Saturday, September 26, 2015

Just a Wee Bit of Scotland... The List Begins

Just a Wee Bit of Scotland - The List Begins…
It is one of the downsides of travel.  Jet lag:  that feeling that creeps over your shoulder before the sun is down and insists you turn in for the night, or bounces on your bed at three am, intent on waking you up.  (Clarification:  Wilmont is just tired from a hike in the photo above.  He’s never been a victim of jet lag in his life.)   Since returning from Scotland I have been held captive by this gremlin; I actually went to bed the other night at eight-thirty, something I’ve not done since I was six.  But the fog is beginning to lift and I’m slowly returning to the land of the living.  Although I hasten to add, it is a reluctant re-entry.  This journey to Scotland, with a little icing of London to make it even sweeter, was so perfect, I find I’m frequently still there in my head.  And so much so in my soul. 
I know I probably prattle on about Scotland too much for some of you,
 but I’m going to risk it one more time by sharing a few special places
 I discovered this time out.
  Please indulge me. 
We’ll do London next!

Skye Pie Cafe
There’s a lot of what’s termed “social media” that I don’t participate in.  I don’t have a Facebook page.  Snapchat doesn’t interest me, and I consider a “selfie-stick” to be tangible evidence of the end times.  But boy, have I enjoyed Instagram.  Just pretty, inspiring photographs from people with fascinating viewpoints and eyes for beauty.  I’ve loved sharing some of the crystalline moments of my journeys that would otherwise be lost in the course of an ordinary day.  I particularly loved sharing my latest expedition to Scotland and London.  One of the special people on Instagram commented on a post I left before leaving for Scotland, telling me that I must visit a place called Skye Pie Cafe.  (Thank you so much, Christi.  Find her page HERE. She’s a wonderful photographer.)  So, I filed that tidbit away in my head and on a brilliantly bright morning as The Songwriter and I made our way up the Isle of Skye on the way to the Quirang, we found Skye Pie Cafe waiting for us on the Staffin Road.  Pulling in, I was immediately charmed by the whitewashed cottage with flowers blooming beneath the blue, blue sky.  
But when I entered, I was tickled beyond belief.

  All my favorite things gathered under one roof.

  A fascinating art gallery. 

Delightful rooms with bowls of yarn and knitting needles sitting on each table so you can knit whilst waiting for your pie.  You can also embroider your name and hang it from the ceiling.  When I was there the collective knitting project was blankets for the refugees, so as The Songwriter placed our order for lunch, I snooped around a bit and then sat down to knit my contribution.

 All is light and beauty and friendliness.  Just look at the dye/creative stuff room above!
 I was in heaven.  The Songwriter practically had to pull me out of there.  A little later,  when we arrived atop the Quirang, we found it to be the perfect spot for a picnic of Skye Pie.... 

And that pie?  Absolutely transcendent.
I also found out, you can actually stay there, too!
Next time, guys!
Find the Skye Pie Cafe, HERE.

Shilasdair Yarns
Okay, so I’ve mentioned Shilasdair Yarns before.   It’s one of my favorite places on earth.  The setting is unsurpassed, sitting as it does on the tip on the Waternish peninsula with views that stop my breath cold and make my heart sing symphonies.  It’s also the tiny building that made me learn to knit.  I first entered it on a bright, quiet morning about a dozen years ago and felt as though I had walked into a magical box of colour.

  All over the walls, on tables and tucked into cubbyholes, were the most glorious colours of yarn I’d ever seen.  I was speechless and horrified at my massive ineptitude.  I didn’t know how to knit, so couldn’t do a blessed thing with the treasures I saw before me.  Right then and there, I made a vow to myself.  I would learn to knit, and knit well, and I would return to Shilasdair to purchase some of this gorgeous yarn.  I did, and I have, several times. 
But this time was special.

Shilasdair was created by a woman named Eva Lambert.  Eva arrived on Waternish in the late sixties after attending university in Scotland and spending time in Turkey where she became obsessed with textiles and colours.  I can only imagine how remote Waternish must have felt back then.  She moved into a tiny cottage ( that I’d give my shoes for) and set up shop.  She had her own sheep and soon created a dye garden from which she would extract the marvelous colors for her yarns. 

