Posted by: christinelaennec | October 4, 2014

Missing person: Fergus McInnes

Dear Readers,

The title of my post is, sadly, not clever word-play.  Some of you may have been readers of Lorna’s Tearoom Delights.  A few months ago, Lorna took a break from blogging; I was delighted to see that she had posted again.  However, my happiness soon turned to great sadness, as she has asked for help to find her missing brother, Fergus McInnes.  He went missing in Geneva on September 9th.

fergus_at_geneva_airport_cctv_pic

You can read about Fergus and the circumstances of his disappearance here, on Lorna’s blog.

Fergus’ friends have set up a website, called Missing Fergus McInnes, which has more information, updates, and a page for reporting any information people might have.

My little blog now gets over 150 hits a day so I thought I would write this post, in case anyone out there has any information.

Posted by: christinelaennec | October 2, 2014

A look back at September

I can’t quite believe it’s already October!  This month has gone by very quickly – which is a nice change of pace, believe me.  The Dafter is continuing to work very hard every day on her recovery from ME/CFS, and I’m so proud of the progress she’s making.  School is still very challenging because her concentration is still poor, but she is not one to give up!   Let me show you a few snaps from the past month:

We had a very dry, sunny and warm month of September here in Glasgow, and the garden enjoyed the weather enormously:

The garden at the beginning of September 2014.

The garden, mid-September 2014.

My hair got to rather ridiculous proportions:

Before

Before

But I finally found a hairdresser who just did as I asked, and didn’t nag me to cover up the grey:

After

After the chop!

Where was I last Friday?  Ah you will have to wait a bit to see.

I wasn’t the only one in the family who had a bit of an image change.  The poor Dafter had a rather traumatic couple of days after going to the opticians to get her glasses adjusted.  The optician accidentally broke her old frames!  Suddenly, at the end of what had already been a long day, she had to pick out a new pair of glasses (and go to school the next day with the old ones taped together).  But she did brilliantly, don’t you think?

New specs for the Dafter

New specs for the Dafter

Because the Dafter has faced so many, many challenges, I too have had to be courageous.  I appreciated this sign in a cafe I happened to stop by:

An important message.

An important message.

The warm weather brought us lots of beautiful butterflies:

Admiral butterfly on my mini buddleia bush, end of September 2014.

Admiral butterfly on my mini buddleia bush, end of September 2014.

Butterflies always enchant me.  It’s like seeing an angel.

Knowing that a month of dry weather is by far the exception to the rule here, I tried to buy myself a pair of wellies that I could wear when out and about in town.  (My garden wellies are fine for digging a trench, but I would cripple myself if I tried to walk two miles in them.)  This proved to be more difficult than I’d thought!  But look what I found:

Instead of wellies!

Instead of wellies!

These “Spats boots” are made in the UK and sold by Sarah Raven.  I hope they will be as fun as they look, as well as practical.

And as if that weren’t enough, at the start of the month I paid a visit to Aberdeen!  Those of you who know the city will be as pleased as I was to see the full length of Marischal College, and the lovely Provost Skene’s house unencumbered by the huge St. Nicholas House (as was):

Aberdeen, September 2014.

Aberdeen, September 2014.  (Sorry about the bins!)

I will tell you a bit more about this trip in another post as well.

Happy October everyone!  I hope you’ve had a good week, and wish you a good weekend to come.

 

Posted by: christinelaennec | September 25, 2014

House for an Art Lover

Way back at the beginning of June, the Dafter and I met some friends at Charles Rennie Mackintosh’s House for an Art Lover.  It was the very first outing that the Dafter made without the wheelchair, and that is my keenest memory of it.  I spent a lot of the time on the lookout for signs of collapse, and for places where she could sit down on very short notice!

This house is very interesting to me.  Not only because I like Charles Rennie Mackintosh’s design aesthetic, but because it was built long after his lifetime.  The house was designed by Mackintosh, with interiors designed by his wife Margaret MacDonald, for a Viennese competition in 1900.  The design was never realised, until in 1989 a group of determined individuals decided to build the house. I think it took them nearly a decade to do so.  You can read more about it on the House for an Art Lover website.

House for an Art Lover, Glasgow.  Summer 2014.

House for an Art Lover, Glasgow. Summer 2014.

The house is situated in Glasgow’s Bellahouston Park.  Downstairs there is a spacious Music Room with French doors onto the veranda:

House for an Art Lover, Glasgow.

