Thursday, February 15, 2018

Leaning towards love

Dismayed as all of you are over the latest school shooting. Failings everywhere. In education, in nurturing, but most of all, our failure as a country to do anything about the NRA who has the Republican Party in a choke hold. With so many senators being paid millions of dollars by the NRA how will we ever make meaningful changes to the Second Amendment?  No-one needs an assault rifle. 

And — stay with me here — isn't it time to really look at the way we function as a society? Isn't it time to make a change from being fear-based to becoming love-based. Imagine the difference if all children were taught to nurture and care for life. How can killing be the option in an ethically advanced, thoughtful society? We must embrace love. We must choose it. Every single time. 

I don't feel that I am a dreamer when I say we have to continue to strive towards love, to do everything we can to make love and kindness the most important thing, to find solutions for disenfranchised people that doesn't involve destroying other lives. 

If there is one thing our president can do to change the way he will be perceived by generations to come (it won't be pretty), it is to make meaningful changes to the Second Amendment.  I am not holding my breath. But I hope that his ego and his desire to be loved, will lead him to this path. 


Friday, February 02, 2018

Once in a (Super) Blue Moon

The day didn't start as I'd hoped; the lovely man at Tring market who sells tulips and daffodils and alstroemeria and the omnipresent mums (sometimes with sparkly bits on them or dipped in green dye to make them jolly for St Patrick's Day) was not there and I was a little flummoxed, as today is Church Flowers Day. "He wasn't there last week either" said a lady in the car park. "He's probably on holiday."

Little Dorrit, my neighbor, who is the Holder of the Church Key, and wrangles the Flower Ladies with a light touch and a warm smile, encourages me to swot up for the Village Quiz. "For example, on what day were women given the vote" she says this morning, as she thrusts the keys into my hand. Yikes. I'm terrible on dates.

I'm not looking forward to doing the church flowers -- it feels too cold out -- but I cut down some hazel twigs, full of catkins, some yew that has little yellow flowers on it, and find some irises, white narcissus, forsythia and white hyacinths at the flower shop in Tring. They're very kind and give me a discount when I tell them it's for the church. With my shears, some string, a filled watering can, and the dogs, we drive to the church, boot laden with plant life. The church is cold, and doesn't smell wonderful. It's a beautiful church, with hand-embroidered kneelers, and a very good window or two, but I can't help but feel that it needs to be draped with Tibetan prayer flags and candles and offerings and little Mexican Madonnas with rosary beads. I want to play music and turn on the heat, and warm it up. I want to wash the floors and make the pews sparkle. It's so very English, the mustiness of it. I do say a prayer, at the end, and I even the praying gives me a lump in my throat, but I think it's the nostalgia more than anything. I don't feel in church like I feel while chanting and meditating. I hope that isn't a terrible thing to say. I don't feel the emotion of the On High.

Just as fragrance is in the flower, and reflection is in the mirror, in just the same way, God is within you.

The sikhs call the cleaning and the flower arranging, the chores that you do to serve God seva. Pray, Work, Give. As I lifted out the huge, dusty doormat just inside the church (I don't think it had been lifted up for a few years) I realized I was enjoying myself. The dogs weren't particularly helpful. Two jersey cows were lying down in their hay in the field behind the church, and Thistle was transfixed. I think the power of the Holy Spirit prevented her from chasing them, but she couldn't take her eyes off them. When she'd given up, she sat outside the little anti-room where the flowers are prepared (and, no doubt, the communion wine), while Bean kept guard at the front door.

It's lovely being inside a church, albeit a cold and slightly dusty one. It is so very, very peaceful.  And very, very still. And there is something rather nice about bringing the outside in.

I read something yesterday which I'll link to here about grabbing the moments when inspiration hits, and writing it down. Because once you're out of the shower, or you've finished your walk, you'll forget the little kernel that came to you. They are just kernels, but those are the very things that grow into  huge oaks.

