Thursday, November 28, 2013

So many goodbyes...

It is Thanksgiving, and I am sitting in my hotel room in Staunton, Virginia, getting ready to travel to Louisa County where we have been invited to join my 'daughter' Morgan Albert Smith's family for Thanksgiving. I was up early-ish this morning to talk my daughter through the fine art of preparing creamed onions - our contribution to the feast. We are preparing to get on the road in an hour or so. It will be lovely, sad day.

Mom at Oak Grove
I am here because my mother died on November 14. Exactly two months shy of her 87th birthday, she passed away peacefully under the caring and watchful eye of her doctor. When my daughter and I went to the nursing home, we spoke to her nurse who told us that our last emails to her were printed off and read to her before she died. I am so grateful. My last email let her know that I will always carry her with me and that I will always love her. Likewise, my daughter and sister sent emails that day, too. We all knew the time had come.

A week ago, we said our final goodbyes to Mom. My sister, daughter and partner, husband, cousin and her family attended the private interment of her ashes at the columbarium at Saint John's Episcopal Church in Waynesboro. Her ashes are now with my father's. Dad's ashes were silver with flecks of black and they sparkled. Mom's were pure white, glistening as they filled the small opening in the red Virginia clay. They are together again and that makes me feel a little less sad. In going through Mom's stuff, we found their love letters to each other - written in 1949. How they loved each other.

The memorial service at Emmanuel Church in Staunton was perfect. My sister and I wanted some Beatles music to play as people came into the church. The musical director at the church played 'In My Life' on the piano. It was lovely. Two of my mother's dearest friends provided the readings that Mom had chosen. We sang Mom's favourite hymn, 'I Sing a Song of the Saints of God.' And, for those who wished, the church ran off copies of A.A. Milne's final chapter for 'The House at Pooh Corner.' It is the chapter in which Christopher Robin tries to explain to Pooh that he is going away. When I read it over just before Mom died, I was particularly struck by these words at the end of the chapter.


Then, suddenly again, Christopher Robin, who was still looking at the world, with his chin in his hands, called out “Pooh!”
          “Yes?” said Pooh.
          “When I’m—when—Pooh!”
          “Yes, Christopher Robin?”
          “I’m not going to do Nothing any more.”
          “Never again?”
          “Well, not so much.  They don’t let you.”
          Pooh waited for him to go on, but he was silent again.
          “Yes, Christopher Robin?” said Pooh helpfully.
          “Pooh, when I’m—you know—when I’m not doing Nothing, will you come up her sometimes?”
          “Just Me?”
          “Yes, Pooh.”
          “Will you be here, too?”
          “Yes, Pooh, I will be, really.  I promise I will be, Pooh.”
          “That’s good,” said Pooh.
          “Pooh, promise you won’t forget about me, ever.  Not even when I’m a hundred.”
          Pooh thought for a little.
          “How old shall I be then?”    
          “Ninety-nine.”
          Pooh nodded.
          “I promise,” he said.
          Still with his eyes on the world Christopher Robin put out a hand and felt for Pooh’s paw.
          “Pooh,” said Christopher Robin earnestly, “if I—if I’m not quite—” he stopped and tried again—“Pooh, whatever happens, you will understand, won’t you?”
          “Understand what?”
          “Oh, nothing.”  He laughed and jumped to his feet.  “Come on!”
          “Where?” said Pooh.
          “Anywhere,” said Christopher Robin.

          So they went off together.  But wherever they go, and whatever happens to them on the way, in that enchanted place on the top of the Forest, a little boy and his Bear will always be playing.


Mom loved Winnie-the-Pooh and our childhood was spent listening to her read the stories to us. Even now, when I read any A.A. Milne, I hear Mom's voice. I think I always will. 'James James Morrison Morrison Weatherby George Dupree' will always be heard as read by my mother (especially the whispering part). I suppose, for Mom, reading that final chapter at her service (which we had to change to providing people with copies since it would have taken too long) was her way of saying that she would always be there, no matter what. And that somewhere, she is whole and healthy again. I am going to miss her so much.

Katie and me in our backyard in Waynesboro
And when we leave this area tomorrow morning, I am saying goodbye again. I have no reason to come back again now that Mom is gone. Travelling is difficult for me and I really, really don't like flying. So our trip back to the UK on Monday evening will be my last. And so I bid farewell to Waynesboro, where I spent a magical childhood - riding my bicycle to the creek in the summer and sledding down the hills at the golf course in the winter. Where trick-or-treating lasted hours and delighted dozens of children dressed up in homemade costumes.  Where Christmas Eve afternoons were spent taking part in the church pageant (always an angel) where the littlest children came to the altar with canned goods during the singing of 'Away in a Manger' and the pageant ended with the procession of a birthday cake and the joyful singing of 'Happy Birthday' to the Christ child. Then the afternoon would continue with the distribution of cookies to friends around town and an evening with our closest friends before going home and trying so hard to fall asleep. Where summers were spent on Cape Cod, Massachusetts and then back home and out to Oak Grove Theatre in Verona. My mother, father and I took part in so many plays - on stage and off. (My sister would work backstage sometimes and was in one play, but preferred to be part of the audience.) In those days, the cast party on Saturday night would take place at Penny Royal Farm and go until the early hours. It was a wonderful childhood. How lucky we were. What amazing parents we had. They were good times.

I also say farewell to the college on the hill - Mary Baldwin College. I will always hold dear my years as a student there. It was during the college's 'golden age.' I loved my years there under the tutelage of dearly loved professors who opened up the world to me and gave me the opportunity to shine. It was one of the best colleges in the country then and I was so lucky to have had the chance to study there.

