Monday, October 17, 2016

A Decent Man

A Decent Man

My father loved westerns.  Most men of his generation seemed to.  Save for a two week holiday at the beach - the same beach - each and every summer, his life revolved exclusively around Mother, me and work, but every week or so, with us in tow, he would head off to the theatre to watch John Wayne ride through the Black Hills of the Dakotas on horseback.  On the screen was a strange landscape, treeless, with oddly jagged mountains so unlike their soft, green cousins of which we were familiar.  There was danger here as well: rattlesnakes, scorpions, rather frightening Indians.  A man could ride out in the desert in the morning and die of thirst, or worse, by noontime.   And through it all, Mr. Wayne and his compatriots rode tall in the saddle, unafraid and always victorious in whatever mission had been handed them. 

Though I accompanied Daddy to the theatre each time he went, I rarely watched the movie. The theatre we frequented most often was historic and beautiful with mysterious, Moorish hallways and lavishly decorated bathrooms that I loved to explore so all too often I was out of my seat whilst the action unfolded on the screen.  But occasionally we went to other theatres, ones more pedestrian in style with little to interest a child’s imagination.  On those occasions I would usually sit and watch the movie, albeit with mere cursory intent.  

It was one of those nights at one of those duller theatres that I remember very well, not for the film nor the actors but for something else entirely.  Lost, as usual, in the tall weeds of my own thoughts, I was only fractionally aware of the voices on the screen when suddenly, without the slightest warning, Daddy stood up, took my hand and announced to my Mother that we were leaving.  Together we marched up the carpeted aisle in his wake, me scurrying to keep up and thoroughly confused.

Back outside in the night as we quick-stepped to the car, I whispered to my Mother… “What happened?”  

“That man in the movie said something bad”, she whispered back.

I found out later, after hounding my mother relentlessly for the answer, one of the actors had called another the son of a female dog.  My father, outraged that language such as this was uttered in front of his daughter and wife,  simply got us out of there as fast as he could.    He was hardly as sheltered man.  He’d served on warships in the Pacific during WWII.  His ears had heard worse, much worse, I have no doubt.  But he cared about us as women, he respected us enough to want to hold us above such language and ugliness.

I have thought about Daddy a lot over the past few weeks. Though I miss him every day, I cannot help but be grateful he isn’t here to witness how low, how far down, we’ve been driven by this current presidential campaign.  For those who were raised as I was, by a loving, dignified and decent man who held women in high esteem, the words and behaviour of this man running for the highest office in our land have been repugnant and, for me, outrage and shock have all too often given over to depression and despair.  

None of us has the luxury of being sheltered these days. We hear worse language than my father tried to keep from me in the supermarket.  Certainly, it clogs our airwaves like sludge.  But this is different.  The office of the President of the United States is different.  When parents are afraid to let their children listen to the presidential debates because they don’t trust what this man is going to say, something is different.  Something is seriously, sadly, wrong.

The polls say this man cannot win.  I pray they are correct.  But I fear the damage has been done.  His followers, emboldened by his vile and viperish words, have had their racism, bigotry and hatred validated and will not, I fear, fade away to the ash heap of history en masse.  Even worse, those who have always championed “family values” and who have cravenly supported this man for political or, God help us, religious reasons, have sacrificed an integrity that will be almost impossible to regain.  

Through the years America has often been a beacon of justice and hope to the rest of the world.  We have held ourselves up as a light to which others have looked, a land where all are created equal, a country where we strive for fairness and decency.  Our President should be a role model for our young men to emulate and our young women to respect.   For too long this vulgar mouthpiece of ignorance and hatred has sullied our good name, as well as our good sense, across the globe and I feel utterly humiliated in front of my friends from other countries.  

I know what a decent man looks like.  
I was raised by one.
This is not a decent man.

(For those of you looking for a report of Scotland, trust me… it’s coming.  Along with a new ghost story for Halloween.  This is not my usual blog topic, it’s true.  But these are not usual times.  I have always expressed true feelings on this blog and I cannot help but do so now.)

