door and turn down the phone.  I curl up by the fire to knit sweaters, write stories, and read books.  I plan trips and sketch out changes to the garden.  Edward dozes, The Songwriter writes, and Apple…. well Apple still sits by the window and watches for squirrels who are, as any experienced squirrel-watcher knows,  much easier to spot in a bare naked tree.  In the sterling light of the afternoons, I bundle up and take the dogs for a long ramble, Edward’s jaunty step and bouncing ears a testament to how much he adores this particular month of the year.   It is outdoors that one can truly appreciate the remarkable beauty of this icy span of days.  The violet skies, the silver light, the handprints of grey trees on the frosted air. 

Yes, there are many pleasures to be found in January 
and most of them are simple ones. 
That extra quilt you throw on the bed when the mercury takes a vertical dive.  
That little nip of Glenmorangie you add to your afternoon tea when you come in from the cold. 
The crackle of the fire. 
The feel of the wool as it flies through your fingers. 
The weight of a big furry dog’s head as he sleeps on your feet.  
Yes,  January is simply a wonderful time so here is a list of simple comforts to make it even better.  

1. Staying Hale and Hardy
There’s nothing good about a cold and I do whatever I can to keep them as far away from my door as possible.  I wash my hands frequently and often use my sleeve to open doors, not caring one whit if I look funny doing so.  One of my secret weapons against this dreaded obnoxious malady is this particular brand of Vitamin C.  I take it before every flight, during every journey, and whenever I know I’m going to be in crowds. 
Laugh if you will, but I swear that it works.
Find it HERE

2. Skin Care
Those long afternoon winter walks mean I often return home with bright pink cheeks which can mean dry chapped skin if I’m not careful.  So I do take good care to see that doesn’t happen.  I’ve just recently found these new creams by Belif and I love them.  I use the aqua bomb in the daytime, and the cream before bed.  They both feel SO delicious, and my skin has been glowing all winter.
Find the Aqua Bomb HERE
And the Cream HERE

3. Bath
Every time I’m lucky enough to be on the Isle of Skye I make certain to visit the Isle of Skye Soap Company.  A tiny, charming shop tucked into a corner of Portree, it is full of the most lusciously scented soaps imaginable.  I brought home a sack full in September and believe me, I’m completely devoted to my nightly soaks in my big claw foot tub with these wonderful soaps.  Lemongrass and Lime is my favorite, but you’re sure to find one you can’t live without out.
Find them HERE

And of course, I’m a bubble bath girl.
And this one is the best.....
Close your eyes and be spirited straight to a beautiful warm beach.
Find it HERE.

4. Television
The Doctor is back!  Though I’m aware season seven was shown in the UK last autumn, we here in the states are just now enjoying the return of the marvelous Martin Clunes as Doc Martin.  I love this show.  And I love Martin Clunes.  I particularly love the way light shines through his slightly protuberant ears turning them as pink as Edward’s tummy.
As they say, check your local listings.
Unfamiliar with Doc Martin?
Find past seasons HERE.
Here's a preview of the new season.

5. Book and Movie
Rarely is a movie as good as the book.
This one is.
Find the book HERE.
and preview the movie.....


6.  Books
My Brilliant Friend, by Elena Ferrante, has worked its way to the top of my teetering stack and I’m looking forward to diving into the entire series.
Has anyone else read these?
Find it HERE
Also, speaking of a fun series of books, 
you have read THESE, haven’t you?
Love them.
Be sure to start with the first one.

7.  Comfort
I got the word on these from the fabulous blog, A Cup Of Jo.   They looked comfy and the price was certainly right, so I ordered them.  Oh my goodness.  Seriously, these are the closest one can get to wearing one’s pajamas all day long.  They can be dressed up with a blazer, tucked into boots, or worn with your favourite big sweater.   I wear them to walk the dogs, to the market, and out to dinner.  And yes, they’re perfect for a nap.    No joke, I’m ordering another pair so I can have something to wear while these are in the washer.
Find them HERE.

8.  Planning for Spring
As I begin to think about the spring additions and changes to my garden, I’m drawn to this new book by shade gardening expert, Ken Druse.  Our cottage sits beneath many tall, old trees, so shade is something omnipresent here.  But I’ve found that gardening in shade can be just as luscious as sun. 
This book also addresses the effects of our changing climate on our gardens, something that is becoming increasing vital to understand and adjust to.  
This book will be well-used this year.
Find it HERE

9.  The World’s Best Eyelash Curler
Stupid expensive, 
but lives up to the hype and then some.
I'll never use another.
Find it HERE

10.  Toast and Jam
Nothing much better on a cold morning than really good bread 
and really good jam.
A good friend introduced me to this fig jam a while back 
and now I’m hopelessly in love with it.  
Good enough to eat by the spoonfuls, 
but I highly recommend slathering it on a perfect slice of homemade bread.
Find it HERE

11.  Wuthering Heights
There’s a special reason I’m revisiting this unique book just now.
I’ll clue you all in, in a month or so. 
 Till then, this annotated edition is the best I’ve seen
 and it’s hard to beat a Bronte when the January winds rattle the windows.
Find it HERE
Painting at top by Susan Ryder

A Special Thank You
to everyone who commented and wrote me letters 
about my last post.  I'm happy to say all is very well here!
You all are the best.

