AND NOW - The rest of the story!
(Thanks, Paul Harvey)
'Twas The Party Before Christmas(the story behind the poem)
I love our annual Christmas Party.
We've had the Party here, in Stevenage, every year for the last six years. We invite people from around the neighborhood as well as some friends from outside the immediate area. They all stop in to have a few drinks and tell a few tales.
It's a fun time for all.
The Christmas Party holds a special place for me though.
Let me tell you a story about the first year of the party here at Olde Cottage.
We first met Marilyn and Peter the summer before our first party.
We hit it off immediately, especially Marilyn and Andrea.
We'd just come back from visiting Cornwall and talked about how much we love it there. We go back there almost every year for the beaches, the Southwest Coastal Path, and, yes, the chillin'. We left Marilyn and Peter that summer vowing to stay in touch.
Between the time we left England for the summer, and the time we got back for Christmas, Marilyn and Andrea decided it would be a bang-up idea to get folks from the neighborhood together to enjoy a few drinks at Christmas time.
I should tell you that Marilyn doesn't do Christmas by half. She doesn't do anything half-assed. She's all in, off the diving board in a frilly suit, and a full head of steam.
Peter, as it turns out, has a sacred mulled wine recipe that he pulls out of the Holy Grail stored in a secured vault under number 10 Downing Street. At Chrismas Peter dusts off the holy text with extreme reverence wearing anointed cotton gloves. He peels the parchment back with the care of a conservator then inspects the recipe to make sure it is, in fact, the same document stored with such care the previous year. You'd think the recipe was handed down from Charles Dickens himself. There are all kinds of exotic ingredients.
I don't know if I've said too much already. The mulled wine police (MWP) may be coming around the corner as I write. I think the real reason Ed Snowden had to flee to Russia is he leaked the recipe to Julian Assange. Nobody wants to be chased by the MWP.
Bottom line: It's exceptional, and everybody looks forward to Peter's brew.
The first year of the party, the decorations went up, and the stage set for the night. Marilyn on the oven, Peter on the mulled wine, Andrea at reception, and me on fire. Yeah, I get the dangerous job. I get to play with fire!
The party was starting. We had a bit of a toast between ourselves before the rest of the folks began arriving.
I guess the word had got around because before long the house was packed with people hobnobbing and rubbing elbows. The place was hopping.
Everyone was lovely. Drinks were drunk, hors-d'oeuvres consumed by the bucket load, lampshades worn, music blasted, and I think everybody was having a fabulous time. I know I was.
The last person togged up and left sometime in the wee hours of the morning. After we gasped our last and patted each other on the back, Marilyn and Peter trundled off on the short five-minute walk to their home around the corner.
Through our beer goggles and wine colored glasses, we started clearing up a bit. Getting enough dishes together to start the dishwasher and organizing food in the fridge so it wouldn't spoil out on the table all night.
I think we were brushing our teeth and getting into pajamas when we got a call from Marilyn. It appears, while we were enjoying ourselves at the party, there was a fire at their house.
Our friends have a lovely old Victorian house with high ceilings and lots of wood; bunches of wood. The exterior is brick, but the interior is almost all lime plaster and wood.
Before the fire, they'd been going through the house meticulously restoring one room at a time, picking out just the right this or that for here and there. They had just lovingly finished the sitting room with original materials and fixtures, and brand new furniture.
The work was painstaking and detailed.
The fire started in the room they'd just finished. Apparently, one of the candles on the wooden mantle over the fireplace had burned down and caught some decorations on fire.
It could have been so much worse. If the fire and not burned itself out and spread just a little it would have caught the Christmas Tree. The whole house would have been a goner. As it turned out, they got off easy. Instead of a conflagration the wood smoldered and created so much smoke it choked itself out.
I say they got off easy, but I don't mean that. The whole house got covered in toxic, black, thick, soot. The soot formed webs in all the corners, and the smell was horrible. It's not like a nice wood fire in the fireplace. It's not like the flames of a barbeque in the summer. It's an acrid disgusting smell that chokes you and sticks to everything you wear.
