Sunday, November 23, 2014

Never Too Soon.... A Holiday List

Never Too Soon…. a Holiday List
For the past week or so, I have noticed heralds of the festive season materializing all around me like shiny gifts from fairies unseen.  I don’t mean any sort of those commercial fripperies of red and green that went up months ago in the merchant’s effort to snare as many early shoppers as possible. No, I speak of the beribboned wreath on the ordinary door.  The bejeweled fir tree in the cottage window.  Overnight, it seems, Christmas has drifted down through the frosted air, more premature than punctual, but no less welcome to my soul.  These early adornments have only served to validate a personal theory;  one possessing neither scientific merit nor scholarly sanction, but one that I’ve fervently believed in for ages:  The harder the year, the earlier the Christmas decorations.

The news of 2014 has often been hard to bear.  So much violence, so much sickness, so much despair.  In years such as this, it seems an almost unconscious yearning for the hope and goodwill of Christmas permeates our hearts.  We long for the beauty of twinkling lights and crackling fires, gaily wrapped presents and happy faces.  We want to hear carols and taste chocolate.  We want to give gifts to those we love.  Whether the reds and greens of Christmas or the blues and silvers of Hanukkah, we want color, lots of color, to challenge the grey of the news.  

One of the most magnificent things about the holiday season is its consistency.  No matter what happens - no matter how we feel, or what we think - it always arrives this time of year with all the warmth and delight of our childhood.  It is up to us to welcome it in.  And this year, like so many of those around me it seems, I am throwing open my doors early.  Benjamin Britten is playing, fires are crackling in the old stone fireplace.  I’ve begun my Christmas cards and, in anticipation for a Thanksgiving night party, The Songwriter is on the tall ladder stringing lights on the giant fir tree that stands guard by the front porch.  Even the weather seems ready; it’s colder than ever this year.

So… to help get you started on the holidays… here’s a wee list of wonderful things.  Oh, there will be more lists as the season unfurls, but these are a few early ideas that I couldn’t resist.  Have fun!  and Happy Holidays!

1.  Owl
There are birds, collected over many years, 
that roost in the branches of my sitting room Christmas tree.
  Pheasants and Cardinals, Lovebirds and Owls.
Lots of Owls.
This one is amazing.
Find him HERE.

2.  Slippers
I've just ordered a pair of these for myself.
For fireside sitting.
Edward will, no doubt, use one for a pillow.
Find them HERE.

3.  Pajamas
These are my favorite winter pajamas.
Perfect for addressing cards, wrapping presents,
dashing outside for another log for the fire, 
stirring fudge, napping,
curling up to watch Miracle on 34th Street (the old black and white version, naturally),
  and yes, sleeping.
Love them!
Find them HERE

4.  Set of Boxes
For love letters, postcards, 
photos, feathers...
or that secret stash of chocolate.
Love these.
Find them HERE.

5.  Embossing Rolling Pin
Isn't this a fabulous idea?
Imagine your holiday cookies embossed with festive patterns.
There's even a houndstooth design.
Find them HERE.

6.  Polar Bear Puppet
He looks so much like Edward, 
it was all I could do not to order him for myself!
Find him, and many more,  HERE.

7.  Tartan Shawl
What can I say?
This makes me swoon.
Find it HERE

8.  Dog Tags
Lots of parties, lots of opening doors.
Lots of opportunities for gregarious dogs to run outside to places unknown.
These are a brilliant idea.
Find them HERE.

9. Santa Mugs
For the Party!!
Love these.
Find them HERE.

10.  Little Reading Mouse
I'm utterly besotted with these.
Cutest things ever.
Perhaps a collection?
Created by artist Johana Molina, you can
Find them HERE.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Three Little Words

Three Little Words

Here in the states the countdown to the festive season has begun in earnest.  In the NY Times yesterday, I read an article about a woman in Natchez Mississippi who is expecting one hundred and forty-five people for Thanksgiving dinner.   Needless to say, she has been preparing for this annually performed culinary feat since before Halloween.  Everywhere I looked today I saw women with lists - checking things off, getting ready - secure in the knowledge that the majority of holiday tasks will fall to them no matter what other responsibilities they may have. 

