Remembering Chummy

For Chummy

Chummy in the mountains, 2013.

Twinkle, twinkle, little star

We brought you from a desert far —

Girl Number Five on an eastbound jet —

But you didn’t quiver in the car,

And felt happy from the moment we met.

Twinkle, twinkle, little star

We don’t have to wonder where you are —

You knew we loved you from the start,

When you didn’t even know your name yet.

And that is what we have to remember —

in 2018, in the month of December —

the fun and the charm and the fabulous kisses,

the waterfall trek and the lightning near-misses,

the dancing and leaping and running like mad,

daydreaming on beanbags on holidays we had,

or spotting wild turkeys, or spying on that cat.

Twinkle, twinkle, little star

You shine for us still brightly

And nothing will ever outshine the love

That lives in our hearts, day and nightly.

A lovely Christmas

Lots of beautiful sights this Christmas: two rainbows at different times, our wonderful dog, a Christmas tree even more glittering now with new ornaments (thanks, Mum!) , a beautiful centerpiece (thanks, Dad!), and jolly holly berries among the emerald leaves (click on each picture below to advance to the next one). The second rainbow photo has a reddish tree at right: that’s a holly red with berries. At the end of the slide show are two tree ornaments I would have loved to have bought but the merchants (Pottery Barn and CB2 respectively) apparently didn’t want to sell them to me: couldn’t order them online and couldn’t buy them in the local store, either. So I took a screenshot as better than nothing!

Wardrobe Malfunctions

Apparently the former Meghan Markle, now Duchess of Sussex, was spotted with a clothes tag dangling from somewhere near the hem of her dress. Seems an odd place for a tag to be — but in any case, this is something that would NEVER happen to me. Why? Because I cut any and all tags out of all my clothes — and off towels, tea towels, bedding, and anything whatsoever — before I use them. I simply hate tags. I never want to see them, and if they are important (though honestly, they almost never are) I’ll put them in my sewing basket. I hate the way they rub (I am the princess and they are the pea), the way they deface my beautiful items, the way they intrude on what is mine. That said, I threw on a dress this afternoon before walking Betsy, and when I looked down I noticed the seams and realized it was inside out. Quel horreur!

Living where you want


It occurs to me somewhat often of late that I am living exactly where I need to be, without on the one hand a sense that the trees are definitely greener and fruitier elsewhere, or on the other hand that where I am is absolutely ideal, my final destination, my last happy stop, or This Is It. Where I’m living is somewhere in between — and I like it. It suits me fine to know that one day — not too soon, not too distant — if the world still resembles what it looks like today I’ll be moving on. Most likely, that moving on will take the form of changing country. It will mean going abroad, overseas. And that is always stressful, even if you know the country more or less, speak the language, even have family there (in my case, family is largely a thing of the past and has nothing to do with my plans). Not to mention the fact that transatlantic moving is costly. Moving with a dog is even more problematic: we shall have to travel by ship, over several days. Staying put, besides being pleasant on its own merits, also has the benefit of being stable, cosily predictable, peaceful, and serene.

In addition, I know that I’m not rich enough to afford the sort of life abroad that is truly what I’ve always dreamed of. Which leads me to the the thought that, if I am honest, the place I dream about is probably closer to me in imagination than it is in any propinquitous real life. Perhaps I can best possess my ideal home by writing stories about it — by living with it in my mind. And why not? P. G. Wodehouse wrote stories set in England for decades — from his permanent home in Long Island, New York. You could say that I’m doing my own version of California Dreamin’, knowing that the ‘California’ of my dream is not perfect, the life away from it is so not-bad as to be very good, and that it may be some time before I get there.

Actual cherries!


We bought the Barbados cherry that apparently no one else wanted, even though it looked like a nice small tree, and we were intrigued by the prospect of cherries. Real ones: edible ones. Not just flowers that the bullfinches nobbled in England, in our garden there.

Well, we planted the tree some months ago this year, and the cherries are appearing. Most of them are tiny and nowhere near red. But these three — one already compromised by a wormy sort of critter — are certainly ripe. As I said to hubby, they’re the sort of red of the wicked stepmother’s apple for Snow White. They look as though they might well be poisonous. They’re not, fortunately. But what they are is tiny. They are also mild and slightly tart in flavour. They are also, according to the experts, highly perishable. So the only thing to do is freeze them as they come in, three by three and four by four, until I decide to make a jam of them. Or something.

Creative versus conventional

The 'about' page on  The Idler website . 

