Saturday, 28 November 2015

There is No Dog Shame in this House...

If I was a dragon this would be the pile of discarded bones of my enemies.  Because I'm a dog it's a stick graveyard and also holds the remains of my enemies.  That shark toy, he had it coming.

Oh hi, Happy Thanksgiving!  While you were busy doing other things that garden gnome you brought home from Grandma's house gave me a weird look.

I regret nothing.  I also have no shame.  
I always thought he looked shifty.  So I bited his feets off.  Now he can't get up to any mischief when I'm sleeping and can't protect you.

Also, he was attached to a strange little stick... and I know all sticks for me to eat... so I ate that too.  I know I have an entire pile of sticks in front of the deck that I'm turning into a woodchip pile, but that gnome smelled funny on top of being shifty so I really thought he was a priority for destruction.

You're welcome!

I know you appreciate my work so I just wag my tail when you tell me I'm bad.

Let me think... BAD.  B... A... D... That must be code.  Yeah, code, for brilliant adversary destroyer.  Oh yeah, I'm definitely that.

I'm so good at it.  I'm the best!

I protected my human, ate a stick, and made sure that shifty little gnome will never threaten anyone again.

I'm so happy!

It's already such a great day.  Wake me up when it's time for our walk.

                        Love,
                           Rocky

Tuesday, 24 November 2015

Mad Travel Favorites: Unexpected Pleasures

No doubt, you've heard that oft used quote by the incomparable Robert Burns "the best laid schemes of mice and men often go awry".  No doubt you've also heard it used to mock the very idea of making plans.  Plans do have an alarming tendency to go awry, it is true.  But that doesn't mean that you shouldn't have them.  Plans do have their place.  You just need to recognize that they aren't the end all be all of travel.  The seasoned traveler knows that they must make plans AND expect them to fall apart at times.  Being able to roll with unexpected circumstances is just a part of travel.

For instance, I love planning my trips to maximize the amount of cool things I can see in a short period of time.  It can be convenient to know that two of the things you most want to see are in the same area.  It saves on unnecessary backtracking.  Yet, after reflection, it seems that my favorite parts of trips have all been the unexpected parts I could not, and did not, plan for at all.

Unexpected Discoveries in Rome

Santa Maria in Aracoeli's Entrance - by Madder Hatter
In Rome, one of my favorite discoveries was a little church that I hadn't planned to visit.  Rome is full of churches and there is simply not enough time to visit every single one of them.  No matter how beautiful they are, how historic, or how full of incredible art they are, the numbers make it impossible to see them all.

So, my friend and I had planned to visit only a few.  On the way to the Capitoline Museums we came across the side entrance of another church and impulsively decided to enter.

The Santa Maria in Aracoeli has a particularly uninspiring exterior.  But we decided it was worth a quick peek through the door since we were there.


Santa Maria in Aracoeli's Interior - by Madder Hatter

And boy was it ever!  It is hard to describe the vast discrepancy between the exterior and interior of this church.  Let's just say that we stood frozen two feet inside the door gaping at arches bedazzled with chandeliers.  

I mean, I have never seen that many chandeliers in one place.  Have you?  Not only does every arch down the colonnade have a chandelier in it, the main arches in the crossing/transept of the church have them every two feet.  

I know it's not the best photo of the interior, but it's good enough for you to get an idea of how truly amazing it was.  If you find yourself in Rome anywhere near the Capitoline Hill you should pop in to see it.  Truly, it's worth the five minute detour.
    


Santa Maria in Aracoeli's Ceiling - by Madder Hatter
The guidebook only mentioned the ceiling, which is clearly impressive.  However, I have seen many intricate and gorgeous ceilings.  Nowhere else have I seen chandeliers adorning arches the way they do in the Santa Maria in Aracoeli.  

It is my favorite little church and we would have missed it altogether if we had stuck to our plan. 

Take a minute, peek into something you didn't plan to see and you might be astonished by what you find. 


Delightful Surprises in Naples

In Naples my friend and I met a delightful older gentleman sketching in the sculpture rooms.  He gave us a sketch each and introduced us to a gentleman who worked at the museum.  The gentleman asked us if we wanted to know where to go for dinner.  We said we would definitely be interested in his advice on the subject.  He then personally escorted us across the street to a local restaurant.  Whatever he told the people there must have been good because our pizzas arrived in heart shapes and we were told which desserts were the best.  We weren't given menus we were given a personal description of the desserts.  It was the best evening in our whole trip even though none of it was planned at all.