On my recent journey to the Shetland Islands, I took a Fair Isle knitting class in which I was introduced to an odd object called a “knitting belt”, a horsehair-filled leather pouch dotted with holes in which to stick one’s knitting needles.  Women used to employ these, and many still do, so that they could knit whilst keeping one hand free to perform other tasks such as cooking, laundry and gardening, a triumph of dexterity that boggles the mind. 

We women are remarkable creatures.  Whilst our male friends may occasionally speak of “multi-tasking” as a notable skill, we know it to be a way of life.  We are well acquainted with doing many things at once, and I might add, doing them pretty doggone well.  We have evolved to a point where we take pride in our independence and self-reliance, comfortably confident in our intelligence and our abilities.  And yet….

Last week during my knitting group, Whiskyknitters, I listened as several women debated a recent article that has been making the internet rounds.  The article, written by a man, took on the topic of the three sexiest words a man can say to a woman.  “I Love You”?  Nope.  “You look beautiful?”  Not even close.  No, after speaking with his women friends he had figured out that the three words that tend to make a woman swoon are, “I Got This.”

My fellow Whiskyknitters are all confident, competent women but I watched with interest as each got a faraway, wistful look in her eyes as she contemplated these three little words.  Said one, “Look, I’m perfectly capable of doing whatever needs to be done, but if someone could occasionally step up and take something off my plate, well gosh.. I’d love that.”
    I polled other woman this week on the same issue and watched as each took on that same wistful stare when contemplating a man who would sometimes say to them, 
“Don’t worry.  I got this.”

We woman can do it all.  We can cook and clean, we can write and paint.  We can run businesses and countries.  We can care for children and aging parents.  We sing.  We dance.  We think.  We create.  We discover. One of use may even be the next president.  Our worth is equal to men in every way and should of course be valued as such.  But, as this article points out, there is a difference in masculine and feminine and I wonder if we may have occasionally ignored this in our effort to rise to our rightful place of equality. 
I would love to hear what you think. 
 I Got This. 
Do those three little words make you swoon?

“After all, Ginger Rogers did everything Fred Astaire did,
 except she did it backwards and in high heels.”
Ann Richards

(Read the article for yourself, HERE, and let's talk.  
I promise to answer every comment on this post.)

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

The Happiest Day

The Happiest Day

The London Underground is a marvel of construction, moving countless travelers hither and yon safely and in relative comfort. Mind you, I am well aware that my limited experience with this particular public transport may render my fairly positive review suspect to the many Londoners who use it every day, but on the occasions I’ve opted for tube over taxi I’ve found it to be an efficient, if not especially aesthetic, choice.  

On a warm morning last month, I hopped on the District Line at Sloane Square en route to South Kensington station where I began the long walk through the tunnel that leads directly into the V and A Museum.  The tunnel is not very attractive and no doubt would elicit feelings of claustrophobia in those with even the slightest leanings in that direction.  A few moments inside its tiled walls made me long for fresh air.  I had stepped up my pace as I made my way through the twists and turns, anxious to get my trek over with as quickly as possible, when I became aware of a heavenly sound.  Lilting, silvery notes, as harmonious to the ear as they were incongruous with the setting, were flowing through the tunnel, reflecting off every subway tile in overlapping echoes of beauty.  A violinist was playing Mozart.   And in a twinkling, the nondescript became celestial.

It is perhaps the gift of the grateful to be blessed with armloads of “happiest” days.  Ever since I received the email with this month’s BIO topic, I have been rifling through my memories in a concentrated effort to pull out the best one to share.   My wedding day, all red roses, winter cold and candlelight?  The night we brought a tired and hungry Edward home to stay and watched as he curled up contentedly beside the Christmas tree?  The recent afternoon I sat on a ledge in Glencoe, thrilled with the magnificence laid out before me?  But try as I might, I could not manage to silence the song that violin sang out deep beneath the grey of a London street.   

The happiest lives belong to those who own the happiest days.  There are the gilded days - weddings and births, Christmas and holidays - that take their rightful places on pedestals in our memories.  But if we can manage to find beauty and happiness in the midst of the everyday, then we are truly fortunate indeed. 