I say farewell to friends - both old and new - who made my life in the Shenandoah Valley one of love and laughter.

And so, tomorrow, as I watch Staunton fade into the distance, I say farewell with love and happy memories to sustain me. I love where I am, but I wouldn't be there if I hadn't been here first.


Goodbye, Mom and Dad, I love you both more than you will ever know. Goodbye, Waynesboro and Staunton. Goodbye, Oak Grove Theatre and the The Oaks and Hawthorne Lane and Tams Street. Goodbye, Fairfax Hall and Mary Baldwin. Goodbye, Virginia. Thank you for everything you have given me and for everything that will stay with me always.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

My mom...

Two days ago my mother was transferred from the rehabilitation centre where she was sent following a recent hospitalisation back to the hospital again. Apparently the medicine she was taking for her heart was all out of whack in her bloodstream. On top of that, she is having other problems far too complex to go into here. But, she is not well and the nurses have said both that what is bothering her is fixable and she's not out of the woods yet. So, I sit and wait and call and talk to the nurses and I worry.

Let me tell you a bit about my mother. My mother was born in Boston at the end of the 20s. She was the middle child and the only girl. She was raised by intelligent and accomplished parents and with two wonderful brothers, Davy and Gil. Mom earned her Bachelor's Degree from Wells College in upstate New York. She had been accepted by Vassar, but was 'unaccepted' when they realised they had too many students from the Boston area (they had some sort of quota system then). As a young woman during the forties, she wore rolled up jeans with bobby socks and loafers; she had a portrait taken with a gardenia in her hair, she was so beautiful and just a little bit glamourous. I have no doubt my father fell in love with her at first sight, although she says her love for him developed over time. Her first impression was that he was a goofy, skinny Southern guy, overly extroverted and often telling jokes to a captive audience.

Mom is pretty brilliant. She does NY Times crossword puzzles every day and is a very accomplished bridge player. And she was a wonderful wife to my father. They were a real team - true partners. I always hoped and dreamed of having a marriage like theirs - one that was as intellectually well matched as temperamentally. My sister and I used to kid about writing a book called, 'Adult Children of Intellectuals.' Our dinner table was the place of many long and fascinating conversations about everything from Winnie-the-Pooh to Machiavelli and everything in between.

When Katie and I were little, Mom exhibited endless patience with us - letting us apply makeup to her (with resulting cheeks that had perfect circles of red from the little compact that held her red rouge), playing shoe store with her or attempting to make her breakfast in bed ('I'm sorry the eggs aren't cooked enough, Mom, but the toast was burning!'). She had some wonderful dresses for special occasions - I remember a strapless black number with a huge tulle skirt. I always thought Mom looked like a young Rosemary Clooney. 

The reason my sister and I both love writing is because of her and Dad. As far back as I can remember, she loved reading to us at night. When we were unable to read for ourselves, even after we learned to read, she would read to us every night. Today,when I read 'Disobedience' by AA Milne, it is my mother's voice I hear, particularly when I come to the part where you are supposed to whisper. I remember her reading Kipling's 'Just So Stories' to us and how we would recite with her, 'For I am the cat that walks by himself, and all places are alike to me.' She allowed our imaginations to run and we sat, entranced, as she read to us from 'Peter Pan,' or 'The Water Babies' or, my very favourite, 'A Little Princess.' How could my sister and I not have grown up with a deep love of the written word. It was so much a part of our childhood. (I once asked my mother why she never read the final chapter to the Winnie-the-Pooh stories to us. She challenged me to read it aloud to her. I didn't get very far, the tears choking me as I read about Christopher Robin telling Pooh goodbye because he was going away to school.)

As I grew, Mom and I would often share our favourite books with each other. When I discovered the wonderful Richards Adams and 'Watership Down' I quickly recommended it to Mom. After she had read it as well, we would read favourite parts out loud to each other, both of us weeping. What a pair! But she could be ever so silly as well. I remember one year, before Christmas of my senior year in college. I had had some surgery to remove some benign tumors from my inner arm and was unable to help with chores. It was horrible when the snow fell and I couldn't help them shovel the walk. But I remember, on this one occasion, that Mom came up behind me and knelt on the sofa, her arms on the back as we stared out the window at the blizzard. Then she said, very manner of factly with a very put-on Southern accent, 'My, that's a fiiiiiiine snow.' We both collapsed with laughter. One morning when my sister was home and for whom mornings were not the best time, my mother came to me and said, 'Let's go try to wake up Katie and see how ticked off she gets.' She cackled with laughter. Mom was a bit like the little girl with the little curl - when she was good, she was very, very good. When she was bad, she was naughty!'

When I had my daughter, I knew I had to name her after Mom. Not only to continue a tradition in the family, but because I wanted to honour her that way. My mother has always been a bit of mystery to me regarding her New England reserve. She rarely gets emotional about things, but after my daughter was born and I called Mom to tell her she had arrived safely, I asked Mom what she thought I named her. She repeated the name I had told her because I wanted it to be a surprise. I replied, 'No, Mom, her name is...Caroline.' I could hear her gulp loudly. 'That's lovely,' was all she could muster. She and my daughter developed a very strong bond. She and Caroline love each other very much and spent much time together when Caroline was little. She would spend days with them when I was working, helping Mom with the groceries or the laundry. There was nothing Caroline wouldn't do for Mom. We were so happy when Mom met her great-granddaughter. She has now seen Catherine twice - and she loves her as much as she loved us or my Caroline. 

My relationship with my mother has been complex, as are most mother-daughter relationships. Bottom line is, despite the fact that there have been plenty of times when we have gotten on each other's nerves, I know she loves me and I love her. It is not something she says often, but I understand. And when she does say it, it means even more. She's been saying it a lot lately, as have I. And I know she counts on me to be there for her. I am there for her in spirit now, as I am so far away. But I am there and I keep her in my thoughts and heart all the time.