The sudden flashes of insight we have in states of meditative distraction—showering, pulling weeds in the garden, driving home from work—often elude our conscious mind precisely because they require its disengagement. When we’re too actively engaged in conscious thought—exercising our intelligence, so to speak—our creativity and inspiration suffer. “The great Tao fades away.”

Doing flowers in a cold, quiet church produced just that state of meditative distraction. Perhaps that's why you find people sitting in churches in London at lunchtime, just to think. I walked into the great St Martin in the Fields the other day and wanted to stay for a long time, with the other two people who were hugging the ends of their pews, snuggled up in their warm coats. Of course, they could be praying too. But what, really, is the difference?

It hasn't been an easy week. The moment I have to start thinking about taking enough exercise, and taking my meds on time, and getting enough sleep, and meditating, and eating well, and drinking enough water, and doing the cod liver oil dosing, the minute my friend Sue starts giving me advice on sad lights, I know that something is awry. It will pass. I know it will. It's like the weather. But this isn't all I want to do. This can't be it. There needs to be an epiphany and another chapter. I can't bear the thought of this being everything. I like my job. I'm good at my job. But for some reason, my destiny feels bigger. That doesn't sound egotistical, I hope. I mean, I believe that God has other plans for me, and I intend to live up to that expectation.

I'm so hard to handle
I'm selfish and I'm sad
Now I've gone and lost the best baby
That I ever had
Oh I wish I had a river
I could skate away on -- Joni Mitchell, River

On Wednesday night, after, quite frankly, a pretty shitty day, I forced myself to walk outside in the early evening to look at the moon. It was the Super Blue Blood Moon (the funniest name I've ever heard, many jokes about Belgian handmade loafer and Scully & Scully). I'd been at my desk all day, bound to it, and stuck in the house, irritated by the cold, the blockage in my brain, but I force myself outside. I grabbed my brand new LL Bean jacket that keeps you warm in -20 temperatures (what can I say? I'm a wuss.) and the dogs, and we walked towards the moon, which was diagonally across from us, across the road, the cricket pitch, the wood, up the field where the fake sheep live, closer and closer and closer, until I realized that I'd never reach it.  How ever far I walked, I'd never reach the moon. I took pictures of it all the way and marveled at it, this glowing orb floating above us. I dreamed of a white garden, like the one at Sissinghurt (surely only women appreciate the white garden, the glow of the flowers in the moonlight). There was so much light. So much light. We were all illuminated.

Sending you love from the Chilterns. xo

Wednesday, January 24, 2018


As it's the middle of the night, I am not at my laptop, I am typing with my thumbs on my phone. I contemplated making a cup of tea and sitting down at the kitchen table, but 4.21am felt as if it were hour too early for that. The house is small and drafty with thin wooden doors with great gaps at the top and bottom, so I didn't want to wake Charlie. Tea does sound good, however. The four o'clock hour always tempts me, with its quiet and clarity.

This is what has happened: I have hurt one of my good friends. I will say it clearly because I have been carrying it now for close to two weeks and I do not know where to put it. I have selfishly, albeit unwittingly, hurt one of my lovely friends, one of the kindest people you could ever hope to meet, and she is not speaking to me, nor responding to emails. I am devastated. And I am sorry. And I feel like the most horrible and selfish person on the planet. It's as if the the fabric of my life, all the thin threads that are woven together to create a safe, warm blanket, are unraveling. I do not say that to be dramatic. I say it because when something is a constant, a constant constant, one takes it for granted, and this event has caused the little pieces of cotton to start to fray.

This is my fault. I offer no excuse. I will not go into details but take it from me that I was thoughtless and boneheaded and excluded her from something and she is hurt. There was no reason for it.  No excuse. It is purely dumb. I completely understand her reaction and why she would be upset with me. But to live through the consequences, that's hard. Perhaps that what karma is: behave in this way and you will directly suffer the consequences. You will feel the impact of it with equal force.