The sky today was storybook blue.  The trees were scarlet and golden.  It was warm enough to drive with my windows down and as I sat at a red light on a leafy street, a sunbeam fell into my car.  I closed my eyes and lifted my face to the light as it painted bright pictures on the inside of my eyelids.   I laughed a lot today.  I ran into an old friend at the market.   I walked Edward at dusk and was rewarded with many a furry smile as I did so.  I ate a Honeycrisp apple for dessert tonight.  It was crunchy, juicy, sweet.  I told people I loved them and was told the same by others.  
And I could swear I heard a violin playing all day long.  
It was the happiest day.

To read the other essays on The Happiest Day, 

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Strangers in a Crowd

Strangers in a Crowd

Outside the heavy doors of Fortnum and Mason I paused to readjust my packages.  Despite every honest intention to travel as lightly as possible, I hadn’t been made of the sort of stuff strong enough to resist the charms of Persephone Books, or, I’m sorry to say, the enticements found tucked within the V and A gift shop, and was now significantly more heavy laden than I’d planned to be.  Looking for an open slot, I dove into the London crowd with what I hoped was all the confidence of a local and, shoulder to shoulder, we wove our  lava-like way to the corner.  

After many holidays in London, I believe I have finally learned the city’s most vital lesson: Always Look to the Right Before Crossing the Street. This sounds easy enough, but for an American in London whose every instinct is screaming at them to do otherwise, looking right before crossing is a skill to be mastered.  It is, of course, much easier just to wait for the little green man, that pixelated fellow atop the metal pole at most crossings in the heart of the city.  The red man means stay where you are; the green man lets you go in relative safely.  

So here I stood, at the busy crossing just down from Fortnum’s, lost in deciding just where to have tea, while The Red Man glowed warningly above.  Then, instinctively, with my one free hand I reached for the arm of the gentleman in front of me, who had suddenly made a definitive move to cross the street.

“Whoa there!  That’s how people get squished!”, I said as, sure enough, a sleek sports car  took the turn in a blur of speed.

He was a slight, elderly fellow, clad in an impeccable suit complete with a tweed hat tilted slightly to one side atop his head. He turned to look at me and I instantly thought of an owl.  When he spoke, his accent called forth European winters, foggy chocolate shop windows and Strauss waltzes.  Grinning at me in that way Europeans have of grinning at over-gregarious Americans, Americans who possess the appropriate amount of audacity required to grab a stranger’s suit sleeve in the middle of a busy street, he said,  “I suppose you’re right.  But you see, I am an Austrian on holiday.  If it is two in the morning on an empty street, an Austrian will still stand there and wait for the little green man to tell him he can cross.  But, as I said, I am an Austrian on holiday, so I run across when I like today.”

  “Yes, I see”, I replied, “but as I said, that’s precisely how one gets squished in London.”

We both laughed and as we did, the little green man suddenly shone from above. The crowd flowed on, jostling and nudging, separating us.  Then just ahead,  I caught a glimpse of the elderly Austrian as his face popped up midst the sea of backs and shoulders.  He was waving at me.  In a loud voice he called across the moving crowd, smiling, “It was so good to talk with you!!”.
“Yes, you, too, “ I sang back.

There are plenty of times when I am embarrassed to be American.  Perhaps I’m overly critical but in my experience, if a flight is cancelled, it is usually the Americans who pitch a cringe-worthy fit.  Like large-footed hound dog puppies we are known, sometimes rightfully, for being a bit too boisterous, a bit too effusive, a bit too demanding, a bit too… too much.  All this, and other more egregious characteristics, can well be true.  But we are also known for never really meeting strangers, a quality that can disarm even the crustiest soul.  Stemming more from a love of observation rather than from any degree of shyness, I tend to be a version of the fairly quiet American. But like any card carrying member of the United States, I never hesitate to strike up conversations when I travel and have consequently been gifted with truly fascinating encounters. 