The 'about' page on The Idler website

In this short discussion, psychologist Jordan Peterson is using the wrong word: the distinction he's describing is not between 'creative' and 'conservative' people -- it's between creative and conventional people. I'm conservative both in politics and in my personal life -- in the way I manage resources -- but I'm also profoundly creative, in that I create every day that I get a chance, and art is something I need, not just to look at or to appreciate but to do. That's why the logos on my front page is 'making the beautiful life'. The verb is making, not having, buying, hoping for, imagining (though making requires plenty of that), or being idle. Because I need to create, I need the leisure and freedom to create, -- leisure in terms of time, and freedom in terms of peaceable, orderly, rational daily life. I couldn't be creative me in a war zone or in an oppressive regime: for me, creativity requires a certain lightness of being, a suspension of practical care and the capacity to focus entirely on the work at hand, without distraction. A conventional life filled with conventional goods would often get in the way of that freedom. And, apart from the fact that I vote and pay taxes and maintain my property, I don't have a conventional life.

Another way to describe graphite

I love the Derwent 'Graphitints' -- tinted graphite pencils whose colours are activated by water. They really are the best of both worlds -- pencil and paint.

I love the Derwent 'Graphitints' -- tinted graphite pencils whose colours are activated by water. They really are the best of both worlds -- pencil and paint.

... is carbon at atmospheric pressure. And it must be said that carbon in that form (or 'phase', as mineralogists say) is just as valuable if not more so than diamonds (also carbon in a different phase). You can't draw with diamonds. And though I appreciate jewels and am wowed by them -- I have several books on jewellery and gemstones and have gawked at the Crown jewels from a young age -- nonetheless, art made with the help of graphite either in its early or final forms is surely no less worth treasuring. And in the end, what is more interesting: the Koh-i-Noor diamond or a drawing by a great artist?

Why do so many questions never occur to us -- for years, anyway?

Here is a quick list of things that never occurred to me for decades, even though I'd heard of most of these words since childhood or young adulthood, at least. The last one is new to me (say, the past couple of years, at the outside).

1. SUGAR. Why is it not spelled 'shugar'? In French the word is 'sucre', and yes, the first two letters are spelt how they sound or sound how they're spelt: like the first part of 'Susan'. Why in English do we put an H there?

The amusing cocktail napkin at bottom right illustrates why I don’t like ‘you’re welcome’: it carries too strong a whiff of ‘and now you  owe  me’.

The amusing cocktail napkin at bottom right illustrates why I don’t like ‘you’re welcome’: it carries too strong a whiff of ‘and now you owe me’.

2. Robert The Bruce. Was this Scottish king Robert Bruce? What is 'a Bruce', never mind 'THE Bruce'? Are we to imagine this? -- There was only one Bruce, or The Bruce, in the world, and Robert was it. Apparently 'the' is an Anglophone representation of 'de', commonly used by French people and by those ghastly Normans that conquered England. Though why Robert wasn't therefore Robert de Bruce remains a mystery: no Robert de Vere, Earl of Oxford (there was more than one) styled himself Robert the Vere that I know of.

3. 'You're welcome'. I've never liked this expression. If someone thanks me, I respond with 'my pleasure': it's much more gracious, in my opinion. 'Welcome' means that something's presence is appreciated and perhaps expected. What does that have to do with courteously acknowledging someone else's gratitude? 

4. 'Bucket list'. If such a list is meant to include the important things you wish to do in life, where does a bucket come into it? As a gardener I use buckets for dirt, pulled-up roots, new soil, and water. I can't imagine describing any long-cherished goals as belonging in, or being carried in, a bucket. 'Wish pot', if one needs a term, makes far more sense. 

I consider myself

Somewhat lenticular clouds over the Smoky Mountains. Every cloud on every day is different, like snowflakes.

... one of the luckiest people -- indeed, one of the luckiest beings of any kind -- that ever lived or ever will live. Why? Lots of reasons, but above all, because I know I'm lucky. Not in the sense of happy-go-lucky or striking lucky, but because I have had the immense good fortune to live in a time and place where I am at once free and in charge of myself -- my body, my mind, and in aggregate, my fate (as much as any mortal can be). Every day it is a wondrous thing to be alive, and to be living so well. For all of that, I have nothing but thankfulness and the uplift that such gratitude brings.

My new hobby:

counting bats. 20, if I didn't miss any when more than one flew out of the eaves-box (a strange jutting-out of wood with some sort of corrugated cover, just over one foot by about two feet, eyeballing it). I suppose they are the Little Brown Bat of the Smoky Mountains. They start jostling and making swishing tweets at about a quarter to nine, after the colours of sunset but before twilight really sinks in. Then they start to fly out, in rapid succession, mostly one by one but sometimes two at a time -- the last laggard leaving before a quarter past nine. At the same o'clock, the whip-poor-will has started up in the distance.

As American as ... apple pie?

As a native Briton, I've always been puzzled by this statement. I grew up eating home-baked apple pies, and enjoyed it as part of our traditional English cooking. Not only is Britain an assemblage of countries much given to pie-making, but England in particular is famous for its apple varieties, and the county of Kent for its apple orchards. So, nice though it is that Americans appreciate a good apple pie (and grow plenty of apples themselves), it still seemed odd that they would claim such a basic dish as distinctly their own. And Google today, in its recipe-per-state Independence Day feature, acknowledges the apple pie's true homeland, in the Maine tab.