Monday, March 27, 2017

St. Patrick, The Snakes and The Kids

St. Patrick, The Snakes and The Kids

Recently I ventured out of my comfort zone to speak to a group of school children about my love of stories and the pleasure one can derive from writing one’s own.  This was the second time I’ve done this, so I knew what to expect and was quite looking forward to the experience.  The kids are delightful and since their teacher has read Edward Speaks at Midnight to them in the past, they are always full of questions about Edward, which I’m always happy to answer.  This year my visit with them happened to fall on St. Patrick’s Day so I had the utterly brilliant idea of incorporating the sainted one’s story into my little program.
So when the afternoon rolled around, dressed in a spring green coat, I stood up in front of the class and began to tell them about St. Patrick, starting with what I deemed the most exciting part of his biography:  the snakes.  When great theatricality I told them how he climbed to the top of a hill and cast all the snakes into the sea.  
“And if you go to Ireland today, you’ll not find a single snake,”  I said, triumphantly.

Scores of little eyes stared up at me in disbelief.  There was a pause, then hands shot up all across the room as questions were hurled at me like water balloons.

“Where’d the snakes GO?”
“Did he KILL them?”
“WHY did he kill them?”
“What did the snakes do to HIM?”
“What kind of snakes WERE they?”
“HOW did he make them leave?”
“Couldn’t they SWIM?”
“You mean he just KILLED them?”
“For no REASON?”

I mumbled and stuttered in my feeble attempt to defend poor St. Patrick’s now so obvious cruelty to snakes but couldn’t get a word in edgewise.  The questions kept coming and it was clear I was losing my grip on the reins of my little performance.  Glancing over at the teacher for help I saw she was giggling, so I knew I was on my own.  I briefly entertained the notion of smiling, nodding and backing out of the room to run to my car, drive to the airport and board a plane to someplace sandy and warm where handsome pool boys would bring me colorful drinks with little paper umbrellas bobbing up and down inside them while I sat by the sea with my eyes closed. 

It took a good few minutes to settle everybody down and I’m sorry to say I eventually fell back on that strategy so well-known and beloved by parents everywhere:  I made things up.  Before I was through, these snakes were the most vicious, evil creatures God ever made and St. Patrick simply had no choice but to shoo them all into the waves.  As to precisely how he did it?  Believe me, you don’t want to know.

Later that afternoon I met Walt and his Mom on my walk with Edward and Apple.  Walt is probably my biggest fan; he’s certainly my favourite.  He often meets us mid-walk to tell me what about his Little League games, or what he’s doing in school, or where he’s been on holiday.  He’ll tell me about reading “Edward’s book” again and he’ll laugh about “Apple talking about chipmunks and cheese”, all the while petting both dogs like the old friends they are.  Walt is a curious fellow so I felt it was a good idea to share my St. Patrick experience with his mother - so obviously an expert on the minds of little ones - in the hopes of finding out just where I’d gone wrong.

“Well that’s easy,” she said with a laugh.  “You mentioned snakes.” 
  And when Walt was out of earshot, she added, 
“Next time, just do what I do.  Make stuff up!”

So, it turns out I didn’t do so badly after all.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

One More Time: How Do You Feel?