Music Room, House for an Art Lover, Glasgow.

And a most extraordinary piano:

House for an Art Lover:  piano, with Dafter and friend.

House for an Art Lover: piano, with Dafter and friend.

I’m not altogether keen on the piano, I have to say!  It looks a bit scary to me.

House for an Art Lover, Glasgow.

Music Room, House for an Art Lover, Glasgow.

Throughout the house, as with so many of Mackintosh’s designs, you will see what is known as “the Glasgow Rose”:

House for an Art Lover, Glasgow.

Stained glass panel, House for an Art Lover, Glasgow.

Creating the house involved the work of many talented contemporary craftspeople and artisans, as you can see:

Fireplace, House for an Art Lover, Glasgow.

Fireplace, House for an Art Lover, Glasgow.

House for an Art Lover, Glasgow.

The Oval Room, House for an Art Lover, Glasgow.

The Dafter did so well that day.  She found a lovely place to sit and rest:

House for an Art Lover, Glasgow.

The Dafter in a window seat, House for an Art Lover, Glasgow.

We went for a coffee and snack in the cafe, which at that point was an accomplishment because she was still acutely sensitive to noise, and any crashing cutlery would startle the life out of her.  But then she had the strength to go see the gardens:

House for an Art Lover entrance - with the Dafter looking in and taking a photo of me taking a photo of her!

Inside House for an Art Lover’s garden entrance – with the Dafter looking in and taking a photo of me taking a photo of her!

The gardens were being readied for their summer show, with the beds in the centre awaiting planting.  The beds around the sides had some beautiful mature plants in them, but I don’t have a good photo to show you.  I found the topiary very amusing!

House for an Art Lover garden, early summer 2014.

House for an Art Lover garden, early summer 2014.

There was a wee room built into the perimeter wall of the garden, with a fireplace and a door to the outside of the garden.  I think this must have been a place for the gardeners to warm up on chilly days.  I really liked the iron grate covering the window.  A fantastically creative take on the need for security!  The fronds in the centre are framed by the names of Scottish wildflowers:

Ironwork on a window of a garden outhouse, House for an Art Lover, Glasgow.

Ironwork on a window of a garden outhouse, House for an Art Lover, Glasgow.

It was a memorable day, and a beautiful place.  I must go back!  If you like Charles Rennie Mackintosh and Margaret MacDonald’s work, I’ve written posts about The Willow Tea Rooms on Buchanan Street, the Willow Tea Rooms on Sauchiehall Street and almost exactly four years ago now, a post that includes a couple of photos from our visit to The Hill House in Helensburgh.

I hope you’re all having a good week.  It’s officially autumn now!

Posted by: christinelaennec | September 21, 2014

The week that was

Hello again!  This past week has been fairly intense for me, mostly because the Dafter is continuing to spread her wings and needing help in different ways.  Once again there have been ups and downs, but we ended on a high note.  Also this week I had a very enjoyable birthday, hardly have had time to knit, missed a choir practice just from being stressed and befuddled…  But I am so very proud of the Dafter and I’m hugely grateful for her ongoing progress.

It’s been an intense week for the country generally, what with the Referendum and all.  I hadn’t really planned to write about it, but as several of my regular readers have been curious to know more, and some of you have blogged about it from afar, I thought I would write my own impressions of this Referendum.  So if you live in Scotland and are fed up to the gills with the whole thing, tune in again next time!

Birthday bouquet from my garden.

Birthday bouquet from my garden.

As you will probably know, the result was a No vote, in other words, Scotland will stay part of the United Kingdom.  The turnout was impressive:  85% of registered voters.  55% voted No, and 45% voted Yes.  Rural areas, most notably the Northern and Western Isles and those parts of Scotland along the border with England, voted No.  Glasgow and Dundee voted Yes, Aberdeen and Edinburgh voted No.  Generally young voters were for Yes, and older voters were for No.  You can find out more details here.

