Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Of Hurricanes and Aeroplanes






You've probably guessed - The sky did fall in a few places but not on us. Whew!

My Saturday morning flight left on schedule. I wondered if I should wait a week but the OC clinched it when he said   "Go.You're no good with a chainsaw!"

Practical man.

Everyone at the airport was calm, helpful, friendly, sharing stories as we waited to board. We were all in this together. Of course we were the ones jumping ship, leaving the rest of Florida to deal with Irma as best they could.



Compared to the dire predictions as I was leaving, we had minimal damage. Back in 2004/5 there were lots of trees down and roofs blown off.  This time, all that fell were some branches and twigs.

 Whew, again. And gratitude. It could have been so much worse, as it was in other places.



 From as far back as I can remember, I’ve always loved flying. Sometimes, on Sunday afternoons, we’d drive to Shannon Airport to sit in the lounge overlooking the runway and watch the planes. My mother would settle down with her cigarettes and coffee and we'd run back and forth watching planes land and take off; watching baggage being disgorged or loaded; watching passengers walk across the tarmac to climb aboard, wishing we were going somewhere exotic. Sometimes my dad would take us out to one of the planes and let us sit in the cockpit, awed by all the instruments. We were easy to entertain!

I've always preferred to be by the window to watch the patchwork of fields, farms and forests far below; the ribbons of highways, lanes and goat tracks; the crumpled fabric of the mountains; the lazy meandering loops of rivers; the widening out to lakes; the wild palette from turquoise to sky blue to purple to grey to fifty nine shades of green; the browns of newly tilled fields; the golds of recent harvest. The best times were when I'd fly home for a visit. My breath would catch and uncontrollable tears would roll when the west coast of Ireland with all its little islands, rocks, beaches, coves and  piercingly green fields, shimmered into view, always early, early in the morning.

It still fills me with wonder to be above the clouds in a magical metal tube, along with the suitcase that felt as though I’d packed it with rocks, moving along at incredible speeds but with no sensation of “hurtling.” Multiply that by the number of fellow passengers, each with their own case of rocks, and I’m still amazed after all these years.

And now the manicured green and brown and gold fields of Oregon, with the wide sweep of the Willamette curving through them, race up to meet us. Approaching the runway, the engines roar and finally we feel how fast we've been moving as we slow dramatically and the wheels make contact - a gentle bump - and we’ve arrived.






To those of you who wondered how we fared during the storm, this is a long winded way of telling you - we're fine, for now. Got off easy this time but, even as I write, another hurricane is wrecking havoc in the Caribbean. A friend sent this advice...

"Stay where you are!" 

Friday, September 08, 2017

The Sky is Falling




Waving madly.... It's been a while. Still here, heart still beating, pulse normal, stitching sporadically, reading voraciously, waiting for Fall. Maybe my brain will feel less withered if the temperature ever again drops below 80 degrees Fahrnheit and umpteen degrees muggy.

 We've been living in a jungle all summer. Jungle defined: an area of land overgrown with dense forest and tangled vegetation, typically in the tropics...We'd fit the definition if it weren't for the OC regularly braving the heat, pests and humidity to beat back the agressive greenery .The spiders are loving it. I think their plan is to trap us in their silken  masterpieces, dry us out and feed on us 'til Christmas.




Hot, muggy, steamy, rainy. But am I complaining? I wouldn't dare. Just stating the facts. I only have to turn on the news or open the newspaper to realise how much worse off we could be.






Right now, Chicken Little is amok on television and on the roads, running madly in circles, announcing  that the sky is falling. Lady Irma. Will she? Won't she? Only her meteorologist knows for sure (maybe). Here? There? Everywhere? The roads north are choked with traffic. Gas is scarce. Chicken Little continues to shout, stirring up a frenzy.

 The OC is the calm at the eye of the frenzy. Years of emergency management, I guess. When the rest of the world is listening to Chicken Little and wringing their hands, he looks dispassionately at the facts. Panicking never an option. He did however voice just a little bit of alarm when they announced a slight westward change in her path. Into the gulf would not be pretty.

As for me, I'm supposed to be scarpering off to the west tomorrow to visit grown children. How do you pack for forest fires? Though not to be too dramatic, I think they've got them under control.....No flight cancellations yet, fingers crossed. From one 'intersting' weather event to another. With any luck, Irma will lose force and spare a lot of people a disaster. Sad for the ones she already hit.
 And if she continues to be a bitch, as one of my blogger friends called her, we'll deal with it.