Monday, September 26, 2016


See that face?  The one above?  That face, and knowing he is circling dates on the calendar every time I go away, is pretty much the only reason I got on the plane to come back from the wilds of the Scottish Isles.  He’s basically sat in my lap since I returned and no one can doubt he’s worth returning for.  But my soul, what a glorious journey to Scotland I had.  Thank you so much to all who followed along on Instagram and wrote me such delightful letters.  I’ll answer each one, I promise!  And a new post on all I saw, where I stayed, what I bought, where I ate, where I rambled… all of it… will be coming here.  Just as soon as I wade through all the mail, and the laundry, and the wilted garden, and the … well, you get the picture.  
Till then, some exciting news to share....

As many of you know, my last trip to the UK was to Haworth in Yorkshire.  What you didn’t know is that I was working on an article for the autumn issue of Faerie Magazine on the Bronte sisters.  It’s just come out and you can find it here in the US at any Barnes and Noble book store. 
You can also order a copy HERE.
I’m very proud of it and hope you enjoy reading.

Be back soon!

Tuesday, September 6, 2016



One of the gifts offered to the only child - aside from one’s own room, which is a delightful  gift indeed - is the opportunity to cultivate a keenly observant eye and the chance to learn to enjoy one’s own company.  Some only children refuse these gifts, it’s true, feeling deprived of community and wary of solitude, but for myself, I grasped them both with grateful hands.  They have made my life richer, deeper and infinitely more interesting as both held the key to an intellectual curiosity that bubbles still.   Even today I often imagine myself invisible, a holdover from my childhood when I intently observed the often complex interactions of the adults all around me, secure in the knowledge that nothing save watching and listening was required of someone so small.  I still love to spend my time in airports, hotels or restaurants making up back stories for the characters wandering past.   One would think this habit of slightly detached observation would render me a bit unapproachable, the faraway look in my eye label me distant or cool.  I can assure you, this is not the case.   Strangers talk to me all the time.  They ask me things, they tell me things.  They inquire where I purchased my clothing, what I’m knitting, what I’m reading.  They share their plans, disclose their histories and reveal their worries.  I often feel as though I have some sort of flashing neon people magnet glued to my forehead.  I used to wonder why but I’m used to it now.  Besides, these random connections have their compensations.

For example, just last week, I was climbing off one of those contraptions at the gym when I noticed an elderly gentleman making his way towards me,.  Now it’s pretty much a written rule that one does not engage a fellow exerciser in small talk at the gym. It’s as if there’s an fortified force field of privacy around everyone affording each of us the freedom to look our worst.  But it was clear this man was going to pierce my force field like a puppy.  And sure enough….

“Hey there!”, he said, grinning.

I took the headphones out of my ears, reducing Adele to a tinny little squeak in my sweaty palm and smiled up at him.

“Do you like looking at pictures of rainbows?”, he asked.

Oh boy, I thought.  “Ummm, yeeessss”, I said, not sure where this was heading.

“Well, let me tell you.  Go on Google and type in pictures of rainbows and about halfway down the page you’ll see these pictures this National Geographic fellow took right here in the city after those storms that rolled through last week.  He just happened to be in town and I tell you, those are the most beautiful pictures I’ve ever seen in my life.  My wife found ‘em and I though you looked like someone who’d enjoy them like I did.”

Once again I found myself grateful for whatever is written 
on my soul that causes strangers to share things with me. 
 I mean who couldn’t love this?

It is astonishing to notice how little people make eye contact with each other these days.  And really, who can blame us?  So much distrust is sewn into our very beings in this current culture.  If one’s knowledge of the world was limited to certain media, one might be forgiven for thinking every face on the street is potentially an enemy.  Fear of “the other” seems rampant.   Immigrants are demonized, ( rather ironic here in America when everyone save a Native American is essentially an immigrant).   The poor are losers, the police are enemies.  Guns are good, travel is dangerous. Rather than the balm it could and should be, religion appears to have become a knife used for division and pain.