My own impressions of the past few months and weeks are these:

It was far from a black-and-white question:

Here is a collection of views and experiences that I encountered.  A few of my friends have campaigned for Scottish independence for years, and so were of course hugely disappointed at the result.  Some of my friends were just hoping that the whole question would just go away.  Some people I know feel passionate about being British, as well as being Scottish, and one older person I know voted No because Britons from across the British Isles fought together in both World Wars.  The husband of one lady I know was told by the company that he works for that he would be out of a job or have to move to England if Scotland became independent.  Another person I know who works for the National Health Service felt that independence was the only hope for keeping the NHS from going private, as is happening in England.  Many people that I know are concerned about how to help the poor – Scotland has far more poverty than England [Edit: this may no longer be true - see comments below], and far fewer vastly rich people – but some felt the best way to do so was by going independent, and others felt that independence was too great a financial risk and would harm the poor even more than current British cutbacks on welfare.  One minister friend of mine, whose work to help the homeless is doing far more than any of the rest of us could achieve, voted No because he felt Britain should achieve social justice by staying as one country.  Some people I know, especially those with children and grandchildren, wanted to get rid of the nuclear submarines that are based less than 30 miles from Glasgow – this was one of the promises of the Yes campaign.  Another friend said “Well, if we go up [in a nuclear explosion], we go up!”  Some people believed that becoming independent was/is the only way for Scotland to stay in the European Union, given that the Prime Minister has promised a referendum throughout the UK on whether or not to stay part of the EU.  Other people don’t care if we stay in the EU, but staying part of the UK is a priority.  There were lots more questions besides the above that each voter had to try to understand and make up their mind about.

Most people I know spent hours trying to understand the various issues, weigh them up (and amongst my religious friends, pray about them) before making up their minds.

The Referendum engaged people of all ages and backgrounds:

It is undeniably the case that it got everyone talking.  The Dafter, who a few months ago was (like many teenagers) fairly allergic to politics, started to pay attention, and learned a great deal about a complex situation.  She now has a basic understanding of things like the West Lothian Question, devolved powers, the Barnett formula, and other “boring” issues that affect all our lives here.  She wanted to watch political debates, she wanted to know where and how she could find out information.  You may be surprised, as was oldblack, that at 16 she was allowed to vote.  As you may know, in Scotland (though not in England) for most things a person becomes legally adult at age 16.  This is why Gretna Green, just inside the Scottish border, was where English under-age couples eloped to:  you can marry at 16 in Scotland without your parents’ consent.  I personally think that 16 is too young to have adult status, but this was the justification for extending the vote to 16- and 17-year-olds in this election.  It is definitely the case that people in the Dafter’s age group are now generally far more aware of political questions than they would otherwise have been.

I was proud of how respectfully the Scots comported themselves during the process:

There was some egg-throwing, and offensive tweets on both sides, but overall I never encountered antagonism.  The people who came canvassing at our door were respectful, and both sides were mostly concerned that we intended to use our vote.  In the city centre there were groups canvassing for both sides, and sometimes with robust public debate, but it was a friendly atmosphere, often with families present.  Amongst my friends, neighbours and acquaintances I didn’t encounter any friction – quite the opposite.  People took pains to show respect to those who had come to a different conclusion.  In the past few weeks, I’ve overheard many earnest conversations, for example two dog walkers exchanging views, but neither one haranguing the other.  Just before the vote, there was a little “One Scotland” movement, especially on social media, with Yes and No friends posing together with a blue-and-white “One” badge uniting them.  The Church of Scotland had a “service of unity” in Edinburgh this morning, and many churches across the country have followed this lead.  I know quite a few families and couples who have not been united in how they voted, but I personally haven’t witnessed any rifts that need healing,  No doubt there are some.  In general people on both sides seem intent on working together for a better future.

The role of mainstream media vs. social media came into the spotlight:

I believe only one Scottish newspaper took a Yes position (the Glasgow Sunday Herald).  I think all other newspapers, UK-wide and in Scotland, came down on the side of No.  The swell of support for Yes made it clear that people were turning to other sources of information (on the internet, specialist blogs for example) in making up their minds.  Many people I know feel that the BBC’s UK coverage was very biased – people who had always seen the BBC as an impartial source of information.  Michael was infuriated by the Guardian’s coverage, and almost stopped doing the crossword, until I told him not to be so silly.

Change is afoot, even with a No result:

About 10 days before the election, when polls showed that Yes might actually win, Westminster politicians offered further devolved powers to the Scottish parliament.  As I mentioned above, the Prime Minister had already promised a UK-wide referendum on membership of the EU.  For some time there has been growing talk of England having an England-only parliament.  And within England, there is debate about how to rectify the imbalance of the wealthy Southeast with other parts of the country.

It will be interesting to see what happens next.  Overall, I feel the whole experience got people talking, and really engaged the younger generation, and for that I am very grateful.

And that concludes my own impressions of the Scottish referendum on independence.  Onwards!

