All posts by Kelly

Che colore è? What is the colour?

Luna and Coco
Spring at Heverswood
Tomato seedlings making it outside

I’ve got the words ‘release date’ ringing in my head.  Maybe I’ve been binge watching Orange is the New Black a little too much (okay, who I am kidding? I watched the entire seven seasons on Netflix in like a week in February BEFORE COVID fully hit), but ‘release date’ keeps arriving in my mind’s ear (I reckon if there is a mind’s eye there’s gotta be a mind’s ear).  ‘Release date’ – the day to be released back into the world and I can’t help wondering when that will be and what it will be like. For the women of Litchfield Prison that meant getting sprung from jail, at our house right now, at least for today, it means the day our kittens will go out for the first time into the garden since they arrived in our house back when I was waiting with a poised finger over the TV remote to click the “Skip Intro” of OITNB so I could get back to my show. 

Coco and Luna both were chosen to join us at Heverswood because we thought (like most of the world) we would be seeing in 2020 as we had planned and the kittens would be the perfect anecdote for keeping Skyler de-stressed over the course of his final revision and actual GCSEs examinations.  Instead we’ve found we’ve instead shared not the examination process with these little cuties but the quarantine of 2020.  We’ve bonded with them these last eight weeks watching them race to our doors trying to slip out past our legs – willing their way to freedom.  

It’s wild when you first get kittens at eight weeks they are so timid and have to work themselves up to sneaking out from under the dresser when you walk in to the room – crouching kitten style, keeping low to the floor…maybe more commando style than crouching tiger.  Now they literally fling themselves at speed towards any entrance that smells of the outdoors.  We are not trying to be cruel but keep them as safe as we can whilst they recover from their spaying operation post ‘reaching maturity’ doing our job to keep them from bringing more kittens into the already overladen kitten world.  At any rate, it’s been fun to watch them gain in confidence as they’ve watched, heads in synch with the ball, as we’ve ping ponged on the table outside the room we’ve set up their box and food in, they’ve paced along the width of the back of our house chasing any leaf caught up in a breeze toppling along like tumbleweed, pawing at the glass to try and touch the unobtainable toy. 

The kittens have even shadowed me from indoors as I’ve watered the plants I’m trying to coax from the pots on the back patio.  I do not have the green fingers/thumbs like the rest of my family so I’m literally trying, in the first instance, not to kill the eggplants, basil and geraniums I had delivered.  We were unable to find tomato plants when Boris Johnson announced the lockdown of the UK on the 23rd of March.  Much like everyone else in the nation worrying whether they’d have fresh food for the summer, I panic bought compost and any seedlings I could get my mail-order hands on and slowly over May they’ve been arriving to test their fate under my tutelage.  As I said, I was too slow off the mark and missed out on the tomato plants, so I YouTubed “tomato plants hack” having remembered being mesmerised last summer by people demonstrating the methods in which you can grow fruit and veggies from the wizened near-rotten-rubber-about-ready-for-the-mulch pile carrots, potatoes and dented tomatoes rolling around the produce drawer of our fridges and fruit bowls.  Much to my delight some lady in New Delhi was completely in the know and she had a handy dandy tutorial on how to slice a tomato in half, bury it in an inch of compost and keeping its soil damp at all times coaxing little tomato seedlings out twenty days later.  I reckoned I had nothing to lose and guess what?  She was right.   We’ve now got plants emerging from the pots I put in the sunniest spot I could find.  It’s keeping me entertained to no end and now I’ve got the bug no unfurling blossom around my house is unappreciated.  No alliums have ever been more anxiously anticipated nor peonies tightly origami-ed into perfect balls awaiting their exactly right time to unwrap.  And of course, the foxglove flourish fascinates every stroll to the front bed, stalks high, trumpet heads bowed, spectacular polka dotted pinks popping from within.  I kid you not. When the first rhododendron blossom started to show its fuchsia petals from the pack of green glossy leaves, we celebrated it from the kitchen table making sure to point it out to each other and even grin as we passed a binocular lens over it perched on a high part of the branch just beyond our reach. 

In all of this, I am left desperate struggling to think of the exact name of the green that fresh buds grow in.  “Lime” seems to citrus-y and acidic to describe it.  There seems to need to be another layer of lightness, freshness to capture the green of spring.  Be it grass blades, tulip leaves, hydrangea flowerheads, the greens deepen and match their shape, size and duty of their adult plant, but to begin with, like the eyes of our kittens when they first arrived, the greens come in the lightest and purest of colours.  