While I’m hardly a Pollyanna when it comes to the challenges we face in this age, happily, all this is not what I experience when I walk outside my door.  Troublesome issues are rarely easy to solve and very little is exclusively black or white.  But somewhere in the shady areas lies the real world.  It's cooler here in the shade, colors are truer and visibility is so much better far away from the glare of extremes.  

Looking into eyes unlike my own, conversing with those living lives so different from me, sharing a laugh with someone I can barely understand - all this makes my life happier, lighter, clearer.  My interactions with people have taught me to look for the good, and after all, we usually find what we’re looking for.  Author E. M. Forster put it much better and more succinctly that I ever could when he wrote in Howard’s End…. “Only connect!”  These words speak volumes and meant so much to him they are on his tombstone.    

So I’ll keep talking to strangers whenever I can.  
After all, that’s how I get to see rainbows like this…..

photograph by Andrew Evans
National Geographic

Note:  More connections will be made soon as I'm heading back
 to my beloved Scotland in a few short days.  
Follow along with me on Instagram... HERE

Saturday, August 6, 2016

Last Month of Summer.... A List

Last Month of Summer.... A List

This week, here in my little corner of the world, the school buses rolled.  Incredibly for someone like myself, who grew up with three long, long months of summer holidays each year, school started here on August 1st.  This seems almost unbearably cruel.  The air is still as thick as cream soup, the sun still glares straight down from high.  Each afternoon brings thunderstorms, fierce, vociferous answers to the searing heat.  And yet there they are at the bus stop, all pressed and combed, impossibly young and a little bit glum, waiting to be shuttled off to a brand new school year.  Once more, I realize that adulthood has its perks.  

There is one more month of summer here at The House of Edward.  (Though for cold-weather-loving Edward, this is hardly a celebratory fact.)  One more month of watermelon for dessert, for fresh corn and fried okra.  One more month of bare feet and white linen.  Of Astrid Gilberto playing at dinner and bird song as our morning alarm.  Of the heady fragrance of nicotiana and rose drenching the pavement on our evening walks, lines of robins waiting their turn in the birdbath, and driving through the city with an ice cream cone in my hand.

Summer’s puzzle is just not complete without August.
So here are a few more pieces for you to enjoy.

1. Prince George
No doubt many of you saw these photographs of Prince George,
 released last month to celebrate his third birthday.  
(Three years, already?) 
  But I simply couldn’t resist. 
 Cutest kid in the world.

2. Jacobites
Of course, for me, one of the most exciting things
 about the last month of summer,
 is that autumn is getting ever closer. 
 This autumn will find me visiting Culloden moor for the first time,
so I was thrilled this new book on the Jacobites was just released. 
 I’m in the middle of it now, and it’s brilliant.  
For all of you Outlander fans, this is for you.
Find it HERE

3. Florence Foster Jenkins
I’ve always found this woman’s story completely fascinating
 and I’m a total fan of Meryl Streep. 
 So boy, oh, boy,  
am I looking forward to this…..


4.  Love, Nina
Having adored this book when I read it a couple of years ago, 
I cannot wait to see Love, Nina.  
The true story of Nina Stibbe’s experiences 
as a nanny in 1980’s London.
It looks every bit as delightful as the book.  
And I cannot wait to read her new one, Paradise Lodge. 
Find it HERE
And here's the trailer for Love, Nina...


5.  The Shepherdess
I found this fascinating woman on Instagram before 
I knew anything of significance about her. 
Following the links to her website, I was just enchanted.  
Her name is Alison O'Neill and what a remarkable life she lives.  
And what gorgeous clothing she makes.  
 Take a look for yourself, HERE

6.  Eat, Sleep, Knit
Two years ago, I traveled fourteen hours by ferry from the mainland of Scotland to the Shetland Isles.  Upon docking, I drove up island forty minutes to catch another small ferry out to the Isle of Whalsay where I was to take a class on Fair Isle knitting.  The only people on the ferry that grey morning were other knitters bound for the same class.  As we made our introductions, I told them where I lived.  A woman from Australia brightened and said, “Oh yes!  Eat, Sleep, Knit!”