A very happy birthday!

A very happy birthday!

 

Posted by: christinelaennec | September 17, 2014

Tomorrow

Tomorrow, September 18, 2014, is an extremely important day in Scotland.  Tomorrow Scotland will go to the polls and answer this question:  Should Scotland be an independent country?  Two boxes:  Yes or No.

Window posters for No and for Yes in the Scottish independence referendum, Glasgow, September 2014.

Window posters for No and for Yes in the Scottish independence referendum, Glasgow, September 2014.

People are talking about nothing else, and in fact it has been a topic of conversation in our house and most other people’s houses for months.  The Dafter has been following it all with increasing interest, especially as she will be able to vote.  She is well aware of the gravity of the choice, and of the momentous occasion this is.  A voter turnout of over 80% is predicted. Many windows on our streets have signs in them now.  Regardless of the outcome, the United Kingdom will never be quite the same, as the Westminster government is now offering increased devolved powers to the Scottish parliament if there is a No vote.

So by Friday we will know what direction our country will be taking.

Thanks to everyone for your good wishes, thoughts and prayers about the Dafter’s continuing recovery.  We’re having ups and downs but the general trend is up, very thankfully.

Posted by: christinelaennec | September 7, 2014

The Dafter: progress report

Thank you to everyone who has been following the Dafter’s journey with ME/CFS for the past three years.  I’m pleased to be able to tell you that even with ups and downs, the Mickel Therapy has continued to be a huge help to her recovery.  Since our amazing family holiday on Arran, she has started school part-time.

The Dafter at Lochranza Castle, Isle of Arran, August 2014.

The Dafter at Lochranza Castle, Isle of Arran, August 2014.

She now goes for three hours (registration – break – 1 hour 40 minute lesson – lunch) three mornings a week.  As you might imagine, having spent the past three years mostly in bed and in sometimes near-total isolation from other kids her own age, starting back at school was really overwhelming for her.  Although she still finds it challenging, she’s settled in well.  She really enjoys being with other teenagers, and she enjoys her Art class too.

Her ME/CFS pains have begun to ease up a bit now that she’s been able to move about for a few months.  Do you remember that she did a 12-mile cycle ride on holiday?  I recently did a similar cycle myself, and asked her how on earth she managed it, because I was very sore indeed!  She said that really the muscle pains weren’t much different from a normal day for her, and she has just learned to “push through”.  The fact that I hadn’t even realised how much pain she’s still in shows you how brave she is, and how determined she is to focus on what is good in life rather than on her illness.

She is continuing to work a few hours a week in a charity shop, and she also helps with two small children who live close by.  She’s continuing to go to her own church, and to the youth group there.  She now has a bus pass and is working up to taking the bus by herself.  These may sound like quite ordinary things, but they require a lot of courage and strength.  She’s had one dip where she collapsed on the floor after breakfast and was hardly able to string a sentence together all day long.  But she came back from that, thank heavens.

When I think that four months ago she was spending almost all her time in bed, it is just incredible to me how far she has come in a relatively short space of time.  Back then, every day was a real struggle.  Every day is still a challenge, but there are many more hopeful and happy moments mixed in with moments of anxiety, overwhelmth and/or loneliness.  Being a teenager is hard enough when you have full health; it is no easy task figuring out who you are and where you belong in the world when you’ve been cut off from it for years.  She still spends a lot of her time with me, or with me nearby, but we get along very well together, and I enjoy her company hugely.

The Dafter at family ceilidh in Lochranza, Isle of Arran, August 2014.

The Dafter at family ceilidh in Lochranza, Isle of Arran, August 2014.

I am so very grateful for the healing she’s experienced.  I know there will be people who might read this and be very jealous, as I would have been six months ago myself. There are many people out there who have been ill for years, and tried everything, and are still terribly neglected in their suffering.

I am so proud of the Dafter, of her strength and her giving nature.  I’m staying focused on her being fully recovered and leading exactly the life she wants to lead someday.

Posted by: christinelaennec | August 30, 2014

Sparkly mitts

My summer travelling project, both in Bath and on Arran, was knitting a pair of sparkly mitts.  It all started when my kind friend Roobeedoo gave me a beautiful skein of Natalie Fergie sock yarn with sparkles shot through it.  You might think that this would be really scratchy, but quite the reverse – the yarn is very soft.

One sparkly mitt...