Why am I writing this now? I don't expect and I don't want Mom to leave yet. But I want her to read what I want to share with her and with everyone. She always asked me to remember her when I would write about Dad. I want her to have this whole blog to herself. My brilliant, elegant, funny mom.

Get better, Mom, please. I'm not ready to say goodbye yet.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

A beautiful Saturday - but wait until tomorrow!

I am sitting in the GALE Centre in Gairloch. It is the last of the three days I have 'set up shop' here. I had some wonderful sales yesterday and Thursday, but today is quite quiet. I don't blame people for staying outside today. The sky is clear with fluffy white clouds, the sea is a beautiful blue and the sun is shining. I have the vantage point of sitting in one of the huge windows that makes up the wall of the building that faces the sea loch. I don't mind the lack of sales today. At least I am out and about and enjoying a beautiful day. But, we are in store for a wild and windy day tomorrow. They are predicting lashing rain and gale-force winds. We will be happily and cosily hunkered down in our new house - watching the weather from the big windows that face west. 

It is so quiet today, I may even listen to my radio show at 2pm when it repeats after its original broadcast last night. Last night I was chasing a washing machine so I missed it. Of course, I wasn't literally chasing anything! I couldn't chase anything these days if my life depended on it. I was chasing a delivery. The only reason we are not completely settled in the new house is the time is it taking to get things delivered. As one delivery guy said, 'You do live near Iceland.' Of course, that is not the truth, but for people who don't live in the northwest, we do appear to be beyond the reach of all civilisation. So, our washing machine will be with us this Thursday and our new sofa will be with us sometime the week after this one coming up. But our bedroom is just about settled - we just need some dressers. The kitchen/diner isn't bad - despite the fact that Caroline and Catherine living with us means our desks/work tables are temporarily taking up the space under the huge windows. It has been a lovely change from the Bothie. The size of the halls and the rooms means that I can move more freely and when a wheelchair becomes a daily necessity, I will be as comfortable as I can be. With the house facing west, we are treated to beautiful sunsets every night. Two nights ago, as the sun was setting, we were treated to the vision of a young doe munching away at the foliage in the little field right next to our house. She was no more than 10 yards away and we all watched silently until she gracefully glided through the foliage and out of sight. 

Last night we enjoyed Caroline's huge TV and watched 'Skyfall'. I hadn't seen it before and I was not disappointed, having read such incredible raves and reviews. The scene that took place in Glencoe was not disappointing. Such a beautiful, beautiful place. And wonderful Dame Judi. I adore that woman. I suppose with the death of Dame Judi's character, M, the new M will be Ralph Fiennes. I love Q being a young, geeky guy, and I love the fact that there is a new Moneypenny. I shall look forward to the next one when it comes out. I think I will probably have to go back and see the other Daniel Craig Bond films.  Next movie to watch on the TV - 'The Most Exotic Marigold Hotel.'  Dame Judi, again, of course, with the added treat of Dame Maggie Smith!

This coming week we will be setting up for a photo shoot, using Caroline as my model. She has such a lovely, long neck and I can't imagine a more beautiful place on which to showcase my necklaces. I am hoping to be able to put together a slideshow. Time will tell - but I imagine it will turn out quite beautifully. Years ago I won a photo session with a company called Venture. The photos they produce are taken with a stark white background and are very fashion/trendy. Of course, as I hate to have my photo taken, Caroline was the subject for the photo shoot. The photos were gorgeous and one of them was done in such a way as it looks like a very up-market photograph advertising jewellery. So, I know that we can get the photos if we set it up properly. I can't wait to see how the session turns out. 

So, that's about all the news from Scotland. Until next time, slainte mhor a h-uile la a chi's nach fhaic (great health to you every day that I see you and everyday that I don't).


Saturday, August 17, 2013

Remembering Frank...

Two days ago, on the 15th of August, a dear and beloved friend died. How can I begin to describe Frank Southerington? He was not a big man - slight in frame - but with a personality and an intellect that rose high above those around him, no matter their own stature.  Frank came to teach at Mary Baldwin College in 1968 and I am still amazed that a small, albeit extremely well-respected, private women's college in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia was able to secure an English, Oxford-educated Ph.D. who, amongst other things, was considered one of the preeminent experts in the study of Thomas Hardy and August Strindberg. But Frank wasn't full of himself nor did he pass himself off as anything other than a wonderful man with a great love of humour, friends, cigarettes and Pabst Blue Ribbon beer. And he drew to him students and faculty alike who loved to be with him. 

I first met Frank in 1968 shortly after his arrival to teach at Mary Baldwin. He and my parents became fast friends and Frank was often a guest in our house. I can't believe he would have been just 30 when I first met him. As I said before, he was slight, with blonde hair and bright, happy eyes and he had an infectious smile. I got to know him better, as a dear friend, over the years. I remember attending the wedding when he married the lovely Terry, who went on to become a professor of theatre at Mary Baldwin. And we continued our friendship as we worked on theatrical productions together. I was one of many in the cast when he directed Strindberg's 'A Dream Play' and I can't remember a play I did when he wasn't involved somehow. During my years as an MBC student, my time spent with them was more frequent as we gathered at the house after rehearsals or performances of the various productions often directed by Frank or by Terry. At Oak Grove, I was Miss Prism to his Dr. Chasuble in a production of 'The Importance of Being Ernest' and, to my great joy, Frank fulfilled my dream of 'doing Shakespeare' when he cast me as Helena in a production of 'A Midsummer Night's Dream' my senior year at MBC. Twenty-odd years later, I was moved to tears when he and Terry played opposite each other in a production of 'Shadowlands.' 

