Monday, January 27, 2014

Happy Anniversary

“Never love anyone who treats you like you're ordinary.” 
Oscar Wilde

Happy Anniversary to The Songwriter and Me!
You all have permission to raise a glass, buy armloads of flowers,
 and take the whole day off!

Sunday, January 26, 2014

A Spring-Green Leaf

A Spring-Green Leaf

We open the book in December.  Its silver-white pages tell the story of winter, tales of plunging temperatures and frosted windows, of heavy coats and blazing hearths.  Day after day we turn page after page of cold.  Sometimes the story gets scary: snowfalls become epic, the power goes out.  But generally the narrative meanders through its icy tale of frigid days and frozen nights in much the same manner as all the books of winter have done since time began.

But then, without warning, tucked in the middle of the book like a pressed spring-green leaf, comes a day when the sun rises, no longer pale and watery, but smiling like April. We wake to find a breeze rising up from the southland, shaving the chill off the air as it pushes every cloud from the sky.  We slam the book shut, afraid this wayward springtime breeze might lift the page and turn it once again backwards, or forwards, to winter.

Perhaps Mother Nature hides these days in our book as a recompense for August, when we are melted and drained by the heat.  Perhaps she means it as a blessing.  Or perhaps she just does it for fun.  Whatever her reason, it seems we have an obligation of sorts to enjoy the gift we’ve been given, to lift our faces to the light and walk for hours in the dappled sun someplace where Mother Nature’s handiwork can best be seen; someplace where the light scatters diamonds on the cold waters of the lake and the birds sit high in the trees, singing.  How could we do anything else with this day?

The page turned once again at midnight, as it always does,
 and we woke to the vengeance of winter.  
We put up our hoods and stacked logs in the fireplace. 
 The tea kettle whistled, the birdbath was frozen. 
 But no ice or snow, no frigid wind, could erase the memory of what we’d received. 
 The gift of a freshly pressed spring-green leaf,
 hidden right in the middle of a winter’s tale.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

The National Holiday

The National Holiday

There will be no mail in my mail box on Monday. 
The banks will be closed and admittance to all national parks will be free. 
The kids get a day off from school.
  My country is pausing to commemorate the birthday of Martin Luther King Jr.

  Growing up in the southern part of the US, in the same city as Dr. King in fact, it is astonishing to compare our society today with that of my early childhood.  When I see documentaries of that not so long ago time, it is like watching films of another world, one I lived in, but was too young, too white and too sheltered, to have realized was in some corners so treacherous and evil.  When I see the fire hoses and police dogs, when I read the hateful rhetoric, it is stunning to see the changes Dr. King was able to bring about with his righteous, consistent message of nonviolence.  It is humbling to compare the hateful, angry faces of the men wielding the fire hoses with the silent dignity of those getting blasted off their feet.  Even with stakes as high as basic rights of human equality and worth, still Dr. King eschewed violence, saying, “Nonviolence is a powerful and just weapon which cuts without wounding and ennobles the man who wields it. It is a sword that heals”.   When we hold aloft the light of Dr. King’s remarkable accomplishments to illuminate our country’s almost casual relationship to violence today, it is a sobering sight indeed.
In this week leading up to the King holiday, in the state of Florida, one man pulled out a gun and fatally shot the fellow sitting in front of him at a neighbourhood theatre.  Seems the man was irritated that the fellow wouldn’t stop texting his young daughter during the previews of upcoming attractions and after a few heated words, when the father put his phone down and threw some popcorn at the man, the man pulled out a gun and shot, killing the father right in front of his wife who was seated next to him.  There is now speculation that the shooter will try to use Florida’s controversial, and some would say, notorious, “stand your ground” law as he’s saying he shot the man because he felt threatened.  If that story wasn’t horrifying enough, one of my own state senators is attempting to get a bill passed in our senate that would allow worshipers to carry guns into churches.  A more blatant oxymoron is difficult to conceive.  