We walked over to their house the minute we got the call. Peter and Marilyn were devastated. It certainly looked like an "all is lost" moment.
We invited them to come back to our place and stay the night. I'm sure it was not a stellar night's sleep for either of them. The thought of everything in their house destroyed must have haunted them all night.
In the morning we suggested they stay with us until everything got sorted and we set up a room for them. This was only a couple of weeks before Christmas. As a result of the fire, we ended up becoming terrific friends spending the entire Christmas holiday with them.
We always look forward to coming back to England because they've become family.
Adversity can make for unusual situations. We are so lucky to have them in our lives. Our experience is much richer for it.
We go places together. We did a week's vacation with them in Cornwall. We go to the races at Newmarket every year.
We have the best times in such exciting places like the time we went to see Paloma Faith in Croatia. Paloma didn't show up. We had a great time just the same. They've also come to St Thomas to visit with us and soak up some of that island sunshine.
They are just a pleasure to be around, and we appreciate them very much.
The point of the story is that you never know what things will bring friends together. In this case, we formed very close bonds through adversity. One night's fire turned into what I hope will be a lifetime friendship.
That's what makes our Christmas party unique to me. Yes, it's great to meet up with people you love and don't often see during the year. I love that.
We absolutely love getting together with our friends and neighbors during the season.
As we head into this season and feverishly prep for the party, for me, I will always remember the lifelong friends we made one dark, cold, and devastating night before Christmas.
Until next week - I wish you peace on earth and good will towards everyone.
Especially the guy in the parking lot, he needs it.
Over the last several years, I've been a member of the Stevenage Arts Society. The Arts Society provides space, classes, and encouragement for artistic endeavors including painting, drawing, and pottery.
Twice a year the Society holds an exhibition to highlight member's art. It provides members with the opportunity to have their work presented in the Old Town.
This year, one artist, in particular, caught my eye. Her name is Pat Le Mar. Her preferred medium are pastels but she works in other media as well. She paints whatever draws her attention including portraits, cityscapes, and landscapes.
This painting is the Old Town in Stevenage. It is a brilliant representation of evening approaching on the High Street. The atmosphere is wonderful.
She has training in graphic design and has lived and worked in Stevenage for the last 40 years. I hope to run into her someday at Springfield House.
The reason I'm writing about Pat and the exhibition today is last week I went to the show and bought one of her landscape paintings.
I am thrilled with my purchase because:
This week, Pat Le Mar is my highlighted artist and I'm very happy to recommend her work.
You can find her here on her website.
I am putting these two drawings side by side. To the left is a digitally enhanced version of the painting on the right. The one on the left is a bit slicker. The lines are smoother. The colors are more vivid. I think the one on the right has a bit more. The roughness gives it more character though.
Let me tell you why I think it's hard to be human.
I know I like to act all zen and calm and portray that I live in patience and serenity with all of God's creatures. I want to think the slings and arrows of everyday life bounce off of me like bullets off Superman. Unfortunately, I am not quite the man I want to be - or maybe I am.
I want to confess that I almost ended my little artsy newsletter career because of my stupidity. I nearly ended my life today. Somehow my 30-year-old Marine mind inhabited my sixty-year-old pensioner's frame on Sunday in a grocery car park (parking lot to the rest of us). Uggg.
We were coming around a corner, and I could hear somebody outside say in a snarky tone. say, "You're not driving a tank lady."
Well, Andrea turned to me and said, "Did you hear what he said?"
Of course, my first reaction was to roll down my window and say, "Who the F*#* are you?"
Now, Under normal circumstances that would be the end of it. We'd both go off fuming, feathers ruffled, hackles raised. Each of us going off saying, "God, that guy was an ass!" And that would be the end of it.
Instead, the schoolyard came out in both of us.
He said, "Get out of your car and say that."
He had, what had to be, a six-month-old child in his arms.
Oh God, what have I gotten myself into?
I said, "You gonna do this with a child in your arms? I'm getting back in the car."
He gave the child to his wife.
Of course, I remember this from other stupid childish fights I'd had in the past. Not going to end well.
