Homeward Bound

Scott's viewTomorrow, if all goes according to plan, I’ll fly home, after more than a month in Scotland. I’ve had a terrific time here, knocked off some bucket list items, and had no major mishaps that would make travel far from home difficult. If I had to list the highlights, they would include…

10. Seeing terrific scenery. There’s wonderful scenery back home, too, of course, but after driving across the US at least twenty times, I was ready for some new sights. Scotland haz ‘em.

Grace at dunvegan9. Revising my definition of a “big” country. Scotland is no larger than South Carolina, but what it lacks in square miles, it makes up for in millenia of history. A sense of substance can come from years as well as total area.

8. Appreciating certain aspects of home much more. Scotland’s roads are minimally adequate by US standards, which can make even a short distance a tedious journey. Handicapped accessibility in Scotland also has a long way to go, though admittedly, retrofitting a 13th century castle for wheel chair access is probably cost-prohibitive.

7. Seeing other aspects of home with new eyes. One Scottish friend pointed out to me, “You Americans assume Government can’t do anything right, and that privatizing is the Grace at Eilean Donanway to make sure something is run well. We know better. We’ve seen industries destroyed by privatization, to the point that the Government has to step in and take them over again at enormous cost. Profit motives do not necessarily equate to good services in every industry.” Erm, OK. My friend may not be entirely right, but he has a perspective on “Americans” I can’t learn at home.

6. Seeing home right here. My grandmother was a MacDonald, and like many of that name, her father came from the Old World to settle in Nova Scotia. The Clan MacDonald Center on Skye tells a story that on some level, is also my family story. I wasn’t expecting that.

5. Learning a bit of Gaelic. A week long intensive class didn’t get me much past “hello/good-bye/I don’t understand,” but I had fun, met terrific people, and was in an environment where I could use the few snippets of Gaelic I learned. Good for the brain!

Calanais four up small file4. Scarfing up tablet. This is a dessert that’s mostly butter and sugar, and with a cup of tea or coffee, it’s Scrumptious. After a meal in a Scottish restaurant, your coffee or tea comes to the table with a small square of tablet. The friendliness of this gesture, and the sheer pleasure of the little sweet, will be much missed when I’m home.

3. Enjoying the occasional glass of wine. When I was at my Gaelic classes, all the students stayed on the same very small college campus. The drinking age is 18 here, and the cafeteria offered a selection of wines. Almost everybody had a glass of wine with their meal, and meals were not hurried. The wine was no big deal, just a part of enjoying food and friendly conversation. Nobody overimbibed, and the drunk driving laws here make our “tough” laws look laughable. Hmm.

shetland2. Enjoying the people. I met the most lovely, interesting, terrific people. Yes, we have those in abundance at home too, but my books are set mostly in the UK, and catching snippets of the point of view that my characters might share was delightful.

1. Freeing up some slots on my bucket list. I drove in Scotland, safely. I saw three castles I’ve long been curious about. I traveled to the Outer Hebrides and saw the Standing Stones at Calanais, which means on my next trip, I can go see the Orkneys… and then I want to get a peek at the Shetland Islands, walk the Fife Coastal Trail, do the West Highland Way….

What’s your idea of worthwhile travel?

The Wages of Love

How to fly a horseSo I’m still trundling around Scotland (with limited internet–sorry), and that means I actually finished reading “How to Fly a Horse,” among other books. One of the topics dealt with in that little tome was how to inspire people to their best creative efforts. The author’s conclusions reminded me of a conversation I had years ago with my sister Maire.

Maire-Maire is a very talented quilter, and has an eye for what fabrics will make an interesting combination, and what patterns while join them in the most pleasing combination. She quilts by hand, and enjoys every aspect of the process, from choosing the fabrics to top stitching the final seams. She made me a quilt to celebrate the birth of my daughter 27 years ago, and when I sleep under that quilt, I feel safe and warm and loved.

Author Patience Griffin's "Gandigow Star" quilt

Author Patience Griffin’s “Gandigow Star” quilt

Maire works terribly, horribly, awfully hard in a management capacity at a medical practice. Long hours, big stress, many sad stories, and there’s Maire, with one of the kindest hearts you’ll ever meet. I asked why she didn’t sell her quilts, and look for a job that was less stress.