Although it perhaps rubs against our national reputation, I have no problem saying I have zero affection for guns.  The gun lobby in this country is so frighteningly powerful it has consistently managed to derail any kind of regulation on guns, even following the horrifying gun murders of twenty schoolchildren and six of their teachers in Newtown, Connecticut in December of 2012.  There have been thirty school shootings in this country in the short year and one month since.  Thirty.  I cannot comprehend this, and if change cannot be brought about in any sort of effective way, I cannot comprehend the inevitable escalation of violence we are certain to witness, from our schools to our movie theatres, even to our churches.   

It has never been a secret that ignorance holds hands with fear.  This was true during the horrible days when Dr. King was locked up in Birmingham jail for preaching basic equality among human beings and it remains true today when a state senator feels his constituents need guns to feel safe in church.  As Barbara Kingsolver writes in her comforting book of essays, Small Wonders, “The people who said the sky would fall and God would weep if their sons and daughters had to sit in the same schoolroom as black-skinned children were wrong.”  The popular belief that nothing can be done about the proliferation of guns in our country might just be wrong as well.

 I freely admit I have no clear answers, or rather the answers I have are never the bombastic ones shouted at us by the people more certain than wise.  My answers, when I discover them, are the quiet ones found in the simplicity of showing kindness and love, as often and as much as I can.  I find a bit of sagacity in doing unto others as I would be done by, as far as my sphere of influence reaches.  Answers of comfort call to me from the soft susurration of wings that Edward and I were privileged to hear overhead as a triangle of Canada geese flew just above us on a cold and otherwise silent afternoon last week.  Like a blind man reading braille, my fingers trace the edges of a spring-green maple leaf, or down the crocodile bark of a pine tree, and find a bit of inarticulate wisdom there. I have lived long enough to know that God is in the details and the answers I find there continue to provide me with that elixir so vital to one of God’s children today, one Dr. King never seemed to run low on:  Hope.

Barbara Kingsolver's book of essays, Small Wonders, can be found HERE.
An excellent, thoughtful read which never fails to bring me comfort.

Friday, January 17, 2014

No Regrets

No Regrets

Watching a late night talk show whilst knitting the other night, I looked up to see a beautiful young actress perched on a chair telling the story of her latest movie.  She was stunning.  But then I noticed a tattoo, and not a very good one, emblazoned on the inside of her arm.  A blight, at least to my eyes, and a distracting one at that.  I couldn’t help but wonder if she ever regretted getting it done.  But then, I noticed another on her other arm, so I supposed not.  As for myself, I cannot even imagine having something permanent etched into my skin.  Of course, this is coming from a person who refused even to have her ears pierced, so make of my opinions what you will.

Her tattoos got me thinking about regret.  We all have them.  I’m not talking about the big regrets that have lasting effects on one’s life, but the little ones that irritate and make us cringe just a wee bit.  You know, the “why on earth did I wear that to the wedding?” ones.  The “did I really say that?” ones.  The “why on earth did I waste X$ on that movie...those shoes... that mustard-coloured shirt?”.   I look at the dress that smiling woman is wearing in the top photograph and wonder if she ever regretted that one.

I began to look back over the last year and rather than focus on those things I wish I hadn’t wasted my time or money on, as is my wont I turned it around a bit and started to recount all the things I did not regret from the last twelve months. 
 Oooh, this was fun.  
Hope you enjoy it and will perhaps share with me those things you’re glad you did
... or purchased...
 or saw.

1.  The Perfect Coat
The photograph above was taken below Tintagel Castle, years ago. 
  Notice the long black coat, which I will say unabashedly that I loved.

See this photo, above?  
Some years later, on the streets of Edinburgh.
Yes, same coat.  
As The Songwriter and I tend to travel in the fall, I tend to reach for this coat and my passport simultaneously.  That is until this past trip to Scotland when it dawned on me that, if you only went by my photographs, you couldn’t tell which trip I’m on.  All of them look the same, because in each I’m wearing “The Coat”.  So... time to get a new one.  This proved much more difficult that I’d counted on.  I tried on coat after coat, in store after store.  I patrolled the online sites.  Nothing seemed to suit.  It needed to be warm.  Had to be waterproof.  Not too heavy.  And a coat with a hood was preferred.  Fake fur trim, a bonus.  Just as I was about to give up and take “The Coat” to the cleaners in preparation for our trip, a catalog arrived in my mailbox.  From a London shop called Poetry.  And there... on page three... was my coat.  I ordered it immediately and kept my fingers crossed that it would be as perfect as it appeared.  It was!!  I Adore It.....and if you remember.... on our wild Scottish adventure... I actually had to sleep in it for three nights, so it passed a rather strenuous test with glowing marks.
I just checked the website.... it’s still there.

