Tuesday, September 30, 2014

The Scottish Highlands

Still in the Scottish Highlands.
More Adventures Coming.
Be Back Soon With Tales to Tell

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Celebrating Fall.... A Special List

Celebrating Fall.... a Special List

It was a day peculiar to this piece of the planet,
when larks rose on long thin strings of singing
and the air shifted with the shimmer of actual angels.
Greenness entered the body. The grasses
shivered with presences, and sunlight
stayed like a halo on hair and heather and hills.
Walking into town, I saw, in a radiant raincoat,
the woman from the fish-shop. 'What a day it is!'
cried I, like a sunstruck madman.
And what did she have to say for it?
Her brow grew bleak, her ancestors raged in their graves
as she spoke with their ancient misery:
'We'll pay for it, we'll pay for it, we'll pay for it!'
by Alastair Reid

The photograph and poem above might give you a clue where The Songwriter and I are.  
Needless to say, I am in my favorite land at present. 
 More later.
For now…. here’s a few treats for an early fall.  

1.  Outlander Knitting
For those people who have always questioned my tendency to head to Scotland whenever I go on holiday... (“What about Italy??  Wouldn’t you prefer a more tropical clime?”)... I have only to point to the new television production of the book, Outlander.  An endless stream of scenes from the Scottish Highlands, romantic and achingly atmospheric, I dare anyone not to be seduced by their beauty.  As I lover of Scotland, I haven’t missed an episode.  But there is another reason I have become a devoted viewer.  And yes, I am well aware of the remarkable handsomeness of the show’s male lead, but he is only a distraction to the real temptation of this eye-catching show.  I am talking here about the knitting.  Shawls and scarves, sweaters and capes - enough to make a knitter positively swoon.  Just take a gander at the fabulous cowl worn by the show’s star  in the photo above.  Sigh.
The knitting community is nothing if not resourceful and new patterns for these Outlander creations flood the internet after the airing of each new episode.
See HERE.  And HERE.  And HERE’S the cowl that I made.

And of course, here’s my favourite model in two of my latest finished projects.
 I am wearing these in the Highlands right now!
(I tried to make him smile, but he took this modeling job very seriously.)

2.  The Bartering System
As someone who loves to bake but is reluctant to partake of every concoction in its entirety lest I become rounder than tall, I have recently entered into the most satisfying deal ever.  One of my favourite neighbours raises not only three adorable children, but a mini herd of mini goats, a rabbit, two cats, and a flock of designer chickens that seem hand-painted by angels; I see designs for rooms and sweaters in their feathers each time I visit.  Well, here’s the thing.  Even with a family of five, my friend was gathering far more eggs than she could use each and every week.  So.  We have joined together in an old-fashioned arrangement known through the ages as the bartering system.  I bake something fabulous for her family, and in return receive a large basket full of fresh eggs.  All colours, all sizes, as befitting a flock of feathered individuals rather than a bunch of poor systemized, programmed, industrialized fowl.  These eggs have transformed my breakfast into a tasty treat I look forward to every morning.  Plus, I get to wave my wooden spoons over desserts both delicious and ambitious.  A win-win for everyone!  Highly recommended if you have the right neighbours.  That’s the adorable middle child, Dahlia, pictured above. 

 3.  Kitchen Tiles
I think it started with the kitchen so prominently featured in the 2003 film, Something’s Gotta Give.  A somewhat beachy kitchen, with white cabinets, white subway tiles, black countertops and dark wooden floors.  Almost instantaneously it seemed, that kitchen was absolutely everywhere.  It’s undeniably beautiful, but so sadly ubiquitous now.  With each new copy it seems more and more unoriginal and bland; it could be anyone’s kitchen.  I don’t know about you, but I am longing for colour and individuality in design these days.  Even wild eccentricity, if it accurately represents the personality of the owner.  To that end.... these tiles by Welbeck have me entranced.  The whole line sends sparks through my mind.  Can’t you just imagine the kitchen these could inspire?
It would definitely require an Aga.
Find them HERE.

4.  Dog TeePees
Edward loves to hop up in our bedroom windowseat to view the back garden at his leisure, and to nap. Apple has a special spot in the family room just behind a painted monkey book stand and just over a floor vent for the air-conditioner.  Both of them can also occasionally be found snoozing together underneath the piano, a hiding place  where they are guaranteed privacy as well as an excellent view of the front door.  Every dog loves a special spot to call his on.  Which brings me to the photo above.
Find it HERE.

5.  Two New Books for Fall
With fashion weeks in New York and London just past, 
 two books sound like so much fun.
I’ll Drink to That 
by Betty Halbreich
If you happened to see the delightful little bonbon of a film, Scatter My Ashes at Berdorf’s, you’ll easily remember Betty Halbreich.  She stole the movie away from everyone else, including personalities as gilded as Lagerfeld and Armani.  A personal shopper at Berdorf-Goodman department store for years, Betty has stories to tell, all with a snooty, imperious tone than somehow manages to charm rather than repel.   She’s now written a book that’s sure to be an entertaining romp of a read.  
Find it HERE.
and here’s a bit of Betty from the film.....

