Tuesday, April 05, 2016

To Each His Own Playdate

Thought I should drop in here to reassure the dwindling faithful that I have not, once again, fallen off the cliff. Best excuse? Company. My sister-in-law's been visiting but she went home a few days ago. There was a twenty four hour period in which I wandered around missing her. You know how it goes.You're ready to be back to regular programming but you can't quite remember (after a three week hiatus) what regular programming entails. Just one more sign of impending dotage. The following day the OC had a play date with a friend to go chasing little white balls and driving fast cars. It would have been a shame to waste a house-to-myself day in moping so I pulled myself together and arranged a playdate of my own --- with my recently neglected sewing machine. Nobody but myself to please from first light to last. The bliss! I almost felt I could purr.

The laundry had all been done by the visiting uber-hausfrau, the dust bunnies banished to their burrows, the floors vacuumed to dust free perfection. It was as though my mother-in-law, may she rest in peace, had blazed through. I'd even planted the flowers we'd bought for the garden as per s-i-l's departing instructions. With ant bites on my ankles to prove it.

There were lots of "shoulds" making noise in my head --- phone calls I should make, projects I should finish, writings I should read, fabrics I should sort, closets I should organize, but I turned on Pandora and pretended not to hear them. Today I was going to play.

I went in my sewing room and built a house. Not just an ordinary house but a Splendid Sampler house.

Serious business, deciding which fabric to use for the roof, the door, the light in the windows, the walls. I should've been an architect. I stood back and looked at it. And was happy. So much cheaper than therapy.

I wandered to the kitchen for a second cup of coffee, and, while there, popped a loaf of soda bread in the oven. Domestic goddess, that's me, in the kitchen at least, if not on the dusting and shining circuit. I had an extra batch mixed up from last time, just needed butter, buttermilk, and bingo! Heavenly aromas. Mind you, the bed was not yet made and I was still in my pyjamas(at 3 p.m.!) but what are you looking for --- Martha Stewart?

I love having company but, after a few weeks, I get twitchy and want to sneak off to the sewing room to stitch a bit, or hide in the bathroom to read a few chapters of my current book (and it's a good one --- "Me Before You" by Jojo Moyes, recommended by the Little Blister who never steers me wrong), or plant myself in front of the computer and write a blog post.  I begin to long for time alone with myself; to miss my own sloppy way of doing things; to fantasize about letting the laudry pile up 'til there's a full load; about letting a little dust accumulate so there'll actually be some satisfaction when I do get around to it; to not feel inadequate because I'm me. We live hours by plane from most of our family so I really do love when company comes. But, no matter how fond I am of them, I also love it when they leave.

When the OC returned from his day's adventures he had a glow about him, the glow of a man who'd been hitting little white balls and driving fast cars all day (everyone has their own definition of bliss) topped off by plenty of nibbles and adult beverages so no feeding or watering required. He had a shine in his eye like a 16 year old. Fast cars and dimpled white balls will do it every time.

To top off my beautiful day I sat reading in bed long after my eyes wanted to close. Next morning dawned grey and dreary. Without even getting out of bed, I reached for my book again and read to the end.

And sobbed my eyes out. Not just a sniffle but serious sobbing.

There's the Pulitzer and the Booker and any number of other prizes for writers, but the one that's most important to me is the Molly Bawn prize for Riveting Fiction, awarded to any book that so absorbs me that I forget who and where I am and become part of the world the author has created. I won't even try to explain what it was about. Sufficient to say --- an unusual love story --- funny, sad, and heart breaking. Go read it and you'll understand. Fortunately there was fresh soda bread and marmalade in the kitchen for comfort.

Who could ask for a better day? Thus fortified, I'm ready. Bring on the "shoulds!"

Friday, March 11, 2016

All the Pretty Golfers.....

.............in their Under Armour shirts and their fashionably skinny trousers, with their carefully manscaped mini beards!