She said that the quilting was for her soul, and attaching a dollar figure to it would take some of the joy from it. The quilting was “hers,” and turning it into a business would take some of that away. At first, this struck me as not very sensible. Here’s a lucrative skill she enjoys plying, and there’s a job that’s really hard. The money was by no means the same, but money isn’t everything, is it? A quilt business might lead to a quilt shop, some extra savings, quilting classes, articles in quilting magazines… why not follow that dream?

child-problem-solvingTurns out, Maire was onto something. When experiments are run that offer some people monetary prizes for coming up with creative work, and other people are offered nothing for tackling the same problems, the people who stick to the challenge because they’re enjoying it come up with much more interesting and viable solutions than the wage earners.  These results were easy to duplicate, too.

ipad-workerThink about that. On the one hand, if we want to kill creativity, the best way to do that is pay somebody a wage in coin. On the other hand, we define success most often in terms of material wealth and financial security, not happiness, life-satisfaction, and creative self-expression.

Though, of course, the spider who spins is a she, not a he...

Though, of course, the spider who spins is a she, not a he…

watering canNo doubt, this is an area where common sense and balance play a role. Children need to eat, the bills must be paid, but sooner or later, the soul must be nourished too–though nobody tells us this, (and nobody especially tells our menfolk this). I’ve learned to reject big advances for my books, because I don’t want to “owe” anybody a book. I’ve so far always met my contractual obligation, but having that dollar sign hanging over my head was only creating anxiety and distraction,

Is there an activity you keep safe from the dollar sign? One you’ve thought about making commercial but shied away from? Is there a job that killed your creativity, or–it’s been true for me–one that brought it out?

Again, I might not be able to respond to comments, but I do want to hear what you have to say!

Coin of the Realm

heather grad smallMy daughter is in her twenties, which I recall as a tough decade. As she’s said, nobody warns you that being a grown-up is hard. Adulthood looms like a bedtime-less, three-desserts-a-day, self-determined wonderland of freedom, but the reality is harder and scarier than we can imagine… at least for a while.

money binSometimes, Beloved Offspring beats herself up for not being through with her education, other times, she beats herself up for not being entirely self-sufficient financially. In both cases, she faces a much steeper climb than I did–my education was nearly free, and minimum wage went a lot farther–but she can’t realize that. Something she said the other day reminded me of a notion raised in my divorce mediation training nearly twenty years ago.

Show-UpWe were talking about alimony, and the instructor made a disquieting point: The assumption in all cases of alimony is that financial self-sufficiency is the hall mark and sine qua non of adulthood. People who can’t “pay their way,” are to be scorned or pitied, and if they are disabled, well, there’s a good chance they’re freeloading–or so we might suspect.

keep-calm-and-work-hard-1269Our public policy bears out this thinking. Anybody receiving public assistance must not only prove they’re job hunting and put in volunteer hours, but they must accept offered employment and then turn their children over to strangers to care for. Those strangers are paid meager wages (because anybody can do child care?), but we favor employing two people at low wages, to allowing a parent to raise his or her children for even the first few years–doing much of the same work as the day care center–without any compensation at all.

Caring_for_our_elderly1This is one example, though I realize it’s not without complications. Nonetheless, the SNAP program has the lowest rate of fraud of any government program, and most families use it for less than nine months, so it’s not a bad example. Another example: In Australia, if you’re staying home to look after grandma, you get a subsidy for that. Here, you’re supposed to pay exorbitant amounts to strangers to do the same job, and generally do it far worse than you would.

We are conditioned to think if what we’re doing is uncompensated, it doesn’t matter, or at the very least, it’s not “adult Artist school little girl painting watercolors portraitwork.” This devalues care providers of all kinds, devalues creativity, devalues students, devalues retirees, and all the people whose gifts are creative and emotional rather than easily “employed.”

I know we need people to work outside the home, and to work in jobs that are unappealing. I’ve dipped ice cream, washed radioactive glassware, bussed tables, and so forth, but always with the assumption that those were stepping stones. When I got a “real” job, I’d be self-supporting.

realWe can’t all love our jobs all the time, but why isn’t love–which is at least as important to our wellbeing and sanity as food, clothing and shelter–valued as highly as coin? I consider a life without money, and that’s bearable. I’d need to barter, to keep good friends around, and to be a good friend.