Some of the fun in the anticipation of blooms is wondering did something make it from last year?  Has it had enough water?  The right spot to settle?  I love the saying a ‘riot of colour’ as though colours are causing a stir, taking a stand with their bold statements in violet, bubblegum, salmon, morning glory yellow, lilac, even the periwinkle of forget-me-nots.  I love the audacity of the plants to poke out their greenness to begin with, out of the dark earth or on the tip of a branch, before moving on to a more varied display of colour.

Each green bud feels like a blessing. An actual sign of hope. 

And now I wake up and watch my tomato seedlings boldly grow new leaves each day, the basil plants bending towards the warmth of the sun, the geraniums bulk out and glow fluorescent pink.  A little like the Med we are so missing in our confinement.  Even as I miss the sea. The salt. The food.  The real accents we are now all practicing on Duolingo.  I wonder could I take a class this autumn?  Have a home tutor? It’d be even better than the cartoon owl who encourages me every time I get ten in a row correct on this language app.  I love the sound of the words.  Even just stringing the vocabulary I am learning to form sentences of a kind…Non sono forchette (They are not forks) gives me a taste of the world outside of my own.

And yet even with all these happy distractions, I can’t help but feel low at times.  Downtrodden by the state of affairs. Stir crazy with wanting the spontaneity of my life to return. Wanting to know when we will all be allowed out again.  Listening to Radio 4’s Thought for the Day spot had me mesmerised as Rhidian Brook read his poem, Soap, Lemons, Paracetamol.  I experienced a poetic epiphany having the poem speak so deeply to me I felt it expressed my own internal thoughts with perfect articulation.

Soap, Lemons, Paracetamol.

Wake up, breathe, thank your God for breath. 

Clean your teeth (is that a cough?). 

Gargle with salt. 

Take your tea extra hot. 

Keep fear at bay, and write a list. 

Take back control

With soap, lemons, paracetamol.

Check the news but keep it short,

Radio for facts

The birds for true report.

What next? Oh yes. Exercise.

Stand up straight,

Fill your sacs.

Your stocks are low 

Get on your knees

And pray, facing Sainsbury’s.

Butter. Apples. Chocolate. Cheese. 

Nearly noon and so little done,

Feel inessential, feeling numb.

How stuck indoors

Our deeds of love.

Ambition grounded,

Hopes on hold.

Do your taxes, paint the shed.

Don’t think about what all this means,

Keep death at bay with games and memes.

Ignore the pressure to achieve,

Stare out the window,

See that leaf

Watch it blow across the yard.

Syrup. Wine. Sugar. Lard.

Great events are best left

Unexplained when in the fire.

It needs distance to see

The Truth, cooling with time.

Two metres? Make it two years. 

Leave snap judgements 

To the tweets of sages

And Job’s friends. 

Be still. Know we’re not God.

From dust we’re made,

From dust we’re raised.

Bread. Flour. Marmalade.

Late afternoon

The toll comes in

Want to hear the score again?

Worse than China, worse than Spain.

Please. Stop playing 

This awful game. 

Some say it’s war,

But that’s unfair to us and them,

When what we fight 

Has no face, no shame, 

It’s just data doing its thing.

Dad, what did you do during the plague?

I stayed indoors, got little done

And watched the wind

Blow through leaves and lives.

Milk. Pepper. Salad. Limes.

Fail to focus.

Want to cry.

Feel low, feel late.

Please stop saying this is great

When weeks ago the talk was mean.

Now in the night the sirens scream

And the virus sneaks 

Into our dreams.

It’s hot.

Is that the fever? 

Open the latch,

Lift the lever.

Offer thanks and praise

To the ones

Who’ve no time to reminisce.

Or self-improve,

Or say good bye.

A crash course 

In metaphysics for them.

Dusted in days.

They’re done too soon,

Their last question sighs: why?

Wheat. Barley. Corn. Rye. 

So order your affairs and 

Complete that list.

Wash your hands

And call your mum,

That neighbour, friend, your son.

Tell them what you always knew:

This life’s a gift,

That Love is real,

Its touch is true,

It is thing that gets us through

This moment; it will pass.

So take deep breaths

And fill your soul.

The Spirit’s willing

You make that call.

Soap. Lemons. Paracetamol.