You may find this hard to believe but I went to a major golf tournament yesterday, and, second surprise --- lived to tell the tale. It was a back-handed sort of invitation. The OC had lucked into some tickets but his usual golf buddy couldn't go. With his best SEG he turned to me and asked if I'd like to go, knowing full well I'd probably prefer to stick pins in my eyes, or stay home reading, sewing, or even chasing dust bunnies. Since it couldn't be for my singleminded devotion to the game, he could only be asking me for my scintillating company. How could I say no?

I had to arise and shake myself a little earlier than usual but after a shower and some coffee I was ready. The course we were headed to is a beautiful one. In addition to famous golfers I knew there'd be beautiful trees so I packed my camera along with sunscreen, a book (in case it turned out to be incredibly boring,) lip balm and a comb.

The OC was poised and ready,

"Let's go!"

"Hang on a sec! Which hat should I bring? A big floppy one or a gardening one?"

A sigh from the OC while I go to select a hat, end up taking both. When in doubt, take two.

"Oh. Wait! I have to go!" Should have passed on the coffee, but then I'd still be asleep.

Patience was wearing thin. Teeth were grinding. Toes were tapping. The OC was probably weighing the benefits of my scintillating company against the irritation of my usual three trips back into the house before I was actually ready.

Finally we were on the way and he could relax. If I'd forgotten anything else I'd just have to manage without.

We picked up our tickets and a sheet of instructions.....

No cameras allowed...? Boo, hiss! Taking pictures was what I'd been looking forward to the most! No purses, no backpacks, unless they were see-through --- who on earth goes around with see-through purses and backpacks anyway? No food, no water bottles...so much for the apple slices and water in my (not see-through) backpack.

But then we turned our attention to the golf. And, surprise, it was really interesting. For one thing, I was familiar with most of the big names because of the constant barrage of golf from the television at our house. Whether I'm actually listening or not, it seeps into my brain. And I have occasionally, in the spirit of "if you can't beat 'em join 'em," sat down with the OC and watched some of the tournaments. And for another, unlike baseball or football where I truly have no earthly idea what's going on, I do have some idea how golf is scored. Learned early in life when I used to walk around the course with my dad, caddying for him (mar dhea) when he went golfing..... Everybody's darling, Jordan Spieth, was there, along with the slew of new, really young, outstanding golfers.

Watching one of them, up close, hit his drive off the tee I whispered to the OC "What is he, sixteen?"
I overheard some young men nearby whispering to each other "Well he's a trust fund baby you know..."
Probably had his first set of clubs while his peers were still riding tricycles and mastering the monkey bars.
And all these young professional golfers, with very few exceptions, looked like they'd just stepped out of an ad in Esquire or Gentlemans' Quarterly. My sons only dress so spiffily when forced to. I wondered if these guys liked being dressed up like dogs' dinners, the better to promote sales of their sponsors' wares, or if they longed for baggy cargo shorts and loose cotton tees. I guess when they play at this level they're handsomely compensated for any such "sacrifices."

Wherever there is money and fame and handsome young men there too will be gorgeous young women dressed to attract all of the former. While the OC carefully watched the technique of each golfer in turn, making notes and filing them in a special corner of his brain, I too watched them with interest. But I was also watching with equal interest the multitudes of fans and their varied fashion statements. Sensibly shod in my sneakers, I was nonetheless impressed by some of the attendees' footwear choices. Sneakers were my choice. Walking shoes, or even sturdy sandals, would also have worked, but, faced with the prospect of traipsing around all day on uneven, grassy terrain the last shoes I would have chosen would have been (if I even owned a pair) four or five inch heels. It must be my age.....

I could make fun of such a fuss being made, worldwide, of grown men trying to hit little white balls into ridiculously small holes....but then I'd probably have to defend my own habit of buying perfectly beautiful fabric and cutting it up into small pieces only to painstakingly sew them all back together again....so we won't go there today!

We walked and walked until I could, not only feel, but actually hear my knees creaking. Later in the afternoon we found some bleachers overlooking the sixteenth green and sat in the shade and watched the action in comfort, sipping water and licking ice cream.