Meanwhile, this is what the jungle looks like today....







I hope it won't have changed too drastically by Tuesday.

If you live in Florida or anywhere along the coast or the Gulf - good luck, hunker down and stay safe.

Watch this space for an apres Irma update - I hope it'll be from out west and that it will not involve too much drama here or there.













Friday, July 28, 2017

Addiction:Ertugrul




13 th. century Anatolia.

The Kayis are on the move, seeking fertile land to settle and raise their herds, a place their people can call home. Suleyman Shah, the tribe’s leader, and his wife, Haime Hatun, have four sons. The eldest is missing, feared dead. The next is an upstanding guy, a stickler for rules, a bit of a stuffed shirt. The third son is Ertugrul, brave and fearless, a born leader, willing to risk the approval of the tribe and of his family for what he knows to be the way forward for all of them. The forth son is still young, a warrior in training.

Life is precarious on the Steppes. The Kayis are beset with threats – Crusaders to the west, Mongols to the east, enemy infiltrators worming their way into trusted positions within the tribe – no shortage of clashing swords or accurately aimed arrows. Who can you trust?


 They long for a land of their own and a peaceful life.

Of the two middle sons, the stuffed shirt seems destined to be the law enforcer. Ertugrul, though he doesn’t seek power and importance, with his vision, will likely take his father’s place as head of the tribe. Meanwhile, he and his three most faithful ‘alps’ take care of hunting, protection of the tribe from their enemies and training of the younger warriors.


21st. century - 2017, Florida.

It is hot and muggy. No threats from marauding Mongols or bloodthirsty Crusaders. Our biggest worries are a new president who is not presidential, but mercifully far away in Washington, and mosquitoes who are right here and hungry.
  One evening in June the OC happens on a show on Netflix. Not much of a television fan, I am nevertheless drawn to sit and watch awhile. ‘Resurrection: Ertugrul’ is the title. The next evening he turns it on again. Drawn as by a magnet, I sit and watch. Three episodes. Next evening, the same. And so it went, for a month. Serious addiction. How did that happen? Me, who has always viewed soap operas with disdain, addicted to a show with definite soap opera overtones?


13 th. century Anatolia.

 Ertugrul is out riding one day with his three faithful Alps, Turgut, Bamsi and Dogan. They come upon a man and his son and daughter being abducted under suspicious circumstances. Swords are drawn, a battle ensues and, in true hero style, they fend off the villians, rescue the family and bring them back to their tribe’s settlement. The man  turns out to be a Seljuk prince. His young son is Yigit (whom we fondly call Eegit, for our inability to wrap our tongues around the correct Turkish pronunciation) and his beautiful daughter is Halime, simplified by the OC for American consumption to “Holly-Mae.”

This sets the stage for a never-ending saga. We’ve watched the first two seasons and I’m in serious withdrawal as it will be a while before season three is available. The show reminds me of tales, learned long ago in school, of good against evil, of Cuchullain, the Hound of Ulster, Oisin, Niamh and Tir na nOg and other stories from Irish mythology.


21st. Century, 2017, Florida

Hugely intrigued by the total abandon with which I’ve immersed myself  in this story, I

said as much to some friends one day at lunch. We're talking serious addiction here.They looked at me and – both together, with ‘Duh!’ undertones - said “Because you were there!” 


Seriously? Could it be? They were not joking. They were almost matter-of-fact, almost "how-could-you-not -figure-that-out-for-yourself?" Educated women with their feet on the ground and lifetimes of experience.


Temporarily suspending my skepticism, I’ve been entertaining that possibility.  Maybe that is why the show appeals to me on such a gut level.  Maybe the universe is the biggest recycler of all and I have been there in a previous life. It epitomizes so many things that resonate with me. First of all is the feeling of community and continuity, how everyone in the tribe pulls together; how members of the tribe know, and live, with the same group of people from birth to the grave. Secondly, the pace of modern life is too fast for me. A walking pace would suit me just fine. Horseback would work. I wouldn't be as skittish as I am if I'd been born to it! I love how their lives are ruled by honor, integrity, bravery and respect for their traditions, along with generous helpings of skullduggery, backstabbing traitors, evil plotters and scheming women. All of human life. There is romance too, conveyed in an understated way that doesn’t make me squirm in my chair or turn me into a Peeping Tom. I like that in a show.


