Friday, July 22, 2016

When God Made Time......

 "When God made time He made plenty of it." I heard that so often growing up it took root between my ears. I don't like to rush. I don't like to race from A to B with blinders on, focused solely on getting there. I like to smell the flowers along the way, pause to admire a gnarled tree, gaze at the moon, spy on lizards and frogs, chase butterflies with my camera.

This relaxed attitude towards time has gotten me in plenty of trouble. My dad was a patient man. On Sundays he'd issue the five minute warning, calling it up the stairs to me. Then he'd give me a bonus of another five. But when I still did not appear, he'd slowly start driving up the hill so, when I did emerge, I'd have to run to catch up, hair and coat flying. Not the best way to prepare for church. The OC is not so patient. "Same day rules," he cautions when we're preparing to go anywhere. "But wait!" I say. "I just saw a lizard eating his lunch, I'll be there just as soon as I take a picture...." He sighs. I'll train him yet.

 I'm trying to be a more consistent blogger and to post at least once a week, but time got away from me last week. I'm thinking that, for this life at any rate, there might not be as much of it as there used to be!

While I was busy chewing the end of my pen, Riseoutofme surfaced after her three year sabbatical. We have an agreement. We'll each post once a week. And I'm sure the world will not screech to a halt if we're off by a day or two. She has informed me it's my turn,  no pressure of course.

It's been quiet around here. No shootings to report. If you want to read about that sort of horror you know where to find it, plenty of it, sad to say.

But not here. This is a horror free zone.

We watched an interesting film at our creativity workshop at the library recently --- Being In The World, a philosophical guide to a meaningful life.

We'd all like a lead a meaningful life, but I've always considered philosophy the business of intellectuals. Since I don't belong to that club, I was a tad apprehensive. Not being one for pondering the mysteries of the universe at great length, I expected it would be a struggle for the old brain cells. And I did have to pay close attention and stretch cerebral muscles that don't often get a workout. We didn't solve the riddle of who we are, or why we are here, but, I was delighted to find that the film was about real people, not just academics spouting incomprehensible theories.

I'm not about to climb on a butter box and expound on the nature of knowledge, and quite likely make a fool of myself, but, as we watched and listened to people who live fuller and more interesting lives as a result of their "mastery of physical, intellectual and creative skills," I wondered if most of us travel through life only half living.

There was the chef from a New Orleans restaurant of whom those who knew her said "she doesn't use recipes, she is the recipe!" My mother-in-law was like that - a smidgeon of this, a soupcon of that, more or less if you think it's needed. I used to follow her around the kitchen, frantically trying to measure her smidgeons and soupcons. It made going out to eat something of a let-down as nothing ever tasted as delicious as what she made at home.

 Then there was the Japanese master carpenter who reminded me of my brother who can "talk" to wood and make it "talk" back, both of them so in tune with their tools and materials. Just by the grain of the wood, its texture and its smell, they can tell how old it is, where it came from and, most importantly, if it will work for the project at hand. When they use a tool, the tool seems less a tool than an extension of their body.

Likewise with the musicians, their music a love affair between player and instrument. And once again, regret that, even though I grew up in Ireland, for heaven's sake, I never learned to play the harp, the flute or the fiddle. Something to do with my mother being tortured with piano lessons as a child......I have mastered one instrument though --- my voice. And while I'm not much in demand for singing engagements, I will happily talk to anyone.  Instead of applauding and encouraging me though, there are those who believe I talk too much. Imagine!

 I feel their pain, but not enough to be silent.

When we lived in Belgium a man at our church played the tin whistle. I would sit and listen, spellbound. You could not tell where the whistle ended and he began --- they were one. He was world class, even on such a humble instrument, and hidden away in a small Irish church in Belgium. Excited at the prospect of producing such heavenly sounds, I bought a tin whistle, but, alas, the only sounds I've ever coaxed from it are those of a crow being strangled.

Watching the musicians reminded me of a little six year old Japanese girl who was a first grade classmate of my oldest son. She had learned to play the piano by the Suzuki method, and at the school's end of year concert you could hear a pin drop as she played. She had the advantage of lessons, true, but she was six! There was something more at work - genius perhaps? I wonder how many Mozarts are wandering around out there, oblivious to the the talent buried within them? How many Fontyns? Hemmingways? Picassos? How many Flatleys? YoYo Mas?

We didn't watch the entire film. We paused frequently for discussion. One thing impressed me and it was that to be an artist, or master of any craft, after the study and the apprenticeship and the practice, practice, practice, the really great ones take an extra leap. My mother-in-law took that leap - off the pages of cookbooks, into an understanding of the nature of food. I'm a better cook now than early days but I still need those pages!

My brother was apprenticed for years to master cabinet makers. He soaked in everything they had to teach him and became an expert craftsman, but he had such a passion for his work, and was so electrically alive when absorbed in it that he too made that leap. People came to him from miles around, dragging their dilapidated antiques, and he restored them to their original splendor.