We had a good day. The sun was shining, the sky was blue, the shady trees providing frequent relief. I was happy I went. The OC was glad of the company, scintillating or otherwise. He's gone back today. But not me. Today I'm staying home reading, sewing and chasing dust bunnies. And yes, of course, writing.

Note: no photos for reasons mentioned above. Again --- boo, hiss! Especially when everywhere we went at the tournament there were people snapping away surreptitiously with their cell phones! 

Wednesday, March 02, 2016

Of Boston Ferns and Passion Vines

Oh here she is again, hat in hand, sheepish grin, more excuses for why it's a desert here, a parched, treeless, wordless, empty wasteland. And we're tired of hearing it. All those promises of mending ways, of discipline, of "write every day," even if its rubbish, if you keep writing down words they'll eventually sort themselves into coherence. Yawn.

No more excuses. A recent other social media experience sent me flying to the phone for damage control. I had tried to post pictures of a few quilt blocks and suddenly, unbidden, all my photos were laid bare for the entire world. Excuse me?

"What did you do mom?" my daughter chortled, "post naked selfies?"

 I was not amused. Here I was, on the edge of a heart attack and she laughs? But she sorted it and once again air flowed smootly into my lungs and out again. Me and social media? Like giving matches to a toddler. The wise old woman in my head nodded sagely. Stick to Blogger," she said.  So here I am.

 I bought a house plant when we first moved in here fifteen years ago. It failed to thrive in the house, possibly due to my penchant for forgetting to water.... so I tossed it out among the trees and palmetto palms --- organic --- it could only help enrich our sandy soil, right?

 Lo and behold, it came back to life! Decided this was a much more congenial environment --- the cool shade of trees, protection from the sun and, most importantly, from the water-withholding mad woman inside. I was happy that it was happy so I gave it an inch. But it got greedy and wanted a mile. Soon it was colonizing the entire shade area, bullying the mild mannered azaleas and sneaking out into the grass with a view to taking it over as well.

Yesterday the jig was up. I headed out to the shade garden and started yanking. The OC came out to join me.

" See what I've done?" I announced triumphantly with a sweeping gesture towards the pile of uprooted ferns.

"Why'd you do that?" he queried querulously. He liked the ferns and their pushy ways, had notions of encouraging their plans for garden domination....

"They were choking the azaleas," I said. "And anyway, you can be sure of one thing. They'll be back. But now, for a while, the azaleas can breathe."

"Hmm," he said.

"Hmm, yourself,"  I thought and waded into the palmettos to tackle the next project ---beating back the          passion vine that aims to do up in the trees what the Boston fern was doing below --- take over the world. We call this area our "shade garden" but what it really is is a clump of naturally growing Florida natives that was left untouched when the rest of the lot was cleared to build our house. It was the Bean's vision that saw what it could be. Over the years we cleared paths through it, plied it with mulch, trimmed the plants that lived there and introduced a few of more. An umbrella plant that the Bean added years ago is thriving there, cheek by jowl with native grasses, scrub oaks and palmetto palms. Maintaining it is more about controlling the abundance than coaxing it along.

Passion vine was an experiment. We planted it, just to see if it would grow, and when it did (with knobs on) I fell in love with its gorgeous blossoms.

But now that relationship has turned to love/hate as the passion vine struggles to take over the world and we struggle to confine it. It climbs up trees and weaves them together to form a dense canopy; it reaches out and wraps its tendrils around anything that doesn't move; it wends its way in and out of the rails of our neighbors' fence. The young stems look so frail and tender but give them their heads and they turn into wrist-thick ropes.

Yesterday was Come to Jesus day for the passion vine. We hacked and chopped and pulled, yards and yards of it, down from the trees. Me Tarzan, you Jane! The sun filtered through, casting it's warming rays on the azaleas' backsides which had not felt such balm in years, covered as they were in britches of darkness by their swaggering mates.

Tarzan and Jane stood back to admire their handiwork. The ferns have been beaten into submission, the jungle has been tamed, the azaleas have room to wiggle their toes and the sun can reach the floor. No more beautiful passion vine blossoms for a while but no more choked trees either.

Bring it on Spring! We're ready!