There was the taxi driver in Edinburgh who invited me to his family’s house for tea.  (No, I didn’t go, but still.)   There was the lady who invited me to spend the night at her house in Glasgow when The Songwriter landed in the hospital after a broken ankle.  (No, I didn’t go, but still.)  I have shared photos of Edward with couples in cafes, who've reciprocated with photos, and stories, of their own big furry dogs.  I have been given directions to far away yarn shops and book shops, places I’d never known of but for a chance encounter with a stranger.  An elderly lady in the gorgeous cafe at the Wallace Collection took off her oxfords and showed me the best socks to buy if I intended to walk a lot.  (Which I did.)  I’ve had lunch with an adorable honeymoon couple in Savannah and had a friendly argument with a waiter in Hollywood over which actor best played Dr. Watson in the Jeremy Brett Sherlock Holmes series. (Edward Hardwicke, without question.)  Striking up a conversation with an unassuming lady in Oban, I learned she was a theater manager in New York and I was delighted to hear a wonderful story about Vanessa Redgrave.  (Yes, she’s just as amazing as I’d thought.)

These encounters have been the icing atop any glorious holiday I’ve taken.  They have made the world less forbidding, they have smoothed the chaos and tuned the cacophony of crowds to a more harmonious song.  They remind me that, really, we are all so very much alike as we try to make our way across this planet.

Be not forgetful to entertain strangers, 
for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.
Hebrews 13:2

Saturday, November 1, 2014

A Little Tale for Halloween.... A Murder of Crows

A Little Tale For Halloween

A Murder of Crows
The afternoon of Halloween found Albert Dalrymple back in the waiting room, watching the clock and carelessly drawing a caricature of the woman across from him on the back of the grocery list he held in his lap.  She was a large woman, all creases and folds, and she was at this moment rifling through her incongruously tiny handbag in search of … what?  Her face gathered itself up in corrugations of concentration while Albert stared.  Then like a falling cake, she softened with the satisfaction of discovery and pulled out a fan.  Pleated and black as a crow’s wing, she flipped it open with all the flourish of a magician’s assistant, and began waving it in front of her face,  revealing the words, See Rock City, printed along the side in the color of blood. Swooshswooshswoosh. The mental image of Tidy, his brother's oxymoronically named terrier, flashed in front of Albert’s eyes.  Tidy’s tail wagged at that precise speed.

“Hot, ain’t it?”, the large woman asked to the room in general.  No one looked up to meet her gaze as it fell on each of them in turn.  Albert had the misfortune of being the only one slow enough, or curious enough, to be caught.  He coughed quietly, uttering an almost inaudible, “I suppose it is”, before dropping his eyes back down to his drawing.  He pulled his coat a little tighter around him.  He’d been freezing for the past fifteen minutes.  

This was his third time here and Albert had already decided it was to be his last.  He was eighty-nine on Thursday and had decided he’d lived quite long enough. Not that he didn’t enjoy his life. He did.  He’d just had enough of it. He was ready for something else.  The young doctor (A specialist. This moniker always made Albert laugh to himself.) had been trying, God help him.  But no matter what new-fangled treatments or trials came down the pike, nothing could stop the inevitable.  Eighty-nine.  People don’t live forever, young man.

“What’cha here for?”  Albert looked up to see the corpulent woman staring at him, fan flying in front of her fat face.  See Rock City.  See Rock City.  See Rock City.

“I’m…. Well… “  Albert looked at the woman for a long moment.  “You know, I really don’t know.”  He folded his grocery list on which was now drawn a most unflattering portrait of the woman he’d just addressed, placed it in the pocket of his black overcoat, got up and left the room.

“Well.  I never.”, said the woman.  The black fan stopped in mid-air.  No one else looked up.

Albert stepped out into the orange light of a setting October sun.  Brilliantly coloured maple leaves carpeted the pavement in front of him.  Follow the yellow brick road.  Albert hummed to himself as his walked.  He had just enough time to make it to the market and home again before the children started showing up.  He had no intention of being caught having to hand out soda crackers like he’d done last year.  Totally forgot it was Halloween.  Well, Lydia had always kept track of those kind of things.  But this year he planned to be the best house on the street.  Candy bars galore.  And not those little ones either.  The full size bars.