It’s true, my local yarn shop is world famous, and rightfully so.  I’ve been in yarn shops all over the globe, but none, and I mean none, compares to the one just ten minutes from my front door.  I feel almost unfairly blessed.

Now, it’s always dangerous to share one’s most treasured resources.  You all could, it’s true, clear out their shelves and leave no treasure for me.  However,  whenever I post something I’ve recently knitted on Instagram, (like the shawl I finished last month, above) I receive so many requests for information on the yarn I’ve used, I feel I owe it to the knitting world to share. 
 And besides, ESK is really an online business first,
 so I feel they are prepared for any onslaught of purchases.
So here you go…. all the world’s beautiful yarns… HERE 

7.  Harry Potter
Yes, I have the book.  Now the question is….
should I read it now, 
or wait a few years till I can get a ticket to the play?
Who's seen it?  Who's read it?
Find the Book HERE
Website for the play HERE

8.  Gilmore Girls
Like many people, I adored this show.
Witty and charming, it was a most enjoyable place to go every week.  True, the writer left in the last year and the quality suffered, but now I’m thrilled to say she is back and four new ninety minute episodes are scheduled to premiere on Netflix at midnight on Thanksgiving here in the states.
  I am tickled!
Till then, check out the old episodes
 and see if you don’t get hooked like I did.
Find them HERE

9.  This Book!
Has anyone read it yet?
Find it HERE

10.  Escapes
This time of year, I can almost physically feel the pull of the sea.  It happens every August.  I lie in bed at night haunted by the sound of phantom waves beating against an unseen shore.  I search the late summer sky for seagulls, only finding cardinals, mockingbirds and doves.  This annual feeling is stronger this year, no doubt due to the turbulent sturm and drang of American politics, and I find myself longing more than ever for an escape.  Happily, my toes will be in the sand before too long and until then I’ve been dreaming of these two enchanted places. 
 Who wouldn’t gratefully escape to either one of these?  
Nothing but good books, good food, good drink. 
 Maybe a couple of jars of bubble bath.
  And Debussy.
Find the one above HERE

and the one below, HERE

How are you enjoying the last few weeks of summer?
PS:  The delightful sketch at the start of this post
was done by Kevin Nichols, 
who illustrated Edward Speaks at Midnight.
Christmas is coming, so get your copy HERE!

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

A Strange Dawn

A Strange Dawn

It is impossible to pinpoint the moment of dawn.  Like the opening of a lily,  its presence is suddenly realized, its nascence indistinct.  Its colourful tapestry is woven with a thread so fine the first stitch is invisible, forgotten.  One can only appreciate the whole.

For someone like myself, more familiar with the setting of the sun than its rising, I sit before my window in the black ink of the disappearing night, waiting for the coming of the dawn.  The artists have told me what to expect.  Friedrich shows me the colour of mangos, Grimshaw’s green marries sea and sky.  Turner paints the pinks and blues of a nursery.  But this dawn, when it finally comes, is strange; it has little in common with those of the masters.  

Like an newly born print in a darkroom, images appear slowly, traced in silver.  Off in the distance, heat lightning, silent and horizontal, flashes a warning of what the day might bring.  A warning, not a certainty.  Infinitesimally the colours of the day emerge, their vibrancy erased to monochrome by the unusual torridity of this month of July.  Like the healing words of truth and love, I long for the fresh, crisp air of Autumn to blow away the noxious haze that hangs like wet netting over the landscape.  

Then I’m nudged by a cold wet nose and look down to see a large furry dog glowing white in the pewter light, his eyes questioning, unblinking.  I glance back at the rising dawn, knowing it hasn’t told me everything that's to come. But I ruffle the big dog’s fur and let him lead me back to bed, still hoping for a better day, one more salubrious and sane than those of the previous week.

