Tuesday, December 27, 2016

A beautiful and relaxing Christmas - looking forward to a positive New Year!

We had a lovely Christmas this year. In fact, it was the nicest Christmas we've had in a very long time. This year, there were no family deaths preceding, no mysterious or prolonged illnesses, no life-threatening symptoms yet to be diagnosed. It was a Christmas of beauty and quiet.

Chris was very excited about decorating this year. As Callie so accurately pointed out, "Someone's been looking at Pinterest." Of course, we also have our subscription to Country Living, so we get magazines full of beautiful interior ideas. And so, on the 17th, we decorated the house. I made a wreath for the kitchen and Chris found a perfect little pine branch to place over the door to the living room. Some primitive art ornaments and some birch bark snowflakes gave it the perfect touch and it has to be one of my favourite decorations. Of course, next year we will have to find another branch, as this little one won't last once we take it down as it has become very brittle. But what a lovely little touch it added.

Back in November, I found the perfect lighting source for the kitchen/diner. Back in the States, I always included some sort of lit tree for lighting in the dining room and I've wanted the same here. I found a beautiful grouping of pre-lit "birch trees" at John Lewis and knew that I had to get it for the dining area. Not just for Christmas (as it was listed as a Christmas decoration), but for the entire year. We placed the wreath that I decorated with white ornaments and pine cones behind it. It looks beautiful and I am so pleased to have found this grouping. I had plans to hang a bright red glass bead garland from the trees for Christmas, but, alas, Gracie made that impossible. Far too much temptation for our little girl. (It's bad enough that she is constantly taking the little pinecones out of the glass bowl in the living room!) For Christmas dinner, the table was set with my Spode Christmas Tree dinner set, Spode Christmas Tree placemats, cream napkins with holly napkin rings. The kitchen looked so festive and we were so happy to sit and spend time we each other and then with Callie and family in such a relaxing and beautiful setting.

Of course, the star of the show was our Christmas tree. We decided to carry the white theme through to the living room, and, for the first time since we've been back in Scotland, we decided to invest in some pretty ornaments. Before, we had bought plastic balls in plastic tubes, so hadn't really put any thought into the decorating of the tree. I have some ornaments from my parents' house, enough to give me that sense of family and wonderful Christmas memories. Chris found a wonderful tree "stand" that is a white-washing wicker basket sort of thing. It is amazing what you can find when you search the internet. We found a lovely one for a fraction of the price of those listed in the magazines. (The postman was getting a good workout delivering our pre-Christmas packages!) For next year's Christmas, I would like to add some additional strings of lights and some more silver glass bead garlands. But, overall, I must say that I think our tree is just beautiful. 

Living in northwest Scotland can bring challenges when it comes to the weather this time of year, and 2016 was no different. We were subjected to not one, but two, named storms (Barbara and Connor) that brought with them hail, sleet, and strong gale-force winds. We got through it with only one roof tile as a casualty. And, fortunately, the weather did not create a journey that was too difficult for Callie, Stuart, and Catherine.


This year, we decided to do the new "tradition" of the Christmas Eve box. I collected some pajamas, a chocolate robin, a panda cuddly toy (Catherine's favourite thing in the whole world), and some pencils and a sketch pad. We found a perfect little box, and I set about creating something really magical. Using my best lettering skills, I "addressed" the box to Catherine and then used a handmade stencil, spray glue, and glitter to create handprints of the elves who packed the box. I even had the elves sign the box ("Packed by: Twinkle, Snowflake, and Bell"). When the time came after dark on Christmas Eve, I executed my best dramatic gasp and asked if anyone else had heard the sound of our back door opening and closing. We sent Chris to investigate and he called for Catherine to come and see. Oh my goodness - the look of amazement on her face was the most wonderful thing in the world. And she proclaimed that she would never, ever throw out the box because it had the elves' handprints on it! (The picture here shows not only the box and Catherine, but Catherine's gappy mouth. She is missing the front four teeth on the top. How she managed to eat Christmas dinner is beyond me! But she did.)

It was a lovely Christmas full of laughter and smiles and hugs and love. And that's all Christmas ever needs to be. Just time with those we love. I couldn't have asked for a better Christmas.