Turning the corner onto River Street, Albert found himself walking alongside the iron fencing of Meredith House, the oldest house in town. His steps slowed a bit as he stopped to gaze at the house from between the vertical posts of the black iron fence. The many trees that crowded the garden had already dropped their leaves; the ground was dark with them.  Long believed to be haunted, Meredith House had, through the years, endured the midnight visitations of little boys who, on a dare, ran up to touch its massive wooden door or peer into its dusty leaded windows.  Albert had been one of those boys, once. He wasn't sure who lived here now.  Old man Meredith was long gone.  But there on the front porch sat two large, carved pumpkins.  Their faces smiled back at him, toothless and macabre.  

A rustling sound began to fill the air and Albert was amazed to see the ground around the house begin to move.  A roiling, rolling mass of black, lifting and falling like waves on the sea.  It’s not leavesWhy, it’s crows!, thought Albert, as thousands, millions, of black wings caught the light, transforming into prismatic ebony jewels, so bright, so splendid, they made Albert’s eyes water.  Then as if answering an authority known only to them, they rose as one in a swirl of black, in a dance of celestial choreography both thrilling and apparitional.

Albert watched in fascination as they ascended upwards through the trees, up over the house and out into the autumnal coloured sky, all the while moving in patterns as intricate and fluid as music itself.  After a moment or two it seemed to Albert that the crows began to drift downwards a bit, the sound of their wings filling the air all around him like the indecipherable voices of a crowd.  Never stopping, never slowing, they came closer and closer to the spot where Albert stood with his hands at his sides, transfixed into silence.  The flutter and beat became deafening as the birds encircled him.  Feathers tickled his nose.  Then Albert Dalrymple’s feet began to feel too light to secure him properly to the pavement and he felt himself lifting up.  Up with the birds; up high in the air.  

There weren’t many trick or treaters at Albert Dalrymple’s house that night.  He hadn’t left a light on in the window as an invitation and most of the kids didn’t fancy the soda crackers of the previous year anyway.  But if they’d chanced to come up the walk they might have seen a large black crow watching them from the naked branch of a poplar tree.  They might have found a bowl of candy bars on the front porch.  Not the small ones, either.  The full size bars.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Scottish Country Houses, and Books

Scottish Country Houses, and Books
Just around the corner from my hotel in London, sort of catty-cornered from one of my favourite places to eat breakfast and people-watch in the early morning hours, sits a special little shoe shop.  Emma Hope always has drool-worthy samples of their expensive wares arranged enticingly in their crystal clear windows and occasionally I stop to have a look.  Kitten-heeled day shoes.  Riding boots the colour of warm caramel.  Bejeweled evening shoes just begging to be worn to a breakfast at Tiffany’s.  I sometimes sit at my breakfast table across the street and watch women pass by these windows.   Their pace will slow a bit as their eyes catch the colorful array.  Then they stop.  They stare.  You can almost hear the voices inside their heads vehemently arguing back and forth about the necessity of another pair of shoes.  The price!  But the beauty!  The need versus the want.  It’s fun to see which side wins.

Despite my card-carrying femininity, I am not often tempted by shoes.  Don’t get me wrong; I love a good pair of riding boots and have had my head turned more that once by a jaunty pair of spectators.  But, as the little voices inside my own head can attest, I am most often lured into extravagance by old country house hotels, and books.  This most recent trip to Scotland was no exception.  We stayed in some utterly marvelous places.  And yes, despite my pleading with The Songwriter to keep me out of bookshops, I did manage to bring home a few fabulous books on this latest journey.  

I thought you all might enjoy a pairing of these two for my latest post.  So I’m sharing some of the places we stayed on this last holiday, along with some of the intriguing new titles just released for the autumn season.  
I hope you enjoy a peek of both.
  And as always, do share what you plan to read this fall.
Photo above:  Detail of Prestonfield House, Edinburgh Scotland

The Manor House
An overnight flight to Heathrow, then a smaller plane to Edinburgh where we picked up a car and drove to Glencoe, my favourite place on Earth.   A hike into the wilds of Glencoe to a place called The Study; a vantage point from which we could best observe the Three Sisters, resplendent that day in the clear, bright sunlight, a gift from Mother Nature that was as unexpected as it was most gratefully received.  A drive through the idyllic scenery of Ballachulish as the sun began to drift downwards towards the horizon led us to The Manor House in Oban.  

