Wednesday, December 3, 2014

On the journey...

Chris came home from hospital today. He went in last Monday afternoon and had surgery to remove the cancerous bowel, along with the surrounding lymph nodes. The first four days, all spent in Intensive Care, were difficult and he was in a lot of pain, but he's home now. Resting (as much as he will - he is, after all, the walking definition of perpetual motion) and healing and getting better. He isn't allowed to lift things or to drive for 8 weeks. It's going to be a very quiet Christmas. The shop down the road carries everything we need and they will deliver. The butcher is just across the road, and the local church has brought us some meals. The support of the community and our friends and family is amazing. We will get through this.

The surgeon who performed the bowel resection met with Chris this morning. While the details aren't yet available, he was able to relay to Chris what happens next. Not only was the cancer in the bowel fairly large, but the arteries and veins in the area were affected as well, as were the lymph nodes. The next step is an appointment with the oncologist. And the cardiac folks will be behind us as well as we move forward.

One of the most incredible support networks in the UK for people affected by cancer is the Macmillan Cancer Support group. This charity goes above and beyond the call of duty. Cancer patients are referred by their GPs, and Macmillan supports cancer patients and their families by providing a nurse who calls in every week. She is there to help with every aspect of support - medical, emotional, physical and psychological. Our Macmillan nurse is Mary Ann and I think the world of her. She came over yesterday to chat with me before Chris got home today. And our GPs are beside us, too. They called on Monday to schedule a flu shot for me since I needed to have one before Chris came home. In addition, we have the support of Maggie's Centre at the hospital. Founded by a cancer patient, the centre provides an oasis of calm, where you can get a cup of tea and slice a cake, attend a meditation session or just have a chat with one of their volunteers. It was a Maggie's Centre volunteer who helped us do the Power of Attorney and will help us with other forms we may need to complete while Chris is going through the process of fighting - and ultimately beating - this cancer. Where we can't or won't think of the things that must be considered, these wonderful people will fill in the gaps.

So, we take the next step on the journey. It will be a long one and will, from time to time, feel overwhelming. But with the support of friends and family on both sides of the pond, with the support of the local community and Macmillan and Maggie's Centre, and with the support of the excellent medical teams both here in Aultbea and at the hospital in Inverness, we will be okay. 

We are not alone. And that is the greatest blessing of all.

Friday, November 14, 2014

A year and the ache remains...

It was almost at this exact moment, just after midnight here and just after 7pm there, that my mother took her last breath. And that moment was relayed to me very shortly thereafter. It has been a year and I miss her as much today as I did yesterday or will tomorrow. My daughter and I have posted photographs and our memories on Facebook and friends and family have commented and shared our love for the wonderful woman called Carol Gates.

When my boxes arrived from Virginia, I was so happy to find so many lovely photographs of the family amongst the papers and books and knick-knacks. Here are two of my favourite photos of Mom. The first was taken when she was around 17 and the second when she was 23 or so. She was so beautiful. Dad was so handsome - what an exquisite couple they were and what wonderful people. I'm glad Mom lived long enough after Dad's death that the years of his decline became the more distant memory than those memories of all their wonderful times together. She missed him more in the year before her death than she did in the year after his - such is the cruelty of caring for an ailing spouse. But she spoke of him with such delight in her eyes, she missed him more then than ever before. And she was ready to go. But it may take longer for me to be able to let her go fully. I miss her...and Dad. Someday I hope I can look at the photograph of them I have here in the bedroom without welling up. I am sure the day will come, but it hasn't come yet.

Sweet dreams, Mom. I love you and I miss you.

Friday, October 31, 2014

A hill to climb...

As I wrote in my last blog, we were dealing with some potentially serious news. And I'm afraid the news was worse than we expected.