But a life without love… you couldn’t pay me enough to tempt me to try that.

I can’t respond to comments as easily as I’d like to this week, but I do want to hear your thoughts on love, work, and money.

The Drudgery of Genius

How to fly a horseI’m traveling around Scotland lately, and being away from home and office routines has meant I have some time to read. Right now, I’m making my way through, “How To Fly a Horse,” by Keven Ashton. The subtitle is: The Secret History of Creation, Invention, and Discovery.

I’m enjoying the heck out of this book, even though it’s not a romance–it’s not even fiction, but the author is concerned with certain fairy tales that most of us buy into early in life. These fairy tales contend that creativity happens when geniuses like Einstein and Mozart take long walks in the woods, and then the Good Fairy of Inspiration taps them on the shoulder with her magic wand, and gifts them with a Big Bright Idea.

better mouse trapWe believe, says Ashton, that the person with the better mousetrap is going to clean up on the stock market and be long and fondly remembered for their contribution.

We believe that two heads are better than one, and brainstorming will result in more ideas, and better ideas for how to tackle a problem than we can come up with on our own.

Turns out… not so much. Ashton cites one peer-reviewed, replicated study after another to show that everybody has the ability to create. Creativity does not rely on having a high IQ or on bolts from the blue; and rather than being lauded and celebrated, dyson vaccuumthe person with the better mousetrap is often resented and ridiculed. Ashton also demonstrates that brainstorming is a pretty non-productive way to tackle a problem. We generate more and better solutions (at least initially) working individually, NOT in a group.

People come with differing levels of ability certainly, but the factor Ashton points to that distinguishes those who contribute new ideas and inventions from those who do not is, for the most part, persistence in the face of doubt, and an ability to view setbacks or failed experiments as a source of insight.

James Dyson, who invented those spiffy, bagless vacuum cleaners, tried more than 5000 prototypes before he hit on a cost-effective model. Judah Folkman, who figured out that cutting

Judah Folkman, MD

Judah Folkman, MD

off a tumor’s blood supply can kill the tumor, labored for more than 30 years before his contribution was recognized. For most of that 30 years, he was ridiculed and disrespected by the surgery-chemo-radiation “experts,” whose treatments come with devastating side effects.

I’m getting a lot of inspiration from acornthis book, about the value of persistence and solitude, about the myth of a creative elite. Einstein and Mozart were geniuses in their fields (also complete doofs in other regards), but most of their achievements came from persistence and hard work.

I can persist, I can work hard. Whew!

When has your persistence in the face of adversity paid off? When have you wished you threw in the towel sooner? To one commenter, I’ll send a copy of “How To Fly A Horse.”

From the Land of What If

cooSo here I am, in Scotland!!!

I’m so happy to be here, too! For a little while, I can leave the lawyering on the other side of the ocean (Yippee!), get away from my routines and some of my responsibilities, and go sniffing after new story ideas.

Travel is tiring, but it also wakes me up. Traffic moves in different patterns here, which means even in something as simple look rightas crossing the street, I have to be alert and look the “wrong” way, lest I get flattened. Because accents are thick and varied (lots of Eastern Europeans working at the hotels in Scotland), I have to listen to everything everybody says more carefully.

What are the rules on the trains for eating and drinking? Where are the handicapped seats and is it OK to sit in them if nobody needs them? Gads, which coin do you need to get into the loo at the jack nicklaustrain station? In Heathrow airport, I walked into the mens by accident, because I wan’t paying attention and the signs are different.

Walked out at about Warp seven, though the only guy I’d surprised was laughing at me as I did.

Being away from home gives me a chance to try on some things that aren’t possible at home. Last night I popped up to Dundee from Edinburgh to train_1618801chear a concert. I could go door to door from the hotel to concert hall–more than sixty miles–without sitting butt in automobile. Took the train and walked, which might be part of the explanation for why I see so few obese people here.