Frank and Terry welcomed students, faculty, and theatre friends into their home for countless parties and evenings of just sitting and talking and sharing wit and wisdom amongst the many cats with whom they shared their house. They were a huge part of the college experience for anyone who was involved in theatre or literature and I know there were students from all the other disciplines who counted Frank and Terry amongst their most beloved friends. My parents, my sister and I were often guests in their home for an impromptu gathering and much merriment always ensued. Their Christmas parties were the stuff of legend.

In addition to the many cats (how many of us in the Staunton area at some point owned a 'Southerington kitten'?) who wandered in and out of the house on Coalter Street, Frank and Terry had three wonderful children - Paul, Jennifer and Margaret. One memory that stands out in my mind is Frank laughing to the point of tears when Paul dove into his first birthday cake face first, coming back up for air with his face covered in homemade chocolate frosting. I think it took several minutes for Frank to catch his breath again. There are so many memories I hold dear - playing darts, talking about anything and everything, square dancing at Pennyroyal Farm in the old days, the Christmas parties, cast parties. So many memories I hold so dear.

The news of Frank's death came through Facebook, through the Mary Baldwin College page. And the news spread quickly. Soon, conversations were taking place amongst those who had once shared in Frank and Terry's unending hospitality  - all of us wishing desperately that we could turn back time and find ourselves once more with Frank and Terry, once more in the comfort of their home on Coalter Street, once more surrounding him and Terry with our undying friendship and love.

Frank's health suffered in his final years. When I was back in the States in 2008-2010, I didn't see very much of Frank and Terry. His health kept him home most of the time and I, unfortunately, was not at my happiest at the time. But I remember so well one evening at Oak Grove - the theatre where we had been so often together - he and Terry arrived in the area where the actors and crew hang out before the show. As I emerged from the makeup area, I heard a voice say, 'There's the person I want to see.' And there was Frank, looking at me with a huge smile and I gave him the tightest hug I could muster. He was much smaller than I remembered, age and illness having taken a toll on him. But the smile was as bright and the eyes as sparkling as ever. 

I think sometimes we aren't even aware of how much we love people, how big a place in our hearts they occupy, until we hear that they are gone forever. I exchanged messages with his eldest daughter, Anna, who was born to Frank and his first wife. I got to know Anna when she came over to Virginia from Sweden for high school and college. Anna lives in Stockholm, so we shared the hardship of being away from our fathers when the time came to say goodbye. I shared with her my hope and wish that my father and hers are happily together again in the afterlife - having a smoke and a drink and enjoying each other's company again. Anna said the pile of used tissues beside her was growing. I remember that feeling well. As she said, the thought of never hearing his voice again was hard to fathom. I think it is hard for all of us who loved him to fathom that. 

Frank turned 75 last month and I had planned to send a card. Instead, I was distracted by a pressing health crisis here. How much I regret not having sent a card - just to remind Frank that he was and always will be one of my dearest friends. Frank was a part of my life - one way or another - for 45 years. That's a long time. But a time made better by his presence in it.

'For in the sleep of death what dreams may come.'
                                                          
Dream sweet, Frank, 'and flights of angels sing thee to thy rest.'

(Both quotations are from Hamlet - Frank was a great Shakespearean scholar as well.)

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Catching up...

I know it is has been far too long since my last post here. We have been very busy. I just finished with a three-day event at the Aultbea Arts and Craft Fair. It was a good time and I've become more familiar with so many of the lovely ladies who live in this area. I sold one of my beautiful sets - a pink sapphire pendant with matching earrings - to a lady who will be giving it to her soon-to-be daughter-in-law. It makes me so happy to know that they will be presented to celebrate such a lovely occasion. A pair of copper and malachite earrings will be living somewhere in southern Austria now. It is so much fun to think about where in the world my jewellery can be found. I don't seem to be getting as many hits on the websites from across the world as I used to, but still. As long as I continue to love making the jewellery and as long as people continue to buy it, I'm happy. My table is looking better and I have a few little adjustments to make and then I may just stop trying to improve it. I think it is looking quite good now and people do stop and comment to me about my table, so I must be doing something right. Here is a photograph of my table as it looked at the Arts and Crafts Fair. 



My jewellery has now appeared in Harper's Bazaar and Aspire magazine, in addition to Tatler. I'm so pleased. I almost missed my appearance in HB because the space was so much larger than I thought it would be. The earrings that will appear in October's issue of UK Vogue have already been photographed and the design approved. I had a creative buzz the other night and created two more pairs of earrings for the November and December issues. I will try to get those photographed this week so I can get the photos off to my contact in London. So exciting.

But, our biggest news is that we are moving again. I know, you are all shaking your heads in disbelief, but I must explain. This Wednesday I have an appointment in Inverness to be fitted for a wheelchair. The pain that I experience and the affect it has on my mobility has increased to the point that I need a wheelchair some of the time. The Bothie does not have the correct set-up outside for a ramp. The size of the hallway and the doors will not accommodate a wheelchair. We were very lucky that someone just happened to mention to Chris about a lovely house that is in the village of Aultbea (as opposed to where we are outside of Aultbea). The house is beautiful and has been completed refurbished on the inside, so meets all the specifications for wheelchair accessibility. We couldn't be happier. The house will be perfect, too, as Caroline and Catherine are moving in with us on the 3rd of September to stay a for a little while until Caroline can get settled again. So, as of September 1st, we will be living in a lovely little house in Aultbea. We have enjoyed our time at the Bothie, but we need the easy access of large halls and doorways so I can be as independent as possible.