Chris had his angiogram and they found major blockage in the arteries of his heart - up to 90 percent in one of the arteries. But the doctors' bigger and more immediate concern was that Chris' red blood count was low. So, they decided to perform a colonoscopy. Chris had one last year and they thought they found a polyp, but when re-examining the colonoscopy, the polyp was less obvious. So, not much more was thought of it. Chris was scheduled to go back in for a follow-up colonoscopy in August, but his health simply made the trek to Inverness very difficult. So, it was postponed. The colonoscopy he had two weeks ago was not a matter of maybe a polyp. In fact, it was very clear. Not only was Chris bleeding from the sigmoid colon (and required three transfusions), but cancer was found. They arranged for an immediate CT scan which indicated that the cancer has spread to the liver and the lymph nodes in the region of his sigmoid colon. We are not yet clear on what happens now. But we are determined to fight it and beat it. We have to - allowing cancer to win is simply not an option.

Today (Friday, October 31), the multi-disciplinary team at the hospital is meeting and we will have word by the end of the day as to the plan of action. We hope that Chris will be re-admitted to hospital and kept there until they can (without delay, hopefully) go into the bowel and remove the cancer and resection the bowel. Then Chris will have the angioplasty, as they have decided on stents rather than a bypass.  Once that is done, we will move forward with more treatment for the cancer, be it chemo or radiotherapy. Whatever is on the cards, whatever life is going to throw at us, we are going to beat it. We are. WE ARE.

Our families and friends have rallied round. Chris' mother and brother came on Monday and left on Tuesday. And then, without Chris knowing, his daughter and son arranged to surprise him with a visit on Wednesday. They are still here - but leaving today around noon. On Monday, Caroline, Catherine, and Stuart will arrive and stay through Wednesday. It will be good to have them around to alleviate some of the stress. And our friends on Facebook and back home have been amazing. One group of wonderful friends even set up a fund-raising page because I've had to cancel all my events for the remainder of the year. (Although I am set up the GALE Centre this weekend - it is local and I can pop home if I need to.)

All of this has made us realise how very much we love each other. Chris isn't just my husband, he is my best friend and I love his family as much as I love my own family. Lucy and Olly want their dad to be there for them as they reach the various milestones of their lives - graduate school graduations, weddings, babies. Caroline wants Chris to walk her down the aisle when she and Stuart marry in 2017 (they got engaged on October 15) and Catherine wants her Abba around to watch her grow up. And I want my best friend and husband by my side for the rest of my life.

Whatever your beliefs may be, may I request all your strongest and best healing prayers and thoughts? Help us know that this is not a battle to be lost, but a battle to be won and put in the past as we move forward, happy and healthy.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

The not-so-subtle reminders of ageing...

It is after 4 in the morning and I am awake for several reasons. Firstly, my leg is killing me. It feels as if it is about to burst, but looking at it, I see no swelling. Perhaps it is simply my body's reaction to the first real cold snap of Autumn. Perhaps it is stress; perhaps it is the arthritis that seems to be devouring my limbs. Perhaps it is just age. No matter how young my mind feels, my body never wastes a moment to remind me that I'm not.

The second reason I am still awake is because Chris isn't here. Chris is at Raigmore Hospital in Inverness. Last Thursday he suffered chest pains and shortness of breath on his walk home from the post office. As it is on the way, he stopped in at the doctors' surgery to let them know how he was feeling. Within 15 minutes the decision was made to call an ambulance. The cards are stacked against Chris in the family medical history stakes, so we always must err on the side of caution. The ambulance came and I followed in our car (perhaps another reason why my leg hurts - three round trip drives to Inverness totalling 460 miles). He was admitted to the acute admissions ward and was immediately hooked up (again) to an EKG machine. I was shown to the day room to wait. After a bit, I was summoned and was wheeled down to his bedside (I can't possibly handle the distances required in the hospital, so was fortunate to have a very understanding staff that helped me stay with Chris). About 9:30, it was decided Chris would stay the night and I would go home.