And as I stood around on the platform waiting for the train to arrive, I could try on this one too: Nobody here has a waverlygun they can carry around wherever they please. Nobody. Not the cops (except a few and in extraordinary circumstances), not the robbers. I can be stabbed or clobbered with a tire iron, but not shot, much less shot with a high powered rifle or semi-automatic weapon legally obtained by the owner. Do I feel more safe, or less, and why? Is the sense of community stronger or weaker? Interesting, and nowhere in America could I investigate those same realities.

YES voteThere are problems here. Scotland voted in September by a very narrow margin not to become independent, but the last minute promises made to ensure that outcome haven’t been kept. We hear talk of succession back home, but this was a national referendum that nearly, nearly passed, and probably will pass in the future.

US voter turnoutHow are the Brits dealing with that discussion? Why is Scotland’s voter turnout nearly 90 percent while we–who have twice the percentage of population living in poverty, far more elderly and children living in poverty, ghastly infant mortality statistics, far worse savings rates, and mediocre-at-best health care (France has the best)–can’t get out half those numbers for our by-elections? What is going on?

goodiesI wouldn’t ask these questions if I had stayed home. It’s a bad reflection on me, but I probably wouldn’t even THINK these questions. I’d putter around in my little life, writing my little stories, managing my little cases, and seldom consider a larger context.

So travel is broadening my horizons, and I’ve barely been here 72 hours. If you could travel anywhere, cost no object, logistics no object, where would you go, and why?

To one traveler–commenter!–I’ll send some Scottish goodies. (Might have to do some comparison shopping first, aye!)



Fear of Crashing

airplaneI am afraid to fly.

I am afraid to fly for reasons. Bad things happen to some airplanes and the people in them, though from a probability standpoint, those bad things aren’t very likely. Flying, is, in fact, the safest form of mass transportation.

I’ll tell myself that when I get on the airplane later this week, and hope it lands safely in Edinburgh. My fears aren’t irrational, though. This is not a fear that a ten-foot shape shifting alligator will crawl out of my potty pipes when I’m engrossed in Kirsten Callihan’s Soulbound.  (Writer’s imagination strikes again!)

Crockodile-Clipart_3The t-word aside (please don’t anybody say it or write it), pilots make mistakes. Malcolm Gladwell has a lovely essay on this topic, about how something as hard to see as cultural deference norms can bring down a plane, because the co-pilot won’t sass the pilot. A long time ago, I dated a guy who worked for the National Transportation Safety Board. He was afraid to fly, too.

Seems that many aircraft maintenance schedules were developed on the assumption that planes would fly mostly at 80 percent capacity. Nearly every flight is 100 percent full these

steamertrunksdays and has been for years, but the maintenance schedules haven’t been updated. Never say that major corporations would put profit for the shareholders and CEOs above the safety of employees and passengers.

 I’m scared, and when I’m scared I’m more likely to be snarky and mistrustful. I do realize, though, that part of my fear is not about the airplane, whose physics I understand well enough. Part of my fear is because in other situations–as a

sir richardvery young child, as a single woman, as an employee, as a student in the compulsory education system, as an employer–I’ve put my fate into other people’s hands and It Has Not Gone Well.

So when I pack for Scotland, I’ll be tempted to bring along those old fears. Might not have room for them, though, if I’m to bring Sir Richard and enough clean socks. Sir Richard will help me keep those fears at bay, as will the example of every romance hero and heroine I’ve ever read.

Often, to find our heart’s desire, we have to walk through fear, and usually our courage is rewarded or at least not penalized. We can live safe, earthbound lives, and for the most part, I’m hacastleppy doing that. But every once in a while, it’s good to soar… and land safely.

What are you afraid of? How do you cope when you can’t avoid it? To one commenter, I”ll send a set of my MacGregor Scottish Victorians on audio book–so you can listen to them on the plane.


Portable Home

unicornLater this month I’ll take off for a few weeks in Scotland. My plans are to hang out for a bit in Edinburgh, catch a Dougie MacLean concert (bucket list!), take a Gaelic short course, take a photography short course, see lots of countryside, and connect with some friends.

All lovely, lovely stuff! I hope to recharge the story idea well, rest, make new friends, sing, dance, learn, and get some perspective on my life–what should I be writing, what has worked writing-wise, where is the lawyer stuff in my plans?