Sitting atop a hill overlooking the harbor, the Manor House looks just like its name.  One can easily imagine it as the comfortable home for the Duke of Argyll, which, in fact, it was.  Built in 1780, it retains all of its stately Georgian charm.  Tired and hungry when we arrived, we opened the door of the Manor House and were met with mouth-watering aromas coming from the restaurant kitchen. We were then led upstairs to our corner room where tartan blankets were tucked into our downy bed and windows offered unfettered views to the seaport below.

We sat out in the garden to watch the sun set below the mountains until the Scottish wind reminded us that summer was a thing of the past and we fled to the warmth  inside where a scrumptious dinner awaited us.  There are plenty of fireside rooms in which to read at The Manor House.  And any of these new books would fit the bill nicely.
Just click on the pictures to find out more.

The Paying Guests
by Sarah Waters

The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher
by Hilary Mantel

Behind the Mask
The Life of Vita Sackville-West
by Matthew Dennison


Glengorm Castle
Isle of Mull
If you are hardy enough to brave the chilled winds that whip round the top deck of the ferry to Mull, you will be rewarded with the site of an ancient castle.  Like a page torn from a fairy tale, Duart Castle presides over the coastline of Mull with a serene solemnity befitting its setting as well as its history.  Soon the ferry will dock, bumping softly into place, and its time to drive off and head north.  

You follow the coastline for about an hour, head wheeling from side to side in attempts to fully appreciate the amazing coastal views, until you come to the tiny roundabout at Tobermory.  Heading off to the left, you notice the landscape becoming wilder.  The road narrows to one track.  Like a green-uniformed army, ancient fir trees stand shoulder to shoulder, staring silently into your car windows as you pass.  The road becomes rougher as you navigate the switchbacks and ruts.  Highland Cows occasionally block your path, facing down your car in a friendly dare.  Then, at a high bend in the road, you suddenly brake.  There off in the distance, on a hillside above a wild sea, you see it.  

Impossibly grand, Glengorm Castle is the castle you dreamed of when you read Sleeping Beauty.  All turrets and spires and achingly breathtaking views.  But never fear its grandness, for Glengorm is run like a family home.  In fact, the owners live there with their two small children and two adorable dogs.  ( We met the dogs, not the kids.)  The rooms are atmospheric and cozy.  The cliffside hikes are dreams.  I managed to carve out a few minutes here to read and to knit, but not nearly enough for either.  This place is heaven.
Here are some new books perfect for curling up at Glengorm Castle.

by Marilynne Robinson

While Wandering
A Walking Companion
Edited by Duncan Minshull

History of the Rain
by Niall Williams


Prestonfield House
I had come to Edinburgh alone, enroute to meet my friend in Aberdeen for our trip to Shetland.  Having said goodbye to The Songwriter at London’s Paddington Station in a scene straight out of WWII,  I took the train northbound on a very early, very foggy, morning.  Now, sitting in the back of a taxi, I listened as the driver explained his position on the Scottish vote for independence all the while peering out the window as we passed through a neighborhood of neat little houses lined up in a row.  This can’t be right, I thought to myself.  There can’t be a hotel here.  But suddenly the cab turned in between two lichen-covered stone posts and the real world popped like a bubble into nonexistence.

As we drove slowly up the tree-lined drive, I saw several peacocks wandering round;   their turquoise feathers shining in the early morning sunlight.  And there, at the far end of the drive in the shadow of Arthur’s Seat, sat Prestonfield House, waiting for me in all its Jacobite glory.  My cab door was thrown open by a handsome young Scot who offered his arm and led me in through the tall wooden doors whilst my bags were whisked away to my room.  Then, perhaps noticing my gaping jaw, the gregarious chap offered to give me a tour of the hotel, an offer I enthusiastically excepted.

