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


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.

Saturday, May 06, 2017

Crepito, Crepitas, Crepitat....

Ah, crepitus, he said, nodding sagely and listening to the snap, crackle and pop of my knees as he bent them back and forth. The doctor had sent me to physical therapy and the first thing I learned there was a new word.

Hmm, I thought. Crepitus. Maybe not entirely new.  The word had a vague, déjà vu ring to it.
Any relative of decrepit?  I wondered aloud. He laughed.

Actually yes, they both come from the Latin, crepitare.  Aha! And Sister Margaret thought she’d lost me at “ut.” I was fine with amo, amas, amat, declining verbs, struggling to translate(badly) the works of long dead ancients but crepitare? Not so much. 

But you’re not decrepit. I think he could have sounded a little bit more convincing…

Crepitus means rough, he went on.  It happens when cartilage wears down and causes the bones to grind together (the sound track of my life.) It’s quite common in sexagenarians, he continued blithely as mere quinquagenarians are wont to do.  Seriously? Was that supposed to be comforting? He was starting to sound like Charlie Brown’s teacher. I struggled to focus, to tear my attention away from the devastation of being referred to as a sexagenarian, and focus on absorbing all of what he was saying.

 It didn’t work. I was already away, back on the beach at Lahinch, twelve years old, leaping like a Spring lamb from rock to rock, barefoot in the sunshine, glorying in my surefootedness, blissfully unaware that it would not always be so.
This should partially explain the large gap between posts – I’m reeling from the discovery that I am officially a sexagenarian. Had I thought about it I’d have realized it years ago but I didn’t. Denial perhaps? Or an aversion to labels? Not only that, but, in spite of the physical therapist’s assurances to the contrary, well on my way to decrepitude.

On a cheerier note we have a cactus plant in a pot that usually looks, well, decrepit. Until last week when it burst into glorious bloom.

Up next (in a couple of decades) - the lowdown on how it feels to be an octogenarian. Don't know about you, but I'm in no hurry. Meanwhile, if a decrepit looking plant like our prickly pear cactus can spontaneously burst forth in breathtaking blossoms, this sexagenarian blogger might still occasionally burst forth with a blog post, crepitus notwithstanding.

Friday, March 10, 2017

Sneaking Off to a Quilt Show

There's a bossy old lady living in my head. Her intentions are good, I know. She wants me to live a productive and meaningful life and I'm on board with that. But her rules are rigid. For instance - no lollygagging around in quilt shops. In a voice that does not invite argument she tells me -

 "If you think you need to buy fabric, just go to your sewing room. Look around. Now, do you still think you need to go to a quilt shop? I thought not."

So I pout a little, but I get over it. I know she's right.

Another of her taboos concerns quilt shows. Anyone who quilts knows the allure of quilt shows. You go and see wonderful quilts made by talented stitchers, and it inspires you to redouble your efforts to get your own stuff finished. So what's Ma Natzi's problem? One word - vendors. The vendors line the halls of every quilt show. It's like having all the quilt shops for miles around in one place. They dangle temptation under your nose, willing and wanting to sell you everything a quilter could ever need and many things she doesn't!

"If your sewing room is already a disorganized mess, do you really need to have to shoehorn into it any more fabric, tools, gadgets or must-haves?"

No Ma'am.

But when a friend asked me to go to a very special quilt show in Tampa a few weeks ago I decided to wrap duct tape around Ma Natzi's mouth, tie her to a chair and lock her in the sewing room where the muffled sounds of her indignation would be unlikely to bring anyone to her rescue.

With her safely out of my head, we set off.

This was not your ordinary quilt show. This was a once-every-four-years show by a guild that focuses mainly on applique. Yes, I know. The dreaded A word. It used to strike terror into my heart too, but after a few million stitches, give or take or rip out a few, it's now my favourite kind of stitching.

And the happy news is it was worth it - being bad for a day. When I finish a tiny block, say 6 1/2", of applique, I swell with pride. The Gods undoubtedly had decided I needed taking down a peg or two. If it was humility I needed, they had guided me to the right place. I was very humble when I left.

This next photo is of the quilt that won "Best in show" and multiple other ribbons. The piecing and quilting both were outstanding...

The next photo is a detail........

This was an antique quilt......

I was peering at this one a while before it dawned on me it had a music theme - those are violins in the center!

Lots of country style motifs, 

Grecian urns, 

dancing ladies,

butterflies, birds, flowers and dragonflies all over the place, many done in wool...

This red, black and white one was an eye popper...