This week the US House of Representatives will vote on the repeal of the Affordable Care Act, otherwise known as Obamacare, something the Republicans of this body have been anxious to do since is was put into effect in 2013.  The anticipated changes to our healthcare system here in the states, a system far from perfect, are sobering.  While Speaker of the House, Paul Ryan, astonishingly calls this new plan "an act of mercy", 24 million Americans brace to lose their healthcare over the next ten years.  
In light of this, I thought it might be interesting to revisit an essay I wrote in the autumn of 2013  when I was just home from a visit to the UK where The Songwriter took an unfortunate tumble on the Isle of Mull, broke his ankle, and landed us squarely in the middle of the National Health Service of Great Britain.  
If these proposed changes to our health care system here in the US are of concern to you, or if you have some concern over the proposed new budget released last week  - a budget that completely eliminates the National Endowment for the Arts, The National Endowment for the Humanities and  The Corporation for Public Broadcasting, as well as drastically defunding the Environmental Protection Agency - then I urge you to contact your representatives.  You can find their contact information at
xoxo, P
How Do You Feel?
Like many others around the world, I was fascinated by the opening ceremonies of last year’s London Olympics.  The sheep, the supermodels, the Queen’s doppelganger parachuting in alongside the illustrious James Bond - all were memorable sights to be sure.  The only portion of the program which seemed perhaps a bit odd to an American’s eye was the proud tribute to the National Health Service, complete with hundreds of real nurses and doctors dancing amongst giant beds in a replica of a ward in London’s Great Ormond Street Children’s Hospital.  As it is customary for a host nation to celebrate what they are most proud of in their opening ceremonies - to showcase their values, and honour what they hold dear - the message was clear, and as director Danny Boyle himself stated following the production, free universal healthcare is “an amazing thing to celebrate”.
When I left for my September trip to the UK, I certainly never dreamed I would return home with an empirical opinion about the National Health Service of Britain.  However, when your husband breaks his ankle in three places on the hills of the Isle of Mull, there is no time to consider the politics of universal health care.  You simply put your trust in the system and pray for the best.  And here’s the truth.  The care he received was superlative.  From the tiny hospital on Mull, through three ambulance rides and three emergency rooms, with nurses and doctors from hospital wards to operating theatres - at every turn in the road he was treated with the utmost competence, professionalism, and kindness.  No prima donna he, our surgeon was highly skilled, forthcoming, clear, and amazingly accessible.
  The first sign that we had entered a different system from the one we are accustomed to here in the States was the question I was asked at the first reception desk I encountered.  Instead of our usual, “how do you plan to pay for this?”, I heard, “how is your husband feeling?”.  This attitude was pervasive throughout his surgery and hospital stay.  I have been in emergency rooms in the US when my father was having a stroke and, even in that dire situation, before anything was done for him we were queried incessantly about his ability to pay for any treatment he might require.  Clearly, Great Britain ran on a different system.  
Our family has been fortunate in that we have been consistently able to pay for our health insurance, (which I assure you, is no small feat for the self-employed American) and we have enjoyed excellent medical care.  However, we have many friends who earn their living in the arts and who quite simply could never afford the astronomical cost of health insurance in this country.  They live in constant concern that an illness or injury may visit their door.  Their six year old may take a bad fall on the playground, a cold may turn out to be something worse.  Entire savings can easily be wiped out, bankruptcies can occur, houses can be lost, with even one serious illness.  One artist friend, recently hospitalised for two days with high blood pressure, was visited bedside by a lady on staff inquiring how she was planning to pay for her stay.  The entire bill for those two days was over ten thousand dollars and included a bill from that questioning lady herself. Clearly, our system doesn’t work for everybody. 
One would think, one could hope, that our elected officials might find it prudent to manage to work together in an effort to address this problem, but when our plane landed back here in the States we were met with a Congress willing to shut down the entire government in a petulantly political attempt to block revisions to the health care status quo.  The Affordable Health Care act is a law that has already been passed and still they hold the country at ransom in an effort to repeal or block it.  I am grateful for a President who had the guts to try and change what is clearly not working and while the new law may not be perfect, it is a recourse our friends without health insurance thankfully now possess. It is humiliatingly painful to see those who refuse to even try to help make it work, or make it better.  In my own state, our governor is simply ignoring it completely.  The health care of a nation is an issue that should transcend politics.  To hold it hostage is a slap in the face to those in need.
Perhaps I shall be assailed for these opinions.  It is true that my experience with the NHS in Britain, though serious, was brief, and there are no doubt plenty of British citizens with critical views on aspects of their system of which I am unaware.  It is also true that the so-called American Dream marches hand-in-hand with a “pull yourself up by your bootstraps”, “make your own way” philosophy and anything that hints of a variation in that creedo is, by some, suspect.  But I believe the prevailing question of, “how can you pay”, instead of “how do you feel” creates an atmosphere that moves insidiously throughout the soul of a nation, too easily turning the sick and the needy into “deadbeats” and “shirkers” and eventually stripping away our compassion, our humanity, our greatness.  I am embarrassed that my country, the richest nation in the world, is ranked thirty-eighth in health care.  Now, after my experience in Great Britain, I have seen another way and know that changes are possible.  If only we can find the courage to make them.