And so with writing. We're not all as disciplined or as talented as the Shakespeares and the Hemingways who write for hours, every single day, no excuses. They carry notebooks everywhere so when inspiration strikes they can capture it, cage it and take it back to their desk. They practice, practice, practice and, for every hundred pages they write, ninety nine go in the rubbish bin. Maybe it's that constant practice, that striving for perfection, that finally makes them soar above the rest of the scribbling world into the rarefied reaches of masters of their craft.

And way below in "the misty flats" us bloggers slog sluggishly along, hoping to, once in a while, evoke a smile of recognition at a shared thought or experience. Considering ourselves lucky if we can scratch out a few words at least once a week, give or take a day or two.

 We're not all destined for greatness but, as they say in Ireland when God made time He wasn't stingy. Everyone can live a more meaningful life. We all have the option to use the time we have, while we have it ( it might be gone tomorrow,) to pursue what we love, be it painting or writing or chasing butterflies, and become great at it. The trick is discipline, and practice, practice, practice. A trick I'm still struggling to learn..

It was a thought provoking film, great discussions, everyone went home happy

Even if we still don't know why we're here!

Friday, July 01, 2016

On Blogs and Frogs and Flirty Lizards

It dawned on me recently that it's been ten years this summer since I started blogging.

Ten years --- holy mackeral! One sixth of my life.

Sometimes the ideas fall over each other inside my head in their haste to get to the page. More often it looks like the Gobi desert in there and I wonder "Why am I doing this?" The answer is always the same. Desert or rain forest, I have found that if I just get all the gobbledygook down on paper, where I can see it, and slowly move the words around, they will eventually  make sense. The Little Blister and I were talking a few days ago, I mentioned this and, to my guarded delight (she's made similar noises before,) she is about to administer CPR to her blog. Since that ten year milestone has inspired me to continue into my dotage it would double the fun (or is it torture?) if she were scribbling alongside me. She started after me and, for a year or two, we egged each other on, but life got hectic and her blog was one of the casualties. So, fingers crossed!

There's a little lake in our neighborhood, a couple of gardens over. You can't see it from here but me and shank's mare can get there in three minutes. It's a great place to think, to stargaze, to read a good book, to play at being a photographer, and a stellar place to just sit and think.

 Molehills were turning into mountains one day recently so I came to the lake to sit awhile and clear my head.

Lizards flicked to right and left as I walked along the boardwalk. They have the place mostly to themselves so they get pretty territorial about it.

They move just far enough not to get stepped on, then sit and watch me, all the while flexing their muscles and doing pushups. But I'm bigger than you, Squirt! Unimpressed. I think this little guy was flirting with me. He made a great show of stretching out his colors for me to admire. "Go find a lady closer to your own age and size," I advise him.

The sun is low behind the trees, glowing golden between their trunks. Great banks of dark clouds, sitting along the horizon, are fading from grey to a taupe-ish pink but, don't close your eyes 'cause it changes every minute. There's whispering in the pines as a breeze wanders by.

Suddenly the air is rent with raucous honking.  A trio of sandhill cranes prepare to land in the rushes but, oh-oh, they've changed their minds. Warned off by honking from others already settled in those reeds, they climb again skywards as two more fly overhead, squawking loudly. Must be a crane convention going on.

Meanwhile, piled high in the west, more grey clouds shot through with pink, the color of a rose.  The reflection of an old, fuzzy jetstream zig-zags through the ruffled water,. Straight out from where I'm sitting at the end of the boardwalk is a raft of waterlilies, no flowers yet but beauty enough in the leaves alone.

What looks like an old brown leaf appears among the ripples, dark, almost black against the water's grey. As I watch, it moves, then ducks beneath the surface and I realize, that's no leaf, that's a turtle!

Belly down on the raft at the end of the boardwalk, I watch this tiny spider catching the last rays of the sun.....

Big blue dragonflies zoom about, intent on going --- where? What's on the to-do list of a dragonfly?Does her nest (if dragonflies have nests) get claustrophobic so she feels she must get out and come to the lake to clear her head? And while we're at it --- why is the sky blue? If I had such beautiful, irridescent wings I'd fly down into the rushes where the water is squishy and brown and spy on those frogs who make such a racket and sound as large as dogs but are, somehow, invisible.

Guess I should go home while I can still see the way. The silver jetstreams high above have turned pink now, the clouds in the west are an even darker grey, and, best of all, my head is clear. The cranes have resumed their inelegant song and the wind is whispering "go home! Go Home!"

I went back to the lake last night to take some photos. It was earlier, and sunnier, so no dramatic clouds but all the usual suspects were present. Those loud, invisible frogs were as noisy as ever and I wondered idly who decided that frogs say "ribbit"? Sounds more like chirping to me. Maybe I'm wrong. Maybe those loud, invisible creatures are not frogs at all but birds that hide under water! The sandhill cranes were having another domestic dispute but the sun was sinking and they sounded halfhearted.

You never know what new drama Life has up her sleeve so it's comforting to come to the lake knowing it will be different every time but reliably and serenely the same.

Such an ordinary place but, when you sit and think and watch, you find ordinary places can be full of extraordinary peace and beauty.

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.