With every syllable, I felt Rhidian Brook knew exactly what I was experiencing and I felt compelled to share this with Nick and Megan and Christy as soon as they each made their way to the kitchen.  I felt tearful with desperation wanting them to understand I was sharing the poem but also my own internal musings.  I wanted them to sense the balancing act I was struggling to maintain (as we all are) between worrying and accepting and trying to make sense of it all. I don’t want to begrudge this time however it feels like the red kite family we’ve been watching in the sky above our garden and fields next door. Huge birds of prey whom we’ve marvelled at, halted our conversations to stop and point at as they circle and float on the uplift of the thermals.  Mimicking their names, looking not like the diamond shape of a kite but rather the objects tethered to the earth tugging on the air to push them higher.  The red kites, Megan and I saw teach their young how to literally flap in the empty air outside their nests and then suddenly soar on the invisible updrafts to fly ever higher.  All of this gets tempered with worrying about the release date of the kittens and whether or not they’ll be wise enough in their freedom to escape a hunger family of five. So you see it really is a see-saw with ‘release date’ and increasingly ‘fret’ wringing their hands around my heart such that my lowness of spirit started to tighten a grip around my day, when my eighty-five year old dad called with sheer happiness in his voice.  Giddy as a kid.  He’d had a huge thunderstorm the night before with full on crashes of thunder and lighting rolling through Beaufort, SC.  He’d woken up early to walk his dog at six and felt so thrilled by the clearing out of the storm and humidity he felt the world seemed cleaned and fresh.  He told me he felt utter happiness at being alive.  He struggled for a way to express it, so wanting to share his story with me, so wanting to get it right, to express it exactly as he felt it, “The world”, he said “had dawned…”

I sighed, suggesting, still stuck in my funk, “Anew?”and he said, “Exactly”.  

He then proceeded to tell me how he’d remembered a comment I’d made a week or so ago on our family WhatsApp chat when Patty (like the rest of us) had been watching the birds nest near her lake home and mentioned she thought they might be bluebirds. I had sent everyone the link to the old Song of the South’s Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah’ and suggested my sister should look for “bluebird on [her] shoulder”.  So full of the vim and vigour of the morning, my dad said he couldn’t help but recall the song on his walk and then actually break out singing it.  He said he literally threw caution to the wind, in the dawn of his Brickyard Lane neighbourhood, fearless as to whom might hear him, and began belting out ‘Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah‘ at the top of his lungs. “It just felt so right,” he noted and then he told me just as he got to the lyric “there’s a bluebird on my shoulder”, wouldn’t you know at that very moment a bluebird descended from behind him, crossed his shoulder and landed a few feet away from him and Lady and preceded to stand there looking at him.  Not moving, daring to be fully seen.  My dad said, “Kel, I’d been thinking about you and your synchronicities and there it was.  Just staring at me.  The bluebird.” 

By which time I was smiling, then cracking up, and delighting in my dad’s utter joy; his young at heart-ness was as contagious as the damn Corona virus.  I told him how I’d been a bit low especially marking the second month of our lockdown and contemplating our release date.  Wanting to know when it will all be over, knowing no one could tell me. But then his phone call came and his literal joie de vivre was irresistible, I mean it was like something out of the original Disney film speaking as much to me as Rhidian Brook’s poem.

It all made me feel so grateful to receive that phone call and for the fact I come from such stock.  So grateful to have a father who at eighty-five years old gets jazzed up enough about seeing a bluebird he seemed to conjure from his own rendition of  ‘Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah‘ he needed to call me as soon as he got home.  He’s not worrying about the release date.  He’s not saying it’s not hard.  But he is remaining ever hopeful and engaged in his life. I hung up with my dad and finally thought of the exact shade of green the spring growth reminds me of.  A colour I will remember in due course neither too rose-coloured or jaded but surely this spring 2020 green, on balance, at least at our house, can be called none other than ‘sublime’.

Bridges

20170515_160543imagesAfter awhile, it is hard not to take these events personally.  I just keep thinking, amongst other things, this is not what bridges are meant for.  Not my bridges, not the ones I love and use to crisscross the Thames, not the bridges that have come to mean so much to me in the better part of the twenty-seven years I have lived in and around London.  Bridges are meant to span a void. Bridges are meant to connect.  Bridges are meant to keep the flow going smoothly from one side to the other.

I remember growing up in the States and playing with my brother and sisters the “London Bridge” game reaching across to one another, threading our fingers together, pushing our arms over our heads to make an arch for the “boats” to pass and then bringing our entwined hands back to level to let the “cars” and “people” go across. It was all about taking turns, lifting and lowering, a little bit of singing and feeling the strength of our formation as we pretended to be the bridge. The key was never letting go of one another.

I soon found out when I moved here that everyone mistakes Tower Bridge for London Bridge. You know, the iconic masterpiece of the Victorian Era which raises the bridge’s “arms” up with intricate bascule pivots originally with coal and steam energy to help keep the flow going between the north and south sides of the River Thames. It stands right next to the Tower of London with its ‘traitor gates’, Beef Eater Gin guards, and a moat, grassed over now, large enough for concerts and to fill with remembrance poppies.