Monday, March 13, 2017

Emma Watson, Fairies and Books: A Reading List for an Early Spring

Emma Watson, Fairies and Books
A Reading List for an Early Spring

Having always been suspicious of anything too popular, I came to the Harry Potter books rather late.  The fourth one was being published before I was convinced to open the first.  A mere few chapters in and I was happy to admit, in this case, my suspicions were unfounded; these were wonderful stories, more than worthy of their magical reputation.  I tore threw the first four with glee and joined the ranks of children and adults alike who waited impatiently for each new book to be published.  Even today I’m a little envious of anyone, young or old, who’s not yet read the Potter books.  What a treat awaits them.
Had I been younger, I would have found a serious heroine in Hermione Granger, the smart, bookish Gryffindor girl who possesses bravery and brains in equal measure.  And when I saw the films, I have no doubt Emma Watson, the young actress who played Hermione, would have been utterly fascinating to me.  Watching Ms. Watson grow up through those films was a treat, even more so when one sees the young woman she’s become today.  Fame is so often a dastardly gift, one that once given, cannot be returned.  To bestow it on a child is dangerous indeed and we’ve witnessed so many go off the rails into thickets of trouble from which no exit can ever be found.  But Emma Watson appears to have been much like the character she played:  level-headed, whip smart and bookish.  A new generation of little girls is about to discover her as Belle in the new Beauty and the Beast.  How lucky they are.

Delightfully,  Emma Watson has of late been acting in the role of Book Fairy,  dropping of copies of her favourite books - in subways, on park benches - for people to find and take with them.  She includes a personal note in each book she leaves lying around and she encourages the reader to leave it in a public place when they’re finished for others to find.   She was lately in Paris, placing copies of Maya Angelou’s, Mom and Me and Mom,  alongside the statue of Gertrude Stein. 
 I have to admit, I just love that.

So, in the spirit of Emma and Hermione, here's a baker's dozen  books that I’ve recently read, along with a few that are working their way up to the top of my stack to be read, just in time for this oh, so early Spring.  As usual, just click on the book to see more.
Hopefully you’ll find something here 
that peaks your interest.

All the best, 

The Chateau
by William Maxwell

Anything is Possible
by Elizabeth Strout

Foreign Affairs
by Alison Lurie

Just Mercy
by Bryan Stevenson

Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk
by Kathleen Rooney

Lincoln in the Bardo
by George Saunders

How They Decorated
by P. Gaye Tapp

A Gentleman in Moscow
by Amor Towles

The Photo Ark
by Joel Sartore

The Dark Flood Rises
by Margaret Drabble

The Givenness of Things
by Marilynne Robinson

America's Original Sin
by Jim Wallis

by The Fan Brothers

Monday, February 27, 2017

All That Sunshine

All That Sunshine.

My car was pointed towards Scotland
 but I had a stop to make first….

The sky was grey the day I visited Brampton, with a watery light that diluted all colour and threatened to suck the magic from the sight I’d come to see.  Walking down the little lane, I pulled my collar up against the damp wind that whistled round the corners of St. Martin’s Church, pausing briefly to look up at my destination and steady my breath.  I could hardly wait to step inside.  

Every one of us has a favourite artist, even if we are not aware of it yet.  You may think art isn’t something that speaks to your soul, Rembrants and Picassos fly past you on posters and in textbooks with nary a flicker of meaning.  But then one day you happen upon a painting - in a book perhaps or, if you’re very fortunate, in a gallery - and you are transfixed, you feel yourself almost physically drawn inside, each brush stroke paints brand-new colours onto your soul and you are a little bit changed, a little bit wiser in ways you cannot articulate and you suddenly want, no, you need, to know everything about this artist, to see everything this genius has done.  For myself, I have many artists about whom I feel this way.  Two near the top of my list are Edward Burne-Jones and William Morris and on this drab, dreary day in the village of Brampton, they were waiting for me inside St. Martin’s Church.  

