Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Books at Christmas - 2016

Books for Christmas - 2016

Ideally, there should be snow.  Not enough to make the way treacherous, for again, ideally, we’ll be walking, but enough to sugar dust the holly bushes and dance in the street light’s glow.  The windows of our destination should be atmospherically lit and, not unlike those of a sweet shop, designed and arranged with an artist’s eye to colour and shape.  We should linger there in the falling snow before we reach for the door.
There should be a bell on the door.  It should announce our arrival, not with the harsh clank of a cow’s pendant, but with a sound more akin to a fairy’s laugh.  There should be wooden floors, old and weathered wooden floors on which decades of shoppers have wandered through the aisles lost in contented concentration.  We should come up on a sleeping dog in a niche behind non-fiction and a large Persian cat should brush against our leg in cookery. 

The proprietor should be older, slightly mussed, with half-moon glasses perched on his nose and his knitted waistcoat haphazardly buttoned.  He should greet us warmly, though a tad absentmindedly.  He should also, like a soothsayer, know instinctively if we are in need of the perfect suggestion.
There should not be a cafe, nor should music be played over some tinny central speaker.  There should be a small radio underneath the counter, softly playing Bach, so softly the music seems to come from our own heads, unheard by others, the soundtrack to our own serenity.

And the books we find should be perfect.  So many that we start a small stack on the counter, the bespectacled owner nodding to himself each time we add another.   There should be books to teach and remind.  Books to lose oneself inside.  Books to take us on journeys impossible without the written word, with power to spirit us back in time, witnesses to history.  Their words should help us stand like a tree in the troubled present.  Through them, we should dream, we should remember, we should escape.
Each book should be wrapped in brown paper, tied with a red and white string, and placed in two large paper sacks.  The proprietor should give us a peppermint as we leave.   We should wish each other the compliments of the season.  The sound of fairy’s laughter should ring in our ears as we close the door behind us and head through the falling snow to the cafe on the corner where we would meet someone handsome and bearded for a hot chocolate and a bit of holiday cheer. 

Ideally, this should be Christmas shopping.

Here’s a list of recommendations for 2016. 
Some of these I’ve read, some I’ve yet to read. 
Some are older, some just published. 
Some are perfect for gifts, some are to keep for yourself. 
 And one I wrote myself. 
 The first line of each is included and, as always, 
click on the book to find out more.
Happy shopping! 

1.  Commonwealth
by Ann Patchett
“The christening party took a turn when Albert Cousins arrived with gin.”

2.  Being a Dog:
Following the Dog Into a World of Smell
by Alexandra Horowitz
“Finnegan’s is ebony black, moist and dappled, two cavernous bass clefs at its front.”

3.  Edward Speaks at Midnight
by Pamela Terry
“It was Christmas Eve and Edward, the big white dog, was underneath the piano, his head resting atop his furry paws.”

4.  English Houses
by Ben Pentreath
“Charlie and I live above the trees in an ancient, leafy London square.”

5.  The Handmaid’s Tale
by Margaret Atwood
“We slept in what had once been the gymnasium.”

6.  Upstream
by Mary Oliver
“In the beginning I was so young and such a stranger to myself I hardly existed.”

7.   Cecil Beaton At Home
by Andrew Ginger
“Taste breaks out of all rules; as soon as it is pigeon-holed it is dead.”

8.  The Moon Before Morning
by W. S. Merwin
“The sky said I am watching
to see what you 
can make out of nothing.”

9.  The Road to Character
by David Brooks
“On Sunday evenings my local NPR stations rebroadcasts old radio programs.”

10.  Nutshell
by Ian McEwan
“So here I am, upside down in a woman.”

11.  Hitler: Volume I: Ascent 1889-1939
by Volker Ullrich
“The fellow is a catastrophe, but that’s no reason not to find him interesting as a personality and destiny” wrote Thomas Mann in his essay, Brother Hitler, adding that no none should feel ‘above dealing with this murky figure.”

12.  Faithful
by Alice Hoffman
“In February, when the snow comes down hard,  little globes of light are left along Route 110, on the side of the road that slopes off when a driver least expects it.”

13.  The Underground Railroad
by Colson Whitehead
“Jockey’s birthday only came once or twice a year.”

14.  H is for Hawk
by Helen MacDonald
“Forty-five minutes northeast of Cambridge is a landscape I’ve come to love very much.”