One of the things it has done is to help me question all my friendships, all my relationships, and to ask myself if I have been the best friend I can be. I always lean on my friends and expect a lot from them — I treasure them — but have I been a good friend in return? I am not sure that I have. I have been so wrapped up in moving here and sorting out this part of my life, that I have probably been a horrible friend. 

And maybe as someone who demands so much, I should be more aware of the way I behave? And less quick to judge? This is new territory. Truthfully, I am struggling with it. I am, I am sorry to say, bewildered, and trying to find the right thing to do. 

I think I am a good daughter. And I hope I am a good mother. But friend, godmother, aunt - I am less sure that I have fulfilled my roles adequately in these areas. 

Life throws these things at you and you pay attention. It makes you sit up and take notice. And you act accordingly. So I am grateful for that. Not in a Pollyanna way, either. Isn't it important to lead a life that is observed. "An unexamined life is not worth living." - Socrates (as noted by Plato).

In the train yesterday, on a particularly grey and wet journey to London, I was contemplating in my head, as you do, the nature of friendship and what is expected. I would like to be the type of friend who is always there with the warm phone call at 9am and the cup of tea, but I think I am more the person that deals well with emergencies. I am a great fixer. I have to work on the more constant, less dramatic skills. The train is a funny thing. You sit so close to another person that you can feel their arm moving against yours and yet you hardly ever exchange a glance. I am self conscious to talk on the phone on the train. People who do seem like prats to me. The people who call to say "I will be on the 5.26pm" - you hear them every day. Wouldn't it be easier to text? But then I wonder if I became to blasé in LA, too big picture. Maybe I forgot that it's the small things that are important. The kindness of a thoughtful phone call. I have lived too fast.

This has made me question everything. It has caused a crisis of character. Or is it a crise du coeur?  I think that's the word. But maybe that was necessary. I should be grateful for this. 

But carrying around this phrase in my head - **I have hurt my friend. I made her cry.** - that is very, very tough. It doesn't go away. 

I am very, very sorry. 

So, Universe, so Creative Energy, so Goodness & Kindness, so Higher Beings, so God, I am asking for forgiveness. And I am asking that I learn from this. Thank you. 

Sunday, January 07, 2018

Are they having a laugh?

My poor man has the flu. I'd like to say he has the man flu, but this seems pretty bad: high fever, aching bones, sore head, horrible cough. I am feeding him paracetamol and advil to keep the fever down, and bringing him apple juice and tea and water with lemon. He sleeps in his LL Bean pajamas, with a fleece underneath and his Philadelphia Eagles bobble hat, wrapped in most of the duvet and the Hudson Bay blanket. Periodically he reaches for his phone to check sports scores or says things like "Don't worry about me. I'll struggle on."

The Frenchie, who has been in a cone of shame since Boxing Day, for an ulcerated cornea, has been temporarily freed. The cone is battered and torn, and she is now sitting on the carpet cleaning herself, and all those parts other beers can't reach, elated.

On some of the coldest days of the year, the house has decided to turn off the radiators in the middle of the night, so we're woken (I'm woken) to a deathly chill, and have to pad downstairs in my bare feet to fiddle with the knobs on the thermostat as if I know what I'm doing. (I don't.)

"Are they having a laugh?" asked the nice man who came in to fix the extractor fan in the bathroom. "What do you mean, kind sir?" I said, like Lady Bracknell. "Not many people would take this place, you know" he said, "with the walls crumbling and all. I mean, I suppose it 'as its charm." "Oh I like it!" I said firmly. "Especially in the summer." "You must be a writer" the fine man continues. "I noticed the New Yorker in the bathroom. You writers like the romance of a place like this, don't you?" He smiled kindly. I know he feels sorry for me.

Speaking of romance, the cuckoo clock my son gave me is the most charming thing. Not only does it serve a purpose, but it does so with such elegance. William Morris would approve. It ticks two boxes of his criteria for objects to have in one's house. It serves another purpose: it tells you exactly how much time you're wasting. While I'm faffing around, trying to get out of the house, I notice the cuckoo of the half hour strike, which hastens me. I'm rather paying attention more to time, being our most important commodity and all that.  Too late into the new year I am realizing that change must come and that it isn't okay to allow things to remain as they are. One must be brave, one must reach out for the things one wants to do, one must be bold and brave and not give a damn what anyone else thinks, even the man who installs the extractor fan. Even him.