Andrea comes flying around the car and gets between us. She said, "Hey, why don't you pick on somebody your own size!?" He was about 5' 4".
I tried to push Andrea aside and insisted she go and get back in the car.
WTF now I'm arguing with her.
I'm sorry, but I have to resort to emoji freaking webreviations!
This situation is most certainly not going to end well.
As I leaned over, we stood two inches from each other face, his eyes twitching like a junkie needing a fix, his hands were in his pockets. That meant one of two things.
1. There's a knife in the cretin's pocket - BAD!
2. He's not planning on hitting me - GOOD!
So, thoughts in my head:
1. If I believe the miscreant doesn't have a knife and I'm wrong - Stay and fight - Oh Shit!
2. If I believe the ass doesn't have a knife and I'm right - stay and fight - I gain nothing, maybe a couple of bruises.
3. If I believe the reprobate does have a knife and I'm wrong - back down - I lose nothing.
4. If I think the idiot does have a knife and I'm right - back down - I gain everything.
Secondly, if he wasn't going to hit me, what's the point? I wasn't going to attack him first. I could see all the cameras coming out. I'd be on the worst version of Cops getting stabbed and bleeding out in the parking lot. Or I could be handcuffed, in jail, looking like bad Santa on the holidays with my little white beard on the six o'clock evening news.
I'm not a clairvoyant. I'm not Carnac the Magnificent. I can't tell the future.
I did not pick the right time or place to make a stand. I made a mistake. I'll admit my error. Walk away.
I said, "Sorry - I'm getting back in my car then."
And, I really was sorry.
I was sorry I got out of the car.
I was sorry I was feeling so stupid standing in the middle of a parking lot play "who the hell are you" with an adolescent, testosterone driven moron.
I was sorry that Andrea got involved.
I was sorry I almost made it on to some police blotter. "Bad boys, Bad boys, Whatcha gonna do."
I was sorry deportation flashed across my mind.
Oh no, not so soon my friend.
Oh-Oh, it's not over.
Andrea said to him, "You should apologize to me."
He says, "For what?"
Oh, God! There's no getting out of this!
"Please, get in the car, Andrea!"
As my dad would have said, "Andrea has more balls than Dick Tracy!"
Somehow we both got back in the car and left him walk off.
Did I feel a bit stupid? Yes, a bit.
Was I glad I wasn't in the hospital? Yes, a lot.
Should I have handled it differently? Well, hell yes.
I wish I didn't get out of the car in the first place. It just wasn't worth it.
Next time, I probably won't get out of the car.
In the mean time I'll try to meditate on the meaningfulness of equanimity. Or, maybe I'll have a beer.
Either way, this was a day I almost earned my very own Darwin Award.
Until next week - I wish you peace.
Sarah Mckendry says she's a Canadian realist artist and the mother of two wild and incredible boys. She works out of her home in the wee hours of the morning after her children go to bed. She sometimes works until two, three, or four o'clock in the morning. Sarah loves the euphoric feeling of the blank canvas in front of her. It's magic.
She creates large-scale paintings of landscapes and all kinds of animals including people. I love the scale and the detail she puts into her work. It's so great that she makes the time to work on her art.
She is a self-taught artist who makes a full time living with her art. It is a laudable achievement indeed.
Please take some time to see what she does from her base at Fort McMurray in northern Alberta, Canada. That's the far-north third of the province. It's almost the same latitude as Juneau, Alaska.
You should check out her videos and her artwork at the following locations on the internet.
Website Instagram YouTube Facebook
It was another beautiful day in paradise, a bit overcast and a bit drizzly. Sometimes I welcome that kind of weather on St Thomas.
Since we didn't want to sit around the house and swat mosquitos, watch dust bunnies gather, or discuss the relative merits of Light, Dark, Spiced, or Blackstrap Rum, we decided it was a good day to head to St John.
The ferry from St Thomas to St John is a quick fifteen minutes. It's a great place for a day trip.
I like to go to a small watering hole in Mongoose Junction on St John called The Sun Dog Cafe. I love it there because, usually, most of the people sitting around the bar live on St John.