One sparkly mitt…

The pattern is Carthorpe by Rachel Coopey.  It took me a little bit of practice to get the gauge right, and to learn the cable pattern which runs up the mitt both on the back of the hand and on the palm – but it was well worth being patient on both those counts, because once I settled in to the pattern it was a great pleasure to knit them.

It’s almost impossible to really show the sparkles in a photograph:

Two sparkly mitts.

Two sparkly mitts.

One evening on Arran I was waiting for the Dafter and her friend to be ready, knitting under a hallway spotlight, and in that focused light the mitts were sparkling almost violently.  They looked as if they should be worn with a sequinned dress to an award ceremony.  The girls oohed and aahed over them.

Sparkly mitt: palm

Sparkly mitt: palm side with heartsease.

So if you want to treat yourself or a friend to some special yarn, I highly recommend Natalie Fergie’s sparkly yarn.  And these mitts have made our unseasonably cold weather a bit less depressing!

I hope you are all enjoying the weekend.  I seem to recall that there is a major holiday in the USA soon?  Here it is business as usual, although last Monday was a holiday down in England.  The Dafter has been continuing to tackle the challenges of going to school part-time, and has been keeping up her charity work and babysitting.  I will give you another update soon.

Posted by: christinelaennec | August 24, 2014

A dreamlike holiday: the Isle of Arran

Not long ago, our family had one of the best holidays we’ve had in years.  Partly this was due to the fact that the Dafter is recovering so well from her ME/CFS.  And partly it was due to the lovely island we visited, the Isle of Arran.

When I’d booked the holiday in the spring, I found a wheelchair-accessible hotel room with a view, as the Dafter was then only able to be out of bed a few hours total a day.  What a different holiday we had than what we’d originally envisaged!  Instead of the wheelchair, we were able to bring one of the Dafter’s oldest friends along with us.  The girls had a fantastic time together, and to my surprise they wanted to do quite a lot with me and Michael as well.  So we had a lot of laughs in their entertaining company.

The ferry ride is less than an hour, and we had beautiful weather:

The Dafter on the ferry to Arran.  August 2014.

The Dafter on the ferry to Arran. August 2014.

I really enjoyed visiting the garden at Brodick Castle.  I’d wanted to go there for years!  It obviously has a very temperate climate, as there are lots of palm trees, unusual plants from the Canary Islands, and many eucalyptus.  The smell of the eucalyptus trees reminded me of visits to San Francisco when I was a child.

The justifiably famous garden at Brodick Castle, Isle of Arran.  (With me in the way!)  August 2014.

The justifiably famous garden at Brodick Castle, Isle of Arran. (With me in the way!) August 2014.

I’m wearing a cardigan that I copied in the early 1980s from one my mother had made in the 1950s – it’s actually an Elizabeth Zimmerman design for a pullover that my Mom had converted into a cardigan.  I was startled to recognise it in Vogue Knitting when they reprinted the original pattern in the winter 1988/89 issue.  I’ll just mention here that I don’t think there’s a connection between the Isle of Arran in Scotland and the Aran islands off the west coast of Ireland.  It’s from the Irish islands that the famous Aran patterns (such as in my cardigan) come.

While  Michael and I explored the garden, the girls enjoyed playing in the adventure playground.  What a joy to see the Dafter running and jumping!

Scary Dafter at the Adventure Playground, Brodick Castle, Isle of Arran.

Scary Dafter at the Adventure Playground, Brodick Castle, Isle of Arran.

We had beautiful weather, and of course, this being Scotland, some rain as well.  But that didn’t stop us from having fun!  Behind the Dafter is Brodick Bay, with the peak of Goat Fell, and (if you know where to look), Brodick Castle.

"We're Scottish, a bit of rain doesn't bother us!".  Brodick Castle visible below Goat Fell, on the other side of the bay from Brodick.  Isle of Arran, August 2014.

“We’re Scottish, a bit of rain doesn’t bother us!”. Brodick Bay, Isle of Arran, August 2014.

The sunny days were so sunny that certain people, who had not thought to pack sunhats, had to go shopping:

Matching father-daughter sunhats were necessary!

Matching father-daughter sunhats were necessary!

The girls went swimming in the sea, and also did a 12-mile cycle!  One evening we drove up to the village of Lochranza.  There is a beautiful ruined castle there, and the heather was coming into bloom on the hill behind:

The heather beginning to bloom on the hillside behind Lochranza Castle.  Isle of Arran, August 2014.

