Sunday, October 04, 2020

No Mud.....

 In  Ireland in the fifties and sixties, when the Catholic church had a firm grip on our throats, prayer was stitched into our lives like breathing. The church had something to say about every detail of our lives; what we could and could not do; what we should and should not do; the things that would guarantee heaven and the things that would guarantee hell. And if you were in doubt you could always get down on your knees and pray. And if you sinned, well you could go to confession and all would be forgiven, as long as you promised to mend your ways. 

It's different here. No religious body has the kind of control over everyday lives in the U.S. that the Catholic church had there, and then. But life is fraught with difficulties and problems no matter where you are in the world and, though I'm no longer in Ireland, when life goes haywire, as it regularly does, I find myself back on my knees, begging for help, for courage, for acceptance, for peace. 

Take the last few weeks.

Two of our children live out west, one in California, one in Oregon, states which, in case you haven't heard, have been on fire for some time. Oregon seems to be over the worst of it, but California's still burning. I had previously thought I felt sympathy and compassion whenever I heard of disasters in far flung places, but when the disaster touched people I know and love, people I gave birth to, I realized how shallow my compassion for those other unfortunates really was. I felt the panic of a mother bear separated from her cubs, unable to save them. I've been praying a lot, storming heaven. Your Man up there is probably tired of listening to me at this stage. CA girl had to evacuate once already, along with horses, cat and boss's dog. Now that she's back, they can still see the fire in the distance, a few ridges over, and, depending on the heat and the wind, the danger is still real. Oregon boy does not live where the fires were worst so he did not have to evacuate. But work was put on hold, the air quality being for a while, the unhealthiest in the world, right along with California's. Eventually, though many would say not soon enough, the rains came to Oregon, but California is still waiting. And when it isn't raining Oregonians can see the sun once more, as it normally looks, rather than a dull red smudge in the sky glowing darkly through a haze of choking smoke. 

And, now that they are safe, I'm still storming heaven, in gratitude to God, Allah, the Buddha, the Ultimate Reality, Mother Nature - aren't they all the same at the end of the day? Especially Mother Nature as she's the one calling the shots, determining how hot it will be, or not be, and in what direction the winds will blow today. I can't help thinking this entity (I'm pretty sure it's not an old gentleman with a white beard, sitting on a cloud) must be saddened by all the hate and lack of civility humans are displaying in the cities wracked by riots and anarchy, not to mention the colossal mess we're making of this fragile, beautiful planet. 

Maybe we're supposed to learn from 2020 - to love more; to judge less; to give each other the benefit of the doubt; to be kinder to each other, and ourselves; to breathe

 Maybe even to pray. 

"No mud, no lotus," says Thich Nhat Hanh. 

We've had a lot of mud this year. I'm hoping for a bumper crop of lotuses.

Thursday, August 13, 2020

A Little Bit of Fun is Good for the Soul


Note: Warning - this is about addiction. Continue at your own risk

When not on the porch hanging out with the lizards I can usually be found at the other end of the house, sewing. The thought has crossed my mind that this whole pandemic is a plot to make me focus and finish the myriad half-done projects that lie therein.

 Because I am the center of the universe. 

A joke, I hasten to add, albeit a feeble one. I am well aware of the gravity of the corona virus situation and the tragedy it has meant for many people. That said, no matter what horror stories you may have heard about Florida, they are very likely exaggerated. That seems to be how the media operates these days. Let's tell them the sky is falling and they should cower and tremble and be very afraid. 

The news is depressing, the pandemic is depressing, the riots and protests are depressing, not being able to visit with your friends is depressing, not being able to have proper funerals is depressing, people eyeing their fellows with suspicion is depressing. I don't want to be depressed and so I go back to the comfortable chaos of my sewing room, confident that , no matter how long the current situation lasts, I have fabric and thread and ideas to keep me happy and busy indefinitely.


In just the past month have finished (love that word!) several small quilting projects that were lingering, ignored, for more than a decade. Done, dusted, happy dance time!

My sewing machine grudgingly shares space with my computer and last week I was clicking idly from one interesting thing to another when something stopped me in my tracks, my heart skipped a beat. You've undoubtedly heard of the evils of the internet? I had stumbled onto a blog - and there was a tutorial for a very cute little bag. A Komebukuro bag that is used in Japan to carry rice to the temple. I very much doubt that I will ever, in what remains of my life, have a need for a bag to do that. But before I had finished reading Catherine's description (she's the blogger on K.C.) I was casting my eyes about the room and having a think about which fabrics I would use. Never mind that I still have plenty of UFOs to work on instead of something new. 