Il Baba in Naples - by Madder Hatter

This is an Il Baba.  

Apparently an il Baba is a traditional dessert from Naples and it is gorgeously delicious.  Had we been left to our own devices and a menu we may never have chosen it and that would have been a true loss.  Sometimes the unexpected, unplanned for, locally recommended things, truly are the best.

Hidden Treasures in Granada

Vine in Granada - by Madder HatterIn Granada, one of my favorite discoveries was a little unexpected house tucked away down a narrow alley street.  A great friend and I wandered down a tiny alley, lured by an intriguing vine growing from a gutter that we wanted to photograph.  

Then we wandered through tiny alleys heading vaguely uphill looking for views of the Alhambra.  Then, by accidentally losing ourselves down these tiny alleyways, we accidentally found this incredible old Moorish house.  The door was open and looked intriguing but at first we couldn't tell if it was just someone's house or actually something open to the public.  The lack of furniture and a plaque on a far wall convinced us to step inside and have a peek.  

We found ourselves in an old Moorish house with a beautiful courtyard pool and a spectacular view of the Alhambra.    

Moorish House in Granada - Stunning Courtyard

Granada - Moorish house with view of Alhambra


It even had some of the original wall plaster with the original Moorish wall decorations.

Moorish House in Granada - original Moorish plaster workMoorish House in Granada with original decorations - by Madder Hatter               
If we had stuck to a strict plan and only gone up the wide roads that led to the top of the hill without twisty turns we would never have found this place.  The Unofficial Best Tourist Award for that year went to my friend for suggesting the alley that led us to this place.  It may not be in a guidebook's list of highlights every tourist to Granada must see, but it's one of my favorite memories of the trip.  

Get Lost to Find the Best Things in Life

Sometimes the detours, the bits where you get lost on purpose in a great little neighborhood, turn out to be the best path.  Get lost and find something unexpected and exciting.  Take a local's advice and see something that hasn't made it on the top five list of every tourist in the city.  Pop in a random doorway to satisfy your curiosity and see what treasures you might find.  Eat in a local place or in some place recommended to you by a local.  Do at least one thing you didn't plan to do on your trip.  It may even turn out to be the best thing you could've done and become your favorite memory of the whole trip.  

Article and photos by The Madder Hatter for more travel stories and tips visit The Madder Hatter Traveler Blog.  

Thursday, 15 October 2015

Don't mind me, I'm just an Old Shoe...

Do you ever look around the world and wonder what's wrong with it until you reach the conclusion that it's you?  I'm an introvert which is really just a fancy way of saying I'm a bit shy and I enjoy people watching more than actually living.  And recently, with all my down time and my people watching, I've come to a sort of small epiphany.  People are as varied as the shoes they wear.  There are the loud ones and the sleek ones and the sporty ones.  Shoes and people can be functional and flirty, colourful and dark, captivating and invisible.

I've come to the conclusion that I am the comfortable shoe.  What is wrong with my life is me.  People fall quickly into a routine with me because I'm comfortable.  I can go long or short distances, I'm easy to please, sort of versatile.  I'm ok with adventure but I'm not the hardcore hiking boot or the tough as nails steel-toed boot.  I can go out dancing but I don't ooze charm or sophistication or sexiness.  I don't chafe, or annoy.  I'm just easy.  People wear me every day for awhile and then suddenly they trade me in for a pair of fancy, new, shiny, unworn shoes.  Maybe they go sportier or more professional.  Sometimes they choose flirty and totally sexy.  It's hard to say which direction they'll go after they've thrown me in the corner.  All I know is that they have no trouble leaving me behind.  I'm the comfortable shoe.  I'm meant to be put on every day til they tire of me.  Worn through the tight places, muddy places, dark places.  Used til I'm falling apart at the seams.  Then, just as is my purpose, I'm put in a corner or a dark cupboard and never thought of again.