The next day I drove back to take Chris some clothes and toiletries. He was going to be kept for at least one more night. His time with the cardiologists determined that he would be booked in for an angiogram as soon as possible - in this case today, as it happens. He was discharged on Saturday afternoon with a diagnosis of angina and IHD (ischemic heart disease). In addition, he has sprung a leak somewhere in his body - determined by the low count of his hemoglobin, so there was an additional diagnosis of anaemia. So, in addition to the angiogram, they are fast-tracking him for a sigmoidoscopy and endoscopy to see if the leak might be in his stomach or colon. He was also told that if he suffered any chest pain or shortness of breath, it would mean a trip to the A&E (Accident & Emergency, what the Brits call the Emergency Room). So home he came. We picked up a steak at the butcher's for his dinner - hoping to help his anaemia. He slept for 11 hours that night - in the quiet and darkness that he was not afforded at the hospital. (He relayed his favourite story of being in the hospital and I'm afraid this will be lost on anyone who isn't familiar with 'Little Britain'. One of the gentlemen in the ward was suffering from dementia and kept calling out to his wife. Her name is Margaret. So, from time to time, Chris would hear 'Margaret, Margaret, Margaret.' Chris was sorely tempted to reply 'Yes' just as in the Mr Man and the oh-so-very-patient shopkeeper segments of LB.)

Over the weekend, he did suffer chest pains and shortness of breath, but kept that himself - former health care professionals do make the worse patients. But last night and this morning it couldn't be ignored any longer. A call was a made, an ambulance arrived and off he went - this time with a suitcase packed in anticipation of the angiogram and possible admission to the hospital today.

So, today I will wait. I will sit by the phone and wait to hear what the angiogram reveals. I am hoping that, should it reveal a small leak somewhere in the heart area, it can be easily repaired. Or perhaps they will find some blockage that can be taken care of with a stent or balloon. Thing is, I know that medical science has made huge strides in the care of dodgy hearts. I know they will take good care of Chris and hopefully he will be able to manage the angina. After all, given the family history, it is highly unlikely he will escape without any problems. Just as long as they are manageable problems, I don't care. I want him well and happy. Not only for me, but for himself and our family as well. We all love him so much - he brings us all such joy and laughter. I would be lost without him.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Autumn has arrived...

The purple heather of August is slowly turning to the lavender/bronze colour of early autumn and the hillsides are taking on a golden glow. Nights are closing in and there is an extra blanket on the bed at night. I love this time of year. I love that line early in 'You've Got Mail' where Joe Fox (Tom Hanks) writes to Kathleen Kelly (Meg Ryan),  'Don't you love New York in the fall? It makes me wanna buy school supplies. I would send you a bouquet of newly sharpened pencils if I knew your name and address.'  And you can substitute the name of any town or city for New York and that sentiment would still hold true. Despite the fact that I haven't been a student in more years than I would like to remember, this time of year makes me feel like putting on a plaid skirt with a white blouse and pullover sweater and a pair of penny loafers. I love Autumn.

It has been a long time since I last wrote this blog and so much has occurred in that time. Our darling Catherine has turned 5 and is in school now. Caroline posted a photo of her in her school uniform, grinning broadly on her first day. I am delighted to report that Catherine loves school. I hope that continues throughout her school years. She is a bright little girl; I know she will do well.  She has lots of lovely friends and takes part in a little drama activity group on Friday afternoons. The latest news is that she has 'boyfriend.' She tells me that they have lunch together every day and then giggles. I just hope she doesn't follow in her nana's footsteps. I had more boyfriends between the ages of 5 and 7 than I did for the rest of my life! We don't want her peaking too early!

Of course, the big news here in Scotland is the upcoming referendum on independence. My great love for Scotland should not be mistaken for my supporting the referendum. I do not. The nationalists have based their ideas on dreams and wishes, and the current release of information from experts in economics have echoed my own concerns. Without a currency, without a very detailed plan for a completely new infrastructure, no amount of oil in the North Sea will be enough to secure a prosperous and healthy future for the people of Scotland. Not now and most certainly not for my daughter or my granddaughter. Salmond and company have been selling an emotive idea that has no basis in fact and figures. I hope with all my being that the result is a resounding 'no' when the vote takes place next week. I also hope with all my heart that the divisions this issue has created will heal. As we close in on the final week, there is such an air of belligerence between the yays and nays. No matter the outcome, there will be a great deal of bridge-building and healing to do.