And, wonder of wonders, I haven’t heard one of the four letter words that are so liberally sprinkled throughout most American TV shows. Directors of our shows seem to believe that foul language is cool and essential for good ratings. Ertugrul is in Turkish so I can't say for sure, but, it doesn’t show up in the sub titles! I’m fine with that too.


The Kayi women weave and spin, appliqué and embroider. Their beautiful textiles and rugs are in high demand for trading at the caravansaries. Their yurts are insulated with animal skins and richly woven tapestries. The costumes are stunning, the colors brilliant, the womens' beaded headdresses works of art, the theme music divine. All of which, for me, was a feast for the eyes, but I’m sure it was the sword fights, of which there were many, that kept the OC tuning in, along with heavy doses of political intrigue. 

 In the modern world, though I’m a believer in trusting people until, and unless, they prove themselves untrustworthy, it is becoming more and more difficult to tell the good guys from the bad. Paris, London, Brussels, Istanbul, Manchester….We were horrified by 9/11 but now we’re accustomed to horror. Where will it end? What kind of world will we leave for our grandchildren?

Maybe it’s a longing for transparency and honesty in our politicians. Maybe we could send them on a journey back in time where, along with sword fighting, Ertugrul and his alps could school them in honor, service, integrity, and the like, not to mention horsemanship!


Maybe it’s escapism, a thirst for good, rollicking, old fashioned stories. Maybe it’s a naïve belief that we may still have heroes among us who will save us from the villains. A quote from my current read says it best……

‘In my perception, the world wasn’t a graph or formula or an equation.
It was a story.’


It is a story.

Roll on season three!  

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Fredrik Backman Was Here





 Fredrik Backman first drifted into my line of vision last Christmas when oldest daughter and I were lazing  on the beach, discussing books. You have to read A Man Called Ove, she said, and promised to send it to me as soon as she and her boys were done with it.

Meantime, I found it at the library and read it myself. It was more than a little crazy but I enjoyed it. Then one day, checking the shelves at my favourite 'bookstore' (the local St. Vincent de Paul thrift shop) I found My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She's Sorry - brand new, a bargain at 99c. Added it to the teetering pile where it sat until last week when I tucked Grandmother into my bag as we set out for South Carolina.

 Fourteen year old grandson's baseball team was playing there in a week-long tournament. They were making a road trip and some beach time out of it and we planned to meet them and see all the games and marvel at daughter's new, short, hairstyle and at how the boys had grown.



Baseball has always mystified me, almost as much as its cousin, cricket. But, by the end of the week, I was cheering with the best of them though (shh!) I have to admit that, embarassingly, I was sometimes cheering for the other team. A good hit's a good hit, right? And a good run's a good run. They're just kids after all, even if they are taller than us!

Back in our room in the evenings I started the book. And was totally captivated. More so than with Ove though I loved him too, just maybe not quite as much as daughter who admitted she had still not finished Ove. Seriously? Since Christmas?  "I just didn't want it to end!" she explained. I could understand that. Those are the best kind of books!

Grandmother's cast of characters was even zanier and the plot more bizarre. I couldn't put it down. The boys were off on the beach with team mates and frisbees between games, so no one minded when this grandmother opted to not go down and get blistered on the beach, but to sit overlooking it from the blissful shade of their balcony.




The younger folks dipped in the water and rolled in the sand and basted themselves in sunscreen....
which I used to think was grand when I was their age but, decades later, with an uneasy, ongoing relationship with a dermatologist, my enthusiasm is somewhat diminished. The beach in December is one thing, the beach in July quite another.

The pages kept turning and, when we found Backman's third book,"Britt-Marie Was Here," on a bookstore prowl, they started turning even faster so I could leave Grandmother with daughter and take Britt-Marie home, with promises to send her north as soon as done. Grandmother was a rollicking read and I didn't want it to end. Daughter may be onto something....

 Our team didn't win but they played well and had fun.



They won this one, obviously!

Younger g'randson is a tennis and lacrosse man but stayed busy all week helping out with the team, reading and relaxing between times!