I've recorded six of my radio programmes and will be recording two more this coming Friday and then more the following week. I am told they have been very well received. I missed two of them because we were going through a small health crisis with Chris (all is fine, crisis is no more). I was thrilled that the gentleman I've been working with was able to burn CDs for the two programmes I missed. I am going to try to convert them to files so I can send them to my mother. I know she would love to hear them.

Now, I have finally taken a photograph to share here that I've been meaning to share for such a long time. Our drive to Gairloch from here takes us through some beautiful countryside - from lush riverbeds to desolate moorland. One of my favourite views along the way is looking down to Loch Maree with Slioch (a hill, the name meaning 'spear') rising to the left. One day last week, when it was particularly beautiful, Chris stopped and I was able to get this photograph from the car. I love this view and it is beautiful year round. In the winter, with the snow on the hills, it is equally gorgeous. So, finally and at last, here is the view.


So, that's all for this time. I may not have the time or opportunity to write again before our move in three weeks' time. But I will be back as soon as I am able.

Don't forget to look at my website, www.ailleasdesigns.com to see my latest designs in sterling silver and luxurious gemstones. For bronze and copper jewellery that is a little less dressy (and less expensive), be sure to look at my site for bronze and copper jewellery art, www.selkieshaunt.com. I am having a good year so far, and I hope it will continue.

Until next time, Slainte mhor agus a h-uile beannachd duibh (great health and every good blessing to you).  

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Been so very busy...

It has taken its own sweet time, but appears that summer has arrived in Wester Ross. Granted, it took until July 8 to show itself in full sunshine and warmth, but it did arrive. I hope it will stay a while. It would be nice to feel the sun's warm rays for more than a day here and there. But, no matter the weather here, I will never miss the heat and humidity of Virginia in the summertime. I may complain, from time to time, about the rain or grey skies, but at least I never feel as if I am going to melt, quite literally, into a pool of clammy goo. So many summers of my adult years were spent in the Washington, DC suburbs. Now those were HOT!

I've had the great fun over the last month or so of recording my very own radio programme for the local radio station - Two Lochs Radio. I did an interview with them back in late January and when I finished the gentleman who interviewed me asked if I would be interested in doing a programme. I jumped at the chance. Truth be told, I always wanted to try radio.  I've recorded five installments now of the 13-part programme. The first installment was broadcast this past weekend and I was really happy with the result. You never know, as you sit in the recording room with microphones and sliding controls, how it will all sound in the end. There is some post-recording editing to make sure the episode fits in its 58-minute time slot, and I'm sure there were some er's and um's to edit out. But the final product was fun. For the first time it was played, I was joined on Facebook by my dear friend, Melissa. Melissa and I went to high school together (at Fairfax Hall in Waynesboro, Virginia) and she remarked that it had been nearly 40 years since she had heard my voice - and indeed it had. It was lovely getting her instant feedback as each record played. It was such fun and I can't thank her enough for 'holding my hand' as the first show hit the airwaves.

I will be recording eight more episodes - each episode represents a year, with the series starting in 1964. Not only have I enjoyed the actual recording, I have enjoyed listening to the music again and looking up fun facts and news items for each month of each year. And it's fun to reminisce - music has an incredible ability to transport you back in time to the place you were and feeling you got the first time you heard the song. I know that is what happens to me.

Caroline and Catherine have been up to visit a few times recently and we are looking forward to them visiting us for Catherine's birthday. Catherine has requested a chocolate cake with green frosting and Minnie Mouse decorations. I've asked local baker extrordinaire, Susan Kirkness, to do the deed and will be picking up said chocolate cake with green frosting the day before Catherine's birthday!

My business is going well and I'm thrilled to announce that Ailleas Designs will be appearing in a photo shoot/editorial spotlighting jewellery designers in the highlands and islands. The photos will appear in Highland Life magazine the first part of August. I will most certainly share some of the photographs here once they are made available to me. To say the least, I am terribly pleased with this development. Whilst I have scored space in some fabulous titles - Tatler, Harper's Bazaar and Vogue - this is the first editorial content I've been able to gain. I hope it won't be the last. My jewellery is selling really well from Duncan House on Skye and I'm thrilled to be associated with Garth, Deborah, their assistant, Abigail and the gallery itself. Garth is such a seriously talented silversmith/goldsmith and I was just so tickled to be offered some space there. They are good people, that's for sure.

All in all, things are going well. I must report that I have been measured for a wheelchair because the arthritis is progressing to that point, but I won't let it get me down. Most days are difficult because of the pain and walking is becoming more and more impossible. But, with everything else going so well, I feel it is a small price to pay.

(I do apologise for the lack of photographs...I promise to remedy that.  Chris and I are going out on little drives more often now. I will remember to take my camera so I can get some lovely shots to include here. )

Monday, May 27, 2013

Spring?

I know we are not alone in experiencing some strange weather for this time of year. Apparently there has been snow in upstate New York and frosts in Virginia. We have been experiencing less that perfect weather here in this corner of the world. We've had rain and sleet and temperatures in the 30s (Fahrenheit). Not what you would hope for or expect this time of year. We made a trip to Skye on Thursday of this past week and it was a horrible day. It was lovely to be on Skye, but the rain and drizzle were ridiculous. We have heard tales of people driving through three seasons on their way around the north of Scotland. Spring and summer are long overdue. Unfortunately, the cold and rain will not keep the midges at bay. I've been informed that the cold and rain, because it hasn't been cold enough, will mean the midges will be as bad this year as any. Oh well.