“When someone shows you who they are, 
believe them the first time.”
Maya Angelou

Photo by Annie Leibovitz, 2006 Vogue Magazine

“Our progress in degeneracy appears to me to be pretty rapid. As a nation, we began by declaring that 'all men are created equal.' We now practically read it, 'all men are created equal, except negroes.' When the Know-Nothings get control, it will read, 'all men are created equal, except negroes, and foreigners, and Catholics.' When it comes to this I should prefer emigrating to some country where they make no pretense of loving liberty—to Russia, for instance, where despotism can be taken pure, and without the base alloy of hypocrisy.”
Abraham Lincoln
Speeches and Writings, 1832-1858 

Monday, July 18, 2016

Hula Hoops

Hula Hoops and Pokemon

After being in the air-conditioned gym for over an hour I’d conveniently forgotten how hot it was outside but when I opened the door to my little Fiat it felt like nothing less than climbing inside a pre-heated oven.  The air hung heavy as maple syrup.  It was a chore to breathe.  I was thinking of nothing but a cool bath and an iced drink as I turned into the roundabout that encircles the fountain in front of the library, and that was when I saw them.  A cluster of people standing in the blazing sun, looking down.  My eyes scanned the scene, expecting to find someone who’d fainted in the heat, but nothing was there.  Then it dawned on me.  Oh.  This is the Pokemon thing.  Sure enough, these people were all looking down at their phones, absolutely captivated.  Further on, in front of city hall, there were more.  Groups of adults, here and there, all totally engrossed in the business of finding little cartoon monsters on their phones.  

There’s nothing quite like personally witnessing the current zeitgeist on the hottest day in July to make one think and I am sorry to admit that my first reaction was incredulity.  Really?  On a day like this?  Could there not be a more enjoyable activity to engage these folks?  But like I said, I started to think and was once again reminded that there is nothing new under the sun.  Literally.  No, all through modern history, when times are particularly difficult, we humans seem to find a collective diversion to afford ourselves occasional escape.  This is not, I suppose, a bad thing.  In fact, it is probably quite healthy.  And Lord knows, this summer has seen some of the most difficult times in recent memory.  Bad news seems as unstoppable as a polluted river.  Is it any wonder that we dive into an activity with the power to make us forget, just a little. 

In 1958, the Arkansas legislature voted 94 to 1 to close their schools if forced to integrate.  In Texas, a desegregated school was bombed in the early morning, leveling it to the ground.  The country was roiling with the holy change being wrought by civil rights.  Into this turbulent atmosphere came the Hula Hoop.  Millions of people threw these plastic rings round their waists and wiggled, wiggled, wiggled.  

There was a laughable epidemic of streaking the year President Nixon resigned.  People lost their trust in government that year as, day after day, in the hearings broadcast on television, they listened to the crimes committed.  So all over the country, young people responded by taking off their clothes and running across campuses, through baseball games, and even across the stage of the Academy Awards. That last one prompted one of the wittiest comebacks in that show’s history courtesy of David Niven.

We threw Frisbees during the Vietnam War and focused our gaze on the Rubik’s Cube the year Thatcher’s Britain was torn apart by the miner’s strikes, the year John Lennon was murdered on a street in New York.   Distractions?  Diversions?  Yes.  Totally silly wastes of time?  I’m not so sure.

When the news is quite simply too bleak for a compassionate, reasonable mind to bear, it can only be healthy to take a break, and while I don’t think I’ll be looking for Pokemon monsters in the near future, I do have my own ways of unplugging as I’m sure you have yours.  I buy new lipsticks.  (Charlotte Tilbury, anyone?)  I read British Country Life and ponder buying pet pigs.  Unashamedly, I get a thrill of excitement every time new photos of Prince George are released.  (Is there a cuter kid anywhere?)  I watch old movies.  (Again, I Know Where I’m Going is always pulled out in tough times.)  I reread favorite books.  I redecorate.  (As I write, the colour going up on the walls of the snug is a completely delicious Sussex Green.)  I go for long drives with the windows down and the music up.  Or, perhaps best of all, I sit on the floor between a dozing Edward and Apple, my arms around both, and just close my eyes.  
And come to think of it… I do know a store that still sells Hula Hoops. 
Is it just me? 

Saturday, July 16, 2016

Think of It ...... Always

"When I despair, I remember that all through history the way of truth and love has always won. There have been tyrants and murderers, and for a time, they can seem invincible, but in the end, they always fall. Think of it -- always." 
Mahatma Gandhi.