I’m looking forward to this trip, it’s keeping me Ghiradelliefocused on finishing a happily ever after for Lady Susannah Haddonfield and the Hon. Mr. Willow Dorning. The upcoming travel is forcing me to get organized in terms of finances, and to tidy up some loose business ends.

And yet, travel is stressful. In Scotland, if you don’t look the “wrong” way before crossing the street, you can end up stepping off the curb into oncoming traffic. The money is different, and it takes me a while to get on my “Scottish” ears. Hotels are not home, and for much of the trip, I’ll be in the constant company of people (Introverts, represent!), and people I don’t know.

So I’ll pack a few portable pieces of home. First, I’ll take some solitude, because I thrive in solitude, and I need it to function. Fortunately, Scotland has a lot of this particularly commodity to offer. Second, I’ll take some Ghiradelli dark chocolate squares. jasmine green teaThese little 40-calories bliss bombs have seen me through many difficult, even dieting, days and until I get my tablet stash provisioned, they’ll be my emergency energy treats.

I’ll take my jasmine green tea, because this is probably my equivalent to a nerve tonic. One cup every few days soothes and cheers me, especially as a way to start the day. I’ll take my lavender sachets, because the scent alone settles my feathers and reminds me of home.

I’ll take my computer, and probably a pen and pad of paper, because tapping memos into the phone just doesn’t capture moments for me the way cursive
writing does, and because my computer is my writing office and my primary connection to loved ones and readers. I’ll wear my comfy socks, and probably bring a pillow case from home too.

tartan_450-130x215I’m bringing some good books–Julia Quinn’s “The Secrets of Sir Richard Kenworthy” (signed to ME!!!!), Kirsten Callihan’s “Soulbound,” and Deanna Raybourn’s “Silent in the Grave.”

What am I forgetting? Or what do you keep around you–whether you’re at home, traveling, at the office–that comforts and grounds you? How do you keep a little bit of home with you all the time? What would you like me to bring back?

This week’s giveaway is a signed copy of Once Upon a Tartan, one of my favorite Scottish historical romances.

Spring Forward

dreary dayI’m looking out at a combination of sleet, rain, and snow. The ground is covered in white, and the temperatures rose above freezing exactly once in the past two weeks. I’ve often thought that much of enduring rough patches in life is a matter of having something to look forward to, and somebody to look forward to it with. Time to channel some Sound of Music and list some favorite things I’m looking forward to about Spring:

Spring-peeper-tree-frog-135081) Hearing peepers (which figure in Kiss Me Hello, by the way)

2) Seeing crocuses

3) The silence in the house after the heat stops running and before the AC starts

4) Robins and other song birds

robin5) Longer daylight

6) Going through the day without two pair of organic wool socks on my feet

7) The sun on my closed eyelids

8) Sleeping with the windows open

9) Taking walks somewhere other than the tread desk

cat-in-sun10) Waking up with the sun.

Your turn! To one commenter, I’ll send a spring bouquet.

Seeing in Silver

blue kittyIn many regards, my life has been solitary. I was a single mom from the moment of my daughter’s conception. I’ve owned my own law practice for more than twenty years, and except for the people who work for me, I’m the only attorney in my jurisdiction who does what I do. I mostly have my house to myself, and more often than not, when I travel, I travel alone.

Even if I’m touring in the UK with a group, I’m usually sitting by myself for much of the day, walking by myself, and rooming by myself. I’m happy this way. While I enjoy most people, being around others drains me of energy, which is simply the definition of an introvert. Solitude recharges me.

rose croppedOne of the by-products of this much self-determination is that when I get down or daunted, there’s nobody on hand to cheer me up, or even to distract me by throwing a bigger pout than I have going. (My siblings are married, you’ll recall.) If I get stuck in a ditch, I have to tow myself out. I know this is true of many people who live in full houses, too.

I expect those same people share with me a willingness to look for silver linings. After I’ve groused and grumbled and shaken my fist at the sky, I often come around to seeing if not a bright side, then a constructive side.

candlesAs I write this, the old winter storm is raging. I keep a three-gallon bucket of water on the living room hearth for the dogs. When I got up this morning, that water had a crust of ice on it, and because the cat door had blown open, snow was collecting on my carpet. I’d let the wood stove go out to conserve wood, and thus I could see my breath in the living room.

woodstoveLovely! First cheering thought: I can use this in a book! Imagine how typical this would have been in days of yore, when somebody might have forgotten to bank the coals, or the bedrooms were closed off from lit fires to keep the rest of the house warm.