I needed a small break, I told myself. I deserved it, I told myself. Look at all the UFOs I'd finished since the beginning of the year!  My fingers in my ears stifled the sound of the responsible angel that sits on my right shoulder, so I could hear, loud and clear, the devil on my left.

And so I made it. Sat there, stitching and grinning while the OC held his tongue and rolled his eyes. 

I'm thinking I'll take it to Ohio Daughter whom we'll be visiting in the next few days. Surely she needs a pretty little bag to take rice to the temple? No? Well maybe she could use it for her knitting? The only problem I can foresee would be if she feels a need for a kimono to go with it. 

Then I'd be in trouble.

Sunday, August 09, 2020

Talks to Lizards, Must be Crazy

Earlier this year the OC pulled out some shrubs and extended our front porch. We'd wanted to do this
for some time and now that it's done - it's my favorite place to sit, drink coffee in the morning, read and talk to lizards.

You might be fooled into believing it's peaceful and quiet out there. That it's just you, basking in the early morning sunshine, a bit of a song from the birds and the occasional muffled drone of a passing car.  And, most of the time, it is. Two small pots, one of ivy, the other of pothos, that I tossed out into the sunshine when they refused to thrive indoors, proceeded to take over the world and now, a couple of years later, have formed a lush carpet of green under the shrubs and sometimes even have to be dragged down out of the crepe myrtles. Unruly to say the least, but kind of a bonus too - more green.

There's a thriving population of lizards living in and under that green carpet. (Possibly some black racers too but them I don't engage in conversation.) The bushes, trees and ground cover are their own little universe, bursting with life and lizard activity, sometimes even violence. The lizards are calm, quiet, curious and spend a lot of time basking in the sun, unbothered by nearby humans. They will move when I come out there, but not far, positioning themselves on whatever surface is convenient - the arm of a chair, 

the edge of a flower pot,

the plant shelf, a leg of the table, or the ground. They'll fix me with their beady eyes, cock their heads, seeming to wonder what manner of creature I am and if my intentions are honorable. Assured that I mean them no harm, they continue to bask. If I lean over and say hello they look quizzical. Maybe I should learn some lizard lingo because not one, as yet, has said hello back. Sometimes they almost seem to be flirting with me. All those push-ups, all that head bobbing, and especially that display of bright orange under their throats! I'm polite. I always admire the display and tell them what handsome fellows they are. How could I fail to be impressed?

And so it's quiet. You think. Peaceful, serene. You think. But then you hear a tiny rustle in the leaves beside your chair. You glance around, expecting a bird in search of a worm - there's a nest nearby.


No bird. All you see are leafy bushes, and below, that carpet of green. You turn back to your book,
but then you hear it again.  So much for peace and serenity. Now we have violence (have they been watching human news on TV?) Two strapping males, on the trunk of the crepe myrtle, murder on their minds.   

 Meanwhile, the sun continues to shine, the birds continue to sing and the occasional car drones on by and, to the untrained eye, it seems like just another idyllic morning.

The underdog turns tail and runs but the aggrieved one gives chase - "Get back here, varmint!"

And they face off again, teeth bared (if indeed they have teeth. I've been unable to get that close), muscles tensed.

The shrubs are divided by the path to the front door. Is it possible the lizard king from the right had the temerity to trespass on king left's territory? Or maybe he dared, be still my heart, to dally with one of king left's ladies? Time to teach that punk a lesson! I keep very still, don't want to scare them off. I want to see who wins and take pictures of the battle.

The paparazzi are as annoying and intrusive in lizard land as in Hollywood. I will have my pictures.

There's a noticeable absence of other lizards, mamas and little ones, skittering around on the pavement. Probably all waiting and watching from under the leaves, holding their collective breath, as I am doing, hoping the dispute will soon be resolved and peace restored.

I think the dominant male protects all the females and juveniles in his territory. Protection, as determined by a male lizard, might have a somewhat different meaning than you or I would give it. I try not to judge the moral standards of lizards by my own, but there have been times when I thought a word in a male lizard's ear was necessary, as in "Hey Buddy, she's a little young for you, don't ya think?" He'll appear to listen, give it some thought, but then proceed with what he was intent upon anyway. "Mind your own beeswax lady, go sip your coffee!"

Meanwhile, back at the battle site, the interloper is getting his comeuppance, 

and now he's looking like a goner for sure, his head clenched in Super lizard's jaws, his pale undersides dangling, helpless and exposed.

But Super lizard makes a tactical error. He loosens his jaws to adjust his grip and in that split second our under-dog(-lizard) drops to the ground and vanishes into the ivy.