And I am looking positively at the year ahead. There is little to nothing I can about the state of the world, other than making charitable contributions to help all those displaced by war and climate change. To become hardened and bitter would do me no good at all. After months of near depression about the state of American politics, I've decided to let it go. That doesn't mean I don't care or won't do all I can to make sure that the world continues to care for those in need and to be as inclusive as possible, it's just that I know my being brought down by it all serves no one. So, I am going to start the new year with a song in my heart and positivity abounding. My business is going to step up a notch in 2017, with my (hopefully) securing more stockists outside this immediate area. I am working at making designs using new techniques that I am enjoying very much. And Chris' health is better and I needn't feel quite so anxious about him. My year ahead will include a much-needed trip to Sussex in the late spring to visit Chris' mother and see his family. We shall practice that journey with shorter journeys between now and then, slowly increasing our time on the road to the time necessary to make comfortable and do-able journeys on our way south. And, also in May, a dear friend from the States will be visiting and I can't wait for that!


I'm going to be me again. I am going to be positive and happy and obnoxiously upbeat. And if you don't like it, well, I still think there are bright sides and silver linings to everything and nothing will convince me otherwise. And, of course, 2017 is going to bring our family the great blessing of a new baby. Callie had a scan done privately the week before Christmas and it revealed a perfect little one, wiggling about with visible legs and arms. A good strong heartbeat and so much movement has given us all cause to relax a little. Of course, we won't be completely relaxed until Callie is a little farther along (she is coming to the end of the first trimester now). But, hopefully come July, a new baby will join us. And we can't wait. 

So, this is the first of the many positive and happy posts that will follow. I will try to include more images of Scotland in the year to come, as well. And more posts about places we visit and people we meet as we get out and about a little more this year than we have for the past three years! Time to emerge from this lovely little house and get back to seeing more of this beautiful country. It's been years since we've been to Plockton and more than a year since our last visit to Skye. And the trip north along the coast is waiting for us, too.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

One last political post…

Yesterday, the Electoral College did the unthinkable. Against the wishes of a majority of the voters, despite the interference of Putin and his goons, and in complete opposition to the ideals of the United States of America, the Electoral College rubber-stamped the greatest travesty in the history of the American presidency. On January 20, 2017, a misogynist, xenophobe, white supremacist, con man, sexual predator, and demagogue will take the Oath of Office. And what will happen after that is anyone’s guess.

Donald J. Trump will never be my president.

Since Trump’s victories in the primary and being named the Republican candidate, I’ve been so depressed.  And I’ve wondered why. I’ve been disappointed politically in the past. I’m a Democrat, so that goes without saying. But there was and is something more about this. And this morning, as I sat in the shower, the water doing its best to calm me, it suddenly dawned on me why this whole thing has depressed me so and why it continues to do so…and why I am so angry.

Everything I was taught as a child, every truth I’ve adhered to as an adult, and for nearly 61 years, is being challenged. Number one rules were not to lie, not to cheat, and not to steal. And yet, this January, someone who is champion of these sins is going to become President of the United States. When did this happen? When did we turn everything upside down and inside out.

And it’s not just on a national level, it’s everywhere. Years ago, when I was back in the States, I was slandered in such a way as to lose the opportunity to interview for a job I desperately needed. Someone I barely knew decided to go to one of the higher ups in this organisation and lied about my physically attacking her because she had been offered a job for which I had interviewed. I was more qualified and had better references and a better understanding of the individuals this office would assist. The other woman got the job because she was good friends with the assistant director. I was even told that the director was determined to offer me the job, but instead acquiesced to her assistant's plea to place this far less qualified individual in the job. This sort of favouritism has been around forever and it happens. But what I found so horrendous was the slanderous lie told by this other woman. A woman who was supposed to adhere to an honour code. And when, at last, I was given an audience with the president of the organisation, there was sympathy, but nothing more. To this day, I am horrified by what happened; horrified that such a lie was allowed to be told without challenge. When did lying become so casually acceptable? For surely, no one lies better than our soon-to-be commander-in-chief.