I can only say that very single teeny tiny square inch of Prestonfield House is perfection.  From the welting on the double-lined curtains that dress the gleaming windows, to the paintings that line the walls.  I had dinner that night in my room, (Wilmont is sitting on my bed in the photo below) at a lovely table ( complete with complimentary champagne and roses)  by an open window that looked out over the autumnal colours of the garden, feeling for all the world like a Scottish queen of yore.  Paradise.  Seriously.
After a brisk walk round the gardens next morning, spoiled for choice, I finally settled myself into the upstairs sitting room for an hour of reading.  Believe me, I have rarely been so cosseted.  Prestonfield is a splendiferous treat for the senses.  
I’d love to curl up there with any of these new books.

Virginia Woolf
Art, Life and Vision
by Frances Spalding
(I was fortunate to catch the recent Woolf exhibition at London's National Portrait Gallery.  
It was magnificent, and this book was the companion piece to the show.

Artists, Writers, Thinkers, Dreamers
Portraits of 50 Famous Folks and All Their Weird Stuff
by James Gulliver Hancock

Yves Saint Laurent
A Moroccan Passion
by  Pierre Berge'

To find out more about these Wonderful Scottish Inns....

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

One Indispensable Day in October

One Indispensable Day in October

  Although I prattle on about each season as though it’s my favourite, it’s no secret that autumn holds my heart tight within its bright orange glow.  When that first chill pierces the morning air and the light becomes clearer than an artist’s eye, I feel a unique joy.  So as I sat trying to think of all the delicious puzzle parts that make up the autumnal season I found it impossible to jettison even one.  Fall without scarves or shawls, turtlenecks or Dubarry boots?  Unthinkable.  To take away firesides or flannel shirts, tartan blankets or Halloween?  Never.  Losing pumpkins or cinnamon, scarlet leaves or apple pies?  Oh my goodness, no.  I doubt I could even loosen my grasp on Mario Badescu’s Bee Pollen Cream, my secret weapon for the pinkly chapped cheeks that come after brisk walks with Edward.  But the truth is, the part of autumn I would find utterly indispensable is none of these things, delightful as they are.  You see, I couldn’t imagine autumn without one special day in October.  It is a day celebrated in my family as faithfully as Christmas, and with as much gladness.

The Songwriter and I were best friends all through my teenage years.  We were the type of friends who would call each other after our dates with other people to commiserate with one another about how dreadful they’d been.  We went practically everywhere together, laughing all the way.  Then one afternoon in October, we drove up into the mountains for a picnic by a lake.  We came home engaged to be married and have never looked back.  So, every October, when that particular date rolls around, we go back to the same secluded lake in the woods - to remember, to celebrate, in gratitude and love.

We’ve never missed a year.  We’ve returned on sunny days and stormy ones.  On days when the leaves wore colours more brilliant than butterflies and on days when the heat of summer lingered and kept them clad in green.  We have come during years of bounty and during years of loss.  We have come when we didn’t really have time to do so.   Edward and Apple go with us now, eager to follow the well-worn path that winds through the thicket surrounding the lake.  A family holiday just for us.

Last Saturday afternoon, I visited an elderly friend who’d been feeling poorly.  She happily told me all about her grand-daughter’s new marriage and, as she related their plans for the upcoming holiday season she said, “It makes me so happy to see that this new couple understands the importance of traditions.”.  My mind went immediately to our day in October and I had to agree with my friend.  Traditions are touchstones, occasions set aside to mark the passing of time even as we revel in all the present joys.  Our lives spin so fast; it is vital to keep our eyes on the still places so we don’t lose our balance, lose our way.  Traditions are the still places.  Our day in October is a tradition.   

Oh yes, I know it sounds sappy.  Who celebrates the day they became engaged, for goodness sakes?  Isn’t the wedding anniversary enough?    But I couldn’t imagine autumn without this most personal, most celebratory, day.   After all these years, The Songwriter is still my favourite person; we still laugh every day.  I am grateful. So yes, this is the one part of autumn I could never relinquish.

Once again, I'm tickled to take part in Splenderosa's monthly topic.
Always such fun to see what everyone writes.
See more HERE.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Wilmont and My Passport

Wilmont and my Passport

He had shown me parts of Shetland I would never have seen otherwise:  hidden coves where corpulent harbor seals lounged on grey rocks, blinking their black round eyes at me as I sat watching them with my chin resting on my knees…. secret seasides where the tide came in white with hundreds of swans… a strip of wide sandy beach where waves crashed on either side as I walked its length with the sound of a wild wind in my ears.  Now as he pointed towards the horizon he looked grave as he said, “Weather’s changing.  It’s gonna get bad.”.  