Today, many years later, she is known as a wizard of colour, still dyeing all the yarn herself using natural dyes from all the growing things around her.  This gives the yarn such individuality and depth, you cannot imagine how amazing the colours are.   When the Victoria and Albert Museum commissioned new linens for The Great Bed of Ware, it was to Eva they turned for the dyeing.  She is brilliant, and a treasure.
This time when I was there the sun was shining as it rarely does in this part of the world.  There was a soft breeze and the air smelled of salt and heather.  As I poked blissfully around inside the shop I heard The Songwriter (who’d been taking photos of the magnificent sea just below) talking to someone outside.  When I finally pulled myself away, swinging a bagful of lilac-coloured yarn on my arm, he said, “I think I just met your lady.”
“What?!”, I sputtered.  “That’s like me meeting Paul McCartney and you knowing nothing about it!”.

Yes, dear reader, I became a fan and marched up to the dyeing shed where I met Eva’s handsome husband and asked as sweetly as I could if it would be possible to say hello to her.  He smiled and took me to her.  We had a lovely conversation.  I told her it was because of her that I learned to knit.   We laughed.  We talked about colour, about Turkey, about Skye.  I felt like the luckiest girl on the planet.  You can see from my big ole' goofy grin exactly how tickled I was.

If you’re a knitter, or a lover of colour, or just an admirer of someone who created a marvelous, inventive life on the edge of the world, you must visit Shilasdair Yarns on the Waternish Peninsula of the Isle of Skye.  You simply must.
If you cannot visit in person, but would like some of the glorious yarn, 
the website is HERE.
Oh and to prove I did what I vowed to do... yes, I knitted the shawl I'm wearing above and also... so proud... this scarf to wear in the Scottish landscape. 
 It matched perfectly!


Coruisk House
For years The Songwriter and I have tried to hike into the edge of the Black Cuillin Mountains to reach Loch Coruisk.  We’ve never managed it.  You see, you have to take a boat there.  The boat drops you off and you hike and hike till you reach an isolated spot that has captured the imagination of countless artists and composers for centuries.

But on every trip we’ve taken to Skye, the changeable weather has held up a blue hand to stop us from sailing.  Either it was too bad to leave, or forecasted to be too bad to get back.  But, ever optimistic, we have continued to try.  This time was the charm however, and we spent one of the most incredible days of our lives there.  We felt like the only two people alive as we reached the loch and sat beside it, stunned at the view in front of us. 

Needless to say, we were pooped, with wind-chapped cheeks
 and sun-bleached hair, when we arrived back at the dock.
  Fortunately, we had an evening at Coruisk House awaiting us.

We discovered Coruisk House a couple of years ago and are so happy to have done so.  It’s run by a charmingly talented couple, Clare and Iain, who chucked successful London lives to pursue their dreams in Scotland.  I already loved them as soon as I heard this.

Coruisk House is known as a restaurant with rooms, but I’d say both experiences - the dining and the staying - are equally delightful.  The old cottage has been lovingly restored by Clare and Iain, and it’s just the perfect storybook place.  The staircase we climb to our room is small and atmospheric and when we enter our room, with its four-poster bed and dark sheepskin rugs, we feel utterly comfortable and cosseted.  

There are tiny details of delight everywhere you look. 

A bowl of fresh, crisp apples to tide us over till dinner. 
Scottish books on the windowsill.  Hot cocoa makings in the corner. 
A gorgeous mohair throw across the fat bed that I was sorely tempted 
to “mistakenly” stick in my suitcase.

Dinner is the most delicious event of the day.  Iain does the cooking (though I hasten to add that Clare makes some of the most mouth-watering bread I have ever eaten) and The Songwriter said as we climbed up the stairs to sleep… “That was one of the best meals I’ve ever eaten in my whole life”.  
Coruisk House is one of those rare finds along the way
 that make a perfect trip even better.  
 You can find it HERE

The Fairy Glen
You may have noticed in some of these photos how brilliantly blue the sky is.  This remarkable weather condition was a constant throughout our entire trip to Scotland.  It was jaw-dropping, both in beauty and in rarity.  Though I’m one of those people who adore the cold and misty Scotland, I have to say that this perfectly salubrious weather allowed us to experience things we’ve never been able to indulge in before.  One of such halcyon moments was our afternoon in The Fairy Glen on Skye. 

The Fairy Glen is a unique and bewitching place.  An unusual formation of land that captivates the imagination like no other.  We’ve admired it before from the roadside; the weather being too prohibitive for a climb up.  But this time…. oh boy, did we love it.   I highly recommend this if you’re ever on this spectacular Scottish island.