I have cut down on the number of events I will be taking part of for my business. This year, I will be attending just one event in October - in the Assembly Rooms in Edinburgh - and two events in November. I have added two new stockists to my list - and one has already produced a sizeable sale just five days into carrying my jewellery. Detailed plans for my participation in the trade show are coming together. I am really looking forward to the show to see what the retail reaction is to my work.

Chris is doing very well. He recently was contacted by a company in Seattle asking for exclusive North American rights to several of his images for reproduction on acrylic and brushed aluminium. These images are aimed at the interior design trade and will be part of the company's presence at the trade shows in High Point, North Carolina, and Las Vegas. After researching and speaking with other photographers whose images are being used, Chris signed the contract. I am so proud of him. His cards are selling very well at the GALE Centre and we will soon be offering canvases of his stunning photo-art creations. If you would like to see his work, you can see it at

I am continuing to deal with the grief that comes from being an adult orphan. My mother's death renewed my grief for my father's death, so I find I miss them both more than ever. There is a beautiful photograph I have of them at Tams Street. Mom is sitting on a chair on the front porch, Dad standing behind with his hands lovingly resting on her shoulders. There are days I simply can't look at the photograph - it so easily triggers the tears. But I am so grateful that I have my lovely daughter and granddaughter to make up my own family. Chris and I are so blessed. Caroline is doing so well at her job and in her life, happy and unconditionally loved by Stuart. Catherine is thriving and admits that one reason she likes her little boyfriend is because 'he has hair like Stuart', so that's good, too! Lucy and Malcolm have moved into a lovely little townhouse in Guildford and her studies for her MA and her work as a piano teacher are going so well. Olly is graduating from University of Plymouth this month and is working at the Eden Project and Mountain Warehouse. His girlfriend, Nat, is working for a publishing company that specialises in all things natural. All is well, everyone is happy and thriving and I couldn't ask for more.

So, until next time, whenever that may be, take care and enjoy the colours of the Autumn.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

News and rain...

It's been several months since my last post. I've been incredibly busy and preoccupied with my business. I made the decision to make a major investment in the business by having a new website built professionally and having the photography done professionally. The site went live a week ago today and I am so very pleased with it. Still appear on page one in the first position for some of my key words so that's good. Today I added Google Analytics so I can see where visitors are going on the site and how long they stay. I have every hope that this will prove even more successful than my old site. I am off to the GALE Centre this weekend for my monthly 'set up shop', so looking forward to setting up there with my bronze and copper jewellery only. I made the decision to just show the sterling silver and gemstone jewellery at up-market events. The cost of the jewellery really precludes my displaying it at most venues. I will, however, still be taking part in Exclusively Highlands events and showing the Ailleas Designs jewellery. My big push for 2015 will be securing more stockists around the UK and, hopefully, further afield. I am going to be showing at the Scotland Spring Trade Show in Glasgow in January. Really looking forward to that. My arthritis is making it increasingly difficult to get around, so being able to create jewellery and then send it off to stockists is going to be the way forward. Looking forward to putting together an amazing display for the show.

The Highlands experienced some incredible weather yesterday as the remnants of Hurricane Bertha moved north from England and Wales. At one point yesterday, all the roads between here and Inverness were closed due to flooding and landslips. I understand that there are still roads in the area that would best be approached only in a 4X4. Last night, we noticed water cascading down the hills on the far side of the loch. But then, rain is what we do up here. As comedian Danny Bhoy says in one of my favourite bits, the message of Noah would have been lost in Scotland. (For a giggle, link below for this bit and more. Danny Bhoy is one of my favorite comedians at the moment.)

Today the rain has subsided a bit and we hope that the roads will clear soon so life can return to normal. Not much more to report. Life is calm and happy here and I welcome each day to see what it will bring. Hopefully, tomorrow will bring sunshine.