Painting:  1953 Window at Nice 
by Raoul Dufy 

Sunday, July 10, 2016

In a Small World

In a Small World

Atop a windy cliffside in Shetland, a camera hides.  So unobtrusive as to be unnoticed by passersby, it constantly records the scenery in real time, affording views that are  sometimes sunny, sometimes stormy, always wild and windy.  For someone like myself, who has climbed the hills of Shetland, this is a grand gift and one that I open every single day just by switching on my laptop.  This webcam affords me entry into my memory, complete with light and sound.  I close my eyes and listen to the seabirds, hear the waves crashing below, and I am instantly transported back to this wonderful island.  

As I gazed at this view yesterday - listening to the roar of the sea, watching the wind push white clouds across a summer blue sky - I heard voices.  Heavy footfalls of climbers, getting louder as they approached the hidden camera. A couple of masculine exasperated sighs and indistinct muttering, and then, quite clearly, a woman’s voice…. “Ach man, quit yer complainin’!”. 

The sounds of these two dwindled as they walked on away from the site, leaving me amused and amazed.  Just think, from my spot in my sitting room in the Southern US, I was listening to two climbers make their way up a sunny hillside in the Shetland Isles, in the middle of the North Sea, closer to Norway than to Scotland.   What an astonishing time in which to live.

When Abraham Lincoln was assassinated in April 1865, the word went out across the world via steamships and mail.  The process took weeks and months.  Our world is smaller now.  These days we are instantaneously connected.  If a flower is dropped from a window in Rome, it could be caught in London before it ever hits the ground.  Or so it seems.  Perhaps this is one reason last week’s vote in the United Kingdom hit me so hard.  I sat up late as the results came in, increasingly saddened and stunned at the apparent ending of a half century union created at the close of one devastating war as insurance against another.  As a young friend in London put it, “In my lifetime I have watched as walls came down.  Who would have thought I would have to watch them go back up again?”

Fear is a cancerous thing.  It rears its horned head in troubled times and is always seized by those willing to exploit it for ugly reasons.  There are those on the national stages at present who shout their desire to make our countries “great again", the implication being that we used to be great but are, sadly, great no longer.   I seriously doubt these pronouncements have anything to do with nostalgia for vinyl records and milk at the door.  No, follow this thought process and one cannot help but wonder at what time in history did these people consider us “great”?    Before women could vote?  Before our black brothers and sisters could drink from the same water fountains as whites?  Perhaps when gay men were imprisoned or people were persecuted because of their religion?  Or maybe when books were banned and the press was censored?

These are complicated times in which we live.  There are real problems that need to be solved, one cannot deny.  But to retreat behind our borders in suspicion and fear will only make us smaller, not greater.  Change has happened, is happening, will happen.  To fear change, whether in one’s personal life or as a country, is detrimental to the healthy future of both.  In the eight years I have written this blog I have come into contact with people from all over the world.  This has only enhanced my belief that we are all essentially the same.  We share the same capacity for love and wonder, the same hopes and dreams, the same curiosity of each other and our world, even as we all love our home countries with dedication and pride.   

On the forefront of politics at the moment there are loud voices carrying the echoes of evil times, times we thought were forever buried by the unassailable lessons of history.   Now more than ever, we need intelligent voices of empathy and reason.  We need people willing to work together, not hide behind walls with fists clenched and eyes closed, proud of their ignorance of others.   Though often tempted to shut my doors and retreat into the peace of my own home, ignoring the cacophony and chaos, I know that I cannot.  My sphere of influence may be small, but I will continue to spread as much love and light as I can, even as the world gets darker.

In a delightful example of the friendships than can be created in this small world, last week Edward and I were tickled to meet Sharon Santoni, of the widely read and much loved blog, My French Country Home.  Sharon was in town to sign copies of her new book, My Stylish French Girlfriends, a lovely collection of French women - women with real lives, real faces, women of widely varied careers and interests.  It’s a marvelous, beautiful book and perfect for a summer’s day.

Find it HERE.

And visit the Shetland webcam for yourself, HERE