Tom was our tour guide, a life long Shetlander, wealthy in his knowledge of the islands, but as I squinted in the bright sunlight to follow his gaze all I saw were a few thin clouds, misty and grey, gathered together far out in the sea. They certainly seemed innocuous enough. “But… “, I said, noticing he had already left to head back down the hill.  I followed behind him at a clip.

I had not originally planned to come to the Shetland Islands.  But when a friend and fellow knitter wrote to tell me she’d booked a trip to Shetland Wool Week I found it impossible to resist.  After all, I was already in Scotland.  So The Songwriter flew home to Edward and Apple on the date we had planned, and I made my way up to Aberdeen to meet my friend.  We boarded the fourteen hour (Fourteen!) ferry to Shetland, landing early on a rainy Saturday morning, picking up a car and heading north where we took another ferry to the island of Whalsay. There we spent seven hours under the delightful tutelage of two Shetland ladies, learning the intricate techniques of fair isle knitting.  

We took a wonderful tour of the island on the day before we left, returning back to our inn with Tom’s dire weather prediction bouncing round our heads.  Sure enough, we received an email that evening from the ferry company informing us that the ship was sailing two hours early in an attempt to avoid what was coming.  “Really?”, I said, as I stuck my head out our picture window, breathing in the air of a clear, starlit night.  

The next morning dawned drizzly and cold.  We visited a couple of museums and wool shops and whenever shopkeepers heard we were leaving that afternoon, expressions fell and darkened.  “Oh, you’re in for a rough one.”, they said with concern. “Take your seasickness medicine every hour on the hour and don’t even try to sit up.” 

The feeling of foreboding was heavy in the little ferry terminal as we left.  The few passengers there were shuffled down the walkway as a stiff wind blew the rain sideways into the foggy windows.  I swallowed hard.  Once in our cabin, I stretched out on my bed, clutching Wilmont, our stuffed monkey who accompanies us on every long journey, grateful I’d decided to keep him with me instead of sending him home with The Songwriter, and I waited.  

The moment the huge ship released its grip on the dock, it started.  Violently swaying and tipping, we made our way out into the wilds of the North Sea, feeling farther than ever from home.  Two hours later I was holding onto the sides of my bed as it pitched backwards and forwards and side to side when I heard… “Due to the expected adverse weather conditions, the restaurant will close in one hour.  Passengers are requested to stay inside their cabins.  Thank you.”   
OH Lord, I thought.  It’s going to get worse.

And dear reader, worse it did get.  Items sailed off tables, doors flew open.  Occasionally there would be a sound so deafening and a jolt so violent it seemed we’d obviously run headlong into something of monstrous proportions.  The cabin would then creak and moan as though threatening to break apart completely.  Without great effort, I could see myself quite clearly, alone as I bobbed up and down in the dark North Sea, clutching the two items I felt I would need most:  Wilmont and my passport.  

Either I passed out or fell into a frightful sleep, for I woke up at four in the morning and everything was still.  Wondering for a second or two if I was indeed, dead, I peered out the window, saw a tall building and, as it possessed nothing of a heavenly quality, decided I must still reside in the land of the living.  Slowly I stood up, opened our cabin door and ventured out into the eerily silent ship.  Padding upstairs, I found the crew sitting in the bar, sipping coffee and watching the weather on their computers.  “Excuse me, “ I said in a weak voice that sounded nothing like my own.  “Where exactly are we?”

“We’re in Aberdeen”, came the proud reply.  “Made it here two hours early like we hoped.  Beat the worst of it.”

With great diplomacy, I chose not to comment on this last statement, but just said, “Thank God.  I don’t ever want to be on the sea again.”

The room filled with laughter and one man said…”Ay, what you mean, lass?  People'd pay good money at a fun fair for a ride light that ‘un.”

I left as soon as the doors were opened, 
Wilmont in one hand, my passport in the other.

Wilmont, at Holyrood Castle, Edinburgh Scotland
October 2014

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,