The heather beginning to bloom on the hillside behind Lochranza Castle. Isle of Arran, August 2014.

The deer in those parts were obviously quite tame.  A herd of them was hanging about the village, with a posse of boys “tracking” them.  The boys would rush out, or ride their bikes around at them, in an attempt to create a stampede.  But it took quite a lot to frighten the deer.

Very tame red deer in the village of Lochranza, Isle of Arran.  August 2014.

Very tame red deer in the village of Lochranza, Isle of Arran. August 2014.

The midges that evening were unbearably thick and biting.  However, we were indoors at a family ceilidh (pron: KAY-lee) in the village hall:

A wonderful family ceilidh at Lochranza Village Hall.  Isle of Arran, August 2014.

A wonderful family ceilidh at Lochranza Village Hall. Isle of Arran, August 2014.

It was really packed with people, of all ages.   There were lots of small children learning the dances with their parents, and near us was one grandfather whose granddaughter danced with him. There were other tourists like us (one French family who were learning all the dances for the first time), but obviously plenty of local folks or perhaps people who come to Arran on a regular basis.  We all loved dancing – the Gay Gordon’s, the Canadian Barn Dance, the Virginia Reel, and other dances.  The Dafter won a prize in the raffle!  We would have stayed longer, but the sensible Dafter remembered that we had to be back at the hotel by 11 pm, so we made a swift exit and I drove very carefully past sheep on the road and the deer as well.  We made it just in time!

Michael enjoyed having some time to do some extra-curricular reading, and kept laughing aloud at Bertie and Jeeves:

Reading PG Wodehouse.

Reading PG Wodehouse.

And you can be sure that I enjoyed having time to knit:

At the beach - knitting, as usual!

At the beach – knitting, as usual!

There was a gorgeous sunset on our last night:

Sunset to the northwest, with Brodick Bay in the foreground.  Notice the mist creeping in!

Sunset to the northwest, with Brodick Bay in the foreground. Notice the mist creeping in!

What I believe is a Fisheries Protection ship was at anchor in the bay:

The fisheries protection vessel (I believe) in Brodick Bay.

The Fisheries Protection vessel (I believe) in Brodick Bay.

Our last morning on the island was the day of their Highland Games, and there was a fantastic festival atmosphere.  An earlier ferry than ours was leaving, and was packed with people singing together and cheering the pipe band practising below:

Pipe band practising, cheered on by the crowds on the ferry.  Isle of Arran, August 2014.

Pipe band practising, cheered on by the crowds on the ferry. Isle of Arran, August 2014.

We got to watch the parade, which included more humble participants such as a man and his dog, and grander sights and sounds, such as the pipe bands:

The Isle of Arran pipe band, Brodick, August 2014.

The Isle of Arran pipe band, Brodick, August 2014.

The Dafter and her friend were both sorry to be leaving, they’d had such a good time:

The Dafter is very sorry to be going home!

The Dafterwas very sorry to be going home!

The crossing back was gorgeous:

Goodbye for now, Arran:  "Happy to meet, sorry to part, happy to meet again"

Goodbye for now, Arran: “Happy to meet, sorry to part, happy to meet again”

After only about an hour in the car we were back at home, with Tilly very happy to see us.  The Dafter’s friend stayed that last night with us, which extended the holiday for us all.  I was very sorry to see her go home the next day.

But I have a feeling we will be going back to Arran.  You could go there for the day, on the train, with a bicycle.  Hmmm….

Posted by: christinelaennec | August 20, 2014

The end of summer

I remember, years ago, being surprised when a Gaelic speaker referred to the month of August as the autumn.  To my mind, having only left the USA a few summers previously, August still meant broiling hot weather, open swimming pools, the last few weeks of summer vacation until Labor Day at the beginning of September.  Her answer betrayed as much bemusement as my question:  “Because May, June and July are summer!”

The longer I’ve lived in this country (22 years a few days ago), the longer I’ve come to appreciate the truth of this.  May is often warm and summery (even if frosts threaten until late in the month), wildflowers are in bloom everywhere, and the nights are strongly lengthening.  It’s much more like summer than spring.

But it’s mid-August when, in Scotland, you start to notice the nights draw in.  Granted, this means being dismayed that the sunset skies happen at 9:30 pm rather than quarter to midnight.  Schools in Scotland start up again in August – on the 13th this year in Glasgow.  And, even if (unusually) the weather is still warm, there are signs in nature that things are on the turn.  The chestnut trees, one of the first, begin to put on their fall colours.  Other trees, still green, have that windblown look of inside-out leaves that marks the end of the summer.