The president-elect not only is known for lying - bascially, if his lips are moving, he's lying - but is known for doing and bragging about doing terrible things. This is a man who brags about not paying bills in their entirety, brags about sexually assaulting women, brags about getting what he wants when he wants, and brags about his perceived wealth. He has placed in his cabinet individuals who are painfully unqualified. He has appointed known bigots and misogynists as his closest advisors. His daughter, who is inextricably part of his business empire, will take on the duties of First Lady. There has already been evidence that she is auctioning off "pay for play." He threatens those who question him. And not only does he threaten them, but his surrogates threaten them as well. Just this past week, Kellyanne Conway referred to his critics as “trolls” and “bitches.” What the hell?

Maybe I led a sheltered life as a child. My family was a happy one. We never wanted for anything. We weren’t rich by any means, but we had the riches of love, intelligence, and compassion. We were taught to care about the feelings of others, to explore and learn and grow, to give back, and to love and respect. I can’t and won’t believe we were the exceptions to the rule. And all I can do now is pray that, at some point, those who have lost themselves in greed and corruption will remember the simple tenets they were taught by their parents and teachers. “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” was the mantra we were all taught. It was and is a good mantra.

Where do we go from here? I don’t know. I don’t know how we are going to claw back from the downward spiral that is at our feet. And it isn’t just in the US, it is around the world. The selfish liars appear to be in charge in most countries, burying their noses in the trough that feeds them more money than a person could spend in a lifetime. People who see their own agenda as being more important than the fair and good life they should be helping provide to those they are reputed to represent. Here in the UK, those in charge are trying to destroy the National Health Service, schools, the safety nets that are in place to help those in need. While the MPs argue and mock each other in Parliament, families are being turned out onto the streets and must go to food banks to keep themselves and their children fed. Despite all the evidence to the contrary, they back energy plans that poison the Earth for the extra pounds that find their ways into their accounts from those who destroy the land. It is all so very, very wrong and, to me, so very obviously wrong. And yet, people just sit back and say what will be will be. No! It shouldn’t be that way; it should never ever be that way. We have to appeal to the better angels within all of us.

In the 1960s, social and political movements made progress in changing the way the government did things. The non-violent (at least on the part of the protesters) of the Civil Rights and anti-war movements made enough noise to make the government sit up and take notice – and make changes. These were good changes. But now, we see ourselves spinning backwards. How much longer until a woman’s right to determine what she does and doesn’t do with her own body is abandoned? How much longer until the discrimination against those of colour or non-Christian religions is officially recognised as acceptable? How long until Jim Crow is resurrected? How long before the press is stifled and silenced? We need to wake up and end this nightmare.

There are organisations that support the rights of individuals and organisations that fight to make life just and fair. If nothing else, we can support these organisations with our time and money. If you have the ability, take part in sit-ins and marches. Do what you can, do all that you can. I pray that before I die, the world becomes a kinder and better place. I want to leave this world knowing that my children, grandchildren, and their children after them can grow up in a world that rewards kindness and compassion. I want that for all the children of the world. A world that does not condone those who lie, cheat, and steal, a world where that behaviour is no longer overlooked or simply ignored. We owe this to ourselves and to the generations that follow.

Organisations that need your help:

American Civil Liberties Union: www.aclu.org
Planned Parenthood: www.plannedparenthood.org
Southern Poverty Law Center: www.splcenter.org
The Audra Lorde Project: www.alp.org
Border Angels: www.borderangels.org
The Center for Reproductive Rights: www.reproductiverights.org
Council on American-Islamic Relations: www.cair.org
The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People: www.naacp.org
Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network: www.rainn.org
The Young Center for Immigrant Children’s Rights: www.theyoungcenter.org


In the UK (I am not familiar with organisations here in the UK – please comment with suggestions for other organisations in need of help and support):

Global Justice Now: www.globaljustice.org.uk
The Centre for Social Justice: www.centreforsocialjustice.org.uk
The Fawcett Society: www.fawcettsociety.org.uk
The Muslim Council for Britain: www.mcb.org.uk

Thank you to Linda Joyce Crowder for sending the following UK numbers:
Domestic Violence Hotline: 0808 2000 247
Mind 0300 123 3393
Age UK 0800 169 6565

International organisations:

Equality Now: www.equalitynow.org
White Helmets (Syrian Civil Defense): www.whitehelmets.org
Médecins Sans Frontières/Doctors Without Borders: www.msf.org
The International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement: www.icrc.org

There are so many more reputable and life-saving organisations. Give where you can and let’s all work toward a better world.







Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Worried.

Lately, I’ve been feeling very tense and upset and a bit depressed. Of course, we’ve gone through so much over the past two to three years. I suppose I have every right to feel the way I do. But here’s the thing, I’m not depressed about our lives here. Yes, we aren’t in the best of health, but we are living in a country that helps us and in a community where we have friends who honest to God care about us. And that is a wonderful, wonderful thing. My life, here in Aultbea, with the husband I love more than anything, and close enough to my daughter and granddaughter, with phone calls to my stepkids and my mother-in-law, it’s all pretty much good. Pain is horrible, but I’ve gotten used to it and Chris’ meds are finally balancing out so he’s feeling a little less horrible (although the residual dizziness and other complications from the strokes can be, shall we say, challenging).

What has me sad and angry and worried is what is happening back in the States. Today we got the news of yet another unarmed black man being gunned down and killed by police officers who, no doubt, will go on paid leave until they can cook up some sort of excuse.  Today I read of yet another occasion of Trump rallying his “basket of deplorables” to keep up the blind hatred and aggression. Today, I am just tired of it. Tired of trying to make sense out of a situation that makes no sense at all – never can and never will. And I find myself actually contemplating the change in my life that I’ve thought about over the years – voluntarily severing my ties with the US and becoming a British citizen. No dual citizenship, just British. No more identifying myself as American. Why? Because I am ashamed. Ashamed of what my country is becoming. Ashamed of the unfulfilled greatness that the country could be. I am sick and tired of the bigotry and ignorance of what is real and what is being spoonfed to the vacuous by media outlets who lie, spin, and happily depart from reality in order to drive their own agenda. How the hell did this happen? Seriously, how did it happen?

When Barack Obama was elected president in 2008, I couldn’t have been prouder of my country. To have witnessed, during my lifetime, a country go from its own institutionalized apartheid to having an African American president was something for which I felt Americans could justifiably claim to be the most progressive, tolerant people in the world. But that wasn’t to be. Too many small-minded closeted bigots collectively lost their shit when President Obama took his oath of office. They festered until the hate brimmed over the edge – filling “patriotic” forums with garbage about the first family, about Democrats, about progressives, about liberals. The few and far between trolls of the internet appeared to become the rule rather the exception. And people I knew who I thought were bright and kind and fair showed signs of intolerance that surprised me and ultimately broke my heart.

Soon it will be time for Americans to vote in another presidential election. This time, we have the option of creating history once more by electing the first woman president of the United States. It should be an easy win – but it won’t be. The reason I say it should be an easy win is because we have a candidate for president who is possibly more qualified for the position than anyone who has come before her. Hillary Rodham Clinton has spent her entire life as the champion of working families, of children, of women. She has spent her life trying to find justice and equality for those so often forgotten by big governments and corporate America. But she is a woman and because she is so focused, so determined, so incredibly intelligent, she scares the shit out of most people. And so they have created a witch hunt perpetuated by lies and rumours that can be categorically refuted, desperately trying to hang something on her to make her “unfit” for office. So they can call her a traitor and a liar. And I suppose, we should just shake our heads and realise that this is what modern day politics has become – little substance and just offense, offense, offense. They accuse of her heinous crimes, forgetting that she has been rubbing the Washington old boys' network wrong for years and if they could have pinned anything on her, they would have! Non-partisan think tanks have named her as one of the most honest candidates in this election cycle. But, like all female pioneers before her, she has to be so much more than perfect for anyone to not be critical of her. If it weren't so serious, it would be laughable. Because of who and what her opponent is. This should be an easy win...