Sunday, June 15, 2014


It's Father's Day and, naturally, I am thinking of my dad and missing him, just as I do and have done for every day of the year for the past 6+ years. My daughter recently told me that she read that the grief for a deceased parent never really passes. I believe that. The other night I dreamed about my parents and awoke to find that the tears I cried in my sleep had left little salty trails on my face. I wept in my dream - the kind of 'I can't breathe because I am so sad' crying. I've not done that during conscious hours. Maybe I should. Maybe I would feel better. But nothing will keep me from missing them both so much that it physically hurts. I feel so blessed to have my own family. I would be lost without them. Whenever I feel sad that my parents are gone - when I glance over at the framed photograph of them taken on the porch of the house on Tams Street - I just remember that they live on through Caroline and Catherine and that as Catherine gets older, I may come to recognise bits and pieces of my parents in her words, her expressions, her gestures, her being. I see so much of my father in her anyway, as I do in my daughter. Strong, good genes. Thank goodness I have them to comfort me when I feel so sad about being a parentless adult.

This is Chris' first Fathers' Day without his dad. He is still grieving and coming to terms with the loss of his father, made a bit more complex by the fact that his father had vascular dementia, so, in a very real way, had been gone for a long time. My mother-in-law recently said that she felt as if the dementia softened the reality of his death. I suppose it would. But still, there is the reality of his death and dealing with it has proven complex, to say the least. My mother-in-law is coping so well. She is an amazing woman.

There is another daughter grieving for her father this Father's Day. My daughter's dad, my ex-husband, died on May 22 after courageously battling brain cancer for 23 years. Her grieving has been compounded by having to deal with his seriously horrible family. Or, used to have to deal with them. Just as his death finally and at last released him from any connection to a family and mother he simply couldn't love because they exhibited no real love to him, his death has released my daughter as well. My ex-husband loved our daughter very much and was a remarkable father, seeing he had no decent role models on which to pattern his own parenting. He did the best he could and he knew that and she knows that, and that is all that matters. As was the case with my father-in-law, my daughter's dad had been slowly slipping away for years and in the month or so leading up to his death, Caroline says their phone conversations were mostly her speaking because he was having so much trouble forming and uttering words. She was amazing - keeping in touch with his doctors and arranging with social workers for him to be admitted to hospice when the time came. Unfortunately, his family decided he would be better off with them and came and took him away about 10 days before he died. But both he and my daughter know she did everything she possibly could for him. And the important thing is, he isn't suffering any more. For that I am ever thankful.

I continue to love my home here in the Highlands of Scotland and hope we have had the last of family deaths so I can start writing about my life in this beautiful place again. But for now, I remember my dad, my father-in-law and my daughter's dad and wish them all a very happy Father's Day wherever they may be.

Sunday, April 20, 2014


It has been far, far too long since my last post. I think I am still reeling from last autumn. And, to a great extent, I am still coming to terms with my mother's death. I miss her so much. There are so many times I want to pick up the phone to call her and share some news or a good story. Chris, likewise, is still dealing with his father's death. We are heading to Lincolnshire, where Peter grew up, next month so that his ashes can be scattered. It will be good to be with Chris' family and I am thrilled that my mother-in-law is coming back with us for a visit. It will be lovely to have her here. She has never visited us before - she really couldn't when Chris' father was alive. But now we shall have her for a three days and we can't wait.

The arrivals I refer to in the title are Spring, of course, and my family bits and bobs. My things from the States arrived on Friday, about four months after they were all packed up and three months after they were picked up and started their journey. I am glad to have them with me. I have some wonderful pieces of family history - a letter my great-great-great-grandfather wrote to his own grandfather about the arrival of Spring in New Gloucester, Maine. I have the letter my great-grandfather wrote to my great-great-grandmother to declare his undying love for her daughter, my great-grandmother. Later, he would mysteriously disappear when it was time to return to the US from a stay in England. He was a Welsh Anglican vicar, she was an academic who went on to be the first woman dean of Jackson College - the female college that opened in 1910 as the sister school to Tufts University. Her name was Caroline and my mother and my daughter were both named for her. 

Speaking of Caroline, I also have in my possession now the beautiful pastel portrait that was done of my great-grandmother Caroline with her sister, Catherine. They look to be around six and eight. It is a beautiful portrait and I am so happy to have it and happy to know that when I am gone, it will be passed down to my Caroline and then to her Catherine. Keeping it in the family.

I love the photographs I now have of both my parents when they were children. I have old report cards from them - and me. I have a silk kimono that must have come from Japan at some point (my great-great uncle started the school system there, so probably from his days in Japan). 