And now we are home. I have just finished reading Britt-Marie and I have to agree with the blurb on the cover. It's his 'truest, most satisfying book to date.' Peopled with oddballs and misfits, you find yourself laughing uncontrollably one minute, close to tears the next. As lighthearted as the books seem though, it would be a mistake to dismiss them as flippant. The profound wisdom between the lines catches you by surprise. The theme running through all of Backman's writing is about how we should live our lives - with  compassion and passion.

'....passion is worth something, not for what it gives us but for what it demands that we risk. Our dignity. The puzzlement of others and their condescending, shaking heads.' (Britt-Marie Was Here, P.262')

As much as I wanted Britt-Marie to go on forever, I did finish it, cheered by the fact that Backman's latest book was published in April. I already have it on hold at the library.

Thursday, July 06, 2017

A Photo for Sabine





Sabine, I wanted to put this photo in the comments for your most recent post but, having very spartan technological skills, I have to put it here instead. I took this while prowling around in the graveyard at St. Mary's cathedral in my hometown one afternoon in the summer of 2012. It's one of my favourite quotes and I thought it was very fitting for the lady in question.



While I'm at it, I thought I'd include a few more photos from that afternoon. I'm missing home particularly this summer as Florida is hellaciously hot and humid, more so than other summers, and I can't imagine, at the moment, a pleasure greater than having to wear long trousers  and several thin layers of clothing in July rather than wondering (in Florida) if anyone would be offended if I just went shopping in the all-together.






We had come to the cathedral that afternoon to hear a recital by a choir from Cambridge University.....











I had to include the bridge as I love how those plants found a few footholds and went to town!

Those words carved in stone made for a better comment than anything I could say. I hope you continue to enjoy your garden for the rest of the summer - in civilised summer weather.

Monday, June 12, 2017

Moonlight


Photo courtesy of Pix Web on Flickr

2 a.m. and suddenly I'm wide awake. I feel in the dark for my glasses and creep on silent feet to the kitchen. No need to flip any switches. The soft glow of moonlight illuminates the kitchen, the patio and the garden beyond. I step outside and see that last night’s full moon is alive and well and riding high, a buttery blur in the humid, navy blue air. I hear a quail calling from the bushes. The air vibrates with the steady beat of insect music.

I have such an easy life, so much to be grateful for, the sudden, overwhelming sadness that woke me seems churlish, but sometimes, the other side, the downside, the things I try to jolly my way through in the daylight, will be acknowledged, usually like this, in the depths and the lonliness of the night.

It’s almost seen as an offense to be sad in America. There must be a cure for it, a therapist who’ll talk you through it, or a pill you can take, though, in recent months, there’s a lot to be sad about – a lunatic in the white house for one thing, gun violence on some street corner every day, and terrorists trying to blow us all up. And yet, most of the time, I’m cheerful.  My outlook is ninety percent positive. But, once in a while, my optimism gets beaten down. Like now.

My father, whom I adored, died when my first child was barely a year old. I have never gotten over that. How could God, the Universe, take that lovely man, that gentleman of nature, away so that his grandchildren never knew him? I dream of how they’d have loved him, and he them, but he was whisked away at fifty seven. Makes me want to beat something with my fists. But I know in calmer moments that life (or something cruder) happens, death too, and I’m just a speck, railing against forces I barely understand. Didn’t some famous person once say we’re born, we mewl awhile and then we die, and the dust settles over us as though we never were – or words to that effect? Silently I ask my dad to watch over the grandchildren he never knew.

“Do not worry,” the nuns told us, quoting from the bible….

"Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?"

 So, most of the time, I don’t. I try not to die a thousand deaths before the real one, except on nights like this when the shadows lie in wait for me under the bed, and pounce when I swing my legs over the edge and grab me by the ankles, as I always feared, as a child, that they would, prompting me to call out to my mother so she could fend them off.

Except now I do battle alone. And when they grab my ankles there’s nothing for it but to go to the kitchen and explain to them that they need to leave – and not come back.

I have my writing pad with me. Quietly I lift a chair into a pool of moonlight and start to write though I can barely see the page. I keep the pen connected to the paper so I‘ll know to move it down a bit with each line. I’ve never written by moonlight before and it makes me smile. It feels as though I'm tapping into energies that would be driven back by artificial light. It’s so peaceful out here, just the moon gleaming on the water, the dark silhouettes of  trees, the occasional bird call, the insistent insect chorus - and me.