We saw the day out well. When I got back to my sewing room Ma Natzi had dozed off in the chair, breathing noisily through her nose, worn out from struggling. Before she woke, I squirreled away the iresistible wool I had bought in hopes of some day doing a little wool applique of my own. As I gently removed the duct tape and the fabric strip ropes she said not a word. Overcome with guilt and shame for treating her so badly, I decided to be more co-operative from now on. After all, she's only trying to protect me from myself.

Added later --- this one's for you, Smitonius & Sonata!

Sunday, March 05, 2017

A Rose for a Rose

One day recently, after delivering some give-aways to our local thrift shop and thoroughly inspecting their most recent crop of books, I was heading to the door, empty-handed, when I was stopped in my tracks by this -

 It was hanging in a cheap, sloppy old document frame, surrounded by nondescript prints in equally indifferent frames. When I could breathe again I moved in closer to be sure I wasn't hallucinating. I wasn't. I could see every perfect stitch  - and there were lots of them - hours and hours of work. Beautiful shades of pink, green and yellow, freshly picked, lying there while someone went to fetch a vase. 

Who, I wondered, had stitched this? Where was she now? Why was it abandoned here, unloved? unwatered? unswooned over? The reality of Florida is that, in addition to being touted as a vacation paradise, it is also, sometimes, referred to as God's Waiting Room. And some don't have to wait very long. Then the family has to deal with the accumulated impedimenta of their beloved departed's lifetime. Often, in desperation, having no appreciation of what it meant to the deceased, they bundle up treasure, not recognising it as such, and unceremoniously pack it off to the nearest thrift store. Which theory probably accounts for the recent Voltaire I found with a Paris publication date of 30 Mai 1878......

And the professionally framed print of a sailboat rescued another time which made a perfect gift for some friends who love sailing.

The operative word is rescue. When the OC rolls his eyes as I set off on another treasure hunt, I patiently explain to him  that I'm not collecting junk, as he thinks, but rather performing a service. Think of me, I tell him, as a rescuer of orphaned treasures. Imagine how horrified the owner of "Voltaire" would be to look casually over from the Great Beyond and see his treasured volume dumped in a box with all manner of disreputable bodice rippers and other unsuitable companions, in imminent danger of irreparable, page-tearing harm at the hands of the heedless. And now imagine his joy when I happen by, find his book, lift it reverently from that ignominious box and bring it to a safe and loving haven. I may even take it down from the shelf occasionally, open it and struggle through a page or two. Who better to help me improve my French?

And now this rose. I was smitten once, long ago, with needlepoint and made an eyeglass case. It took me forever and I decided forthwith that I didn't have the kind of patience and persistence required to further pursue it. But, I could still admire it when done by others, as I was doing now. Though the frame was unworthy of its contents, it had at least served to keep the piece clean.The greatest incentive to finish all my half-done quilting projects is that,  in the event of my untimely demise, the contents of my sewing room could meet a fate similar to the above.

 In which case there would be some haunting to be done.

A timely demise would be one where I'm not called from the Waiting Room 'til all my books are read, all my quilt projects finished and all my fabric used up. But, that's out of my hands just need to stitch and turn pages as fast as I can.

I envy people who can pick perfect gifts, tailored exactly to the recipient. Birthdays always find me floundering, clueless, inevitably late, feeling like a failure. But this piece of stitching had me hyperventilating all the way home - at last I had an idea for a perfect gift. I would make it and mail it posthaste, even though there was no birthday in sight for the recipient. Maybe it would atone for past sins.
I knew my stash would yield up the perfect fabrics to accomplish my plan.

Suitable fabrics were excavated, as expected, from the multi-layered stash. Measurements taken, borders attached, inner pillow made and stuffed, envelope backing made, closure ribbons attached, all packed and shipped and dusted. Probably the most efficiently and speedily executed project I have made in many a year!

Lesson being - if I run with the inspiration, and skip the procrastination it'll get done - who knew?

California Girl's name is Rose, so named, among other reasons, for how her ears, at birth, reminded me of the tightly folded petals of a rosebud. She developed some thorns as she grew, as roses tend to do, and we locked horns many times since I also have a few thorns of my own. You've heard of Irish tempers? 'Nuff said. We both survived though and learned a lot from each other in the process. Today we still have our disagreements but the lines of communication are open, and I'm proud of the smart, intelligent, beautiful, stubborn, articulate, funny, opinionated, determined, and - did I forget to say stubborn? woman my Rose has become.

So - happiness times three. For me - the satisfaction of rescuing a discarded treasure; for California Girl - a gift, tailor made just for her; and for the ghost of a fellow stitcher - no more weeping. The beauty created by her hands is safe and treasured. I hope she rests in peace.