Well, that is until I'm needed all of a sudden.  Then just like that I'm expected to be as accommodating and comfortable and flexible as ever.  After months of being ignored and left alone in a corner I'm suddenly brought back out and supposed to be happy with being put on every morning when they need a quick pick me up run, worn through all the tight and sad places, and used up til I'm emotionally tearing apart at the seams.  I'm supposed to be content with this because I'm the comfortable shoe that everyone loves having around because I'm so easy and so comforting.  All the while knowing that maybe tomorrow, maybe in a month, they will bore of me again and I'll go back to being forgotten in the dark.

Old Shoe with Daisies by Madder Hatter
Ah, the good old comfortable shoe.  Perfect for a day of mixed activities; easy to kick off when you feel like something else.

I'm just one of those people.  I'm willing to listen and reminisce.  You can drag me out of the cupboard and I'm still me; worn-in just the way you remember and find so comforting.  And the funny thing is that while I hate being a comfortable shoe I don't hate who I am.

I think being there for people is generally a nice thing to do and I wish more people were a bit more on the comfortable shoe side of the scale.  It seems like most of my friends are specialized shoes.  I know hiking boots and business shoes and dancing shoes and sexy shoes.  I don't have a problem with any of them.  I love them for who they are.  But sometimes I wish I knew a few more comfortable shoes who could be there when I need to go through tight, dark places and get a little wet and muddy.  We could go on adventures, sit at home, and yes, even hang out together in the corner when our other friends are busy doing their thing.

But my professional shoe friends are always in business meetings.  My dancing shoe friends can't be bothered if the situation doesn't call for music.  Sexy shoes are too busy flirting with everyone to notice I'm around unless they need a comfortable shoe friend.  Hiking boot friends have no trouble with a little mud but they're nearly always out scaling some new mountain and having a marvelous time doing it whether you are there or not.

Maybe I should form a society for people like me, comfortable shoe types.  Maybe we could get together and be supportive of one another since it's clear that sexy shoes are never going to slog through the mud by our side no matter how many times we are there for them and business shoes, are, well, too busy.  We could call it SCRAPES (Society for Comfortable Reliable And Perfectly Eclipsed Shoes) and underneath that last word we can write in tiny letters "Or people, you know, whatever..."

Thursday, 16 April 2015

The Heart is the Final Frontier

Be Brave Timid Explorer

Pansy from Geneva by Madder HatterSpace may seem like the final frontier but the truth is that this distinction lies a bit closer to home than we may want to admit.  However you choose to define frontier, I believe the word aptly characterizes the heart.

Frontier can be defined as:
1. the far-flung limits of knowledge
2. a region of sparse habitation, or
3. a border between countries

I assert, dear reader, that the heart is more mysterious to an individual than any number of complex mathematical equations and questions of science.  A person with a PhD in theoretical Physics will understand things that even the mention of would make my poor brain ache.  And yet, even such a lofty scientific mind could still be utterly baffled by the heart.  Their own heart could betray their rational mind and seem as foreign and bewilderingly complex as any intellectual discipline ever could.  I suggest to you, dear reader, that the heart is the final frontier.

Clematis at Nunnington Hall by Madder Hatter

1. the far-flung limits of knowledge
The heart is at the far-flung reaches of our understanding.  No matter how knowledgeable you or I happen to be in a particular field of study, we can still be caught unawares by our hearts.  I don't know about you, but I have often been confused and frustrated by my heart.  There have even been a rare few moments in my life where the realisation of what my heart wants has made my breath catch in my throat.  But the worst of all, are those days I feel lost and restless because I cannot even tell what it is my heart wants; knowing only that it desperately seeks something.  Something I can't quite grasp.

Purple Vine Flower at the Getty Villa by Madder Hatter

2. a region of sparse habitation
And it's not like there are any road maps in there because the second definition is also true.  The heart is sparsely populated.  It's just you and that crazy desire for whatever it is your heart has decided you need.  There are no friendly locals to point you in the right direction.  You and your heart just have to wander around in your solitary desert til you figure it out on your own.  And trust me, the longer you are lost, the more your heart thinks it's dying.  It certainly feels like an inhospitable desert place in a broken or lost heart.