But here’s the crazy thing – her opponent is the most unfit, unqualified, most dishonest, horrible excuse for a human being that has drawn breath. And I am completely serious when I say that. Find me ANYTHING about this man that is honourable. He has lied about giving money to charities, he has lied about his own success, he ignores whatever he doesn’t like and engages in something that is so far beyond hyperbole, it is impossible to even try to define him. He has broken laws and regulations, he has bribed and cajoled, he has alleged ties to organised crime and unsavoury world leaders. There is nothing that is exemplary about him. He has been labeled – accurately – as a xenophobe, a homophobe, a misogynist, a bigot, a draft dodger, a con man, a liar, a narcissist, etc., etc., etc. And every single one of those labels is absolutely, undeniably true. Donald Trump is the worst of the worst. He is making himself and the US a laughing stock to anyone who sees clearly that the emperor has no clothes. But the media fawn all over him – not sure why, as he says only horrible things about them. But it is shocking. The fact that approximately 40 percent of Americans polled like him distresses me so much. Because, like it or not, it means that deep down inside, those people are all that he is, or at least support all that he is. When has horrible behaviour become respectable? Become tolerable? Become acceptable?

A rapist is given a short sentence because he was a great swimmer and going to prison might “damage” him. A professional football player convicted of rape is nominated for the Hall of Fame, while another football player who chose the peaceful protest of not standing during the National Anthem is on the receiving end of threats and hatred. White, privileged people are insulted by the term “Black Lives Matter,” not realising that you only say something like that when the opposite is the living truth. “Black Lives Matter” because there is so little indication that they do. And yet, we sit on the sidelines and tsk, tsk and forget the next day that a family somewhere has been robbed of its son, brother, husband, father.

A like-minded friend and I were exchanging our thoughts on Facebook when she posted the line from “Network” – “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore.” And that’s how I feel. I am so angry, I can hardly begin to put it into words. I’m not sure my words here are even going to make sense to anyone but me. But I know how I feel. I feel cheated and lied to, I feel as if I have to defend my right to call out a liar as a liar, a true human walking and talking piece of excrement for what he is.

The whole world is watching, America. They want to see what you are going to do in November. Do you continue to move forward, or do you take thousands of giant steps backward into a time that was not pleasant for anyone other than rich white men? A time of back-alley abortions, a time of prejudice and segregation, a time of isolationism and exclusive nationalism. Your decision. I pray that my faith in you will prove worthwhile. I know I will be casting my vote from abroad. And instead of saying God bless America, I am going to say God have mercy on America.

Oh, one other thing. I may not live in the US, but I am an American. I have my US passport, I vote in American elections and I fucking well care about what happens back home. So don't for one second tell me I don't know what it is really like back in the States. The things I've referred to here are facts, not opinions. They are undeniable and real...and shameful. And I'm not saying things in Great Britain are perfect. We have our own political freak shows going on, but I know that America is capable of taking a long, honest look at itself and it has the strength to make changes where changes need to be made. It has been said that all great nations rise and fall. Don't let the US fall. Don't allow the world to fall victim to a petulant man-child who could, upon being baited, press the red button and destroy us all. Please don't let that happen...

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

It's been a long time...

I can't believe how long I've left this blog without writing. Sometimes, I feel as if we are still recovering from all the drama of 2013 and 2014. Chris is still affected by his illnesses and by being in a state of post-chemo. But sometimes I feel like age is catching up with both of us. I turned 60 last month (oh my!) and sometimes I feel every single year.

The last four months were a bit crazy. My GPs were trying to adjust my meds so that I would retain some meaningful pain relief. Hard to do when the body gets used to what it is using. I had been using buprenorphine patches, but they started to give me a reaction - not where the adhesive was, but where the medicine was. So, we did some switching around and now I am on morphine in tablet form. It is giving me pretty good pain relief, but I have to admit to feeling quite lethargic much of the time. But, I am going to challenge myself with daily goals - most of them about my business.

Stuart and Callie in Australia
But we have had some lovely adventures over the past several months as well. Callie and Stuart took their delayed honeymoon in February. They went to Australia so Callie could meet all of her new family. They had a wonderful time, and I am beyond thrilled that she has had the opportunity to travel to Australia. I am sure it won't be the last time. By the time the honeymoon came, they had already succeeded in conceiving, but, sadly, Callie suffered a miscarriage two days after they returned. She is feeling better now and I know that in time they will conceive again and I will have another beautiful grandchild to adore and spoil.