St. Martin’s was built in 1878 by the noted Pre-Raphaelite architect, Philip Webb.  Edward Burne-Jones was commissioned to design its stained glass windows and these windows were fashioned by William Morris.  I reached for the handle of the old wooden door to the church and turned it, almost giddy with anticipation.  

But the door remained shut.  I tried again, and again.  But it was obviously locked.  How could this be?  Looking around I spied a little church bazaar off to the right and headed there at a clip.  Inside I found a coterie of church ladies busily at work.
“I’ve come to see the windows”, I said, in what I hoped was not a voice of impatience.  

“It’s locked?”, came the reply from one of the more elderly ladies.  She was frowning.

“It is, sorry.”

The little clutch of ladies, whose faces had been softly friendly a moment before, now resembled a semi-circle of dried fruit - lips pursed, eyes narrowed.  “Well, you’ll have to go to the vicar and get the key.  He’s across the street in his house, getting packed, I suppose.”   


Answers came in a torrent of mutters and sighs with even an eye roll or two.  They leaned toward me in conspiratorial stance.  “Oh yes!”  “All packed.”  “He’s leaving us, you see.”  “With not a replacement in sight.”  “Got a new post.”  “Down in sunny Cornwall.”  “Good for him, isn’t it?”

They were still clucking and ruffling as I tip-toed out and headed cross the street to the vicar’s stone cottage.  Rapping on the door I stepped back as it was suddenly thrown open.   “Hullo!! Who are you, now?”   I stared up into a round face as bright and open as a sunbeam.   

As the soon-to-be wayward vicar bustled around his cottage, all topsy turvy with cases and boxes,  I found myself grinning.  Rarely have I seen a happier man.  “You’re off to Cornwall, I gather.”  

“Yes!  I cannot wait.  Just imagine all that sunshine.  I tell you, I have never looked forward to anything more.  Yes, I know I’m rather unpopular here for taking the post and leaving.  Oh, you heard, did you?  But it can’t be helped.  I need to leave, I really do.  So I’m off first thing in the morning.  Here’s the keys.  Enjoy the windows.  They really are spectacular.”   I wished him well and with keys in hand I made my way back to the church. 

He was right, the windows were spectacular.  But as I wandered around in the glorious gaze of their ecclesiastical light and artistry, my heart singing with joy, I could not get the vicar off my mind.  No matter his obvious delight in a decision well made, I knew it could not have been an easy one to make.  It’s never easy to choose the health of your own soul over the protestations of those you’ve once held close or respected.  It’s often a matter of following the Truth against a crashing sea of disapproval from those utterly certain of their holy correctness.  It’s hard and if you’re not very careful, it can be soul-crushing. 

Seasons have passed and still that vicar’s face floats up before me in troubled times.   I recall the peace of his sunny countenance and it gives me courage to stand up for what I know is right even in the midst of stern, often hateful, disapproval.  I watch, horrified, as those whom I once respected head towards the cliffside of hatred and bigotry, blinkered and afraid, and I cannot stem the flow of tears. My soul quivers.  But there is a light that shines on my path and I cannot help but follow.  I breathe deeply and recall the words of the former vicar of St. Martin’s Church in Brampton….. 
“Just imagine all that sunshine.” 

Just a reminder:
See more of my travels, more of Edward, of books, of gardens
of bits and bobs of various and sundry...

Thursday, February 16, 2017

And Yet.....

And Yet....