Vivienne Westwood
by Vivienne Westwood and Ian Kelly
One of the most original and iconoclastic designers writes her autobiography.
This one has to be a good time.
Find it HERE.
6. Artistry and Kindness
I’m not particularly sure how I came to be so fortunate, but I’m convinced I have the best readers in the entire world.  Whenever I hear about the horrors of the internet, I don’t say much, for my experience through this blog has been nothing short of lovely.  Case in point:  the charming Tish Jett of the blog Femme d'Un Certain Age … posted a photograph of Edward and me a few weeks ago along with the words, “somebody should paint this!”.  A few days later, I received a letter from the gorgeous artist, Helen Tilston, who informed me she had done precisely that.  Whilst on holiday in Ireland, she placed her easel beside the sea  and painted the image of Edward and me.  It arrived this week, along with two special pebbles from the very same Irish shore on which the painting was created.  What can I say to such generosity?  A mere Thank You seems quite anemic to me.  Needless to say, I shall treasure this forever.
Visit Helen and see more of her work, HERE

Helen painting Edward by the sea in Ireland.
Love this!
And before I go,
 a bit of Outlander for you to enjoy....

I'll be in touch soon! xoxox,

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Sharing.... Sort Of

Sharing, Sort Of

A buttery golden pound cake always sat under a cut glass dome on the kitchen counter of my Great-Aunt Susie.  No visitor was too insignificant to be offered a slice of this delectable concoction and no visitor would ever dream of refusing such an offer, for Aunt Susie’s culinary skills were legend.  Her pièce de résistance was her Burnt Caramel Cake, a towering wonderment that was known to make grown men swoon as easily as it turned their wives positively green with the sort of domestic envy reserved for those shirt-waisted, pearl-draped housewives of a bygone era.  It was the icing.  Deep, rich, and tawny as the king’s honey, it was impossible for any woman in town to recreate, no matter how diligently they tried.

Now, Aunt Susie was a formidable woman, something even I, the little golden-haired grand-niece on whom she showered unabashed affection, could easily see.  She was not a woman to be crossed, pushed, or pressed.  Deservedly proud of her cooking, she preferred to be thought of as unique in those abilities and kept her recipes as secret as the spells of a sorceress.  The few women who had been so foolish as to request her recipe for that Burnt Caramel Cake only did so once.

So, frustrated by years of unsuccessful attempts to recreate that caramel cake, the women of Aunt Susie’s church hatched a plan. They decided to publish a cookbook.  My Aunt could not possibly resist the lure of publication, in hardback no less.  Her name placed forever in print as the creator of such a magnificent cake would surely appeal to her pride, her altruism (for the cookbook would raise needed funds for the church, after all), as well as her sense of legacy and veneration as it would be handed down in her family, generation after admiring generation.  To their surprise and immense delight, my Aunt agreed to include her much coveted Burnt Caramel Cake recipe in the book and the ladies of the church could hardly wait for the date of publication.

I have that cookbook in my kitchen now.  And yes, there on page 40 is my Aunt’s famed Burnt Caramel Cake.  She has provided a detailed recipe for the cake, which is a basic yellow cake the sort of which most amateur bakers would have easily mastered in grade school.  But at the close of the recipe, she has simply written :  Frost with Burnt Caramel Icing.  No instructions, no ingredient list, no special secrets revealed.

I would like to say that this tradition of culinary secrecy ended with my Aunt, but I laugh to myself now as I remember my Mother sneaking out of church down the back stairs one Sunday morning, determined to avoid a lady who’d requested the recipe for her Christmas Fudge.  I use that fudge recipe still, every festive season, a family privilege reserved for those of MacDonald blood, but I feel the ice cold stares of the matriarchal wing of my family whenever anyone asks for the recipe.  “I’ll just make you some”, I usually reply, unwilling to disturb those formidable women gone on before.  I have toyed with the idea of finally sharing these recipes by engraving them on my tombstone, thereby ending the secretiveness once and for all even as I ensure that my grave will be visited for years to come.

Above painting by P. J. Crook

I am once again honored to have been included in By Invitation Only, 
 the brainchild of Marsha Harris, creator of the beautiful blog, Splenderosa.  
You can find all the other essays on this month's topic of Sharing, HERE.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

I Credit My Father

I Credit My Father

As punctual as daybreak, as constant as the tides, it is a memory that returns to me every single time I walk along a lonely beach at twilight.  The wonderfully reliable recollection floods my senses and I find that, once again, it takes no effort to see myself as I once was -  a little girl, holding the hand of my father, trying without success to match his stride in the sand as we strolled along in the light of a setting seaside sun.  We would stand with our eyes on the dark stripe of horizon as the sea stole the sand away beneath our bare feet, grain by grain, as though in an hourglass, causing us to sidestep to firmer footing every minute or so.  The wind would whip and whisper. And my Father would tell me stories.