My niece came for a visit last month and we toured Tower Bridge enjoying the views up and down the river from the crosswalks that tie together the two bridge towers which work with the suspension system to hold it all together. You have to take a lift to get to the crosswalks and reign in, to some degree, any fear of heights you may have to walk across and look out of the windows or even down through the glass floor to take in the views. On the east side, the windows look down towards the 2012 Olympic Stadium Park and in the far distance Greenwich (of GMT fame) and eventually the London Barrier built to protect the city from flooding. Looking west you can pick out the Shard on your left as well as the Walkie Talkie and the Gherkin buildings on your right. I just love the nicknames the English give their distinctive new architectural builds providing such irreverent, humourous and accurate descriptions so that you know exactly which structures they are talking about when you see them on the skyline. Just beyond the Walkie Talkie, nestled in amongst the other more regular civic and office buildings, you can see the flame-topped Monument which is a tower commemorating the very spot in which the Great Fire of London began in 1666 and, of course you can’t miss picking out the dome of the stoic St Paul’s Cathedral miraculously unscathed during the Blitz of WW2. Just about opposite the City there’s the hospital where I had my cancer treatments back in 2012, my favourite Gaucho Grill steak restaurant, and the Design Museum displaying outstanding examples of design ingenuity and ergonomics within. If you know where to look, you can just about see the Globe Theatre which was rebuilt in the 1990s on the exact spot to the exact building designs of the original. To this day, you can stroll along the Thames just beyond where the terrorists struck on Saturday night and walk past restaurants and bars, supposedly one of London’s oldest pubs, the Anchor, to watch Shakespeare’s plays being performed on a stage just as they would have been seen back in the 1600s. For me, London’s got just the perfect mix of old and new living and thriving together.

Standing smack dab in the middle of the crosswalk I couldn’t help but be fascinated by humanity’s ability to conceive of and create such feats of engineering. Tower Bridge particularly impressed considering the nearly 125 year old technology that they used to create and run a bridge which could ensure that daily life could, and can, continue to stay connected unfettered by the interruption of the Thame’s flow through the city.

Just opposite Tower Bridge is London Bridge. It’s nothing pretty to look at but when you cross it you get the best perspective of looking up and down the Thames in my opinion. My husband, Nick, takes the train to London Bridge Station now and has to cross it each work day twice a day to get to his job on the other side. Over the years we have marvelled that even in the drudge of commuting across that bridge, it is impossible not to admire the view at some point going back and forth. There have been days when people pause in their commuting rush to take photos of the stunning sunsets or, if you are up early enough, the sunrises. The cold will whip up at you in the winter, make your eyes tear but the site remains stunning as cityscapes go and I can see why it was a popular crossing place on Saturday night.

I love that bridge. It is the place I had my first proper job in London, in fact, in anywhere. I took a placement at Price Waterhouse, who owned the building there, for the sheer reason they were the people who handed out the envelopes on Oscar’s nights, but the original draw was when my job placement agency told me their address was: No 1 London Bridge. I found it an utterly irresistible place to want to commute to and from. I was fortunate to work on the 9th floor for a boss whose office had aspects looking over both London and Tower Bridge. Southwark Cathedral or “Shakespeare’s Church” sits nearly opposite the building going down Borough High Street and I used to go to Christmas carol services there with my work colleagues back in the 1990s before Borough Market got gentrified and trendy. It was interesting in 2012 when I came to my oncology appointments nearby, I would visit Borough Market to pick up some fresh food or a little gift from one of the artisan stalls for whomever was graciously taking care of my kids that day. Then and now, I like to go to the market just as a pick me up to revel in the glory of the dark, atmospheric bricked Dickensian archways converted to stalls with pyramids of tomatoes or mushrooms or any seasonal fruit or veg you can imagine, stacked in every shape, colour, size and variety being hawked next to sellers of iced seafood so fresh some of it even seems to move. There’s bread, flowers, boutique-y grills of organic burgers, locally sourced sausages and giant cast iron pans of paella right next to stalls selling pistachios, cashews and cubes of the best Turkish delight, in every flavour and colour, perfectly dusted with icing sugar making even Narnia’s White Witch’s supply to Edward seem meager.

Again, I keep thinking – that is not what bridges are for.