This year, autumn has announced itself with a real drop in temperatures.  It’s been in the teens/50s day after day, and tonight the weatherman warned some glens may see a frost.  The leaves were already beginning to turn ten days ago:

Leaves already turning, 10 August 2014, Glasgow.

Rowan leaves already turning, 10 August 2014, Glasgow.

We are savouring the last of the long light evenings, and the bounty of the garden:

Sweet peas at 7:15 pm, August 18th 2014, Glasgow.

Sweet peas at 7:15 pm, August 18th 2014, Glasgow.

The weather has been very typically Scottish – cold and wet.  This pipe band from Toronto came well-prepared.  The snare drums were covered by plastic while they played:

The Toronto Police pipe band, 12 August 2014, Glasgow.

The Toronto Police pipe band, 12 August 2014, Glasgow.

The swan babies are getting very grown-up now, and the duck babies are as big as their parents:

The swan and duck families, August 2014, Glasgow.

The swan and duck families, August 2014, Glasgow.

Mama swan has been standing and extending her wings full-length, and all eight of her children have been imitating her.  I wonder when they begin to learn to fly?

I’m wearing fingerless gloves as I type this, because although we’ve had the heat on once in a while in the last week, we’re trying really hard to resist it in August, for heaven’s sake.  Who knows, we may yet have an Indian summer and some warm days to come.

Posted by: christinelaennec | August 17, 2014

The American Museum in Britain

Ever since our dear family friend Diane spent a year studying needlework in London in 1974, I have wanted to go to the American Museum in Bath.  Diane went several times and raved about it.  I wish she could have come with me on my recent trip.  I had a fantastic time, and I also learned a thing or two about my own country.

Outside the front door, there is a covered wagon.  I find it amazing that people crossed the Great Plains, rivers, and mountains in these, with all their earthly goods stowed inside.  My own great-grandmother May‘s family used a covered wagon as late as the 1880s to move slowly westward from Kansas to John Day, Oregon.  This was one of several family stories that I was told by my granny, and didn’t quite believe – until I saw it written in the obituary of one of May’s siblings.

Covered wagon outside the front entrance of the American Museum in Britain.  Bath, August 2014.

Covered wagon outside the front entrance of the American Museum in Britain. Bath, August 2014.

Inside, the museum – whose focus is on the decorative arts in the United States – starts the visitor with an excellent exhibition on the history of the country.  You can see beautiful photographs of Native Americans:

Photograph of Native Americans in the

Photograph of Native Americans

And their stunning artistry:

Native American headdresses and other decorated items.

Native American headdresses and other decorated items.

I was very surprised, and a bit spooked to be honest, to turn the corner and find myself in a New Mexican room – because I’d just been immersed in Willa Cather’s novel Death Comes for the Archbishop, about a pair of priests in 19th-century New Mexico.  The novel talks about the tremendous care that went into making likenesses of the Virgin Mary, and other saints:

Recreated New Mexican room with "santos".

Recreated New Mexican room with “santos”.

The history of slavery was very well explained.  There is a quilt with a chalice pattern, that was almost an Underground Railroad sign for slaves escaping to the North.  And I found this most interesting – a beautiful portrait of a freed slave who clearly was cherished by the family she worked for.  Not only did they pay for an oil painting of her, but they kept the kerchief that she wore when posing for her portrait:

Portrait of a beloved slave, Nancy Miller - and the original kerchief she is wearing in the painting.

Portrait of a beloved slave, Nancy Burns – and the original kerchief she is wearing in the painting.

This also reminded me of a family story passed down by my Granny:  that my great-great-grandmother had been smuggled out of the South in the skirts of a “Black Mammy” during the Civil War.  Again, I had thought this story was probably a bit of Gone-with-the-Wind exaggeration, until my research showed that my great-great-grandmother was born just a few months before the outbreak of war, in a part of Missouri that was brutally riven by tremendous violence on both sides.  Black slaves did often help their owners to escape, and often escaped with them.  I now think it is very possible this family story is true.

My research revealed that so much of what I was told is either confirmed by documentation, or seems very likely once one knows the history of a particular time and place.  I now think that, unlike my rather cynical teenage self (who thankfully wrote down my Granny’s words!), earlier generations treasured such family stories, and were careful to pass them on as faithfully as they could.