Rising moon
But, for the last four or five days, the weather has been a bit better. The other night the moon was so large as it hung low on the horizon before rising and shining down on the loch. It was lovely to see it shining so brightly in a sky that wasn't nearly as grey as the nights before. We can only hope that each evening will be more beautiful than the last. The days do seem to hold more promise. The grey doesn't linger in the sky as long as it did a week ago. Perhaps spring will come, with summer close behind because spring has left it so late to arrive.

Today we had rain and sun, which means we had rainbows. I love the rainbows up here. Like the sky itself, the rainbows are so much bigger than those I remember back in the States. They seems broader and brighter. This evening there was even one that was dipping its toes into the sea. I used to be awe-struck by rainbows because I saw them so infrequently. Up here, they are part of nearly every day. But I hope I won't ever take them for granted. Such a beautiful phenomenon should never be taken for granted. They are far too lovely to dismiss as every day.

Evening rainbow
At one point this evening, I looked out the window to see a very broad rainbow whose arc was interrupted, making it look like a slice of rainbow instead. And to the right of it, another rainbow slice fainter than the first. It was the kind of rainbow that causes you to convince yourself that you aren't simply seeing a phantom rainbow because you have stared so hard at the first one. We get lots of double rainbows up here, too. And I will always look upon them with wonder.

The nights are longer now. It is now 10:55 pm and it isn't dark yet. It is not light by any means, but it is definitely not dark. I can still see the silhouettes of the hills and the sheep on the field next to us. The lambs have been scurrying about today, leaping and jumping, enjoying the sunshine when it was here and cuddling next to their mothers when the rain put in an appearance. We hear them in the morning, baa-ing happily with the light of day. But then, the light of day starts about 3:45am. This 'highland wake-up call' may be charming, but it is far too early.

Tonight, before the sun set, the light on the hills and the houses in the distance was beautiful - rich and deep. The photograph below was taken at 9:45pm. I often think about the theatre group I belonged to back home. The theatre is outdoors in a grove of oaks (hence called Oak Grove) and shows during the summer don't start until 8:45 so that it is dark enough for the lighting to be effective. If there were an outdoor theatre here, the shows wouldn't be able to start until after 10pm.


Nearly 10 pm!
The days are certainly getting warmer - albeit slowly but surely. I am sure it won't be that much longer until we will be enjoying some true summer weather. I look forward to our first summer up here. The summer event for Exclusively Highlands is taking place at Eden Court in Inverness on July 13 and 14th. I am really looking forward to it. Chris was asked to join and he will start taking part in the autumn with the events leading up to Christmas. I know he will do well. His photo-art has really made an impact and we launched his new website last week. His first order came within 12 hours. (His website is www.aramakimagery.com.)

We were supposed to take part in markets in Torridon this summer but may have to pull back on those. Chris has been dealing with some fairly serious health issues lately. We are still working with the doctors to try to find the source of the problems. While we are sure it is nothing sinister, it hasn't been proved that it's not. So, we continue with Chris having all sorts of tests and scans in hopes of discovering the problem and then how to treat it. At least he is enjoying his photography again. That means a lot.

So, there you have it. The latest from the little house on the loch. Hope this finds all of you well and I hope it finds all of us slowly thawing out and enjoying warmer weather.














Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Ups and downs and improving weather...


It has been far too long (again) since I've written anything here. Truth be told, I've become a very willing slave to my business. Things are ticking along very nicely and the invitation to appear in the UK's oldest magazine, Tatler, was issued to me about 6 weeks ago and I've been working like crazy ever since. Hits have increased, sales have increased and I'm feeling very confident and happy about the business. I think it is going to be a good year.

On the personal horizon, it has been a time fraught with all sorts of drama. My daughter has been having increased pain in her joints and a visit to the rheumatologist this week resulted in her receiving the official diagnosis of Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome III (Benign). This is characterised by acute hypermobility and is a genetic syndrome effecting the connective tissue of the body. It is inherited, and all fingers point to me. In fact, it is accepted now, by my GP as well, that my severe osteo-arthritis is, in fact, the result of my having suffered from EDS my whole life. One of the telltale signs of EDS III in children is the frequent occurrence of sprains and twists. Anyone who knew me as a child can tell you that a spent a great deal of my childhood in ace bandages because of extremely twistable ankles. Had I been a child now rather than back then, I probably would have been given the EDS diagnosis. What it means for Caroline is management. Nothing more can be done. Surgery, which may still be on the cards, would offer a temporary respite from some of the pain she endures when walking or standing. But, perhaps saddest of all, is that she will probably have to drop out of her nursing degree. She has been a shining star - both academically in her university assignments and exams and theoretically in her placements. It is a huge setback and we are trying to figure out what to do next. She hasn't withdrawn entirely as she needs to speak to her mentor about the situation, but her future as a nurse is problematical at best. Catherine has begun to show signs of EDS as well. She is often 'clumsy' when walking and has twisted her right ankle a couple of time. The rheumatologist said that she will be monitored from the age of 5 to see what can be done to lessen the effect of the syndrome. Caroline has been referred to a bio-mechanical podiatrist (nope, not kidding, that is the term) who will work with her to find the right footwear to ease some of the effects. Catherine may end up having to have special shoes as well.

The syndrome has many characteristics and I find it remarkable to find that so many weird issues all come under the listings for symptoms. We bruise quite easily - I had always put that down to the fact that my father's side of the family bruise. (I have always kidded that we are part banana.) Scars don't heal nicely; for instance, I have a hell of a scar on my right knee from surgery I had when I was 12 years old. It should not be as large and noticeable after all these years. The skin on Caroline's abdomen separated from the muscle wall during pregnancy - a sign of the EDS. I find it all quite amazing. And, in this case, I am wondering if the gene isn't from my father's family. Among the suspicious signs are my father's fairly low clotting ability if he bled, one of his sisters being bedridden during her teenage years because of leg problems and, as I said before, the excessive bruising. As with any illness, disease or syndrome, both Caroline and I are finding some solace in knowing what it is that has caused our problems. It doesn't mean it is easier to deal with, but at least it has a name.

