Thursday, June 16, 2016

Peonies ..... and Life

Sometimes I think it would be good to lock myself away in a windowless cell for a few decades like the Buddhist nun I recently read about. I wouldn't have to hear of the appalling things human beings are capable of doing to each other, and regularly do. I wouldn't have to see pictures in the newspaper of handsome young men, fathers of children, and mothers too, who can gun down innocent people who have done them no harm and feel that they are the heroes. I wouldn't have to twist my brain into knots trying to understand how a person could evolve from an innocent baby to a gun- or explosives-toting killer. I saw a poster once of a down-at-heel homeless man wandering the streets of Paris. The caption said "We All Come From Lovers." The puzzlement is in how the love gets lost and the baby grows up to be a psychopath.

I got peonies for my birthday last month. I know that must seem like a non sequitur but I hope to show you that it is not. At first this post was going to be just about the peonies.....and then things happened wasn't.

 They looked like dirty little golf balls on stems when they arrived. But, the card assured me, follow the instructions and they will blossom into beauties. I followed the instructions and was rewarded with this -

It was like an extravagant explosion of pink. My eyes drank them in. My nose o.d'd on the heavenly scent. I placed them where I could see them no matter where I was --- cooking, or cleaning, reading, or watching television.

They were beautiful. 

Each morning I changed the water, clipping the bottoms of the stems to keep them fresh. They lasted for several days but each day was like a different decade in a human life ---

--- the newborn stage when they were first delivered, looking like old golf balls;

--- the unfolding into the unblemished beauty of childhood;

--- the full flowering of youth;

--- on into middle age, still beautiful but drying out a little;

And then the inevitable dropping off of petals.

Finally, all that remained was a bowl of crispy remnants that are nevertheless still beautiful and retain much of the beauty of their first day of flowering.

And how does this relate to my opening paragraph? It made me reflect on life. I'm older now than my own parents lived to be. It is sometimes tempting to groan at the prospect of another birthday, to grimace at the bathroom mirror when faced with the incontestible proof of time's passage, to bemoan the dryness, the sagginess, the bagginess, the long-in-the-toothedness, the wrinkles.

The peonies reminded me of what I knew all along  --- that each phase of life has its own beauty. No moaning or ollagoaning* this year. I'm too busy embracing each minute, with all its creaking joints, and multiple blessings. I'm too busy being grateful for my life and its few remaining petals.  I'm sure the victims of  recent events on the world stage would gladly accept a few sags and bags, creaks and aches, if they could only have lived to evolve into them from their snatched-away youth.

As our teacher says at the end of yoga class --

"May you be well,
May you be happy and peaceful
May you be free from all danger,
May you be filled with loving kindness."

(And treasure all your petals no matter what stage they're at)



 # 1. Thank you Tigey!

 # 2  Mr. Google failed me in that I could not find an official spelling (or even acknowledgement of it as a real word) for "ollagoaning" which was in common use in Ireland when I was growing up as a synonym for "wailing."  This is my own, unassisted by Google, effort at writing it phonetically...

Sunday, June 05, 2016

The Return of Sir Hiss

Have I mentioned Sir Hiss?

He came to live with us oh, maybe eighteen months ago. We found him on the porch. I love to sit on the porch and read. Fortunately, I was not sitting when I found him. I had just lifted a cushion from one of the chairs to shake off some leaves when --- Surprise! There was a snake coiled up on the seat, keeping himself warm no doubt. After the initial discovery we were careful to check under the cushions before sitting down. To sit and, too late, realise something reptilian had bagged that seat before you --- well, the mind boggles!

 I sat there reading a few days ago, my mind on my book, not on the possibility of an encounter with Sir Hiss. In fact I'd forgotten all about him. My chair was nestled into the corner, a window on my left, a wall on my right. Suddenly something black flicked by from behind me, on the ground, not on the chair. Had it been on the chair I'd be writing this from my hospital bed --- on account of the heart attack. No heart attack, but I did leap with youthful speed and agility out of the chair. He stopped at the corner and looked back at me, then off he slithered along the front of the house.

I galloped inside for my phone and gave chase.