Speaking of adored and spoiled grandchildren, Catherine has her first loose tooth! I have no doubt she will be without it within days. She is at her dad's right now, as she is on her Easter break. So, I feel sure the tooth fairy will be visiting her in Fife. If you've seen photos and wondered about the missing tooth on the top centre, that was a tooth that had to be pulled when she was three. She had been playing on a little trampoline at daycare when she hit her mouth and broke the tooth. What remained died over time and had to removed. So she has been rocking the missing tooth look for over 3 years now! It will be amazing when she has a full mouth of teeth again. She is doing so well - school is excellent and she continues to show that she has a real talent in art. My dad would be so pleased. And, most exciting of all, Catherine is now "penpals" and "Skype pals" with her second cousin once removed, Chloe Murray. So nice to have family connections back in the States. I'm not sure when they will be speaking again, but apparently Chloe announced after their first conversation that Catherine was going to be her best friend, and she apparently has been begging her folks to visit Scotland. (Chloe is the daughter of my cousin Todd and his wonderful wife Ina.) It makes me feel so happy knowing that Catherine has this connection with my darling Uncle Gil's granddaughter. Family was so important to Gil, and I know that he would thrilled that Catherine and Chloe have come to know each other.

Despite everything else going on, I have remained busy with my design business. I have worked very hard over the last 18 months perfecting, or trying to perfect, my metalsmithing skills. I'm so pleased with how far I have come, and I'm looking forward to creating more and more detailed and intricate designs. I recently completed this pendant in copper, with a beautiful bezel-set garnet. The design is lovely, but I didn't feel it was perfect for selling, so it became a gift for a good friend. And while other friends and customers have said that my "not perfect" is probably perfect by anyone else's definition, the artist in me demands perfection in anything I wish to sell. But I am pleased with the outcome of using this technique, which reminds me very much of eastern or medieval textiles. I will be applying this technique to other copper and bronze pieces and to silver and gold pieces, as well. I was hoping to have a new collection of sterling/gold pieces ready by the beginning of April, but I have been busy putting together a fairly sizeable stock of bronze and copper jewellery so I am prepared for the many markets and events I have scheduled for the remainder of the year. The new collections will add brooches and bangles to my copper and bronze work and brooches, bangles, and rings to my silver/gold work. I am registered with the Edinburgh Assay Office and hope to send a package to them at the end of April so that my maker's mark and the hallmark can be applied to the various pieces. So exciting!

For a while, I was afraid I was going to have to give up my business. I had noticed a slight hand tremor a couple of years ago, but prior to Christmas it became quite pronounced. In fact, it got to the point where I was finding it almost impossible to do my work or even transport food from my plate to my mouth. After seeing my GP, I was given a referral to a neurologist so we could ascertain what was going on. While a diagnosis of Parkinson's was discussed, my GP felt quite strongly that I was suffering from Essential Tremor - an inherited neurological complaint that, as a friend who suffers from it says, is annoying but harmless. Beta blockers are controlling the tremors now and the neurologist - a lovely Spanish gentleman - confirmed the ET diagnosis. Phew!

So that is what has been going on with us here in our little corner of the world. I have, of course, been keeping myself abreast of all the developments in the presidential politics back home. It is all a bit frightening on the GOP side. On the Democratic side, I am pleased we have two qualified, intelligent candidates from which to choose. For me, well, I have to declare that I feel the Bern! Will be interesting to see what happens this summer at both the conventions. (My prediction for the GOP is a brokered convention with John Kasich winning the final nomination after two ballots.) The voting problems in Arizona appear to be quite serious, and I find it hard to believe that a state that contains so many venerated institutions of higher learning would be so backward as to pass laws that make it easy to discriminate against folks based on gender identity. But it appears that North Carolina is going to be hit where it hurts. Will be interesting to see how things develop there.

Love to all of you and I know, like me, you are enjoying the longer and warmer days! C'mon Spring and Summer!