On to brighter topics - the weather was lovely yesterday and we treated ourselves to lunch at our friend Claire's new business, The Gairloch Pantry. Lunch was delicious and it is a treat to sit in the welcoming cafe and look out the windows to the harbour. The tide was coming in as we sat and enjoyed our lunch of delicious food make fresh with care and attention. The Pantry has been open for a little over a week. I know it will be a great success. It was the dream of both Claire and her late husband Mark to make the business a success and I know it will be. It can stand on its own merits and it has the support of the community as well.

As I alluded to in the first paragraph, business is going well and you can catch up with all the ins and outs on my business blog, Ailleas Designs.

Hope to have some photographs for you in the coming weeks and months. The summer is just around the corner and I can't wait to see the sun on a more regular basis. (We can't really complain though. When the rest of the UK was digging out from under the snow left by really severe storms, we were enjoying fairly mild days). We have friends from the States visiting next week, so will enjoy showing them this beautiful corner of the world.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Praying for warmth and a thank you to my father...

As is the rest of the world, apparently, our early spring is proving very winter-like. I can't believe how cold it is. I think it is colder now than it was in January. We don't have snow here, but the wind is absolutely brutal. I will be so, so glad when the warmer weather arrives. My joints are almost stinging. I know, why would anyone with arthritis live in northwest Scotland? Well, truth is, I am going to hurt wherever I am, so I might as well be where I want to be. I do think that maybe Chris and I should put aside some money for next year so we can go to Spain or one of the Greek islands in March. I would love to feel the warmth on my skin, burying deep until it hits the very bones themselves. That would be lovely.

Five years ago next week, my father died. I miss him terribly and find that while the pain is a little less with each passing year, my missing him does not diminish. When I am with my granddaughter, it is then that I miss him most. I wish he could have known her. Her middle name is his - Robbins - an unusual name. But he was one of a kind.

There are many things I inherited from my father. I have his sense of wonder, I have his love of education, and I have a fraction of his artistic skills. My father was an amazing artist. His favourite media were pen and ink (handy for someone who is colourblind) and watercolours (my mother often helped him mix the greens so they were the right shade for what he was painting). He also made the most amazing collages. He was just so talented. And he was humble. When he died, the kind folks who organised the reception in the church hall after the service displayed his art work. It was quite surprising the number of people who never realised the depth of his talent. He rarely talked about it to anyone. After he retired, he actually made some extra money doing beautiful pen and inks for a local B&B and painted a beautiful ink and watercolour wash painting of a memorial garden for a friend. But he remained modest about his great gift.

One thing, in terms of artistic skills, that I inherited was spacial awareness. My mother said that when they moved to the house that is now on the market, having moved from an old Victorian house that was, as I used to say, four broken hips waiting to happen, Dad knew exactly where everything would fit. And it did! Somehow he imagined a way to get the furniture from a three-story Victorian into a one-story bungalow. But, I am not completely surprised. I inherited that same ability from Dad. In my case, it is beneficial to my art.

Here's an example of what I am talking about. When I was in fifth grade, we had a Valentine's Day party. One of the games was to go to the blackboard and, while blindfolded, draw a heart. Mine came out perfectly and I won the game. There were shouts of 'cheat' from amongst my classmates. What they didn't understand is that I had the ability to trace the shape in my mind and place the chalk exactly where it needed to be. First, I drew one half of the heart. Then, after removing my hand from the board, I placed the chalk back at the top of the heart and drew the second half. Didn't seem like a big deal to me, but that is because it was something I could always do.

Despite having lived with this gift from my father for so long, it still amazes me. I can cut lengths of wire that are exactly the same length without measuring. I can look at a ruler and then cut a piece of wire the exact length I wish without having to use the ruler. It still surprises me. So, thank you, Dad, for that ability to know how things fit, how they relate to each other, and how to determine lengths by simply 'eyeballing' them. It has proved a very cherished gift indeed.

The other thing I inherited from my father is unashamed sentimentality. That is why I cry so easily at things that touch me or make me sad. Dad, I still cry for you, but now they are more tears of joy at remembering you and missing rather than tears of sadness.

Oh, I can't omit a big thank you to my mother as well. From her, I have inherited what I call the Dorian Grey gene. She is 86 and has hardly any noticeable grey hair and has spent most of her life with people swearing she is far younger than she is. I have had the great good fortune to have inherited that as well. (Although I can feel every single one of my 57 years!)

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Sadness and remembering life's blessings...


Yesterday we learned of the unexpected and sudden death of a friend. I wonder why it takes such news for us to realise that we must cherish everything and everyone we love? It shouldn't be the case, and I think Chris and I do a fairly good job of appreciating what we have. Still, it is always a shock to learn of someone relatively young passing away. We were so saddened to hear the news but are comforted to know the community here will be there for his family in the days, months and years to come.