Find it HERE.

2. Redgrave and Dench
I was fortunate enough to see both these great actresses on stage in London this year.

 3. Pink Streak
In the summer, I had my long time hairdresser put a bright pink streak in my hair. 
Yes, I did.
Right at the back of my neck, a little on the right side,
 under most of my hair so it really isn’t visible unless I want it to be,
 which I occasionally do. 
It looks wonderful when my hair is up.
Always good to keep people guessing, don't you know.

4. Those Boots
I’ve wanted a pair of Dubarry boots for ages.
Well, this year after a particularly prolific month of book sales, 
I sprung for a pair just like the ones above.
I swear ... what did I wear on my feet before I got these??
Love them.
So glad I got them.

5. The Cuckoo’s Calling
So happy I took this book on holiday with me in August.
It was the perfect beach read.
Creative, engrossing, entertaining.
Yes, J K Rowling is much more than Harry Potter.
Find it HERE.

6. Scotland
Yes we had some wild adventures in Scotland in September.
(You can read about them HERE, if you haven’t already.)
But those adventures gave us both entrance into the backstage world of Scotland, one tourists rarely see.  We found the Scottish people to be the most caring, accommodating, and efficient souls.  They took such good care of us both.  From doctors to cab drivers, inn keepers to perfect strangers, we have never seen a country perform with such incredible kindness.  If our journey had gone as planned, we would have never seen this side of the Scottish people in such detail and I can only hope we Americans would be half as stellar to strangers as they.
We cannot wait to go back.
Oh, I stopped the car to have a conversation with the fellow above
on my solo journey back up on the Isle of Mull.

7.  Traveling, Once Again, With Wilmont
I’ve written before about Wilmont, our little stuffed monkey that, more often than not, accompanies us on our journeys.  That’s him above in a fabulous hotel in Scotland a few years ago.  Yes, he was with us on our Scottish adventure last year and Lord knows we appreciated his comic relief.  He provided a good bit of levity, even for the doctors and nurses who insisted on bandaging his leg to resemble The Songwriter’s cast. 
We left it on until The Songwriter was mobile again. 
Both he and Wilmont are now all healed and ready for another journey.


8.  Knitting Wands
The haberdashery at Liberty of London is a place of great temptation to me. 
 Skeins of wool, unusual buttons, ribbons, fabric, needles, paper flowers, feathers...
 I could, and frequently do, lose my ever loving mind.  
And yes, I purchased these knitting needles that resemble magic wands.  
So happy I did.

9. Leaf Pillows
I finally sprung for the Cowtan and Tout tartan wool plaid 
that I’ve been drooling over for years to recover two of my favourite chairs.
  And so happy I knitted these two leaf pillows to sit in them.  
Find the pattern HERE.

10.  Berwick Church
It was late in the day and we were getting tired.
We'd already explored Sissinghurst Garden and Monk's House.
Already wandered the rooms and gardens of Charleston Farmhouse.
So we almost didn't go to Berwick Church.  But I'm so happy we did.
Totally alone, we stood underneath the incredibly lovely wartime murals
painted by Duncan Grant and Vanessa Bell.
Totally inspiring.
Totally amazing.

11.  Taking it Easy
Everyone told me that having hip replacement surgery a mere eight days before Thanksgiving would mean a scaled down holiday for me.  I would.... the dreaded words... have to “take it easy”.  These admonitions were delivered with stern doubt.  Seems no one thought I possessed the ability to actually do as I was told.  Ha!  I slept, I dozed, I sat.  Yes, I still gave a few parties, but I actually ordered in fabulous cakes instead of making them myself.  I accepted help.  I read, I knitted, I watched The Bishop’s Wife.  I strolled, rather than charged, through the holiday season and I thoroughly enjoyed it.  And now, completely healed, I’m back to walking Edward at a fast clip, something he’s very happy about.