15.  Mad Enchantment
Claude Monet and the Painting of the Water Lilies
by Ross King
"Where is Clemenceau?"

16.  Wanderlust
by Michelle Nussbaumer and Hutton Wilkinson 
“When my husband asked my father for my hand in marriage, my father said yes, but with a caveat, ‘as long as you don’t ever take my daughter away.”

17.  The Outrun
by Amy Liptrot
“On my first day back I shelter beside an old freezer, down by some stinging nettles, and watch the weather approach over the sea.”

 18.  Literary Wonderlands: 
A Journey Through the Greatest Fictional Worlds Ever Created
by Laura Miller, Lev Grossman,  John Sutherland and Tom Shippey

19.  Bedtime Stories
from Everyman's Pocket Classics
“There were once two little girls who saw, or believed they saw, a thing in a forest.”

20.  A Christmas Memory
by Truman Capote
“Imagine a morning in late November.”

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

A Handmade Life

Eoghain and Pamela, In the hills above Elgol, Isle of Skye, Scotland

A Handmade Life

The journey here (for journey is what one must call it) takes about an hour and a half, and though the scenery is stunning (stunning is the only word) I am questioned repeatedly about the veracity of my directions.  Mountains rise before us, craggy and imposing, their steep sides plunging into lochs and sea.  We drive through drizzle, rain, and sunshine all in the span of an hour.  As we near the edge of the island I spot a small sign and we turn, pointing our car upwards where, looking down, we spot a tiny cluster of white houses clinging to a hillside overlooking the sea.  We see a gate and I hop out to open it.  The Songwriter drives through, I close the gate and climb back inside.  There is a tiny car park underneath berry-laden bushes.  We make our way down a vertical drive and turn the corner to spot three hobbit-sized cottages, one of which bears the sign we’ve been looking for:  Skye Weavers. 

In this remote place, far removed from everything commerce is expected to require, we find some of the most gorgeous woven goods one could imagine, all created by a man on a bicycle.  Roger gets up each morning, leaves his lovely cottage and walks several feet into his loom shed where he climbs aboard the bicycle that powers his handmade loom and from this perch he creates some glorious things, pedaling all the day.  Shawls and scarves, blankets and gentlemen’s ties - each one a temptation impossible to resist.  Roger’s wife, Andrea, designs these treasures with a artist’s eye for colour and Roger weaves them, expertly.  Another tiny shed serves as the shop, a textural candy store where stacks of beautifully coloured items are arranged and displayed.  

“We inherited the cottage”, says Roger.  “It was our dream to make a living doing what we loved, but we didn’t know if that was possible this far away from everything.  But believe it or not, we’re doing alright.  The internet helps, of course.  It’s kind of amazing how many people find us out here.”

After making several needful purchases and being allowed to “drive” the loom for awhile - a thrill - we reluctantly left Roger and his wife on their idyllic hillside.  But their story has stayed with me, underlined as it was by other couples we met in the Scottish Hebrides this past September.  

Meet Clare and Iain, proprietors of our favorite tiny inn on Skye, Coruisk House.  Both successful lawyers in London, they followed their dream to one of the most glorious spots on earth several years ago, rescued an old house and transformed it into a lovely destination.  Here Iain indulges his guests with incredible meals each night and Clare bakes irresistible bread, watches the details and makes everyone welcome.  Along with their black lab, Reggie, they are intoxicatingly happy, one can tell.

There are the weavers on the Isle of Harris, each one an artist of the highest order.  From garden sheds and back rooms dotted all over the island they weave their intricately beautiful fabrics for internationally known Harris Tweed.  There is the couple who own Skye Pies, a tiny whitewashed cottage on the north end of the Isle of Skye where the line for lunch stretches halfway through the garden before they even open and where you can eat, truly, the most delectable pie you could possibly imagine, sweet or savoury.  All around the cafe are baskets of knitting and tools for embroidery for diners to pick up and continue.  The place positively crackles with creativity.  Then there are our good friends, Francis and Eoghain, living in paradise on a hillside on Skye, with no television or computer and no desire for either.  Each night they climb the hill to look out over the Black Cullins towards Loch Coruisk where, as Eoghain whispered to me when he took me up there, “The mountains are ebony and the water is silver.”  (See the photo above.)