This day I struck up a conversation with a guy named Jim. Jim is probably not his name, it’s just what I remember. There may have been a few beers involved, so my memory’s a bit shaky on that score. Let’s call him Jim anyway.
I instantly loved this guy. He is one of those unpretentious gentle souls who's comfortable in his skin. I enjoyed talking with him. There was no bragging, no guile, and no preening. He was just a nice guy; kind and helpful.
It’s not often you find somebody like that.
Jim lives on St John. I should say he lives just off St John on his boat. Jim used to have four boats. He was kicking off a chartering business. Then hurricane Irma hit, and Maria fell close on Irma’s heals. He lost three of his four boats. He's living on the one surviving boat.
We talked a lot about boats. He was well versed in everything nautical. I know a little, but you could measure what I know about floating things and the sea in a thimble and still have room for rum.
Jim spent some time explaining how things like boat batteries, anchor buoys, engines, construction, and the need to be self-sufficient on an island, etc. He was engaging because he was entirely there. Jim wasn't checking his phone or seeing who else cool was coming by. When he talks to you, you have all his attention.
The reason I'm writing this is I think the world can use a bunch more people like Jim. We should all strive to be present, kind, gentle and helpful.
I don't know how much of what he told me I'll remember, but I will remember how I felt around him. I felt ... important. I believe everybody likes to think they have worth.
Lesson - people may not remember what you say, but they will remember what it feels like to be around you. Make them feel important.
I want to remember that. I hope you do too.
Until next week, I wish you peace.
I don't know if you would remember Keith Haring. I had almost forgotten about him until last week when I was on a conference call. One of the engineers I was speaking with was using a Keith Haring painting as his avatar.
Do you remember this?
I remember Keith Haring's subway drawings and I remember when he died. I don't know why I remember I just do. It must have been in the news.
He's pretty famous for this "Radiant Baby" drawing.
I found his style interesting. He doesn't make pretty photorealistic oil paintings on canvas. Haring is a street artist. Some of his large murals still survive today.
I have to admit, I'm not a bit fan of everything he did, but like many people, he had a story to tell. He wanted to get a message across. He looked to draw attention, and he certainly did that.
Keith Haring is an artist whose work I remember almost 30 years after the fact. His style strummed a chord in my memory.
His work is memorable. I like that.
You could throw a lot of criticism his way, but I think he was a product of his time. The social and political issues were as divisive at the time as they are today; maybe even more then.
He was taking a stand. He was making a statement.
I like that our society allows for that kind of free speech and expression. You don't have to like it.
If you want to see more of his work you can visit his website.
He's been gone for nearly 30 years now, so he's not saying much original on social media. Most people don't say much original on social media so ...
I hope this week's artist strikes a chord with you.
Just when I thought the island couldn’t throw any more curve balls at me, today I got a wake-up call. Literally.
My eyelids were just starting to separate, and the cobwebs were beginning to clear when a shriek from upstairs invaded my still half sleeping ears.
“Scott! Scott! Come! Quickly! Hurry Up! Now!”
Yes, all the exclamation points are necessary
I thought, yet again, I had forgotten to lock the door or left the toilet running. I lumbered up the stairs like I usually do to find Andrea in her dressing gown gingerly and quickly carrying a yoga mat out the front door at arm's length. If her arms could have been longer or she could have used a barge pole, I think she would have, gladly.
Immediately, I thought, oh, okay, another cockroach.
Cockroaches and other bugs usually get that kind of reaction around here, as if they’re trying to escape Stalag 13 and the sirens need to be sounded.
Most people know me as Scott, some people know I was a Marine, but most people couldn't guess I have a shadow career. In our home, I'm an expert, or at least very experienced, cockroach sweeper. I even swept one up this morning.
Cockroaches are horrible creatures, and even I get a bit squeamish around them, but I don’t shy away from the creepy little crawlers with a shriek!
One time, I was at a bar in North Carolina. It was just outside of Jacksonville, NC - read Camp Lejeune. It was the kind of a bar that had straw, peanut shells, and other unidentified stuff milling about in the mix. I had my cowboy boots on, and to my surprise, I felt something crawling around my ankle: Yup, my ankle.