So much excitement! I've seen lizards' tails shortened from surviving similar battles. I just don't think they'd survive as well without their heads.  

And just like that we were back to peace and serenity. Mama came back out,

 a baby cavorted from leaf to leaf, 

 peacetime adult activities resumed, (gotta make more babies)

and the birds sang on regardless. I finished my coffee, bid my lizard buddies farewell and went inside to make the bed, do the laundry and get on with my day.

Sunday, June 07, 2020

Year of Wonders

Ah, the blank, intimidating page, especially having been MIA for several months. I started the year with great blogging plans though God, obviously, found that amusing. And so, in late January, I was winging westward, through busy, bustling airports, on planes without one empty seat. Then, several weeks later, returning on a plane with barely thirty passengers, through airports like echo chambers to a situation I had never imagined.
I've occasionally thought it would be nice for the world to stop spinning so hectically, to step aside from all the noise and busy-ness, to have time to just sit, for the only thing on my to-do list to be to 'breathe.'

I got my wish. And all I can say about that is: be careful what you wish for.

And now we're on the set of a sci-fi movie, (or in recent days a horror movie) or maybe in the pages of an historical novel like the one I recently finished - Year of Wonders by Geraldine Brooks, a novel about the plague. Not this one but that other one way back in the 1600s. Chosen randomly from my to-be-read pile, the parallels were chilling. Social distancing? Quarantine? Horrifying numbers of deaths? Who to blame? All there in the village of Eyam in 1666.

Now we've been on lockdown, wearing masks, social distancing for what seems like forever. With distractions at a minimum, we busy ourselves with simple things - gardening - because Mother Nature is a great comforter; cooking - because we still have to eat; baking -just because, even Winnie the Pooh likes a little smackerel of something with his tea; sleeping - because the 'sleeve of care' needs constant mending; praying, because all of this is bigger than us and we're not in charge; yoga because you're only as happy and healthy as your spine, and breathing because once you stop it's all over.

As far as finishing long standing quilt projects, I'm experiencing my own Year of Wonders. No doc or dental appointments, no meetings with friends, no book discussions at the library, no walks in the park, no shopping - apart from essentials, no trips....I miss all of that. But there is a silver lining. All those quilting projects? They're getting finished now!

Since this time last year I have finished an amazing - for me - number of quilting projects - more than I can remember finishing in any other year. And it's only partially due to the lockdown - the reality of mortality has finally sunk in.

 With no where to go, time to breathe, "Sit!" and "Stay!" even an old dog can learn new tricks.

Friday, January 24, 2020

Of Crows and Plows and New Beginnings

Where are the crows this morning? Usually you can set your clock by them. Loud and boisterous, caw, caw, caw, they arrive around 8 a.m., fly around among the trees - what are they looking for? What are they shouting at? And then they're gone. But this morning? An absence of crows. Very strange.

From where I write I can see a nest high up in the leafless branches of a laurel oak - for crows perhaps? Do crows make nests? Janina would know. But don't call her that. She doesn't like it. She and I have gotten close the last few days due to me spending a lot of time in her head while reading
 "Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead." Weird title. But I'm loving it.

In spite of all the dead bodies.

Janina knows who's killing them, but her theories are dismissed as the ravings of a madwoman.
They say there's nothing original in the world. It's all been done before, thought before, written before, but, that said, I think this book is as original as it is possible to be. Spending so much time in Janina's head gets you thinking along with her about life, and how we do it, and how we find meaning in it, or not. All, well most, of the words are familiar but so ingeniously strung together that I find myself laughing out loud one minute, aching with recognition the next as she skillfully puts into words things I feel in my gut but could never articulate.

One of my favorite lines is "....I realized that sorrow is an important word for defining the world."
Amen to that. I can relate. But don't let that make you think it's a sad book. It is sad, and thoughtful, but also outlandishly funny, crazy and at once real and fairy tale-like.

I like Janina. Which may mean I'm a madwoman too, or maybe she's not mad at all but saner than those who think she is? I won't spoil the book for you but I'll be looking for more by this author whose name is both unspellable and unpronounceable. Kudos to the translator whose name is pronounceable. Being totally illiterate in Polish, my only measure of how well she did is that I am devouring the book. You could say it makes me happy. Which reminds me.....

"You really should be writing," a friend wrote to me recently. "It would make the world happier."

That was, hands down, the nicest thing anyone has said to me since the year began. Bit of an exaggeration of course but still, enough to get me going again. I'm not so arrogant as to believe that me, writing, could actually make the world happier but I do know it would make me happier.