Further west the river serpentines under a poetic roll call of bridges: Blackfriars, Millennium, Waterloo, Westminster, Lambeth, Vauxhall and Chelsea amongst others. Eventually you can cross the Thames at Albert Bridge which is another one for particularly fond memories for me. Years ago during our commuting from the City back to Fulham, Nick and I always noticed it during our drive along the Embankment. We never ceased to pause mid-sentence on our post workday debrief to chime out – “ I love that bridge” when we passed into its view, particularly on the evenings when it was lit with the equivalent of fairy lights outlining its elegant form. In 1995, that was where one cold, windy December night Nick pulled over the car and suggested we enjoy diner at a place on the other side of the river to break up the drive home. We started our walk across the bridge and then precisely in the middle Nick stood still, reached into the depth of his dark blue cashmere overcoat and withdrew a hinged, square box the size and shape perfect for nestling a ring within its velvet interior. Nick asked me to marry him that night with the cars flying by, the dark water below and the lay of London shining out beyond. We stood on that bridge fearless about our future. Fearless about forever having to learn how to bridge together our two cultures for a lifetime of marriage and children. Fearless to put love first and to take a leap of faith to agree to forge a life together.

Back at the Tower Bridge tour I remember seeing not just spectacular views of London, but also information about its construction and displays of examples of all types of bridges found around the world: span, arch, beam, suspension and even cantilever bridges. All the examples at the museum and from my research – whether the Akashi Kaikyõ in Japan, Si-o-se Pol in Iran, Alcántara in Spain, the Kapelibrücke in Switzerland, the Viaduct de Millau in France, the Changing Wind and Rain in China, the Golden Gate in the United States or the Ponte dei Sospiri in Italy – all illustrate humanity’s ability to find ways to stay connected. Across the countries, the cultures and time, I believe the bridges show it is undeniably our nature, as humans, to want to connect to each other and find ways to be together. Whether we are raising our arms up to let the ships go through with our fingers intertwined or strolling across London Bridge on a warm summer evening after a happy night out on the town, bridges should be about us staying together. About using our awesome God, Allah or whomever you want to credit given minds to figure out how we can breach the gaps that fall between us and keep our connections strong and sure.

I was twenty-three when I moved from the US to the UK and first fell in love with London and its bridges. The same age that Ariana Grande is now. She led the way on Sunday night spreading the message about staying connected so we can ALL stay strong. So yes, I’m taking this attack on Saturday personally as a rally to remind me to stay inspired, to find ways across a challenge so I can keep my connection with others and to bridge any gaps that might come between me and them because I know, no matter where I am in the world or what may lay in between, WE ARE ALWAYS STRONGER TOGETHER.

As much as you breathe

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Hello.  I know, long time no speak.  Well, to be perfectly honest I have been speaking, but just not here and just not to you, but instead, seemingly for an inordinate amount of time, with Apple (cue lightening and thunderclap like you hear when the villain joins the horror movie…).  Apple, who I have kinda gone off of at the moment because two of our three computers have crashed and I’ve lost all my writing since I installed their new operating system, Yosemite – but I digress.  It is Christmas time and my brain has finally moved past images of rotten apples going to mush under my apple tree sneering at the obvious appropriateness of the representation of my nemesis, and I’ve started wrapping presents – which always puts me in a good mood and listening to the Vince Guaraldi Trio’s A Charlie Brown Christmas cd (another mood enhancer) and of course, listening to even more of Radio Four (kinda the NPR equivalent in England).  It was there, on 93.5FM, that low and behold, I found the seeds of a December “pumpkin”.  It was during “Woman’s Hour”, when they had a discussion on last week about new books that are coming out I guess in the pre-Christmas rush to promote new publications that it came to me.   Anyway, the BBC’s Jane Garvey interviewed  Nancy Tystad Koupal,  the editor-in-chief and director of the Pioneer Girl Project with the author, Tracy Chevalier to discuss the new book out called: Pioneer Girl:  The Annotated Autobiography by Laura Ingalls Wilder.  Yes, that Laura.  The one from Little House on the Prairie. The author of one of my all time favourite children’s books series and leading character of my next favourite show growing up besides, as you well know, The Waltons.

I was enthralled listening to the discussion and the comparison of the new non-fiction book with the ones I read growing up and about how many things recounted in Pioneer Girl had remained exactly the same as they appeared in the children’s version of Laura’s stories. It was interesting to me how Laura had included some of the events of her life while edited out others; I reckon to make the original books more palatable for kids.  As a writer and appreciator of writing, I was fascinated by that process.  For example, the loss of her baby brother was in the new book but not in the Little House series (although I do remember a profound episode covering the topic when I was watching the show way back when).  I loved hearing how much Laura really did accomplish in her life and that the richness of her family relationships, as depicted in the kids books and TV show, had held in the true story version of her experiences on the prairie.  Thoughts of the Ingalls sat with me as I later rushed off to collect the kids from school, stopping along the way to grab a coffee from Costa as I was in serious need of caffeine.

