Friday, July 22, 2011

We love what we know (topographically speaking)…

I love Scotland, but I am not so in love with Fife.  Fife is where we live now and it’s okay.  But I don’t get excited when I see the landscapes here.  I’m sure there are those who are charmed by its lovely little harbours along the Forth, the fields of golden wheat and barley, the almost Scandinavian style of architecture.  But I don’t see its charm, and I think I know why.

A million years ago, when I was just a teenager, I went away to boarding school.  I was 14 at the time and really looking forward to being away from home.  The school – St. Margaret’s School in Tappahannock, Virginia - was beautiful, sitting on the banks of the Rappahannock River, white buildings – some old, some new – lining the water with old trees dotting the grounds.  But something was missing.  I didn’t know what it was, but there was something about that place that I didn’t like.  Sometime during my second year there, I figured it out.

You see, I was raised in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia, at the foot of Afton Mountain, a peak of the Blue Ridge.  From the moment you walked outside the house, there it was, rising before you.  In the spring, the mountainside would be dotted with the pink and white of dogwoods, the magenta of the redbud.  In the fall, the mountains seemed to catch fire – blazing with yellow, golds, reds.  It was beautiful and I loved it then and love it now.  But Tappahannock, despite its beautiful river and old trees, was situated in a flat area of Virginia.  There were no mountains or hills nearby.  I felt exposed.  Somehow, growing up in the shadow of that mountain, with the Blue Ridge on one side of the Valley and the Allegheny on the other, I felt protected.

Now, when I see the hills of the Highlands or, as we drive through England, the hills of Cumbria, Yorkshire, and Lancashire, I feel more at home, protected, embraced.  I imagine that is what I love so about the Highlands.  But along with the majestic peaks of the Highlands, there are rugged coasts, where villages lie between mountain and water.  Nothing could be more beautiful.

So, while I understand the pride of the natives of Fife (which is the Kingdom of Fife because it was an area the English did not take over), I can’t love it.  It’s too flat.  Its few hills don’t protect and embrace. Instead, they stand alone and small.  Give me the hills of the northwest.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Thoughts and reflections...

I’m at a very strange place now with my jewellery business. I believe in myself and in what I do, completely and utterly. I also understand that in this climate, buying luxury items like jewellery comes far down on the list unless you are one of the lucky ones who hasn’t felt the pinch of the worldwide recession. I just need some more sales to bolster my self-confidence. I’ve sold one beautiful pendant this week, but it was to someone I know. As I’ve said before, I will know I’m successful when I receive an order from someone I don’t already know.

I do have to chuckle though – who, in their right mind, would start up a jewellery business in this world economy? I know I’m an optimist, but even that may be taking my sensibilities at bit far. That being said, I am charging far less for items than most I know. Not because I don’t believe in the quality or the design; I charge less because I know what it is to hurt in the old pocketbook. It’s not a nice time in the world right now. But the optimist in me tells me that things will get better. Trump may be leaving Scotland, the Murdochs are in deep do-do.  Maybe the little guy, the nice guy, the good guy can finish first. I will never stop believing that.

For me, here and now, things aren’t as bad as they could be. On Monday, around 3:30pm, I turned to Chris and asked if we could go for a drive. Three and a half hours later, we were parked at the carpark that sits across from the Three Sisters of Glencoe eating sandwiches for our supper. With all of Scotland to choose from, that is where we ended up. Just as we will when we die, as it happens. We are like moths to a flame with that place. Its beauty never ceases to amaze and overwhelm.

Our trip north is still in the works. We hope to get up to the northwest in September. Perhaps my first craft fair on September 3 can finance it. And then, in late November, another trip north to a Christmas Fair in Achnasheen. Achnasheen is a tiny village on the road between Inverness and Ullapool, joining there with the road that leads to Skye. It is a beautiful area and I hope we are treated to some of the sights of the season while we are there. I remember, years ago, driving that long road from Inverness to Ullapool in late autumn.  We drove by a huge open area at the base of the hills and there, in the morning mist, was a herd of stags.  Their breath turned white in the cold air. Unfortunately, Chris’ camera was not handy at that moment – what a glorious photograph that would have made. Maybe, just maybe, we will see that lovely sight once more.