Purple Vine Flower at the Getty Villa by Madder Hatter

3. a border between countries
Lavender at the Getty Villa by Madder HatterLet's face it, the heart is the border between two completely separate countries.  It is the border between rational and irrational thought.  It is an individual's private frontier.  The battle between head and heart is not new to many people, and yet, it is still as violent and hotly contested as it ever was. Perhaps the real struggle of adulthood is deciding which battles to fight.  It is a lucky individual indeed that has a very quiet border at the edges of the heart's kingdom and the crossroads of reason.  Maybe it is only my experience in life, but it is very rarely that my heart desires things that my rational side can agree with.  More unfortunately, my heart very often wants what it absolutely cannot have.

And why is that?

Why does my heart seem to only want those things it cannot have?  No, want is the wrong word.  It is too tepid.  Yearn is more like it.  Why do I desperately yearn for opportunities and realities that cannot and never will be mine?  Why can the heart not accept it's own fate and calm down for just a few minutes in it's restless beating and longing for the things that cannot be?  My heart and head are almost always at war with each other.  Perhaps it is true of all of us.

Courage of the Heart?
In the end, you almost have to admire the heart.  I mean, it has a single mindedness to it's longing that is almost courageous.  Well, it could be called courageous in other people at least.  Maybe you could call it courageous in yourself if it wasn't making you so miserable.  A body could almost learn to resent their heart some days, what with all the sleepless nights spent tossing and turning, pondering the things that might have been, or could still be; the way that miracles could still bring about that one thing you long for so desperately.

Lavender at the Getty Villa by Madder HatterBleary-eyed, coffee-filled doses of morning reality could understandably reduce even the most rational person to hateful thoughts toward their softer side.  If only they were colder hearted, less of a dreamer, more rational, they silently chastise themselves over sips of piping wakefulness...  If only they were these things, they sigh with resignation, they might sleep better, feel less weary and less plagued by life.  If they weren't so irrational they might feel less at war with themselves on the border between desire and reality; less lost in the wilderness of emotional turmoil.  If only they could turn the heart off or around and care about something practical and achievable.

But Nooo!

The Heart Wants What the Heart Wants
Purple Flower from Geneva by Madder HatterThe heart wants what the heart wants.  Everyone will tell you this.  They quote Emily Dickinson as if it explains everything away.  But they forget the rest of the line.  "The heart wants what the heart wants, or else it does not care."  The hearts wants, or else...  If the heart doesn't get what it wants it throws a perpetual tantrum to make you miserable because no matter how you wish it otherwise, you just can't care about things your heart doesn't want.  And, if you remember, the heart is at the far-flung limits of our knowledge and it's sparsely populated.  So, you're alone in there with your heart throwing a tantrum that you have absolutely no idea how to stop.  You just get to sit in your barren desert of a heart, all alone, until it finally loses the energy to throw such a monumental tantrum.  This, depending on the tragedy or misfortune, could take days, or even years.  Years of feeling more alone and isolated and desolate than you can even imagine. (That is, more desolate than your rational side would think possible, when it finally has control.)
 
Follow Your Heart?
People will quote this line to you; "The heart wants what the heart wants" they say.  They will do so in a flippant matter like this single quote explains everything.  Well, of course you're miserable the heart wants what it wants.  It will pass.  Or they sometimes manage to imply that you should follow your heart.  But neither of these sentiments are of comfort.  Why does the heart want what it wants?  Why can't it want something that it already has, or something that it could have?  Why must it long for those things it cannot have?  You cannot simply follow your heart when the object of your heart's desire is, in actual fact, impossible.  You may want to sit on the edge of the moon and breathe freely, but it doesn't mean you can.  You may wish for one more hour with a loved one, but no one can turn back time.  You may wish for eight arms, or a new personality, but you cannot snap your fingers and be a different person.  And, no, your misery does not get better by simply acknowledging that the heart wants what it wants, or that it cannot have it.  You already know these things.  Misery doesn't come from your lack of knowledge.  Misery comes because your heart is simply incapable of caring about daily life or anything beyond the one impossible desire it is yearns for.  So, you sit and wallow in your state of uncaring for anything else, because the heart doesn't compromise.  It wants what it wants OR ELSE.