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Old Ladies Behaving Badly/Part One

We recently watched Redwood Highway, a movie about an angry woman, roughly my age, living in a retirement home in Oregon. Marie's granddaughter is about to be married. She's invited but refuses to go. Her son tries in vain to persuade her. She's angry that the granddaughter's young man has long hair and makes his living as a drummer. She'd be a fool to marry him, Marie declares, and someone needs to tell her so!

But that's not the only thing she's angry about. She's angry at life; angry that her husband died young; angry she had to raise her son alone; angry that she's in a retirement home; angry that people seem to think she's losing her marbles; angry that they might be right.

The granddaughter loves her grandma and is hurt that she won't be at her wedding. She leaves an angry phone message saying fine, I didn't really want you there anyway. Dad made me do it.

This sits in Marie's head for a while and next thing we know she's in the breakfast room at the retirement home surreptitiously stuffing her backpack with apples, bananas and rolls. She hoists the backpack onto her shoulders, glances furtively around, then sneaks out the door and hits the road. To where we don't yet know. Nor does anybody else.

While Marie is plodding along, refusing lifts but yelling at truckers who pass too close and too fast, all hell is breaking loose back at the retirement home. Consternation. Where could she be? The police are called in and a big search begins. Meanwhile, blissfully oblivious to the mayhem, Marie makes friends along the road, a succession of people who see her as a spunky and stubborn, if somewhat whacky, woman on a mission, not as the person of diminishing intelligence and abilities she believes her family consider her to be.

I did not like the character very much..........


 I've seen the rolling eyes, the indulgent smiles, the "Oh mom"s" from those who once thought I had the answers to all of life's perplexing questions. I didn't, still don't. But it was a nice little fantasy while it lasted.

So our hair is white; we're not as svelte or as agile as once we were; our bones creak when we bend our knees and even louder when we straighten them again; we wish people would have the decency to avert their eyes as we try to struggle out of our cars; we don't recognise the people in our passport photos or on our driver's licenses or in our mirrors and worry that we'll be apprehended for identity theft; there are funny brown patches on our skin that we can no longer persuade ourselves are beauty marks and, the ultimate indignity,  shopgirls young enough to be our granddaughters call us "Sweetie" and "Honey."   Excuse me? I'm not your sweetie, or your honey either. But then, I realize I should be grateful --- their parents taught them to be kind to the elderly.

So, it was instructive to watch Redwood Highway. It reminded me to be positive; to mind my own beeswax and keep my nose on my face where it belongs. And, if I should ever decide to stuff my backpack and take to the roads, I will at least leave assurances that I have all my marbles with me, in the backpack, along with the apples and the bananas. I'd stop short of revealing my exact whereabouts though ---  because what would be the fun of running away if everybody knew where to find you?

I thought Marie was being self-centered and selfish. Spoil a granddaughter's wedding? Hello Sweetie! It's not about you! Show up with love in your heart and a smile on your face, give the long haired drummer a hug and quit misbehaving!

Which is what she did in the end.

Sunday, October 04, 2015

Busy Morning at the Bistro

 Retirement is all about having the time to try new things. We've recently taken the plunge into the restaurant business. We've opened a bistro. Nothing fancy, just two flower pots and a shepherd's hook, but business has been brisk.

Our patrons all live in the neighborhood. Many of them are natty dressers with a preference for shirts in shades of red. The red shirts are a bossy bunch, preferring to have the place to themselves and are not above bullying the other customers. The management tolerates them as they add a dash of color and character to the establishment, but we like to encourage, and cater to, a diverse clientele.

A newcomer today --- our fame is spreading.

 It makes drinking our coffee in the mornings so much more entertaining. 

The patriarch of the red clan wears the brightest shirt and, if he's at the head table, everyone else waits at a respectful distance in the nearby trees.  He will allow his ladies, recognizable by the duller red of their shirts, to dine at the other table (it's a small bistro), but any strangers passing by would be well advised to wait 'til he's had his fill. He's always armed. 
I, for one, would not want to be on the business end of that beak.

Waiting for a table...