Why have I not been writing, I ask myself. It's always been my favorite thing to do, but, like sewing, where one has to actually make that first stitch, to write, one has to sit down and write that first word. No quilt was ever made by merely thinking about it. Nor, as the Irish saying goes, did a farmer ever plough a field by turning it over in his mind.

And so she begins, first words, on the blank page, in the brand new year. It's made me happy to write them. I hope they'll make you happy too.

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Gluten Free Wha-at?

Though I could hardly boil an egg when I said I do all those decades ago, time and practice have made me a competent cook. I especially love to bake bread and try new desserts. Last year I discovered Mark Bittman's no knead bread recipe. Even the OC, a man not given to superlatives, declared it the best we'd ever made.

It's difficult to impress someone raised in NY city, surrounded by all kinds of ethnic, old world bakeries, so it's possible I became a bit arrogant. The baking gods were onto me though and decided, last week, to instill in me a little humility.

Some friends were coming for lunch, one of whom was having a birthday. The OC (tactical error) asked what she'd like us to make for dessert. She'd love apple strudel, she replied, especially if we could make it gluten free. Oh for pity's sake, I muttered to myself, my name is neither Julia nor Martha. Ask me for a cheesecake, a lemon meringue pie, a rustic berry torte, chocolate mousse, but gluten free anything?? In my limited experience, gluten free means something that tastes like cardboard.

No turning back now though. I needed my game face, a recipe and a trial run.

The OC dug deep on the internet and found Dagmar. Dagmar explained how she had toiled long and hard to fine-tune a gluten free strudel recipe for her finicky Austrian children who liked their strudel light and crispy. After many failed attempts, her children finally gave their sticky thumbs up to this recipe which she was now generously sharing with the world.

 In addition to apples, raisins and nuts we would need GF bread crumbs, Dagmar told us, psyllium seed husk powder, apple cider vinegar and teff flour. 

 WTH? I was beginning to lose my enthusiasm. Teff flour? Never heard of it.  Neither had the grocery store. Even the health food store looked at us askance. "Teff?" they intoned, "how do spell that?" Obviously not in their inventory. Psyllium seed husk powder, by some miracle, we already had.

Say what you like about Amazon, no matter what outlandish thing you're looking for, cross their palms with enough pieces of silver and they'll have it on your doorstep tomorrow. And so it came to pass. A 16 oz bag of teff flour and a box of GF breadcrumbs to boot.

Yoohoo! On with the show. Maybe we could make this work.

 Recipe at hand, I took my first tentative step towards what Dagmar assured us would be light, crispy and delicious apple strudel.

 I mixed 1 cup of teff flour (so little? red flags started gently waving in my head) with 1/2 tablespoon of psyllium powder and a pinch of salt. To this I added 3/4 cup water and 1 tablespoon each of oil and apple cider vinegar. I was instructed now to 'take' the mixture out of the bowl and place it on a surface sprinkled with teff flour. The red flags were flapping noisily now. Ahh, excuse me Dagmar, I don't think this is going to work. In the bowl before me was a greyish, sloppy, messy, mostly liquid and thoroughly unappetizing looking substance. I was sure that 'pour' was the only applicable verb.

I consulted the OC. He thoughtfully stroked his beard. We agreed that our 'substance' needed to be substantially thicker, so we added a little more teff flour. Still it remained stubbornly liquid so we added a little more, and still more, until finally, it began to hold together.

Telling myself to trust her but with my confidence in tatters, I soaked the raisins in rum, melted butter and roasted the breadcrumbs, following Dagmar's instructions to a T.  The OC optimistically peeled and sliced the required Granny Smiths and chopped the walnuts.

We placed the dough (if it could be called such) on a sheet of parchment paper liberally sprinkled with teff flour, placed another sheet on top and rolled it out. When it was paper thin and we'd already mended a few tears, we gingerly peeled back the top layer of paper, gently spread the breadcrumbs, apples mixed with sugar and cinnamon, rummy raisins and chopped walnuts over it and basted the edges with butter. As carefully as if we were handling the Dead Sea Scrolls, we rolled it up, brushed more butter on top, eased it onto the baking sheet, slid it into the oven, crossed our fingers and set the timer.

Forty five minutes later the timer dinged. We held our breath and opened the oven door.

But alas! First glance did not inspire optimism.

The color was shoe-leather brown, the texture that of a rock. Tapping it with a knife produced a dull thud.
It was not light.
It was not crispy.