At the coffee shop, after the girl passed me my drink and I stirred in a packet of brown sugar thinking I had resealed its top to the rim , I headed back to the car.  I placed the coffee in my centre console only to find that the top was actually not on it was just resting there.  I don’t know if it was the heat of the coffee or the fact that their cute Christmas character cups just weren’t made to match so well with the plastic lids, but no matter how many times I tried to push the top on and run my finger to affix it to the rim, I could not get it to stay on properly.  I couldn’t drive with it afraid the coffee would slosh out so instead, as I sipped my topless latte, I started considering how different my world was from Laura Ingalls Wilder’s particularly with regards to the different skills we need these days.  I thought about how Charles or Caroline would have had to walk or ride in their wagon (having hooked up the horses) to Oleson’s Mercantile to buy coffee beans (maybe trading some of Caroline’s eggs for them), take them home, hand grind them and then cook them on their wood burning stove (for which Charles would have had to have chopped up a ready supply of logs) and then drink their coffees from one of their tin cups adding the latte bit from the pitcher they had filled from milking their cow at dawn. Whereby, I, on the other had, had had to simply order my medium latte(using the correct terminology – which is a skill in itself), drift my card over the top of the machine to pay “PIN-lessly” as I was purchasing some thing under £20 and then side step down the coffee bar to the barista and collect my milky cup of joe while shortly thereafter struggling with my plastic top.  It got me wondering, what other unique skills of our generation, like putting those tops on, do we need to master these days?

Off the top of my head I came up with a quick list. There’s the following a GPS navigation system on our phones and in our cars with no map reading required just attentive, logical listening once the postcode has been input. There’s the mastering the “bluetoothing” of our devices to printers, mini Bose speakers or in-car audio systems, so we can print, hear music and talk to each other while we are driving.  There’s downloading and uploading and creating and retaining countless passwords to live out our life safely on the internet.  There’s the skill our kids are probably better at than we are which is managing the spectrum of social media knowing how, for example, to make Facebook a place to plan a party or get your homework not just post proud pictures of your Facebook-able exploits.  There’s even the ability to take Facebook-able pictures using a “selfie stick” if you are so inclined.  As a mother of teenagers I appreciate the importance of having all photos fully vetted by any people contained in said pictures rather than suffer a wrath even greater than mean Nellie exhibited  when Laura pushed her down the hill in her wheelchair after she faked paralysis and ended up safe but drenched in the pond.

I am sure you could carry on with this list yourself and astound me with the ways in which you are managing to survive in 2014(and I ask you to please feel free to do so in the comments).  With the new year, however, on the horizon, I thought I should consider some new skills I would like to acquire to help make my life more complete.  I was born one hundred years after Laura yet I still feel like she might have some good ideas as to how to make the most of my time here.  Her pioneer skill such as having a good sense of adventure generally is good as well as her finesse in branching out into new frontiers whilst maintaining a connection with her community holds well. Walnut Grove might not have been some major metropolis, however, it was big enough to work hard in and look after its neighbours which are definitely two skills I’d like to practice.  Laura also had the skill of celebrating live music – just think of all those times the Ingalls’ days improved when Pa pulled out his fiddle – so I think I will look for opportunities to sing more and dance definitely. I might never sew gingham fabric into a cute sun bonnet, but I will try and protect my skin and apply suncream liberally when I am next in the strong sun. I don’t think I’ll ever get into horse riding or butter churning either, but just like Laura with her dog, Jack, I can make sure I get out there, breath fresh air and run down hills of tall grass and daisies with Winston.  I also would like to follow Laura in the way in which she attends church even when Reverend Aldren is a bit heavy and, dare I say, boring.  I definitely need to work on my skill of carving out time to reflect and give thanks.  Which brings me on to the manner in which Laura prays.  She says her prayers so thoughtfully, not by rote, and follows them with a solid slumber under the patchwork quilt nestled next to her sister, Mary, her nightcap pulled on tight to keep her head warm such that I find it an exemplary skill to pursue.