I took that ole cowboy boot off, and a couple of cockroaches scurried out of my boot. Not just one but two cockroaches. I think they were trying to set up housekeeping or something.
We’ve all had our run-ins with creepy crawlers, I’m sure.
There are all kinds of tiny household invaders on the island. Mostly its mosquitos and noseeums, but there are also:
It was a scorpion, a three-inch-long spikey-tailed scorpion. The critter didn't look all that happy. Maybe I was assuming too much. Perhaps the little bugger was enjoying all the shrieking and stomping going on. I particularly enjoyed that part where Andrea screamed like Jamie Lee Curtis in Halloween!
So, there are now three things I'll consider from now on while on the island:
Though most scorpions won't kill you, they can give you a nasty sting. And really, that's something I really don't want.
Until next week, I wish you, scorpion-free peace.
The first thing that crossed my lips when I saw this guy's paintings could be abbreviated "WTF." Yes, I said it out loud.
His paintings are marvelous.
You see, Kyle Ma is only 18 years old, but he paints like a master.
He is so proficient now I'm anxious to see how his work progresses into the future.
His loose and almost effortless-looking style is something to behold.
There is so much to learn. I try to take it all in. I watch in awe and try to make it happen myself. It takes lots of practice to know where to put what color when. Kyle seems to be able to do that without a second thought.
If you want to see his paintings or follow him on the internet, you can find him on his website, visit him on Facebook, or look at his posts on Instagram.
How did I spend Veteran's Day 2018?
For many people, Veterans Day is a day of celebration and parades.
For me, I walked on the beach and lifted a glass to all those souls who served their country.
Veterans Day, in the United States, falls on the same day as "Remembrance Day" / "Armistice Day" in other parts of the world. It is, as you know, on November 11th.
So, I would like to thank all the Veterans out there who have served their country nobly and honorably. If you did, I would like to thank you for serving.
This year is especially poignant in that it is on the 11th-hour of the 11th-day in the 11th-month one hundred years ago the Armistice with Germany went into effect.
Though, since that time, service men and women have been putting their life on the line in many places and in many conflicts throughout the world. That's why veterans' organizations in the United States, in 1954, lobbied to have the day renamed to "Veterans Day" to honor all veterans.
A veteran, in this context, means "a person who has served in the military." Period.
Serving in the military was an excellent opportunity for me. I was drifting like so much flotsam and jetsam on the ocean of life until I joined. It brought focus and discipline into my life at a time when I needed it and is a large part of who I am today.
Since leaving the military, some of the discipline and drive I acquired in the Marines has lingered. I am grateful for that.
I know lots of you see me as a drifter who is lucky enough to drift where I please. In part that's true, and I have had some excellent breaks in my life that allow me to continue to do that.
However, it all starts with the discipline to do the things you need to do when needs must.
I will always be grateful that I was able to serve in the Marines. It did much more for me that I ever did for them.
So, on this day, I am doubly grateful. I'm thankful for your services and for the opportunity to serve.
I hope you remembered veterans on the 11th. As for veterans, I would suggest you reflect on the benefits you got from your service as well. We are blessed.
And for what it's worth:
Until next week, I wish you peace.
You might know Danny Boyle as a filmmaker. He's been a director, a producer, and a writer of some very memorable films like Trainspotting, Slumdog Millionaire, and 28 days later.
Why is he here today?
Along with being an accomplished figure in the filmmaking industry, he is a tremendous organizer of things like the Queen's Jubilee and the 2012 Olympic Opening Ceremony.
This year Danny Boyle organized a massive art installation drawing images of soldiers killed in the last days of WW I across 30 beaches in the UK.
The images were drawn in sand at low tide and washed away as the tide came in. It was a moving exhibition to commemorate the centenary of the Armistice.
The reason this exhibition caught my attention was it reminded me of a photo of my Great Grandfather who was killed in action on December 17, 1916, just two weeks after his 39th birthday.