 I would like to have invited Dagmar and her persnickety children for tea and dared them to risk their teeth on it while I beat their mum around the head and neck with my rolling pin. That being the stuff of venomous fantasy, we took an axe to it, not wanting to damage our good knives, and broke it open.  The filling inside was quite tasty, but the overall experiment was, as the OC succinctly put it, "Not ready for prime time."

Lunch went well. There was no gluten free apple strudel but everything else was good and, though it was not gluten free, nobody, not even the birthday girl, suffered from dessert deprivation.

Saturday, February 02, 2019

How to Stay Warm in Florida

It's not that we've never experienced cold, it's just that, since moving to Florida we now shiver uncontrollably if the temps drop below 60 F. I should say that, since the OC is not bothered much by cold weather, 'we' means me and the mouse in my pocket.

I remember great flakes of snow wafting down in Montana, silencing birds, beasts and humans alike, joining sky and prairie under one enormous wooly blanket, every sound muffled but the quiet breath of the universe and the occasional snapping of a twig.

I remember how I met Twila, our elderly neighbor. I dinged her car while parking in the icy ruts and  shuffled, mortified, through the snow to her door to apologize, my pregnant belly leading the way. Twila had lived all her life on a Montana ranch and, widowed now, lived alone. We became fast friends and when the baby came, it was she who minded his big sister.

I remember bundling the children up in mittens, hats and snowsuits like miniature Michelin men and hiking into the woods to cut down our Christmas tree. How red their cheeks were and how much fun we had.

I remember how it snowed on Halloween in North Dakota and how the school bus stopped at each kid's house so they wouldn't get frostbite waiting outside in the Arctic air.

I remember how the OC darted out hatless, to shovel just one more small patch of driveway and almost froze his ears off.

I remember guzzling gluhwein at Weihnachtsmarkt in Stuttgart, generating heat from the inside against the numbing cold on the outside.

I remember lakes in Minnesota freezing over, fishing cabins popping up on the ice like mushrooms, and fishermen driving their trucks out to sit with a line dangling through a hole in the ice, and thinking what a wondrous thing it was to be so entertained.

I remember our springers dancing into the kitchen as the children spilled in from the school bus, backpacks unceremoniously dumped as dogs and children joyously reunited, Hershey and Blazer tap-dancing like Fred and Ginger as the snow and ice from their exuberant paws melted into puddles on the kitchen floor.

I remember oldest daughter making snow angels in Belgium when she came 'home' from college for Christmas.

And everywhere, shoveling snow and scraping ice off windshields as normal as sweeping the kitchen.

We've lived in cold country, even enjoyed it. But now we live here, and Florida thins the blood. We can spot visitors at forty paces....they'll be wearing tee shirts, shorts and sandals in our cold spells while we're muffled up in winter woolies. It makes us laugh and remember (me and that mouse.)

We all survived the North and lost no toes or noses to the cold. When the OC retired
 we sold our house, cheerfully donated snow shovels and ice scrapers, and came , with just one child still at home, to live in the sunshine, still sporting ten fingers and toes apiece.

But this year the North came to join us. A brief visit, surely, twenty four hours at most we thought,
then back to balmy, but we were wrong. The temperature kept dropping. We needed a survival plan.
Climbing to the highest closet shelves, we retrieved blankets, sweaters and warm winter coats. Things we had kept for rare return sorties to the frozen wastes, hardly used at all but kept as a hedge against climate chaos, which it appears, is upon us.

 I do not go to bed alone. Heat radiates from the OC, supplemented by hot water bottles, thick socks, heating pads, long johns and cuddly llamas on a long forgotten, recently resurrected woolen blanket the OC brought from Chile. But eventually morning comes, time to emerge from the cocoon to face another cold day and struggle into woolen leggings and more thick socks and whichever sweaters and scarves the moths have yet to eat, and head to the kitchen to bake bread and dip it in thick, warming soup and dream of fireplaces and blazing logs...……


And of course my tongue is deep in my cheek. It's actually a treat when we get a cold spell here in God's Waiting Room. It gives us a chance to dress in real clothes instead of skimping down to the bare minimum so's not to melt. It gives us a semblance of seasons and a rhythm we'll be dreaming of dancing to, come August.  

But after a few days we're over it. And this time, it's been more than a few days.

I could stamp my feet. I could jump up and down, but I'd probably injure myself. If I had a cat I'd follow him to the sunniest window and curl up beside him....

But wait! Here comes the OC announcing that it's seventy degrees outside and he's off to cut the grass! 

Oh well. In the immortal words of Emily Latella - "Never mind!"

Note: I know that the freezing temperatures in the northern and mid western states and parts of Europe are no laughing matter and the people there have my sincerest sympathy. I wish them warm fires, thick soups and an early Spring.