 Since retuning home from Scotland I have thought a lot about the life these people have fashioned for themselves.  Hard work, really hard work, is no stranger to these people.  But each of them radiates utter peace and contentment, qualities so often elusive to modern life.  Their values run counter to the values most commonly prized; none of them would wish for a golden tower.  But oh, what bliss they’ve created.  What joy to be found in the handmade quality of their lives.

It is disconcerting that one of the most beautiful of words, Thanksgiving, is this week to be followed by that most mercenary of sobriquets, Black Friday.  Let others fill the shopping malls and crowd the highway lanes.  I may not live on a Scottish hillside, yet, but as best I can, I have molded my own handmade life right here at The House of Edward.  My friends will receive bits of love woven into their presents this Christmas, baked or knitted, written or wrapped.  It is possible even today, even here in a metropolis, to turn from the media’s definition of success, joke that it is, and embrace those activities that feed our souls.   Mulled wine nights by the fireside, with dreaming dogs dozing at our feet and good books in our hands.  Long walks in the crisp air.  Happy conversations over delicious dinners.  The wrapping of gifts that mean as much for us to give as they will for those who unwrap them.  Music in place of news.  Joy in place of worry.  Contentment in place of stress.  For some of us, this may be hard work, really hard work.  But the rewards, I assure you, far exceed any amount of effort.  

As Christmas approaches, the elves at Wild Bouquet Press are busy sending out orders for Edward Speaks at Midnight.  A truly handmade effort and one that both Edward and I are immensely proud of.  Beautifully illustrated, it is a window into our own Christmas here at The House of Edward and I hope it will find its way underneath many trees this year.

 You can find your copy HERE.

Happy Thanksgiving to you all.
I am forever so thankful for my readers.

Do some Christmas Shopping at Skye Weavers, HERE
and visit,

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

And So We Talk About Trees

Luskentyre Beach, Isle of Harris, Scotland

And So We Talk About Trees

When I began this blog back in 2008, my father had not been dead a year.  The world economy had taken a nosedive and halted my busy interior design practice in its tracks.  I took up writing again, a habit I had always enjoyed in the past, for something creative to do.   Funnily enough, the more I wrote the more I had to write about.  The House of Edward became a place for me to work out how I felt about things.  I found it enormously satisfying to capture and share the quiet little moments of beauty that I found in my everyday life.  And as is the case with Beauty, the more you notice and appreciate, the more is given to you. As my blog was a reflection of my life, there have been issues I’ve addressed here that sometimes deviated into darker waters, but these issues were, I felt, too vital to ignore while remaining true to the values I hold dear.  I have treasured my interactions with wonderful, interesting, funny, creative, precious people all across the globe and wouldn’t change these eight years for anything.

Last Wednesday, I awoke to a different world, in a country I no longer recognized.  I had heard for a long time that it would be impossible for the United States of America to elect the man we elected last week.  His campaign was considered laughable to most intelligent people of my acquaintance.  But I feared the worst.  For months I watched as he lifted the lid off vitriolic ugliness and hate, watched as those who harbored such dark feelings finally felt the validation they craved, watched as ignorance, racism and bigotry slithered from their dank hiding places to revel in the light of day.  I feared there were more of these people than our society realized and last week we saw that there were.  

America has now elected a man without even a rudimentary knowledge of our constitution or the way our government works.  We have elected a man devoid of empathy, respect and the most basic common decency.  How can we tell our children that these are the golden qualities necessary for humanity when the person who stands for our country devalues and disrespects them so utterly?  I am ashamed beyond measure; ashamed to be American, ashamed to be white, ashamed to call myself a Christian person when so many who profess that in kind supported this vile man whose every word and deed is utterly antithetical to those of Christ.  As it was in the civil rights battles of the 50’s and 60’s, the white evangelical church finds itself once again not only on the wrong side of history, but the wrong side of scripture as well.  A Christian person never stands on the same side as the Ku Klux Klan.  Never.  I can only pray that in their slavish devotion to the republican party those supporters of our now president-elect who also profess the Christian faith have not damaged the integrity of that faith forever.  Make no mistake, the face of Donald Trump is not the face of God.  God is love, not hate.  God is compassion, not ridicule.  God is mercy, not malevolence. God values wisdom, not ignorance.  Humility, not arrogance.  Kindness, not hostility.