I was walking by the bistro last evening and the red shirts were swooping by, dangerously close.

Whoa! (I thought) Knock it off. I'm not some big peaceful dove you can push around. Neither am I one of those wee fellows in the grey suits with their black heads and sporty quiffs!

The cutie in the grey suit

Well, came the response (I have an active imagination in which I have conversations with birds) You can't expect to be kept on as manager of this joint if the service is as poor as it is tonight!

Oh-oh! I'd forgotten to fill the pots!

Abject apologies sir, I said . I'll speak to the servers right away. And, to make up for the inconvenience, your Eminence, I'll throw in an extra handful of sunflower seeds.

So I did. And this morning there's been a steady stream of customers. Mr. Red Shirt and his harem have been by several times; the little guys in the grey suits with their spiffy quiffs dart in and out; the peaceful doves had a table for a while but scattered when the woodpecker dropped in for a quick bite.

Size and loudness gets you the best table, quickly.

We haven't been awarded a Michilin star yet and it's highly unlikely we'll be reviewed in the "Taste" section of the newspaper, but, as we drink our coffee each morning and watch the customers lining up, we're counting our new venture a roaring success.

Thursday, October 01, 2015

Flitting Without Focus

A new page on the calendar. And a D-minus in blogging. A few diehards occasionally hint that it's time for another post and, believe me, there's a backlog of abortive attempts. I get the initial idea but then lose my focus. Enough with excuses. Let's see if I can focus long enough for a brief update.

But where to start? There's the rub. Too many fragments of this, that and a thousand other things swirling about in my head. I've been in hyperactive mode these past several months.With summer winding down, the butterflies are frantically flitting from flower to flower back near the compost pile which you wouldn't pick out of ten choices as a great location for taking photographs, but there I am, dancing after them, camera swinging, pleading with them to hold still for just a second --- on the passion flower or tall daisies they seem so fond of. Doomed to failure. They land, I focus and just as I click, they flit away. At least I'm not wasting reams of film. For every half decent shot I erase twenty five.

 I think butterflies invented hyperactivity and/or attention deficit disorder. Maybe that's why I like them so much. Kindred spirits.Trying to pack their dwindling days with all the flitting and dancing and flower smelling possible.

Not to mention picking a thousand daisy seeds out of my britches. The price for prancing about in the weeds by the compost pile for a few good shots and forty duds.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

"Let me Take You Down..."

Worth it for the flowers if you never got a strawberry.

We planted strawberries this spring encouraged by our plant man, The Bean. Of course they'll grow, he countered when we waffled. "As long as you water them!" It was a very wet Spring but now the rain is spotty at best. The strawberries lived, though they were slow to grow. Home for a few hours recently, The Bean cooked us dinner, ate, hugged and left. But then he called to lecture me. I realized he’d had his eyes open, on wide angle lens mode.

“Mom,” he said, “do you like those strawberries we planted?”

“Of course I do,” I answered, “we don’t get many because the pigeons are mad for them, but, when we do, they’re so sweet and delicious!”

 He’d gone out to check things in the garden when he was home and came upon the strawberry plants, gasping with thirst, begging for water. He inspected the soil. Dry as dust.

“Well, could you give the poor things a drink once in a while? Never mind the watering cans, that’s drudgery and they’re too heavy for you. Just attach the sprinkler to the hose and let it run, ten or fifteen minutes at a time.”

Nothing like being lectured by your youngest child, especially when it’s deserved. I didn’t have a leg to stand on. Meekly I agreed to water the babies.

Where I grew up, the last thing you had to worry about was watering your garden. The “blessed rain from heaven” had that job covered. People love to moan about the weather in Ireland but nobody ever has to water their flowers or vegetables. I came in for a lot of “Mary, Mary, quite contrary,” as a child, but her watering can was just a pretty prop as far as I knew, like her bonnet. We had a long garden but I don’t remember that we ever even owned a watering can. Mother had a flower bed that ran the entire length of one side, filled with beautiful perennials that bloomed year after year, no special watering required. She pulled the weeds and pruned, or more often, had us pull the weeds while she did the pruning.