What DON'T you regret?

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

A Handmade Life

A Handmade Life

Our recent spell of shockingly glacial temperatures saw us snuggling down in our beloved burrow, and quite happy to be doing so.  It is precisely in times such these are we ever so grateful for a nest that not only shelters us from the less than salubrious climate stalking the environs just outside our bolted door but nurtures and comforts us as well.  As the sun took flight and the temperature plummeted to record levels I reached for extra quilts on the closet shelf and as I spread them out atop the down comforter I paused to run my fingers along their tiny stitches.  We use these quilts every winter and I often forget that I actually made them myself.   

Not long after The Songwriter and I married, I became besotted with the idea of “creating” a home for us both.  No mere residence; much more than a simple house; I saw our cottage as an integral part of our lives together, a brick and stone representation of our personalities, our interests, our individuality, and our love.  Like Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant before us, we set about weaving our souls into the fabric of our home and now, many years later, we live in a highly personal pastiche in which we feel both understood and charmed.  There is a lot of us in these rooms.   I knitted the pillows that sit on the tartan chairs by the window.  The Songwriter made the front porch gate... a lovely addition to the face of our house, but crafted chiefly to contain Edward and Apple on sunny days when they like to sit out front and watch the world go by.   A friend has painted furniture here, paintings, even murals on some of the ceilings.  He recently painted our interior doors with scenes from our travels.  Like I said, a highly personal place.

I credit the love that I have for my home for teaching me the value of a handmade life.  For there is such a joy to be found in the creation of beautiful things, whether it be needlepointed pillows, knitted slippers, an apple pie with the first new apples of autumn, or handmade Christmas cards; joy that cannot be matched by the wares offered up in the toniest store. This joy is given freely to the creator of such things, and when one surrounds oneself with these handmade creations, one feels a delight unmatched.  

Over the holidays I paid warm visits to the homes of several good friends and so enjoyed seeing their personalities reflected in their homes even as mine own is reflected in mine; their paintings hanging on the walls, their framed photography on the mantels,  their handmade holiday decorations on the trees.   Though our styles are sometimes wildly different, I always feel thoroughly comfortable in surroundings so personally created.  In an age such as ours, when so much technology threatens to depersonalize the culture, it is reassuring to know that we can close our front doors and create the world of our dreams right inside our own homes.  A handmade life is attainable for each of us and I highly recommend it.

And as you can see.... Edward loves to nap amongst the quilts just as much as we do.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

The Weather

The Weather

My father liked to watch the weather.  Please don’t mistake this beloved habit of his with watching the weather”man”, or as he or she prefers to be called, the meteorologist.  You know, the chap on television news who tries with utmost conviction and gravity of expression to convince his audience that any rainstorm just might hide a hurricane and dark skies could portend the apocalypse easy as not.  No my Father had little confidence in these learned souls.  He simply walked outside and studied the clouds.  

“Those are snow clouds", he’d tell me as my eyes followed his pointing finger up to a  glowing grey sky full of ponderous clouds that seemed to be concealing something, as though crowds of performers were silently gathering behind the folds of silver theatre curtains waiting only until their numbers were such that they pushed through, rushing out to fall on the stage of the world.  Droughts worried him, wind fascinated him, and he simply loved the cold.   I can see him in the favourite soft grey coat he always wore when I was little, a coat too heavy for cool weather, a coat only pulled out when the conditions turned arctic.  He’d stamp his feet, clap his hands together, as he made his way outside in the cold, returning red-cheeked and happy.

Such is the mystery of inheritance, I suppose, because I cannot deny, even as I pile on another knitted shawl and one more pair of socks, that my heart skips a beat whenever  polar air pierces the Mason-Dixon line to visit the South.  It’s a rare thing, after all.  We Southerners could fairly be described as having a rather hysterical reaction to any forecast of authentic winter weather.  Schools close right down, for days, at the merest dusting of snow.  The most microscopic measurement of ice on the roads completely erases any ability we may possess to safely operate an automobile, and before the weather hits we all head to the market, en masse, to strip the shelves of those things we feel we cannot successfully exist  without.  We put on quite an entertaining show.