“Look”, he’d say.  “Way out there.  As far as you can see, and then a bit more.  Can you see it?”

“See what?”, I’d ask, my little eyes squinting as they stared at that mysterious place where sea becomes sky.

“Oh, there’s so much to see”, he’d reply.  “There are creatures, way down in the water, creatures taller than buildings, creatures that can fill up the sky.  Monsters and heroes, angels and witches, good things and bad things.”

“Dogs?”, I would ask, hopefully.

“Maybe, “ came the reply.

And I would stare and stare, my eyes stinging, with my little heart throbbing halfway in hope and halfway in fear.   And just the night took over the day, I would squeal....”I think I can see it, Daddy!  I see someone walking out over the sea!  Someone really big!  Can you see him??”

“Of course I can, Squirt.  You bet I can.”

Sometimes at night when Edward lays quietly beside me as I read before bed, I catch him looking up at me, his big brown eyes a mirror of his devoted soul, and I’m almost certain he’s getting ready to speak.  There is a part of me that would not be at all surprised.  I watch the crowds in airports, wondering which of these people might be in disguise.  Which ones are angels?  Who is here from a different time?    I think the owls speak in a lyrical language I have yet to learn.  I think there just might be those around me I cannot see, busying themselves in work of which I know nothing.  I don’t have to talk myself into this way of seeing the world; it is as much as part of me as breathing.  And of course, I credit my Father.

My imagination was awakened on those seaside walks when I was little.  My Father told me stories that erased a flat and monochrome world forever, stories that sparked and crackled as they opened door after door in the halls of my mind, doors that, once opened, can never be closed.  When I weary of a world too often as insipid as it is cruel, it is to these rooms that I flee, finding comfort in the colour inside them - the light, the knowledge, the joy.

A couple of weeks ago, I stood again by the sea in the blue black light of approaching darkness.  My Father has been gone from this world seven years now, but just as he taught me all those years ago, I watched the horizon - staring hard, eyes stinging - in anticipation, hope, and a little bit of fear.  And just as the stars began to prick through the blue velvet sky, I could see him.  Walking along the ribbon of night - as tall as a giant, as solid as a rainbow.

“Do you see him, Daddy?
“You bet I do, honey.  You bet I do.”

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Goodbye to Summer

Goodbye to Summer

In May the letters sat there, enervated and mute, awaiting our attention.  We scooped them, gathered them up one by one, like bouquets of perfect dahlias, arranging them carefully into the seasonal words we’ve loved for so long, words all the more evocative for the brevity they conveyed.  Honeysuckle.  Jasmine.  Watermelon.  Seaside. 
They are the words reserved for summer, and we anticipate the delight they bring us each year.

This summer, however, other hands were rummaging in the mountains of letters, seizing them in angry fistfuls, creating dark words that threatened to blot out the ones that we love.   Hateful words such as Ebola and ISIS.  Ferguson.  War. These rang in our ears with a leaden tone, bringing sorrow and fear with each reverberation.

In the past several weeks, I have stood at the edge of my country with my toes in the sand, looking far out to the Atlantic from the shores of both our northernmost east coast state and our southernmost.  On a white-washed afternoon in Maine, I stood on a shoreline dotted with lilac-coloured oyster shells and azure sea glass staring out past the ivory sails of tall schooners to the horizon beyond, knowing that, if only my eyes were magically stronger, I could watch as these same waters lapped up on the coastlines of France.  The same feeling came to me on the evening I walked along an empty Florida island beach as a setting sun turned the sky into a prismatic spectacle that was an utter privilege to behold.  As a salty wind whipped round me, I stopped to consider the darkening line betwixt sea and sky and wondered about the African eyes possibly staring back at me from across those very same seas.

It is clearer that ever to me that the world, once thought of as so vast and unknowable, is now so small and vitally interconnected.  Living in the city to which the two American Ebola victims were brought, and successfully treated, only served to illustrate how intertwined we all are.  Years ago, news of the horrors occurring in countries oceans away came to us weeks after the fact, if at all.  These days we know of them as they are happening.  The modern globe is a tiny one; we must accept.

September First has always seemed much more like New Year’s Day to me than the January one that bears the title.  So today I am waving goodbye to this summer that was with the  hope that, as I gather up fresh new letters to fashion the words for the season I love most - words such as Mittens and Firesides, Jack-o-Lanterns and Snow - I will find letters enough to spell out words for a new year's fresh start; words more eternal, more redemptive; words that remain unquestionable and true.
Justice and Peace. 
  And Love.

Take a deep breath.
A new season beckons us all.

 Islesboro, Maine