The snow moon evaporated at dawn, leaving behind the ghosts of silver shadows that hovered and drifted through the naked spires of the trees, pressing their gauzy fingers against our windows.  By noon the sun had once again pushed his face through the curtain of grey and warmed the air to an untimely resemblance of spring, almost audibly laughing at a moon so inappropriately christened.  
As confused by this peculiar impersonation of winter as I, the tulip trees are blooming.  In great ball gowns of pink they preside over lawns and gardens all over town, joined here and there by other flowering brethren tricked into blossom by this winter that never was.
The beauty is undeniable, one can hardly look away.  
Yet, beneath the candy-coloured visage of the streets I walk along lies a pulsating seed of disquiet.  For here, where as a child I was bundled and swaddled against the piercing cold of February, I now dig through closets for linen.  Where icicles once hung from the eaves of the house, the rose bushes threaten to bud.  The change bows my head and bends my knee.
  This premature spring that elbows its way through a vague semblance of winter is no less glorious that her sisters who once arrived on my doorstep in April.  And yet, to deny the strangeness is impossible and, I fear, unwise. 
To be nourished by the beauty while acknowledging the concern, this is the tightrope we all must walk. 
For no matter what weighs us down, cannot the beauty of the natural world always lift us up, 
no matter what, no matter when?
And yet…..

Painting above by Liz Wright

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Despite It All .... A Little List for January

Despite It All, A Little List for January

“The best remedy for those who are afraid, lonely or unhappy is to go outside, somewhere where they can be quite alone with the heavens, nature and God. Because only then does one feel that all is as it should be and that God wishes to see people happy, amidst the simple beauty of nature. As longs as this exists, and it certainly always will, I know that then there will always be comfort for every sorrow, whatever the circumstances may be. And I firmly believe that nature brings solace in all troubles.” 
Anne Frank, Diary of a Young Girl

There’s no denying these are difficult times here in the states.  To pretend otherwise seems both trivial and insensitive.  Having always found healing in nature, on inauguration day Edward and I were as far away from the news as it was possible to be without a plane ticket.  Lost in a winter forest, trees bare and silent save for the occasional chirp and scurry of the creatures around us, we wandered and roamed all day.  We sat for a while alone in a little forest chapel, offering up a prayer or two.

Certainly, one of the many benefits of sharing one’s life with a dog is their unique ability to bring goodness, joy and comfort into one’s life on a daily basis.  I am forever grateful to Edward for being a constant source of kindness and laughter, no matter what. 

 Just look at the face in that photo, taken on our long day out,
 and tell me you don’t feel just a bit better.

Here’s a little list for January, despite it all.
I hope you find a thing or two here that interests you.
Love and Courage,
1.  My Stylish French Box
One of the rewards of being a blogger is getting to occasionally meet one’s fellow bloggers.   I’ve been incredibly lucky for I’ve shared tea in Los Angeles with the captivating Lisa Bornes-Giramonti, of the sadly now quiet, A Bloomsbury Life. (Though one can still find Lisa on Instagram.)  I’ve met both the beautiful Jeanne Henriques (Collage of Life)  and Vicki Archer  for breakfast on separate occasions in London and spent an utterly charming afternoon with Brooke Giannetti (Velvet and Linen) at her home in Santa Monica.  And just this past summer both Edward and I had the chance to meet the lovely Sharon Santoni of My French Country Home.  You can easily see from the photo above how proud Edward was. 

In addition to her popular blog, Sharon is also the author of My Stylish French Girlfriends, a beautiful book that’s about, well, just what the title says.  It’s delightful.  And now she’s just launched a new venture that promises to bring a little bit of France right to one's front door.  My Stylish French Box is a gift box, specially curated by Santoni herself and shipped directly to you or anyone to whom you wish to send a fabulous gift.  
What a treat, no? 
 Find out more HERE.

 2.  A Few Books
Just click on photo for more.
Where’d You Go Bernadette
by Maria Semple
Goodness, I laughed.
Sweet.  Smart.  Snarky.  Fun.

Today Will Be Different
also by Maria Semple
Same wit, different story.

The Book of Joy
by The Dalai Lama and Desmond Tutu
A good friend dropped this off in my mailbox 
as a thank you for his Christmas fudge.
Wonderful, wise, and needed.

Bitten By Witch Fever
by Lucinda Hawksley
Wallpaper and Arsenic in Victorian Homes
This is just too tempting.