 So naturally, yesterday when the meteorologists trumpeted our forecast of “the Coldest Weather in Over a Decade”, we joined our friends and neighbours at the market for our own “essentials”.  The Songwriter gathered the ingredients for his famous chili.   I scampered up and down the aisles pulling down clove-scented bubble bath, tangerine tea, bouquets of fresh roses, Gruyere cheese, and apple-flavoured dog bones.  
Essentials, don’t you know.  

We arrived home just as the first pinpricks of sleet were pinging the pavement.  I wound the most delicious lavender wool into balls for a new sweater.  The Songwriter stacked firewood.  Edward and Apple curled up in favourite chairs.  Extra quilts were put on the bed and hot water bottles were filled and buttoned up tightly in their cashmere covers.  And then, we waited.  Waited for the needles of glassy sleet to rattle and tingle at our windowpanes.  Waited for the polar wind to sing its high-pitched songs round the eaves of our bedroom.  Edward sighed. We heard the owls call out in the darkness.  

Perhaps a long walk tomorrow?
I do have my Father’s old grey coat, after all.

Is it winter where you are?

Thursday, January 2, 2014

A Brand New Year, For Edward

A Brand New Year, for Edward

In the fair sea of mediocrity on which I generally sail, there are a few superlative islands that are mine alone.  I can make outstanding pie crust from scratch, for instance.  I have an excellent memory, a stellar eye for colour, and an above average capacity to ferret out the humour in most situations.  I can touch my nose with the toes of my right foot, a feat that used to be easily accomplished with the toes of my left as well, before the necessity of the November left hip replacement.  Hopefully I will be equally proficient on both sides before long, though I freely admit this is a decidedly useless talent and one I would hardly miss.  All things considered though, I am a remarkably average person.  Not exceptional in any way.  Which is why I am often humbled in the face of the love of my dog.

It is said that dogs choose their owners.  This was certainly the case with Edward and me.  The Songwriter and I had seen his photograph on the rescue website, looking a bit scraggly and thin from his weeks on the street, and made an appointment to meet him posthaste.  When he trotted round the corner and right up to me, our eyes met and ... well, don’t let anyone tell you there is no such thing as love at first sight.   He moved in that night and has been by my side ever since. 
 When I came home from the hospital in November, he padded down the hall after me, a look of concern on his furry face, and took up his position as my shadow.  If I got up, he got up.  If I left the room, he left the room.  He would approach any chair or sofa on which I perched, gauging whether or not there was room for us both.  Upon deciding there was, up he would come, turning round once or twice before lying down beside me with his head in my lap. When I walked out the door and down the drive to get into the car, he watched from the window, a look of frank disapproval on his face.  Apple checked on me frequently; Edward never left my side.  Now that we’re out on walks again, his spirits are noticeably higher, his worries are gone.  

Five and a half years ago, when I began this blog, I was admittedly rather shy about the process.  So I hid behind Edward.  He was, after all, privy to my musings about the wisdom of the undertaking.  I asked him point blank on several occasions whether or not it was a good idea.  He always looked at me kindly and smiled.  A confidence booster if ever there was one.  Quite fittingly, I named the blog for him and never really looked back.  He continually gives me stories and laughter, hope and enthusiasm for life.  All of which one needs to write, I assure you.

It is, therefore, only fitting that as the ashes of a tired year drift off on the midnight wind and so many new days fall round us like blessings, I should say a holy thank you for the incomprehensible love of a dog.  No one who has ever experienced it can truly explain it.  I only know that when one is blessed with that singular warmth and devotion, one sees the world in a convivial light.  Nothing is ever as bad as it seems when your dog smiles at you.  Nothing I have ever done in my life makes me deserving of that sort of love, but oh, how grateful I am for it.

The photograph above was taken a couple of days ago when we stopped to rest during a walk at the park.  I sit down, and Edward sits down.  Isn’t he just the handsomest fellow?  As sweet as soul as ever walked the earth.

Edward and I are marching into a new year
 with joy and sparkling anticipation for all the wonders to come. 
 Come join us!
 Our sweetest wishes for a Happy New Year for all of you.