Inside are circles of “fairy” stones that snare the senses.

I climbed to the top and sat for a long while.
Imagining and wondering.
A gift indeed.

Hopefully, you can see a bit of why I love Scotland so very much.
Would you like to see some special bits of London next?

Friday, September 11, 2015

What Am I Afraid Of.... A Dispatch From Scotland

White Sands Beach, Isle of Iona, Scotland

What Am I Afraid Of?
A Dispatch From Scotland
(For By Invitation Only)

The branch of the sweet gum tree bounced in the wind just outside our kitchen window.  For days my Mother and I had watched the robins come and go as they fed what was obviously a full nest of new babies.  I was little, I was fascinated, and I was bubbling over with curiosity.  I wanted to see inside that nest.  It was so easy for me to imagine fluffy yellow little birds, the sort that dipped and darted round Snow White as she skipped through the Disney forest.  Or the bright baby blue ones that helped dress Cinderella for the ball.   So finally, my Father took me outside and lifted me high in the air… up, up… to the nest of baby birds.  
No sooner were my eyes level with that nest then they were met with a 
scene so horrific I could only give that silent, Munch-like scream of the truly terrified.  Four hideous heads - if one could accurately call them heads, for they resembled nothing so recognizable to me - sprung up before me, sharply pointed mouths agape - squealing like spectres from hell itself .  These were not the birds of fairy tales, oh, no. These were creatures of Lovecraft and Poe and thus, this was the very first time I remember experiencing fear.  I did not like it one bit.  I still prefer to watch birds from a respectful distance.  

As I grew older I developed categories of fright.   Waterbugs and snakes were somewhere near the top of the list and invisible beings lurking beneath the bed rated highly.  Spiders were ranked according to size while sharks and horror movies, both terrifying, were both easy to avoid and were consequently regulated to the bottom of the list.   These were the frights of childhood, but as we clock more and more time here on Earth, those little scares and starts begin to coalesce into something more nebulous, more insidious and more internal - they become fear.

 To be human is to have known fear.  That grey shroud that cloaks the mind, erasing any hopeful feeling, deleting any comforting word.  It is the nadir of human emotion and we flee from it with justification.  But through the years I’ve come to realize that greatest thing I fear, is that very feeling of fear.  Roosevelt had it exactly right.   Rarely does the thing I fear equal the fear that I’ve felt anticipating it.   Even excruciating loss - so dreaded, so black -  has distilled into gratitude, bringing with it the comfort of memory and deep, abiding hope.  Crossing each and every frightful bridge has only given me a surer step.  Though, granted, it is difficult to remember this when that feeling of fear descends on the soul.

There are places on earth where the veil betwixt heaven and earth becomes sheer as gossamer.  I have stood in one such place this week, on the strange and holy white shores of the Isle of Iona, in the northwest of Scotland.  It was a luxury to ponder the question posed by this post in such a place as this for in this setting where the path between the ages seems clearly marked and beckoning I can see quite clearly that, at this point in my journey, the only real thing I truly fear is regret.  The ignored invitation, the shunned experience.

There were fat fluffy clouds in the blue, blue sky as I made my way along the path to the sea on Iona.  As I crossed a sheep-speckled meadow, I passed two elderly women going the opposite way and overheard one say to the other as she pointed to a blanket of bright sunlight illuminating the violet hues of the mountains across the sound on the Isle of Mull.  “See that?  That’s the pearl of great price.  You wait all day for a view like that and so many people just walk past and never notice”. 

A life half lived.
That’s what I’m afraid of.  So I notice.  I appreciate.  I am grateful.
 I hold both arms as wide open as I can to gather in all the beauty around me. 
 It’s there for all of us.
Find lots of other interesting takes on this topic HERE
And to see more of my Scottish journey, look HERE

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Farewell To Summer... A Big Fat List of Good Things

Farewell to Summer
A Big Fat List of Good Things
There's a mustard stain on my white linen shirt,
a hole in the toe of my espadrilles.  
The jewel tones of the garden have been bleached to pastel 
and all of the robins have flown.  
 Yesterday I bought a candle that smells like autumn.   I’ve loosened my hair from its three month knot and I’ve opened up all of the windows.  Edward has that familiar autumnal spring in his step once more.  We are saying farewell to summer.

Here’s a list for the transition of summer to fall.
Such an invigorating time of year, don’t you agree?