Upstairs I found myself in the garden of delights which is the Textile Room.  I felt so overwhelmed by it all, that I stopped to rest in this bay window.  I think the window panes must be very old, to judge from the ripples and bubbles in the glass:

Very wavy glass (hand-blown?) in the windows of the textile room looking out beyond the terrace.

Very wavy glass (hand-blown?) in the windows of the textile room looking out beyond the terrace.

I spent a very happy time looking at quilt after quilt – Amish quilts, Red Cross quilts, Mennonite quilts, appliqued quilts, redwork quilts…  and one cartoon quilt full of embroidered cartoons of mid-19th-century domestic life.

Racks of quilts in the textile room.  Heaven!

Racks of quilts in the textile room. Heaven!  (Patient husband waiting outside?)

There are also some gorgeous rag rugs on display.  Can you believe the one on the right was made in 1833?  It seems so wildly exuberant for what I imagine must have been a straight-laced time:

Rag rugs in the textile room.

Rag rugs in the textile room.

There were also some charming folk art paintings of 19th-century American interiors, featuring quilt-making:

American folk art painting showing a quilt being quilted.

American folk art painting showing two quilts being quilted.

I like the cat lounging under the quilting table!

I really enjoyed the many rooms that showed the interior decor and crafts of a particular time and place in American history.  These rooms span the period between the arrival of the Mayflower in 1620 and the start of the Civil War in 1861.  This girl’s room shows the popular art of stencilling:

Stencilled room, circa 1810 - stencils were more affordable than wallpaper.

Stencilled room, circa 1810 – stencils were more affordable than wallpaper.

I also very much enjoyed the Shaker exhibits:

Shaker exhibit

Shaker exhibit

There was a good explanation of the differences between the Shakers, the Quakers, the Amish and the Pennsylvania Dutch.  For example, the Shakers had no objection to new technology, but they disliked ornamentation; the Amish shun any new technology and also dislike ornamentation.  (There are a very few Shakers left in Maine – I’m not sure how far they have embraced new technology.)  The Quakers, I learned, suffered very badly after the Civil War because of their pacifist stance:  both sides resented them not having fought, so boycotted their businesses, including Quaker furniture making.  I hadn’t known that the highly-decorated Pennsylvania Dutch designs contain symbols that had religious significance to them:

Pennsylvania Dutch room.

Pennsylvania Dutch room.  They were immigrants from Germany, the term “Dutch” being a deformation of “Deutsch”.

Only two of the recreated rooms in the museum use the tall ceilings of the original house.  The rest have lowered ceilings, so that you can see the rooms in proportion.  The very last room “fitted” well into the building; that is a room showing you ornate French-inspired furnishing and decoration in Louisiana, just before the outbreak of the Civil War:

Louisiana bedroom just before the Civil War.

Louisiana bedroom just before the Civil War.  The mosquito netting was not merely decorative, as malaria was a big problem.  You can just see the beautiful dress on a mannequin – it almost matches the wallpaper!  The note on the bed is not a billet doux, but says Do Not Touch.

Outside the house, there is a very pretty courtyard, and a separate room housing Folk Art.  It was really odd for me to see carved carousel horses, weathervanes and those wooden Indians that even in my childhood you would see outside cigar shops in the West…

Banners in the courtyard.

Banners in the courtyard.

The restaurant is in a most beautiful space, the “orangerie” which has been lovingly stencilled:

The beautifully stencilled restaurant in the Orangerie.

The beautifully stencilled restaurant.

I spent a very happy time in the gift shop at the end of my visit.  They stock some lovely things, including jewellery made by Native American craftspeople.

While waiting for the (free) shuttle bus that takes you from the centre of Bath out to the museum, I had made the acquaintance of a very nice woman and her daughter.  Like me, the woman is a full-time carer, and was getting a bit of a break that afternoon.  She’s a regular at the Museum, and gave me an excellent tip, which was not to wait for the very last shuttle bus home, in case it was full.  So I took the next-to-last one back, and was glad that I did, as it was full by the time we left.

I would really like to go back with Michael and the Dafter – it was such a fascinating view of American history, through so many aspects of decorative arts.  Apparently it’s the only museum outside of the United States that showcases American decorative arts, and it does so very well.  Their website is excellent and you can see loads more covering their collections here.

If you’re anywhere near Bath, and fancy a little taste of America in days gone by, I highly recommend the American Museum in Britain.

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