And this house is awfully lovely in the summer. Did I tell you that we've made mirabelle gin from the tiny plums in the garden? I gave a bottle to the postman and promised him I wasn't trying to poison him (it's all a bit Midsummer Murders around here - you can't be too careful) and when I bumped into him on Shire Lane on the horse, he confirmed that he'd loved it, although he had imbibed rather too much all round over Christmas. Let me be clear: I was on the horse; he was in his rather fetching red postal van.

I know when the house is warm enough. Because the dogs, who've had a propensity for jumping in the bed at any provocation, are cozily snuggled in their nice green tweed dog beda underneath the radiator. When it's warm, they don't wake up. Rather like me.

Oh I know this reads like an episode of the Archers. I haven't even gotten in to the man who likes teenage girls and gives them teddy bear necklaces to join the "teddy bear club". That will be another installment. And no doubt Shona will have something to say. We take the sunshine when we can get it, for minutes or hours. Probably a good way to look at life, no?

Thursday, January 04, 2018

Be the light in 2018

A very happy new year to each and every one reading this. I hope that your hearts will be full in 2018.

My mother says that you shouldn't have spring flowers in the house, like hyacinths, tulips, narcissus, until after Christmas. That it's just wrong to have them in the house before Christmas. I think it's the something to look forward to thing. To be honest, January in England is challenging when you haven't really experienced it before. The days are really, really short. The sun rises at 8am and sets at 4pm.  Which means there are about six hours of useful daylight. I've discovered that the only way to survive is to get up early and to greet the day. Whatever your mood, whatever your level of cabin fever, whatever your housebound nature, however hard it is to get out of your warm and comfortable bed to set foot in the freezing, terracotta floored kitchen, actually making it outside into the weather, the naked trees, the singing birds, changes everything. I force myself not to procrastinate, not to make an extra cup of tea, and to hit the muddy ground running. Your face freezes, your nose gets red, the red veins on your cheeks which make you further resemble your mother get more pronounced. Your eyes pop blue from your ruddy, scrubbed face. Your hands are permanently cold. You carry around Neutrogena Norwegian formula hand cream, and apply liberally. You've bought two new thermal undershirts shirts and you wear one every day and you tell people proudly that it's your favorite item of clothing. You make turkey and ham pies. You become useful with pastry. You wash your own knickers, because you like the feeling of warm, soapy water on your hands. You fantasize about crawling into the dog basket in the middle of the day.

It could be a superstition. Like keeping mince pies for three months.

But yesterday Charlie brought me tulips, pink ones with frilly edges like microscopic ric-a-rac, and they're on my scrubbed kitchen table, between two white candles, and they bring joy and optimism and hope.

"How do you do it?" I asked a friend. "Frankly, it's better than the snow," she replied.

My children brought me cuckoo clocks and cheerful blue printed napkins, a bud vase, a shopping bag with dalmatians on it, navy and white stripey socks, a hand-carved wooden cheese board, a jug with a bumble bee on it. I am spoiled. Mostly I am spoiled by having them here, all of them, all four of them, children and beloveds, smiling and slipping into their gumboots and Norwegian socks (I bought five pairs in various sizes for muddy walks in the rain). We walked to Ivinghoe Beacon in the snow, five of us, two dogs, one in a cone of shame, and breathed in the icy air at the top. It felt like the right thing to do after Christmas feasting.

And now the wind is howling through the chimney and blowing in the oak trees outside. Tis the bleak midwinter, frosty wind and all.