He was proceeding at a leisurely slither and I noticed how he'd grown. No longer the skinny juvenile we'd met last year, he was now as thick as a rope and five or six feet long. He stopped as I approached and turned to look at me.  "Wanna a piece of this, Lady?" he seemed to be saying, holding his head up regally with the rest of him in langorous loops beneath. For added emphasis he rattled his tail. He's a black racer so I wasn't really scared. He keeps lizards and rodents from taking over the world. Humans are not on his menu and he'd obviously been dining very well on our local lizard population, none of whom were in evidence, though we're usually tripping over them this time of year. Smart. They'd scarpered up the walls and into the trees. I dropped back to a more respectful distance and followed him around the side of the house. He stopped again by the barbeque to check my progress. I maintained my distance and clicked away, wishing I'd had time to get my real camera and not just my phone.

As he advanced across the patio I crept along behind, not spooking him but trying for a better shot. Eventually he tired of me and slithered off out the back. I puttered around in the garden for a while and eventually made my way back to the front porch, remembering my abandoned book. All thoughts of my book evaporated  when I looked at the front door. Not to be deterred by the presence of humans Sir Hiss had circled 'round and stretched himself out the full length of the threshold. No picture for obvious
reasons. Whatever alarming noises I made they were enough to scare him off once more into the bushes.

It was an instructive encounter for me. I tend to forget that we share our habitat with reptiles, not all of them as helpful and benign as the racers. Today we were picking wild blackberries out back, a mission the OC likes to accomplish with military precision. He likes to be thorough. I flit. Between us, nevertheless, we had gathered up a fine bowl of shining black jewels.

I was AWOL, off behind the bamboo, having a last gander at some outlying straggler bushes when I spied a slinky blackness slither in among the canes and disappear. Sir Hiss, I presumed, and backed off to safety. Or perhaps it was Lady Hiss this time. Whatever. The bamboo is way back behind the house. A much better location for Hiss and his ladies than on the porch chairs or across the front threshold.

 Florida's been home forever to snakes, lizards, tortoises, alligators, panthers and all manner of creeping, crawling creatures --- and, in recent times, humans. I feel bad for these critters that, because of us, their habitat has drastically shrunk. I respect their right to their space; I'll stomp, shuffle, sing, whatever it takes to give them fair warning to vamoose when I'm picking blackberries out back or just wanting to enjoy the shade of the bamboo. However, it is difficult to sing while reading, and I can't follow the plot if I'm dancing so I hope that Sir Hiss will stay off my porch for the rest of the summer so I can read in peace.

Friday, May 27, 2016

And So It Came To Pass...

Apparently, all you have to do is express a wish on your blog and the mailman comes to your door, on a Sunday, no less, with your wish in an Amazon package.

The intrigue starts Sunday morning.  Drinking coffee, reading newspaper, lazy pace. Doorbell rings. Unfit for visitors, I sprint for the bedroom. The OC gets the door. Finds a package on the mat and the mailman disappearing down the driveway.

The mailman? On a Sunday? That in itself is mystery enough.

It's a book! For me. No note, just an Amazon label --- from whom? Had recently read "Me Before You," recommended by The Blister. Loved it. Added "After You," the follow-up, to The List. Hmmmm. But who would know that? Not the OC who shrugs and shakes his head.....

The plot thickens Monday when another package arrives at the door. A tee shirt with "Namaste" on the front. A second tee shirt arrives in the mail the next day. Three packages, not one note. I'm starting to think "magic."

Being something of an amateur sleuth, and having a keen analytical mind ( I think I hear a muffled guffaw in the background but will disregard and carry on) I drew two conclusions. One --- writing a wish on your blog will increase the chances of its coming true, and two --- because the wish was expressed in a blog post the Post Office will make a special exception and deliver on Sundays.

And there are those who say I am logic-impaired! To them I say write it on your blog and watch what happens!

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

When's Savasana?

Eldest daughter
"When's Savasana?" says the T-shirt I covet.

 I love everything about yoga, but savasana is my favorite. Years ago when we lived in Brussels, and my life was crowded with the care and feeding of children, dogs, a cat, and a  man in uniform, I dared to sign up for a yoga class at the British School. Dared because one child was taking college courses in downtown Brussels, one was in high school, one was in middle school, the youngest was in grade school, the oldest, not yet 18, was a college freshman, and lonely, half a world away, and the only time we saw the man in uniform was when he needed a clean shirt or change of underwear. It was a bit of a nightmare keeping track but a voice in my head was screaming for something that was for me only. Ergo - yoga, a daring move.