3.  Pillows
Just restocked a few new, antique, pillows.
Lovely additions to brighten up a winter interior.
This one looks like a winter night.
Find them HERE.
4.  Magical Globes
I have always been fascinated by globes.
Particularly old ones.
This company makes new ones 
with all the mysterious charm of the antique.
Truly magnificent.
The celestial version knocks my socks off.
Find them HERE.

5.  Tea and Tattle
The blog, Miranda’s Notebook, has always been a favourite stop of mine on the internet highway.  It’s a wonderful window into London life, courtesy of the lovely, Miranda Mills. Well now, Miranda has joined her good friend, Sophie Perdita, to produce a entertaining podcast called Tea and Tattle.  It’s like sitting at lunch in a cafe eavesdropping on British friends discussing a wide variety of topics, all with that undeniable flair and charm of the Brits.  
I love to listen while I’m preparing dinner. 
Find it HERE.  

6.  Wood Stoves
When I traveled to Yorkshire last April, the weather was appropriately Brontë-ian: all bruised skies and blustery winds.  Each afternoon after my ramblings on the moors, I would return to our inn ( the utterly delicious Ponden Hall ) to find a fire roaring in the wood stove of our room.  All evening long, as wind gusts rattled the windows and whistled round the stone walls outside, we kept adding logs to this stove and stayed toasty warm.  I decided right then and there - wood stoves are the best. 
And this is my current favorite.
It comes in green! 

6B.  Ponden Hall
If you’re interested in more about the wonderful Ponden Hall in Haworth, I’m thrilled to tell you that they just won an award for Friendliest Hosts in Britain, which I can honestly say they wholeheartedly deserve.
See what I mean... HERE

7.  The March
I was too young to protest anything in the sixties.  If it didn’t involve Hayley Mills or dogs I wasn’t interested.  In this current world, I no longer have that luxury.  So on January 21st, along with tens of thousands of men and women in my city, I braved a raging thunderstorm and boarded the subway into town to march for the first time in my life.  I marched for compassion, empathy, decency and truth.  I marched for immigrants and for a free press.  I marched for Serge Kovaleski.   I marched as a woman, an American, a Christian, a friend, a wife, a daughter.  I marched for the America I grew up believing in.  I marched for the values expressed in the painting above.  
The rain was blowing sideways as we made our way to the start of the march but just as our Congressman, John Lewis, began to speak, the rain stopped and the clouds rolled off.   The march was a remarkable experience that was shared by millions around the globe.  If you were there, you know what I mean.
There were many clever, heartfelt signs on display during the marches, but I found this one most poignant.

In a few short days we here in America have seen government agencies from the EPA to our National Park Service ordered to be silent.  Any comment from these agencies on climate change has been forbidden and information on that issue has been removed from the White House website.   Our press continues to be attacked and discredited by the highest in government.  The very first statement by our new White House press secretary was a blatant lie, expressed forcefully and defiantly, despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary.  Our health care laws are being stripped as I write and, as most of the world now knows, our new president placed travel ban on “certain” immigrants by executive order this past weekend.  On the same day he demoted the Head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and as well as the Director of National Intelligence from the National Security Council, paring that board from twenty-three members down to six, while giving his "personal advisor",  the head of a white nationalist website, a permanent seat.  These are scary times and looking away is not exactly an option for those of us with even a shallow knowledge of history.

"Dialogue, with all that it entails, reminds us that no one can remain a mere onlooker or bystander. Everyone, from the smallest to the greatest, has an active role to play in the creation of an integrated and reconciled society. This culture of dialogue can come about only if all of us take part in planning and building it. The present situation does not permit anyone to stand by and watch other people’s struggles. On the contrary, it is a forceful summons to personal and social responsibility.”
Pope Francis

8.  The Wonderful Photography of Kirsty Mitchell
See More HERE

9.  This Skirt
Crazy, crazy about this.
Find it HERE

10.  Beauty
Ah, what human beings can still manage to create together…..
Enlarge the picture and turn up the sound.