Speaking of expressing gratitude, I know an easy skill for me to keep up, will definitely be maintaining my appreciation of my dad.  Just like Laura, who loved her Pa and looked to him for inspiration on how to stay positive and not let the crab apples of the world get the better of you, I look to my dad and never find him lacking.  This morning, for instance, he sent me two photos which impressed me.  One was of his mailbox decorated in SC with a reindeer decoration he made from some cast away palm bark (see above photo).  My sister, Kate, has been making the decorations up in Philadelphia and she gave him the idea.  The reindeer is a replica of a decoration we had growing up in my house.  It is one that reminds me of my mom who loved the holidays, because it came out ever year and always made it feel like Christmas was nearly here.  Even at 79, my dad is up for trying new things and honing new skills even the likes of wielding a glue gun after a trip to, no doubt, a craft supply store (two definite skills of the Pintrest Age) to produce the reindeer and he makes me want to expand my competence in to new areas beyond my comfort zone .

Dad’s second photo moved me even more. It is a photo of his and my stepmom’s Christmas tree.  On top he has placed a dove instead of an angel.  He sent the picture of it with the note: “Mom landed on top of our tree.” which demonstrates his skill in not only of remembering people we miss but celebrating their lives with small, uncomplicated, enduring and endearing gestures.  Ever since my mom died twelve years ago, mourning doves have come to us whenever we miss her most and we are sure those birds are the embodiment of her sweet soul.  The dove nesting on top of his tree says it in one for me.

I hope this time of the year finds you well and ready to rejoice in the simple things of your life.  Even if you are battling with the gadgetry of our highly technological age or struggling in the long winter of the hard economic times that we continue to live in, perhaps you can join me in working on the skill I am putting at the top of my list to master.  The skill which comes from a quote, not Laura, but from Ralph Waldo Emerson who might not have been her exact contemporary but he was definitely around when she was.  The quote seems to me a good skill to start with and apply to all others.  It commands us to  “Laugh as much as you breathe and love as long as you live.”

So, the next time it gets too quiet in my house from staring frustratingly at the WIFI bars willing my PC to connect to our router or when I spill a little coffee from the rim of my latte’s lid, I am going to open up with a smile to begin with an aspire to keeping my sense of humour and perspective intact.  I know the world has a lot bigger issues to contend with, but if laughing and loving can be incorporated more in our lives I am sure we can manage anything thrown our way.

How Bertha Stole Summer

Taken by Christy from the porch at Lilypad, DeBordieu, SC
Taken by Christy from the porch at Lilypad, DeBordieu, SC

It’s quiet at my house.  Still even.  Yet the rush in my heart is so strong as it pounds up into my ears it is drowning out the silence each time I consider and worry over how my kids’ first day of school is going.  It feels too loud to think straight or get my chores done.  Maybe I shouldn’t write in this state, but I’m feeling reflective and hoping if you are still waiting to do it or have already stomached it, you will know what I mean and that I need a distraction. I am just waiting so I can collect my kids at the end of the day and make sure they survived.  We love their school yet there is something about the first day, wanting it to go perfectly so that it sets the tone for a great year ahead – I find the want for the ideal unsettles me.

This mulling happens every September which usually arrives after we’ve sweltered through a delicious season of heat and clear skies.  Usually being the operative word here as this summer was definitely not what I assumed it would be. After getting completely drenched throughout most of 2014 with the record breaking floods in England, I reckoned our escape to South Carolina would bring sunny, hot and dry weather. It was a holiday as  eagerly awaited as any Christmas.  Summer, instead, was in fact rather mad this year.  “Mad” in the Truly, Madly, Deeply way – not angry by any means – but intense with the emotions of worry over Megan’s exams and results and of angst while I wrestled through the mind over matter of not letting the disappointment of an exceedingly wet even cold holiday get the better of me.  The world is in such a crazy state of affairs with all that is going on with hostages, refugees and annexing, it seems ridiculous to let damp days press down on my emotions from the safety of my house of plenty and good health.  However, over the course of the last couple of months I have to admit I have had to use my best rationalizing skills to keep my cheer up even as we got deluged by Tropical Storm turned Hurricane Bertha in South Carolina.  She even then had the nerve to chase us all the way back to England blowing out most of August with cold wind and rain so my struggle continued at home too. “Think about how much time we are saving on not having to lather the kids in sun cream”, we chimed to each other in DeBordieu.  “Good thing we are used to the rain or after three weeks in SC we might have had a hard time acclimating ourselves back to England”, we joked.

In fact, the summer’s biggest phenomena, the ALS ice bucket challenge, seemed more than a perfect representation of our weather this summer.  All my kids fell prey to nominations for the challenge and to their credit they carried them out wearing their shorts and t-shirts in our backyard whilst I filmed them from a safe distance in my Barbour coat and jeans.  Nary a bikini clad shiver under the ice water or leap into the outside swimming pool to warm up after the shock of the cold water dump for my guys.   At times, it felt instead, like the gods of nature were just enjoying messing with our weather karma as much as we enjoyed watching bucket challenge after bucket challenge on Facebook.