Saturday, December 16, 2017

Home is where one starts from

When I walk, I imagine the best way things could be. I dream about the incredibly beautiful wreath I'm going to make and put on the front door of our little cottage, with holly from Oxford because all the holly near us is un-berried, and pine branches, and ribbon. I wonder where to buy grosgrain ribbon, because that is my favorite. In Los Angeles, I have a box of ribbons, and grosgrain in every (winter) color - red, brown, orange, lime green. I look at the beauty of naked branches and think I an incorporate them into a wreath, with lichen perhaps, and then I laugh at myself. And I marvel at the glory of it all: the impossibly bright winter sun, the orange-brown light on the trees just after sunrise, the spotted sheep huddling in puddles of sunlight, the cracked perfection of the puddles of ice, the sparkling frost on the black roads. When I walk, I am my best self, optimistic and ebullient and magnanimous, with the cold air freezing my face, and red-nosed in awe and gratitude. When I walk, I shed the doubt. Perhaps we all do.

I was born here, on a farm, in a cold house that didn't have a lot of central heating. There was a huge wood burning stove in the hallway that heated a fair amount of the house, and log fires in the sitting room, drawing room, dining room and study. I remember being too cold to get out of bed to go to the loo in the middle of the night, even though the loo was next to my bedroom. I remember ice on my windows. I remember frozen fingers and forced dog walks twice a day. And cold Land Rovers. And the damp. And the smell of wet dog. Five or Six of them. But, now I'm back I wonder if Southern California softened me, thinned my blood, made me a princess. There is no doubt I am now a princess. I've had to learn to wash my own floors and do my own ironing (I still suck at ironing). I've had to learn to feel cold, a lot, and to wear a woolly hat in the kitchen sometimes. Charlie is kind and good to me (too kind, too good, my mother says). Yesterday, I got back (freezing) from a funeral in London and there were white tulips on the kitchen table and yellow daffodils on my bedside table. "I wanted to remind you of spring," he said. "And hope. It's not always going to be like this." I'm not sure what to do with all this kindness. I don't ever feel deserving of it. I am not sure how such a lovely man managed to get into my orbit or what divine intervention brought us together. I know this: he makes the cold worthwhile.

When I walk, I warm up. I'm wearing my red and white Norwegian sweater and a huge red pashmina scarf, wrapped three times around my neck to stave off bronchial conditions and scattershot maladies. And on top of this a coat in my brother's tweed. It's the warmest thing I own. I want to wear it every day, even in London. "It's not really a London coat" says Charlie. He fears I'll start to wear one of those furry hatbands that all the Sloanes favor. When I warm up, the world becomes benevolent again, and the fear assuages.

We sang hymns in church. I stood beside my childhood friend who I love very much and he sang in a deep baritone.  All public school boys do this. It amuses me. My piping second soprano could not be bridled. I jolly well love to sing hymns. The Lord's My Shepherd (Crimond) and Love Divine, All Loves Excelling, a great Wesleyan hymn. Goodness and kindness all my life shall surely follow me. What lovely, lovely lyrics. What lovely hope.

I hope, deep in my heart, that England is still in my bones in a proper, English way. I hope that I am deserving of its beneficence.

Home is where one starts from. As we grow older
The world becomes stranger, the pattern more complicated
Of dead and living. Not the intense moment 
Isolated, with no before and after,
But a lifetime burning in every moment
And not the lifetime of one man only
But of old stones that cannot be deciphered.
There is a time for the evening under starlight,
A time for the evening under lamplight
(The evening with the photograph album).
Love is most nearly itself
When here and now cease to matter.  -- from East Coker, by TS Eliot

Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening

Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening

Whose woods these are I think I know.   
His house is in the village though;   
He will not see me stopping here   
To watch his woods fill up with snow.   

My little horse must think it queer   
To stop without a farmhouse near   
Between the woods and frozen lake   
The darkest evening of the year.   

He gives his harness bells a shake   
To ask if there is some mistake.   
The only other sound’s the sweep   
Of easy wind and downy flake.   

The woods are lovely, dark and deep,   
But I have promises to keep,   
And miles to go before I sleep,   
And miles to go before I sleep.