After we heard the news, and after tears were shed, we decided the best way to bring a sense of peace and comfort would be to take a drive out to wonder at the beauty of the world around us. We took a drive we hadn't taken before, crossing to the other side of Little Loch Broom to the single track road that continues for 8 miles before coming to an and at a tiny village called Badrallach. After passing through a beautiful lowland area, complete with a manor house and ancient and twisting trees, the road climbed up and up, opening to barren land dotted with sheep, gorse, rocks and heather. The view across to the hill called An Talleach and down to the loch was breathtaking. The sun broke through the clouds here and there, creating shafts of light on the hills and water. As we entered the village, a border collie stood high on a rise by the side of the road, as if to greet us. His eyes were pale blue and his coat glossy and clean. We drove to the end of the road where a path becomes available for hikers to go an additional 8km out on the peninsula that juts into the sea. I am sure Chris and his children will take advantage of this path when they visit. I can only imagine how lovely the views will be from farther out. From there, no doubt The Minch, Skye, the Outer Hebrides and the Summer Isles will be visible. Despite our remaining sadness over our friend's untimely death, the drive cleared the mental cobwebs and reminded us why we love it here so very much.

The view across Little Loch Broom from the high road to Badrallach
We returned home refreshed and ready to tackle the tasks ahead of us. For me, that meant four hours at the table creating a necklace for inclusion in a group headed to a gallery in Inverness. Today will be more of the same.

This coming week we will be heading down to Fife and Edinburgh. We will be staying in Kirkcaldy on Monday night, spending time with Caroline, Andy and Catherine. Then on Tuesday, we will all pile into the car and head to Edinburgh to meet our darling Kelly and her wife Mattie for lunch. Kelly is one of my Mary Baldwin 'daughters' and not only Caroline's 'sister' but Catherine's godmother. We haven't met Mattie before and are anxious to meet her. They were married last year in New York City - how we wish we could have been there. Back to Kirkcaldy for Tuesday night and then the drive back to the Highlands on Wednesday.

The weeks beyond are full of markets and gallery and shop openings as Easter approaches and the area comes alive again in anticipation of the spring's and summer's visitors. We are looking forward to the warmer and longer days. 

Sunday, February 17, 2013

A trip to my favourite place...

When I celebrated my birthday just a little over a week ago, I told Chris that I wanted a day out for my present. It had been a while since we had taken the road north, up to my favourite spot - Castle Ardvreck on Loch Assynt. This place has been so special to me since the first time I saw it - there is something so spiritual about the place. It saddens me that I am no longer able to clamber over the little rises and falls across the little spit of land to the place where the castle stands. I love the loch itself, with its little islands of weathered trees. I love the hills that surround the loch - barren and almost otherworldly. It is just an incredible place. So, I don't think this post really needs too many words. It is all about the images. I took these photos with my camera, so not nearly as beautiful as Chris' photos might be. These places really have to be seen in person to truly appreciate them.


I love this view of Cul Beag, Stac Pollaidh and Cul More. The landscape
is so desolate, but there is a magic there I can't begin to describe.

A snow-covered Canisp
Some of the tree islands of Loch Assynt.


A place that fills my heart. Castle Ardrvreck - I can't begin to describe what
 it is or why it is that this place speaks to me to deeply, but it does. I love this place.
When we lived in the States, I would spend hours looking at photographs
 of this place and wish with all my being to be there again.


This boat was sitting in Loch Kanaird which
 comes inland from Ardmair Bay. I loved the boat
against the backdrop of the snow-capped hills.















Saturday, February 9, 2013

I've been so busy...

I am so sorry I have neglected this poor little blog for so long. Christmas was a busy time and January, while a time of a sort of hibernation, was busier still. I spent the month creating, editing, designing, photographing and preparing for the relaunch of Ailleas Designs and the launch of The Selkie's Haunt - my new bronze and copper jewellery art website. It was a lot of hard work, but I am sure it will prove worth all the time and effort. Both sites went live on 1 February and the reception has been lovely. I am looking forward to creating more and photographing my pieces as they finish. The joy of creating never gets old. I have many stockists lined up for the 2013 season as well, so that makes me very happy.

We had the fun of Catherine and her mum and dad here for Christmas. It was very exciting and I loved seeing Christmas through the eyes of a three-year old. She had a good time and I miss her when she isn't here. I hope it won't be too much longer until we see them again. There are potential plans to go down to Edinburgh next month to see friends from the States. If that happens, we will most definitely see them again as we will all meet up (the friends are Catherine's godmother and her wife).  I hope it does happen. It will be good to see Kelly and meet Mattie for the first time.

Catherine with the beautiful stocking made for her
by my dear friend Helen Peat
Other than work, it has been fairly uneventful. The weather has been misty and wet for most of the time and we have had some snow - but not here on the shores of the loch. The hills wear a mantle of white and it is lovely and makes the hills even more beautiful, if that is, indeed, possible. The higher ground also boasts some snow, but we have been able to get around without any real danger. We had several nights of very high winds, but, even then, it wasn't nearly as bad as anticipated. We have yet to have a moment here where we aren't happy, even in the midst of winter.


View of An Teallach from the Fain

As the days get longer, we think about all the activities that are before us. We have our first real market of the season on 16 March in Gairloch. We are really looking forward to that. It will be Chris' first market in I don't know how long and it will be the first market for The Selkie's Haunt. Fingers crossed it goes well.

My addiction to crochet continues as well. I love it - I find it so relaxing and it centres me, if that makes any sense. I am making more scarves and hats than I could ever wear, so I am hoping to sell some next autumn when the weather starts to turn. I have also had the fun of appearing on the local radio station for an interview and there may be a possibility of my doing a 13-week programme. I am working on the pilot now and we will see what happens. I must say, I've always fancied the idea of being on radio. I know it will be a great deal of fun.

So, I am keeping myself as busy as I can. I am sorry to report that my arthritis continues to worsen. I anticipate, at this point, that a wheelchair will be a necessity within the next 24 months. The pain is quite unbearable at times, but I just let it wash over me as best I can. Living as we do now, in this beautiful place and surrounded by the lovely friends we have made, I can put up with almost anything.