My pen falls silent and I just sit. The moon glows. The quail and the insects carry on regardless. God's in His heaven and He knows what He's about. My head and my heart fill with peace. I take my pad and my pen, go back inside and sleep like a baby.

Monday, May 22, 2017

We Are Made of Memories

Note: I've mentioned here the teetering pile of unfinished quilting projects. Turns out that's not all. There's quite a supply of half done blog posts piled up also that, for one reason or another never made it to "publish." So since inspiration is (temporarily I hope) in short supply here's one of them.


Me, a friend and the Little Blister in the fifties by the seaside.

Imagine if you woke up tomorrow and didn't know where you were? Looking around from amid the crumpled sheets you didn't recognise the room or the furniture or the pictures on the walls? Even though you've been sleeping in this room for more than a decade?

I recently finished a fascinating book - "Patient H.M". It's a story about the history of lobotomies. Not the kind of book I'd normally pick up but the OC read it and pushed it my way so I read a little bit, and then a little bit more, and soon I couldn't put it down. The author, Luke Ditterich, is the grandson of the doctor who performed thousands of lobotomies back in the first half of the twentieth century, even though a form of the procedure was in use as far back as ancient Egypt. In many instances lobotomies were considered a successful treatment in that they made patients in mental asylums more tractable - remember One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest?

Thankfully, we don't poke around with metal objects in people's brains to make them more manageable anymore, even though the doctor in question continued to perform them into the fifties, sixties and early seventies. He was a pioneer in studying the human brain but, in the opinion of some of his contemporaries, a little too eager to take advantage of the ready and captive supply of human guinea pigs in the mental hospitals where he worked, whereas another of his fellow doctors/researchers cautiously confined his efforts to chimpanzees.

As a result of a lobotomy performed on him as a young man by this Dr. Scoville, a patient named Henry became the most studied case in the history of psychosurgery. After the surgery he could remember partsof his life before it, but could no longer form memories so that, when tomorrow came, today was not just a distant memory but a non-existant one.  If you met him today, and spoke with him, he would be friendly and chatty but, if you met him again tomorrow, while he would still be friendly and chatty, he would have no memory of having met you or spoken to you and would act as though he was meeting you for the first time. And that's how it went for the rest of his life. Because he and his brain were so exhaustively studied, Henry, without ever planning to, or benefitting from it, made huge contributions to our knowledge of how the brain works.

Who we are today is defined by all the people, places, things, experiences, friends, thoughts, books and conversations we've known, met, been to, done, gone through, had, read....and on and on. If this whole messy blackboard of our lives were suddenly wiped clean who would we be? What reason would we have for climbing out from among those rumpled sheets each morning to face a new day, in a strange place, among people we did not recognise?

The author, Luke Ditterich, had a vague idea, growing up, of what his grandfather did but it took him a decade of research, and persistant digging into the past, to uncover the whole story. The book is as much about his personal family history as it is about his grandfather's most famous patient. And that history is itself fascinating. Ditterich is a journalist first and foremost and his writing flows smoothly back and forth between the past and his efforts in the present to uncover it. We are reminded again how human even the most dedicated scientists are and what a struggle it sometimes is for them to remember that the patient is a human being, not a lab rat. Having power over others' lives tempts some to play God. Look around you in today's world....

When I finally closed the book I had a fuller appreciation than ever before for what a gift it is to be able to remember. To look at a photograph like the one above and be instantly back there, on the strand at Ballybunion, feeling the sand between my toes, the salty sea air blowing through my hair, building sand castles with my friend and my little sister, seeing again the jellyfish that sent us, just moments before the picture was taken, shrieking and laughing out of the waves.

As long as we have a functioning memory we can call to mind people we have known and loved, and maybe lost - but not entirely as we can still see them in our mind's eye; happy times and sad; remembered conversations, places and events that formed us.

 I hear and read all the time that we should "live in the moment," and I agree, but how much richer that moment is when we can remember all the layers of memory that brought to it.

That said, the old grey mare 'aint what she used to be! An excuse I find myself using more and more frequently is "the memory is the first thing to go!" But at least it's going gradually and not because anyone with a God complex has punched holes in my brain.

A fascinating read.