We travel to Sussex next week to help my stepdaughter, Lucy, move. Our children seem to be doing a lot of that lately. Caroline (my daughter) and her family moved a couple of weeks ago. Now it is Lucy’s turn. But we can neither complain nor poke fun – for Chris and I move more than most. Is it the artists in us that keep us going from place to place? I don’t know. But I do know that I never want to stop visiting new places and meeting new people. Until I am completely immobile, I will go where I can. I never want to get bored of this life. As Auntie Mame says, “Life is a banquet, and most poor suckers are starving to death.”  I want that banquet, that life. I don’t want to get to the end and look back at time spent dreaming but never achieving.

That brings me to back to where this all started. My business. I dream of success – not a great deal of it, mind you. I want just enough to know that my creations are appreciated; just enough so that I can continue to create when the muse visits and not so I can keep up with endless orders and demand. I want to be happy and make others happy. I don’t think that is too much to ask, nor do I think it is a na├»ve and silly wish. It is my wish.  And only I have the power to make it come true. Living here, in a country I love so very much, I am quite sure I can make my wish come true.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Another part of this country's beauty

Beauty can be described many ways. I suppose, at this point in our lives, one of my definitions for beauty must be the beauty of kindness, given one to another.  And so I have found that beauty here in Scotland as well.  This is a country with a social conscience and I am glad of it.

At the end of May, Chris and I became, technically, "homeless." The house we shared with my daughter and her family proved too expensive since Chris and I had not secured employment (we have since been informed that this area is one of the top ten for unemployment in the UK) and my son-in-law had lost his job. The burden of being financially responsible for four adults and one little girl was proving too much for my daughter and so we decided that the house would have to be given up and that Chris and I would be "homeless" and Caroline, Andy and Catherine would move to a smaller accommodation they could afford.  (I am happy to report that Andy has since found a part-time job with great prospects.)

We didn't know what to expect.  Certainly, we were in a predicament we had never been in before, nor ever dreamed of experiencing.  We contacted the people on the council and met with a housing officer and found comfort and assistance there.  When we arrived at one of the council offices to sign papers after being moved into a B&B, our embarrassment and "shame" must have been obvious. "Don't worry," said the nice man behind the counter, "we are dealing with doctors, nurses, lawyers and business leaders. This economy has left so many people without work. They are losing their homes and, like you, never dreamed of being in this situation. But we will take care of you." And they have, with respect and kindness and understanding.

We have moved from the B&B and are now quite happily settled in a small flat in the firth-side village of Buckhaven.  Like so much of this area, it is depressed with lots of boarded up buildings, but it is our home for now.  I say "for now" because this is part two of three.  Our next accommodation, which will be offered in about a year, will be an unfurnished flat, rented out through the council so that the costs are reduced.  We will have to buy our own furniture, but Chris and I are pros at that. We have bought and sold two homes' worth of new furniture in the last five years. I am sure we will be able to find someone who, like us, has to sell their belongings because of the circumstances they find themselves in.  And we will appreciate it.

To be in this situation at our point in life is a bit daunting. In addition to our homelessness, I am now "officially" disabled, and so have yet another government body assisting me.  Like the local council, they are doing it kindly, respectfully and with great understanding. I am enrolled in a pain clinic and receiving physiotherapy. As my mobility has been severely affected by the arthritis, I have been given a mobility allowance that I was able to turn into a car through a government program called Motability. Chris and I are now the proud lease-holders of a new Honda Jazz (the Fit in the US). The freedom of being mobile again has lifted our spirits and now trips to the store or the doctors or dentists can be done without fear of high taxi fares. Not only that, but we will be able to go up to the Highlands in the autumn for some very much needed R&R.  I have been able to register myself as self-employed, which gives me a sense of pride that I am earning some money. Chris will be taking up his camera again very soon and capturing more photographs of this beautiful country.

We are lucky to be where we are at this point in our lives. There are places where we would have been left to our own devices to try to get through this crisis.  Here, we are part of the family of man to which we all belong and for whom we all bear some responsibility to be sure that no one is suffering or without a roof over their heads or food on their tables.

It's a shame Chris doesn't photograph people. There are some beautiful souls here whose kindness and passion for helping others would be lovely to capture.  We are lucky; we are so very, very lucky.