All that said, I don’t want to weigh you down with my little worries, disappointments and shivering moans, but I had to tell you about them in order to explain the surprising manner in which they all got turned around in a summer themed by unrelenting rain.  The revelation came not in a downpour but in the slow steady drip over the course of the drizzly summer months.

It started when I got asked, for the umpteenth time, where the Apple device chargers were as my kids and Nick anxiously wiggled their iPhones and iPads under my nose telling me “I’m in the red”.   It came when they explained, “I get to charge first, I’m down to 3%.”  and I thought it is not the iPhone down to 3%, it’s me, running in single digit energy levels. It emerged during our summertime travels looking for charging stations at the airports and for converters to plug us in.  It came as I pined for something I could plug myself into and instantly recharge my energy.

Luckily, I did find something to plug into(and without getting electrocuted no mean feat in all that dampness) during our first week of holiday. In between the scattered showers and heavy cloud cover, I soon found even without the strong steady warmth of non-stop sun, my zapped energy suddenly seemed to get replenished with each storm cloud, thunderclap and lightening bolt(rain in SC is far more dramatic then the English stuff).  The rain soothed me and slowed me down and it made me accept my much needed rest.  The rhythm of summer which I so craved mostly for its restorative qualities, came just the same even without the ease of a bright day.  My summer came just like the Grinch’s Christmas “without packages, boxes or bags!” .   Amongst the puddles and dripping trees, it came with the kids throwing cheese balls into Cole’s mouth from two stories up after a water fight of water balloons and squirt guns(it was so wet anyway why not have a multi-storey water fight?).  It came watching my kids and Jennifer’s, together, ride off on the golf cart through the pond sized puddles, leaving no man behind, even as the wheels squelched on the pavement at the weight of their seven bodies hangin’ on tight.  It came listening to them become better friends over the endless foosball tournaments and lacrosse ball throwing sessions.  It came with Jennifer making me laugh and remember and dream. It came when our friend, Chris, surprised us with a visit and we played Tripopoly using Chocolate Peanut Butter Corn Pops Cereal as our make shift poker chips.

As our visit to South Carolina carried on, summer worked it’s magic when Dad and Judy came to visit and we played glow stick charades in the evening and listened to wireless eclectic deejaying sessions on Nick’s mini Bose care of music from Dad and the kids’ iPads.  We may not have topped up our tans too much but we “visited”, told stories and rocked in the chairs on the unscreened-in porch kept cool and bug free by the raging storms.  It settled as we wandered from the porch to the pool table and turned Judy into a pool shark using her cue instead of her “hurrycane” to stand steady and knock the balls in.  It came watching Nick and Skyler casting out with Dad from the edge of beach, with meandering around the neighbourhoods on bikes, alone or together, picking out crocs and our favourite beach houses along the tours.  It came with a watermelon seed spitting contest hosted by our new friends, Alexander, Maddy, Martha and her mom and I found the summer was rejuvenating not just me but all of us.

Back in Brasted it carried on with Skyler snuggling in bed with me each morning making rainbow loom band bracelets while I read until 8am (abiding by the rule not to leave my bed until that hour seeing as there was nothing I had to rush out to do anyway). It came playing putt putt golf at Bluewater.  It came with baking peanut butter, chocolate chip and snickerdoodle cookies.  It came with Winston retrieving his voldermort* through rain laden blackberry brambles and ferns.  It came with watching The Lego Movie, Divergent and My Neighbour Tortoro a few times each and Friends reruns always.  It came playing Wii U.

With the wet summer came the realisation that one of the nicest things about rain is it doesn’t make you feel guilty that you aren’t making the most of fine weather!

Precedents had been set for us on how to make the most of unexpected poor weather – remembering Kathleen and Pete’s wedding during Hurricane Hugo held in my parents backyard (and learning the saying “wet knots never come untied”) along with Nick and my’s three week honeymoon in Italy eighteen years ago with only eight days of sunshine (living out said saying!), but it took the steady storms this summer to truly recharge us and set us all up to be ready for all that lies ahead this year.  Now I think about it Summer came, “just the same” and it has stayed enough to still me.  It puts me in the mood to appreciate even more one of my favourite quotes which Jennifer actually shared with me from that old Southern boy singer, Roger Miller, “Some people walk in the rain, others just get wet.”  With that balanced state of mind, I’m wishing you a wonderful year ahead no matter the weather or the verdict on the school day!

*We can no longer call Winston’s ball – “ball” or even “b-a-l-l” because if you say it you have to throw it for him.  It is “the thing that can not be named” thus now referred to at our house as “voldermort”.