Across the path from the flowers was a strawberry patch which drew us like a magnet, not because we were botanically inclined, but because of our sweet teeth. But trying to sneak strawberries on the sly was next to impossible. Seemed like, no matter where you went in the garden, you could be seen from the kitchen window. Those juicy treats were gathered up and served as dessert with dollops of whipped cream.  And I don’t believe we ever had to water those plants.

“Train a child up in the way he should go
And when he is grown he will not depart from it.”

How true. I was trained up to leave the watering to the elements.  And now that I’m grown I have not departed from it. Which would be fine if I still lived in Ireland.

My brother, a bachelor, lives alone in the house we grew up in. Housekeeping is not high on his list of priorities. In fact it’s probably at the very bottom. There’s no wife to keep him in order, no children to be ashamed to bring their friends over, and the brother is as happy as a pig in poop.

Once, when I was home and staying with the Blister, she and I went over to the brother’s. We were on a mission. We were going to clean and organize the house come hell or high water. The dust and the cobwebs and the general clutter were further complicated by the dark and stifling presence of every piece of antique furniture in the county. Or so it seemed. Shoulder to shoulder they crowded my mother’s once elegant, comfortable sitting room, waiting their turn for the brother’s tender and skillful attentions in his workshop in the garage. The green marble-like tiles of the hallway, polished to a high gloss by mother every week of my childhood, were invisible under a ratty old rug and more lumbering antiques. Candidates for repair and restoration crammed every available space in every room, except the bathroom and that was only because they wouldn't fit.

After barely an hour we threw our hands in the air, defeated.

But, walk out the back door and it’s a different story.  The garden is beautiful. At least he inherited the maternal green thumb and keeps the garden in beautiful shape. The beds are tended, the hedges clipped, the fish in his pond swim happily to and fro. Why can he not apply these skills indoors? Mother’s heart would stop, all over again, if she could see the state of her kitchen, but if she only haunted the garden she could rest in eternal serenity among her flowers in the moonlight.

We packed up, went back to the Blister’s and had a restorative cup of tea.

Let him wallow.

My point being, The Bean came by his green thumb honestly, didn’t lick it up off the floor, as the Little Blister so colorfully phrases it. And, not having grown up in Ireland, he doesn’t wait for Mother Nature to water his plants. It’s not that I intend to do them harm, it just doesn’t occur to me until “Oh dear, looks like this poor plant is dead!”
The Bean rolls his eyes. “Water mom, just a little bit of water. Think of it as magic!”

Steeling myself against the blistering sunshine, I donned hat and gardening gloves and sallied forth to the strawberry bed. To my shame he was right. Not only were they thirsty, their leaves were all fetally curled  and they were being jostled by a bullying army of weeds and still, generously, offering up the occasional juicy, scarlet jewel that had escaped the attention of the pigeons.

 There they are, under the skeleton of last year's okra. 

I sat down in the dirt, keeping a weather eye for ants. “Wax on, wax off.” Soon I was in the zone, unhurried, yanking out one weed at a time. “Wax on, wax off." I made a little trough around each plant being careful not to damage the runners that, in spite of neglect and dire thirst, were reaching out in all directions.

Finally, I filled the rag-tag crew of battered watering cans that live in our garden, and gave those strawberries a nice long drink. After it had soaked into the parched and sandy soil, I trudged back to the faucet nearby, filled the cans up again, wobbled back to the strawberry bed, groaning under the weight but thoroughly delighted with my accomplishment. I could almost hear the plants sighing with contentment.

“The Bean will be so impressed,” I thought smugly.

I talked to him today.

“You should see the strawberry patch,” I boasted.
“Did you hook up the sprinkler?”

Drat, I thought. It hadn’t even occurred to me. My comfort zone is far from the realm of things mechanical. I’d rather struggle under the weight of watering cans than figure out threads on hoses. And so I listened to the lecture again. But I was happy and those plants were happy. Trouble is, by now they’re probably gasping again.

I guess I’d better go and hook up that sprinkler.