Saturday, January 9, 2016

More Songs

More Songs

The unusually violent attacks had been all over the papers.  In an area of town we often frequented, people were being mugged.  But of course, no one ever thinks it will happen to them, so off we went to our favourite Mexican restaurant and, as it was nestled in a particularly leafy, pedestrian enclave, we assumed we’d be safe.  We’d just gotten out of our car and begun to make our way across the car park when two men appeared out of the woods behind the restaurant.  Almost amusingly cliche, they were large and scowling, moving fast, with hands stuck deep in their pockets. And they were making a beeline towards us.  We froze.  Then just at that second, a car pulled in between us, and when it passed - in that brief moment - the men vanished.  It could have been much worse.

Then there was the time we were returning home on a late night flight from Los Angeles.  Our plane began to descend, wheels were down and we could see the grey of the tarmac beneath us.  Then our heads were thrown back as the pilot took the plane up in a near vertical line.  Our runway wasn’t clear after all, disaster was narrowly averted.  It could have been much worse.

The time The Songwriter broke his ankle (which of course, could have been his head) on the Isle of Mull.  The night I took a header over Apple ( a nearly invisible object when curled up on a dark hardwood floor in the dark ) as I ran to catch the phone and landed so hard I saw stars.  The time I jumped off a tall stone wall in an attempt to emulate Peter Pan and broke my left leg in three places.  I was six, highly imaginative, and yes, it could have been much worse.  

And then… the day after Christmas, The Songwriter and I were having a quiet, pajama day.  Our afternoon ramble with Edward and Apple had lacked that certain holiday charm, due to the unusually hot, humid weather sitting tight on the South like a plastic lid.  We were eating an early supper when The Songwriter suddenly got up and left the room.  After a few minutes, I followed him and found him complaining of heartburn.  But he looked strange.  He was sweating, something that should never accompany simple heartburn.  I made him take an aspirin.  After several minutes, when it became clear he wasn’t feeling better, I asked him if we should go to the doctor.  “Just call 911”, came the reply, and I, a bit shocked, did.

In less than three minutes he was being hooked up to an EKG machine in our sitting room.  “This looks normal”, the EMT said.  “But I’d still suggest we take you in”.  I offered to drive him and was given a sharp, Vulcan Mind Meld  stare from one of the other men in the room which told me my bright idea was not advisable.  So off The Songwriter went in the ambulance, me following along behind in my little green Fiat.  When I reached the hospital, another EKG was done and the room began to almost instantaneously fill with people.  The Songwriter, who'd been given three hits of nitroglycerine and a shot of morphine, wasn’t feeling particularly bad anymore, and seemed calm and interested in all the commotion.  It was all happening so fast, neither of us knew exactly what was going on.  Before I could blink, I was running behind his stretcher as they wheeled him in to the Cardiac Cath Lab.  The doors opened, he disappeared, and I was shown to a large waiting room that was dark and eerily empty, rather like the hotel in The Shining, that spooky Stephen King book that I’ve never read but know all about anyway.  

I called a couple of good, faithful friends who were at my side in minutes and together we waited.  In an hour, a nurse stuck her head in the door and called my name.  
“He’s all done”,  she said.  
“How is he?  What happened?  What did you have to do?”.
She smiled benignly.
“You’re not going to tell me anything, are you?”
“Nope.  The doctor will talk to you.”

We rounded the corner and there lay The Songwriter, grinning up at me.  The doctor smiled at us both.  “He’s a very lucky fellow.  He had the worst heart attack a person could have.  We put in two stents, and the rest of his heart looks good.  It appears his heart has not sustained damage and he should be fine from here on out.  Calling 911 was the single best decision he’s made in his entire life.  Obviously, God wants him to write more songs.”

This entire experience lasted less than three hours, not nearly sufficient time to absorb all the implications and process the grace we were given.  We feel a bit like the only survivors of a natural disaster in which everyone else perished.  What if we hadn’t called for help?  What if, as was his natural inclination, The Songwriter had just decided to lie down and rest?  What if one of the city’s best cardiologists had not been on duty that night? What if we'd been up on that island in Scotland?  It’s just impossible to take in all these "what if’s".  

I suppose if we all realized how often we balance on the razor’s edge of peril, none of us would get out of bed in the morning.  Our guardian angels are no doubt overworked and underpaid.  Suffice it to say, I am unspeakably grateful and still, in the dark of night, a bit shook up.  In his usual fashion, The Songwriter is happy, positive and looking forward and, as usual, I shall follow his lead.  

By the way, isn’t it just a glorious New Year?


After learning everything I’ve learned about heart attacks in the past couple of weeks, I feel compelled to say… if you or someone you love ever feel as though you should perhaps call for help… do so.  As part of our regular health check-ups, both The Songwriter and I had a cardiac calcium scan several years ago that showed zero plaque in our arteries and gave us both a zero percentage chance of having any sort of heart attack in the next ten years.  This of course, proved to be inaccurate.  I’ll be happy to answer any questions I can.  Just email me.