1.  Arthur and George
While watching Poldark this summer I chanced to see a preview of the upcoming BBC production of Arthur and George.  An adaptation of the novel by Julian Barnes, Arthur and George was quite a sensation when it was published in 2006.  Trouble is, I missed it.  So I grabbed it up and took it to the beach with me earlier this month and could not put it down.  Do yourself a favour…. if you’ve not read Arthur and George, do it now!  Before it shows up on Masterpiece Theatre later this fall.  Martin Clunes is going to be pitch perfect as Arthur.
Find the book HERE.  
If you're lucky enough to find a hardback, it has a gorgeous cover.
Also, for an eerie, spooky, midnight read... try THIS BOOK.
And for a delightful love story... try THIS ONE.

2.  Brioche Knitting
Late in the spring I happened to come across this pattern and my heart did a back flip.  I had to learn to make this.  Little did I know at the time, I was looking at a two-colour brioche scarf, a knitting technique of which I knew nothing.  So I set about learning. I sat by the beach (see the photo at the top....the perfect place to learn)  and knitted and ripped, knitted and ripped.   Two Colour brioche is a complicated stitch, there’s no denying, and I probably invented some brand new bad words during my learning phase.  But when the penny drops, so to speak, it’s fairly simple and really a lot of fun to do.  I’ve completed four Brioche scarves this summer.  
Here’s Edward modeling the second one!
The best book on Brioche is THIS ONE.
Try it!
3.  Beans!
Everyone knows that beans are good. 
 High in protein, something that’s essential for energy and good health.
 And a tasty, welcome alternative to meat.
  I came across this recipe this summer and tried it. 
 And it smells so good while it’s cooking. 
 The perfect dish for fall.
Find the recipe HERE.
Note:  I only used fresh beans here.  Fresh garlic, instead of powdered, too. And not as much bacon as the recipe calls for. 

4.  The Picture of August.
I couldn’t resist posting this photograph.
  Taken during the Dog Days of August when it was so sweltering outside,
 afternoon walks were excruciating.  
Edward dozing on my foot.  
Lazy, contented, and daydreaming of snow.  
The very picture of August.
5.  London Scarf
For those of us who love London…
this scarf seems perfect for every single day of autumn.
Find it HERE
6.  Birthdays
So many of my friends have birthdays in summer.
This video is for them.
Words to remember because life is so short.
7.  Skirt
I’m kinda crazy for this skirt.
With a black sweater?
It satisfies by Bloomsbury longings a bit.
Find it HERE
8.  Back to School
Despite the fact that I believe that school should begin promptly on September 1st, just like it does at Hogwarts, the children in my neighbourhood have been back in school for a month now.  No matter, my longing for school supplies never kicks in till September, but when it does… pencils and pens, notebooks and journals… I’m a sucker for all of these.  
Love these little notebooks for a bit of whimsy on an ordinary day….
Find them HERE
and love these gorgeous pencils….
Find them HERE.
9.  The Poetry of Trees
Edward and I are so fortunate to live beneath these tall trees.  I fill the house with fresh flowers every week but I can never match the beauty they provide every day, just outside my windows.  The myriad of greens of springtime, the emeralds of summer.  The elegant minimalism of winter.  And soon, very soon, the dazzling colours of fall.  Alive, always changing, they are old friends who surround us with beauty.  Their branches hold songbirds and owls, the wind plays symphonies when it rushes through their leaves.  On a dark, windy night last week, when a full fat moon painted fingers of shadow on the floor of my screened porch, I read this poem.  And understood.

The Country of the Trees 
by Mary Oliver
 from her book Blue Horses

There is no king in their country
and there is no queen
and there are no princes vying for power, 
inventing corruption.
Just as with us many children are born
and some will live and some will die and the country
will continue.

The weather will always be important.

And there will always be room for the weak, the violets
and the bloodroot.
When it is cold they will be given blankets of leaves.
When it is hot they will be given shade.
And not out of guilt, neither for a year-end deduction
but maybe for the cheer of their colors, their
small flower faces.

They are not like us.

Some will perish to become houses or barns, 
fences and bridges.
Others will endure past the counting of years.
And none will ever speak a single word of complaint, 
as though language, after all, 
did not work well enough, was only an early stage.
Neither do they ever have any questions to the gods -
which one is the real one, and what is the plan.
As though they have been told everything already, 
and are content.

10.  Another Journey
I’m heading back to my favorite place on the planet.
Follow the journey on Instagram, HERE
I’ll be in touch!