Purple Orchid by Madder Hatter

Emily Dickinson knew this.  But those people who quote the first part of her line nearly always forget the second and darker truth.  Emily, they frequently forget, was a woman much beset by grief.  She knew intimately the depths of a heart's pain.  She watched many loved ones and friends die in her lifetime and she struggled with deep depression.  Her line is not a flippant statement that sometimes your heart is unhappy but you'll get over it soon it enough.  There is no "soon enough" for some pain.

Purple Orchid by Madder Hatter

Your heart does not simply let the head win or stop wanting impossible thing in exactly two weeks time.  You cannot sit your heart down and lecture it saying "Enough is enough", or "Come, now let's be rational.  Things aren't going to change.  Let's make the best it".  No.  Your heart won't listen.  It doesn't care.  No amount of reasoning with yourself and your heart makes the pain go away.  No amount of reasoning helps your heart to care about anything else when it sees no hope and no future of happiness.  The heart cannot be appeased by mundane trivialities.  The pain settles in for a long and merciless winter hibernation; the sort of winter that perhaps there is no waking up from.

Sunlight through the Purple Orchid by Madder Hatter

Heartbreak, heartsick, heavy heart, heartache.  Why do you think there are so many words that have to do with temper tantrums of the heart?  And this doesn't even include the wealth of words to describe the emotions including anguish, sorrow, and misery.  Everyone deals with grief and heartbreak at some point in their lives.  Sadly, as the heart is at the limits of our understanding, nobody has figured out a way of making these times any easier.  The heart has a great capacity for joy and love and caring, but if it doesn't get it's way you may have a long road of apathy and anguish ahead of you.

Don't Follow Your Heart
A lot of soul searching, or heart searching if you will, has led me to the conclusion that I do not even know my own heart.  It has layers of wishes and desires, some of them obvious and others latent, hidden even from my own awareness.  I think that the best way to be at peace in life is to somehow reach a balance whereby your heart concedes that current circumstances are not permanent and that hope for future happiness is always a possibility no matter how bleak the day may be.  Letting the heart live in the moment and focus only on despair is too dangerous.  Hope can be a tricky ally, but it is far better than the heartache of despair.  I am not an expert on these things and I still get caught unaware by the sudden tantrums of my heart's desires and apathy... but I am trying.  Trying to understand.  Trying to work towards hope.  Trying to lead my heart out of darkness, but never follow it there.

Crocus Flowers in Geneva by Madder Hatter

My advice?  Don't follow your heart.  It doesn't know what it's doing.  Prepare yourself for battle on the frontier between your heart and your head and remember that you will be going in alone, dropped behind enemy lines with no intelligence or maps.  All you will have is your wits and your desire to survive whatever storm your heart is experiencing at the moment by sheer determination and perseverance.  It won't be easy.  But don't give up.

Delphiniums by MJW by Madder Hatter

The Heart is a mysterious creature and despite the fact that nobody has figured out how to neutralize it, you probably wouldn't want to live life without it anyway.  No matter how dark today may be.  Chin up, have courage.  If you cannot manage to care about anything in the world today just remember that you are not alone.  We have all been lost in the depths of our heart's despair at some point or another.  If you're lost there now, just allow yourself to be sorrowful.  Tomorrow you can work on finding just one thing in the world that is not bad.  Perhaps the sunlight through a flower, or a best friend's company.  Tomorrow you can slowly try to remind your heart that the world hasn't ended.  Today, you're allowed to just be sad as long as you don't give up altogether.

Purple Flowers at Nunnington Hall by Madder Hatter

So, farewell, dear reader, and be brave in your explorations into the final frontier, the Heart.

Pansy in the Crack - Richmond - by Madder Hatter

Monday, 23 February 2015

I Should Say Something...



I should say something.
But what is there to say?
No words ever spoken
Could help allay the pain.

I should say something.
But what is there to write?
No words ever written
Could help to make this right.

I should do something.
But what is there to do?
The gates of heaven opened;
But no mortals could pass through.

I should say something,
But words just will not come.
My uncle gained the heavens,
While we are left undone.

I should do something.
But all I have is prayer?
There is nothing I can do now,
Except sit and dwell in prayer.

With God, with hope, with something in my heart
So heavy that my breathing seems to stop and start.
I don’t understand His timing but I try to trust His plan
All I pray is peace and healing in the shadow of His hand.