I have a small painting done by a great-times-many-grandmother who was a transcendentalist in Massachusetts in the 19th century - a great friend of the Alcotts and a friend to Emerson. As I said to some friends, it gives me great joy to know that my ancestors were non-conformists and that I come from a long line of very strong, independent women. 

With these things around me, I feel Mom and Dad nearby and I miss them even more then before. I am so glad I spent so much time with them over the years. We were always together for Christmas and Thanksgiving and the period I lived in the same town with them before I moved to the UK was precious to me. I came across a card my mother gave me the day I left for the UK. It is a small square card with a smiling face on the cover. It says, 'You...' and on the inside, 'are the reason I smile.' I loved them so much, even towards the end when Mom drove me a bit nuts and I had trouble feeling that love, it was still there. Thing is, when you have a deep and abiding relationship with someone you are extremely close to, it can be both happy and aggravating. I am sure I made my mother crazy, too, at times. But we loved each other and I am so glad now that I had that time before I moved in 2000 and, despite it being a very hard time, I am glad Chris and I were there when she needed us after Dad died. 

The second arrival, of course, is that of Spring. It is a beautiful day today. The sun is shining and there isn't a cloud in the sky. We have the windows open so we can hear the birds and smell the freshness of the air. There are baby lambs leaping about on the hills and birds are building nests and the rabbits come out and munch on the grass in our garden when the afternoon sun is low and warm. The daffodils are blooming, as is the gorse, and the trees are all showing their fresh green buds. I love Spring. The feeling of rebirth is so strong. I am looking forward to a busy summer with lots of markets and fairs. It is going to be a good spring and summer. I can feel it.

So, I close now wishing you all a very happy Easter today and a happy Spring.

Friday, February 28, 2014

Dancing in the sky...

Last night was one of those defining moments in a life...  It's not that the evening makes any difference to my life - or anyone's life - in the long run. But it was a moment in time, apparently a rather rare moment, when you witness something that hits you spiritually, deep inside the very core of your being. Last night there was a display of the Northern Lights that even those who have lived up this way a long time and have been avid watchers of the phenomenon say was extraordinary. Usually, you can't see anything but a pale greenish tinge (the bright colours you see in photographs are captured by cameras, but not necessarily visible to the human eye), but last night the green was mixed with pinks that appear as bright red in photographs and the sky danced. Ahead on the horizon and far over our heads, the lights danced and undulated in the sky - like ribbons swirling and twirling on themselves and beyond themselves.

When the word came that it was a going to be a good night for the lights, Chris and I, despite feeling rather rough with some sort of bug or virus that is making the rounds, decided to get in the car and drive a mile to a lay-by overlooking the sea at Laide. We got to the lay-by, turned off the lights and let our eyes adjust to the darkness. Directly ahead of us lay the North Atlantic, with Gruinard Island and the Summer Isles to the right of us. The sky above was light and flashing. To our left, toward Skye and the Outer Hebrides, the colours really danced - the aforementioned pink appearing to our naked eyes along with the pale green. Above us, a ribbon of light twisted and flashed across the sky. And for one moment in time, our hearts and souls felt as if they were lifted to the heights of heaven itself. Would it be silly to admit that we both wept? It was so incredible to see this beautiful and rare (at least to this intensity) showing of the lights. 

It was very cold, so we decided we needed to go home again and so drove the mile back to our house and I sat in the kitchen at the large window facing northwest. Even with the presence of light pollution from the street light - albeit not very substantial - the lights in the sky continued their dance. Flashes of light waving in and out of the darkness. And then, slowly, the lights faded and were no more. But we were there, we saw them, we experienced the moment in time and for that we are so very, very grateful.

The photographs below were taken with my little Canon. I don't have long exposure times - the longest is 15 seconds and I had to hold it, hence the lack of any distinct focusing on those things that would have been in focus had I had a tripod. But it doesn't matter. You can still see the colours dancing in the sky.

I am so grateful to have had the privilege to witness these lights. I love where I live for more reasons than I could ever list. This has to go near the top of that list.