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.