Second cheering thought: When it’s winter storming, we stay home, and thus spread fewer pathogens, and this cold snap will do wonders to keep the bug populations in check–we all know about me and bugs, right?

Third cheering thought: Not like I ever want to do anything but stay home and write anyway!

Fourth cheering thought: Perfect day to send all that cardboard I’ve been saving for kindling up the old chimney. Take the chill off in a hurry and reduce landfill waste.

Fifth cheering thought: It’s a potpourri day, for sure. I’ll toss some of that essential oil of lavender into the steamer pot. Love me some lavender.

lap-catI could go on, but that’s enough to provide a sense of my internal patter. The less I’m on social media hearing other people rant, the more I’m Winnie-the-Poohing my way through life’s little ups and downs, the happier I am.

When you land in a ditch, how do you get out? Friends? Family? Time alone? A little of all three? Music? Books? Flowers? To one commenter, I’ll send Neil Oliver’s “History of Scotland.” (Because Scotland knows a few things about climbing out of ditches.)


My first, last, and forever Valentine

chocolate valentineLast week I wrote about my brother Dick, who is the person in the family with whom I share a love of animals, a love of the outdoors, and a need to be my own boss. This week, I want to acknowledge my dad, who at age ninety-four remains the most important guy in my life. (Sorry, Westhaven.)

Stuey is from the generation that knew how to work hard and drink hard, but not always how to put a name to what he was feeling. His parents divorced before it was popular, and his reaction was to insist that his own domestic situation be stable and tranquil. Ha. No marriage that produces seven children (starting off with twin boys), will be tranquil, but I never EVER for an instant entertained the fear that my parents would split up.

10_Patton_FHe supported his wife and seven kids, single-handedly providing the necessities for all of us, despite migraine headaches, university politics, and my mom’s generous streak. All of his children have college degrees, in large part because he taught at a university that gave a tuition discount to faculty dependents. He was a keen and creative researcher, and would have made more money outside academia, but he wanted his children to have an education.

He came home at the end of the day, and ate dinner with us every night. For us kids to be home to eat dinner at 6 pm was a Starfleet directive, and Dad walked the talk. Not all parents do.

10_Patton_BHe could be silly. I love this about my father. He can still flirt with my mother, delight in a stray tomcat singing to the lady cats, or enjoy Joann Castle playing boogie-woogie piano on a Lawrence Welk re-run. He and his friend from Radnor High School, Ben Snyder, had a running cribbage tournament for more than fifty years, and to hear those two teasing each other (“Read ‘em and weep, fella! Been nice knowing ya.”) was a revelation to me as a kid. What do you know, grown ups can have fun?!

In the general case, Dad was serious, and he had a temper, though his sons caught the brunt of it more than his daughters. I came to understand that Dad also had a tender heart, though he hid that from us, and often from himself. I once saw him tear up to Gordon Lightfoot’s “Carefree Highway,” but I never heard Dad complain about all the people depending on him.

mount nittanyDad has handed me some of the most timely and comforting advice I’ve ever heard. He told me more than once, “You don’t want to be around people who don’t want to be around you.” He pointed out to me when I was dithering at a crossroads, sometimes I could make a choice based on what I knew for sure I did NOT want to see happen. Once when I was at daggers drawn with my mom, Dad didn’t exactly break parental ranks, but he intimated the problem might not all be me, and to give it some time.

milk bookNow, Stuey has congestive heart failure, about which he does not care. I suspect of all the gifts he’s given me, this dignified dismissal of death will be among the most useful. His life speaks for itself, and, scientist that he is, he’s interested in seeing what comes next, when he is, as he put it, “Subsumed into the general wonderfulness.”

I will be without my first, last and forever Valentine then, but I will never be without his love, nor he without mine.

Do you have a first, last and forever Valentine? Did your dad get some important things right? To one commenter, I’ll send that Scottish Comforts basket.