Not that I learned anything, neither poses nor breathing nor mindfulness. The main benefit was an hour's relaxation. No phones, no chattering children, no demands, no deadlines. Just me, on the mat, sound asleep - until the class ended and the instructor's tactful cough penetrated the fog. Embarrassed, I mumbled something incoherent and slunk away.

"Please God, tell me that at least I wasn't snoring,"  I offered up as I drove home.

No heavenly reassurances were forthcoming so I quit.

Besides, why would I spend my husband's hard earned money for an hour's sleep when I had a perfectly good bed at home?

Fast forward a few decades..... We've moved to Florida. The man in uniform is adjusting to being in his own house during daylight hours, the children are scattered to the four winds, at least four of the five practicing yoga to some degree, the dogs are doing their downward dog in Doggy Heaven and the Little Blister, in Ireland, is undergoing intensive training to become a yoga instructor.

As you can imagine, it's much quieter now than it was in Brussels. So, I dared again. Dared because I'm older now and so are my bones;  my joints creak --- the chances of success are dubious. But, realizing that life does not go on forever, I have, in general, become more daring.

And it worked! I can do it. Everybody else is concentrating so hard on breathing and not falling over that they don't even hear the rusty hinges creaking away on my mat.

On a visit to oldest daughter one recent summer I blithely toddled along with her to her yoga class (she never falls asleep on the mat.) In less than five minutes I knew it would be wiser to sit and watch rather than risk permanent injury. There is yoga. And then there is yoga. Twenty- or thirty-something I am not. Nor am I a pretzel.

By now, if you've read this far, you're probably wondering "Yes, but what does this have to do with "savasana"? Patience my lovelies. I think one of the reasons I started blogging was to indulge my penchant for verbal meandering which is not always encouraged in these parts, the point, and getting to it, being prized above all else.  Blogging seemed like a benign outlet.

Savasana, the relaxation pose at the end of every class, lasts from five to10 minutes. I enjoy the class, I enjoy the challenge of new poses, I'm glad that something I like to do is actually good for me. But it is the "carrot" of savasana that helps me put in that extra effort, breathe that little bit deeper. Without it I might spend a lot more time in child's pose.

Time for savasana! I gather my blanket, my eye pillow and my bolster, wiggle my tail feathers and settle eagerly into the mat.

One recent class, at savasana, we had a guided meditation. We were to imagine ourselves on a beach. No problem. I've never been to a beach I didn't like. I lay listening to the crash of waves on the shore and the whispered "shhh" as they flowed back out; listening to Mother Nature inhaling, exhaling .

The  instructor's soothing voice told us to imagine a balloon in our hand. Into the balloon, one at a time, we were to put all our troubles, all our worries, all the things that keep us awake at night. One by one I mentally stuff all those things into my balloon (which is red, just so you know.)

The voice continues, telling us to lift our balloons up, to let the wind catch and carry them away, off into the blue. I lie there, in a dream, watching my red balloon drift higher and further 'til I can hardly see it at all.

Too soon the beach fades. Class is over, time to roll up the mats. But this time I'm not embarrassed. I feel calm (all that mindful breathing!) and happy to have sent all my worries off into the ether. They're not gone forever. I know they'll be back but, at least for now, yoga has brought me peace and serenity. What's not to love?


Monday, May 09, 2016

The Serious Business of Cutting Grass

We live in trying times. Just opening the newspaper is a recipe for depression. Between The Trump Chump, The Dragon Lady and the lunatics at large in the world you'd wonder where we're headed. There is, however, one business about which we can rest easy --- the business of cutting grass.

Many people, when they move to Florida, dispense not only with snow shovels and woollen underwear but also with such household standards as work gloves, lawn mowers and hedge clippers, preferring to sit sipping cool beverages while watching paid minions do the actual sweating involved in growing and taming a lawn and garden in the heat of a Florida summer.

But not in this particular corner. Lest any of you were lying awake nights fretting about the care and minding of lawns hereabouts I thought I'd drop in to reassure you that all is well. The subject is getting top level attention. Meetings have been held, machines have been oiled, edges have been sharpened (you can resume breathing now.) The whole business is being taken care of, one blade at a time.

I know you are relieved to hear this and I am delighted to be the bearer of such joyful tidings.

You're welcome.

Sleep well.

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..... 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 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 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!