I will be frank with you,  there were moments last week when it seemed to me impossible to continue with my little essays here when we stare into such a chasm as this.  The House of Edward appeared to my eyes almost unbearably trivial.  But then on Friday morning, I was sitting alone in a beautiful room high up in the mountains, awaiting the arrival of a group of fierce, intelligent women who were there for me to teach them Brioche knitting.  I felt depleted and fragile so I reached for my phone to call one of my good friends for a bit of encouragement and support.  This lady is a former client, we first met when I redecorated her house from top to bottom thirteen years ago. We became fast friends and she is a bright light in my life.  A merry, gracious, elderly lady who radiates God’s love and wisdom through every pore of her being, and whose life is spent doing good for other people - joyfully, gleefully, with great humor and mischievous spunk.  I always leave her side bolstered and completely certain of the goodness in the world.  I listened as the phone rang and a strange voice answered.  I asked to speak to my friend and was told she had died on election day.  My knees buckled and I began to weep.

My first inclination was to grab my bags and flee.  I paced the empty room like a caged animal for several long minutes.  Then I saw her face in front of me and I knew I couldn’t run.  She would have been furious if I’d even tried.  The only thing I could do was share my knowledge with these women.  That’s what I was there for - that’s what I’m here for - to give what I can of myself to make someone else’s world a little bit more beautiful.  And I suppose that’s when I decided to continue on with this blog.  It may not seem like much in the face of a world so ugly and mean, but it’s all I have.  And it seems somehow necessary, now more than ever.

Who knows what we will face in the coming four years.  I confess I am daily working to stem the flow of dread and keep my head above water as events continue to unfold.  But now more than ever it seem to me important to hold up our little wild bouquets of Goodness, Beauty and Light.   It remains my hope that this blog, trivial though it may be, will continue to be a soft place to land for the weary, a place to laugh - and occasionally cry - and a place to stand up for the values so essential to the human spirit.  A place where, as the poet says below, we can always talk about trees.

Much love, 
Pamela, and Edward too

What Kind of Times Are These
by Adrienne Rich

There's a place between two stands of trees where the grass grows uphill
and the old revolutionary road breaks off into shadows
near a meeting-house abandoned by the persecuted
who disappeared into those shadows.

I've walked there picking mushrooms at the edge of dread, but don't be fooled
this isn't a Russian poem, this is not somewhere else but here,
our country moving closer to its own truth and dread,
its own ways of making people disappear.

I won't tell you where the place is, the dark mesh of the woods
meeting the unmarked strip of light—
ghost-ridden crossroads, leafmold paradise:
I know already who wants to buy it, sell it, make it disappear.

And I won't tell you where it is, so why do I tell you
anything? Because you still listen, because in times like these
to have you listen at all, it's necessary
to talk about trees.

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Sometimes the Poets Say it Best

Sometimes the Poets Say it Best

Of History and Hope
By Miller Williams

We have memorized America, 
how it was born and who we have been and where. 
In ceremonies and silence we say the words, 
telling the stories, singing the old songs. 
We like the places they take us. Mostly we do. 
The great and all the anonymous dead are there. 
We know the sound of all the sounds we brought. 
The rich taste of it is on our tongues. 
But where are we going to be, and why, and who? 
The disenfranchised dead want to know. 
We mean to be the people we meant to be, 
to keep on going where we meant to go. 

But how do we fashion the future? Who can say how 
except in the minds of those who will call it Now? 
The children. The children. And how does our garden grow? 
With waving hands—oh, rarely in a row— 
and flowering faces. And brambles, that we can no longer allow. 

Who were many people coming together 
cannot become one people falling apart. 
Who dreamed for every child an even chance 
cannot let luck alone turn doorknobs or not. 
Whose law was never so much of the hand as the head 
cannot let chaos make its way to the heart. 
Who have seen learning struggle from teacher to child 
cannot let ignorance spread itself like rot. 
We know what we have done and what we have said, 
and how we have grown, degree by slow degree, 
believing ourselves toward all we have tried to become— 
just and compassionate, equal, able, and free. 

All this in the hands of children, eyes already set 
on a land we never can visit—it isn’t there yet— 
but looking through their eyes, we can see 
what our long gift to them may come to be. 
If we can truly remember, they will not forget.

Here in America, we are standing on a knife edge.  One wrong step and this grand experiment could be lost forever.  Please vote on Tuesday, and please vote wisely.  If you’re outside of the states, a few prayers would be appreciated.  If you need further explanation, this post will help explain.

Painting above:
Our Banner in the Sky
by Frederic Edwin Church